WHAT: The Alsace region of France produces some of the most drinkable white wine anywhere. Typically dry with a flinty minerality, the wines are great with a wide variety of foods.
The Helfrich Grand Cru Riesling is a perfect example of the region’s wines. This is an elegant wine that is great with everyday meals and perfect for special celebrations.
In the glass it is a beautiful light gold with aromas of peach and citrus. On the palate you get crisp lime and citrus flavors with a strong, pleasant dose of mineral. The finish is long and lean, with the slate of the vineyard’s soil being predominant.
This is a single-vineyard wine, with the grapes growing in the Steinklotz vineyard, one of 51 Alsatian vineyards designated Grand Cru. It is a steep vineyard ranging from 600 to 1,000 feet high facing south/southeast. When I visited Alsace 30 years ago, I marveled at how grape vines could grow on such steep hillsides.
Steinklotz is one of the oldest vineyards in Alsace, dating back to at least 589 A.D., when it was owned by Merovingian King Childebert II. Below the shallow soil lies calcareous bedrock that helps the vineyard retain heat. The only French wine region farther north is Champagne, but the microclimate in Alsace is warm and dry.
By law the grapes are dry farmed. The vines are trained to climb to get maximum sun exposure. After hand picking, the grapes are de-stemmed and put through a whole-grape membrane pressing. A controlled cool fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. That is followed by a cold settling and racking on fine lees.
About 300 miles east of Paris, the Alsace area is interesting. It has moved back and forth from France to Germany as one of the spoils of war, so it has both French and German influences in its food and wine. As early as 900 A.D. there were 160 villages in Alsace making wine. Nearly all of the wine is dry white wine.
WINERY: The Helfrich family opened their winery in 1934, and the sixth generation now continues the tradition. They produce a wide variety of wines, including a superb Cremant d’Alsace, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewütztraminer. The wines come in two tiers. The Noble Varieties line (about $15) uses grapes from the Couronne d’Or (Golden Crown) an association of local vineyards and winemakers that runs through the middle of Alsace. The Grand Cru wines come from the Steinklotz vineyard at the northern end of the valley near Strasbourg.
I have loved Cremant d’Alsace for more than 30 years. The wine is a great bargain at about $20. It is made like traditional Champagne with bottle fermentation and aging, but because it comes from Alsace it cannot be called Champagne. The Helfrich has crisp acidity, with highlights of grapefruit, lemon and toast. It has all the elegance of fine Champagne at a lower price. It would be perfect for Valentine’s Day.
I remember buying Cremant d’Alsace at the equivalent of three bottles for $5 during one trip. Inflation has brought the price up, but it is still an incredible bargain.
The Helfrich wines are not well known in the United States and are most likely to be found in restaurants.
GOES WITH: Dumplings, sauerkraut and roast pork has been one of my favorite meals for about 60 years, but after I got old enough to drink, about the only beverage that matched the meal was Czech or German beer. My family often had this meal at holidays (and any other time we could talk my mother into making it). Variations would include duck or turkey for the pork, or yeast dumplings instead of potato dumplings, and sweet red cabbage instead of sauerkraut.
I made the oven-roasted pork version just before Christmas because I knew no one else would enjoy it for Christmas dinner. The Helfrich Riesling was a perfect wine for the meal. The powerful mineral and citrus tastes don’t get overpowered by the sauerkraut, and they leave a pleasant sensation in your mouth after each swallow.
And it was sublime with the roast pork, which I sprinkled with garlic powder and Morton Nature’s Seasons.
You would expect this wine to go with sauerkraut because that is one of the specialties in Alsatian restaurants, along with sausages and smoked meat.
This is such a versatile wine it also would pair well with lobster bisque, grilled salmon, grilled shrimp or fish, sushi, roast chicken or duck, Thai foods or mild cheeses.