The 11th Annual International Alsace Varietals Festival, held on February 20 and 21, 2016, highlighted the fragrant white wines that thrive in the Anderson Valley, Alsace region of France and other cool-climate areas of the world. The Alsatian wines, including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat, have much to offer the discerning wine aficionado.
Every year the Alsace Festival kicks off with a robust Educational Session. This year the focus started with an in-depth look at dry Riesling. A panel of four winemakers presented two different Rieslings each to demonstrate the variation in flavor profiles. The wineries represented were Brooks Winery (Oregon), Balo Vineyards (Anderson Valley), Pacific Rim (Washington) and Tatomer Wines (Central Coast, CA). The range of flavors and aromas was remarkable among the variations from the single grape, bringing out caramel, licorice, grass and stone fruit, along with residual sugars ranging from 0.9 to 11.7. In Europe it’s more common for Rieslings to be dry while in the US most is sweet. No wonder consumers are confused about what they might get when they see Riesling.
Francois De Melogue returned to the festival as a perennial favorite, presenting a lively discussion about pairing Alsatian wines with food. In addition, Melogue launched his new beauty of a cookbook, Cuisine of the Sun, A Ray of Sunshine on Your Plate, reflecting his love affair with food. He discussed tastes that push (e.g. salt and piquant flavors), tastes that pull (e.g. sour or oniony) and tastes that punctuate (e.g. fats and strong textures that crunch). Some flavors provide ideal contrasts such as sweet with salty.
Another tasting panel explored Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat, demonstrating the different flavors of the noble grapes:
- Riesling: Dry Riesling can be elegant and refined with delicate, fruity aromas or full bodied and robust with earthy flavors. Depending on the dryness Riesling can pair well with fish finished with a touch of lime, creamy sauces that can balance crisp acidity, or complex Asian flavors. Tatomer Wines, Navarro and Domain Schulmberger had some of the best examples at the Grand Tasting.
- Pinot Gris: Pinot Gris can be rich with a long finish that can hold up to the hearty flavors and textures of game, roasts, earthy mushrooms and risotto. Mary Elke Pinot Gris from Elke Vineyards was one of the best.
- Gewürztraminer: With more than 300 aromatics, Gewürztraminer can take on many faces and can pair well with fatty foods, strong cheeses and spicy Asian dishes. Golden Eye, Toulouse and Fogarty all had fine tastings of Gewürztraminer.
- Muscat: Dry Muscat is a perfect sipping wine that pairs well with light hors d ‘oeuvres while a sweet Muscat can be the perfect finish after a tasty meal. Brooks Wines Terue Muscat was a delicious example.
After the educational conference the Grand Tasting was well attended with over 35 wineries offering tastes of aromatic white wines. The majority of the wineries were from California with a handful from different states and international locations, including two from Alsace. The following day many Anderson Valley wineries held open houses that were open to the general public.
The Anderson Valley Wine Growers Association presents two popular festivals a year. In February the International Alsace Varietals Festival is held, while the Pinot Noir Festival is held each May.
The wine and food pairings of the 11th Annual International Alsace Varietal Festival offered a robust lineup of educational sessions and food and wine pairings to show off the best of the noble whites.
Anderson Valley Wine Growers Association
International Alsace Varietals Festival is held in February
Pinot Noir Festival is held in May
To reach Boonville from San Francisco by car (approximately 2.25 hours, depending on traffic):
- Take U.S. 101 North
- Take Exit 522 to Highway 128 west, toward Ft. Bragg and Mendocino
- Follow Highway 128 until you reach Boonville