Wine is an acquired taste which evolves over a period of time as one tries out diverse wines from different regions and different parts of the world. As wine culture is slowly finding roots in India, a lot of hotels are featuring wine paired dinners, giving people a chance to expand their wine palate. Prego, the Italian restaurant at Westin Gurgaon, recently held a wine dinner where members of the Gurgaon Wine Club were introduced to some fine Alsace wines from Domaine Schlumberger, one of the best known wine producers from this region of France.
Alsace, which is in the north eastern corner of France, produces mostly white wines, majority of which are unoaked. Traditionally the wines from this region were bone dry, but now the sugar level has been increasing. The wines are aromatic, floral and spicy and essentially about fruit rather than oak. The main varietals are the same as those used in German wines like the Riesling, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and some Pinot Noir, but Alsace makes Germanic wines in the French way. It is the only French appellation to allow grape varietals (name of the grape) to be listed on the label, much like the Californian wines. There is also a legal requirement for bottling Alsace wines in tall bottles, commonly called flûtes d’Alsace, which is the same bottle format used in traditional German regions, particularly Rieslings and other white varieties. Another important feature about Alsatian wines, yes this is what they are called, is that there is no vin de pays region or table wines as we call it in common parlance. All production is of AOC wines which are divided into Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru AOC for still white wines and some reds and Cremant d’Alsace AOC for sparkling white and rose wines.
The wines at the Prego dinner were from Domaine Schlumberger which is situated in the hills of Guebwiller in the south of Alsace. It is the only spot in Alsace producing four Grand Crus from the terroirs of Kitterlé, Kessler,Saering and Spiegal. Incidentally the Alsace GrandCrus can only be made from the four noble grapes of Alsace which are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewurztraminer. It was the 7th generation wine maker Thomas Schlumberger who had come specially for the event and who told all those present how their wines were 100% estate bottled, which basically means that they do not buy either grapes, juices or wines from outside. Talking about their Grand Cru wines he said that they believe in lowering yields and concentrating on what each grape has to offer and if it does not meet their exacting standards they declassify the Grand Cru to the range of Les PrinceAbbés.
We tasted five wines from Domaine Schlumberger a Riesling “LesPrinces Abbes” 2012, two Pinot Noir “Les Princes Abbes” 2009 and 2012 and two Grand Cru wines a Riesling “Saering” 2007 and a Gewurztraminer “Kessler” 2010. These were paired with some delectable dishes created by the talented Italian chef at Prego, Emilliano Di Stefano. The dish which stood out was Salmon encroute with asparagus and goat cheese sauce. En croute (pronounced on Kroot) is basically a food wrapped in pastry dough and then baked in oven. Emilliano created the flakiest pastry and a delicious sauce for the Salmon en croute and I can happily go back to Prego just to eat that one dish.
Coming to the wines now, it was the uniquely perfumed Gewurztraminer which is often accused of having an “over the top nose” which was the favourite of the day. The Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kessler2010 was deliciously spiced displaying typical notes of roses and lychee and was clean, dry and rounded on the palate. The Riesling GrandCru Saering 2007 was bone dry, complex and austere. It had great balance between fruit and minerality and reflected the limestone soil of the region. The Riesling “Les Princes Abbes” 2012 had wonderful refreshing acidity. The Alsace Rieslings in fact changed my perception of a traditionally sweet Riesling. They were all about rich aroma and good aging ability without resorting to oak to add spice and richness. The Pinot Noirs however fell a little short and I found them to be light bodied and a little rustic.
Thanks to the wine dinner at Prego, we learnt so much about wines from this special region of France, Alsace, which some even call the white wine capital of France.
– Lavina Kharkwal