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The wines of Alsace in France are enjoying an increase in popularity, not least because of the boom in Asian cuisine. Next time you’re cooking a stir-fry or curry at home, or sitting in an Asian restaurant, why not try a bottle of white wine from Alsace? You won’t be disappointed.
Sommeliers and wine retailers wax lyrical about the quality and versatility of Alsace wines. Chefs – particularly from Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants – delight at the way they flatter their cuisine, and restaurant-going foodies are more likely than ever to leaf through the wine list hoping for a good crop of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling et al. Not only do they complement food beautifully, but they drink well on their own and offer excellent value for money too.
Alsace sits on the eastern border of France and is hugely fortunate in its geography. The region is blessed with an unparalleled diversity of soils which all contribute to the wines’ unique character. Furthermore, the climate is virtually the driest in France: the cycle of hot summers, sunny autumns and severe winters favours the slow, extended ripening so crucial for the production of these fresh, famously aromatic and fruity wines.
Alsace wines are usually made from a single grape variety and unlike other regions of France, the grape varieties are clearly displayed on the label (see below for the main Alsace varieties). The wines are always bottled in the traditional, slender 'flûte', except for sparkling wine Crémant d’Alsace, which is great as an aperitif, and also with sushi.
What makes Alsace wines great with Asian and fusion cuisine is their purity of fruit and good, refreshing acidity, as well as their lack of oak and tannins. For the sommelier, Alsace provides an invaluable resource when matching food and wine. If four people are having four
different dishes, Alsace can cope
with them all. While the flavours of curry, ginger, coriander and chilli can easily overpower most wines, this is not the case
with Alsace. Laurent Chaniac,
sommelier at The Cinnamon Club in Westminster, comments: ‘The presence of spices like carom seeds and turmeric will
play a very interesting role in the character of the wine, softening the freshness on the palate and making the fruit taste more opulent.’
For further information visit www.alsacewines.co.uk.
Full bodied and exuberant, powerful and seductive, this is the best-known Alsace wine. Its deep bouquet displays rich aromas of fruit (mango, lychee), flowers (rose petals), or spices (the prefix ‘gewurz’ means ‘spice’). It has a roundness and oiliness that contrasts with the tightness and leanness of Riesling, with more residual sugar and alcohol. Its qualities enable it to take on the hottest spices and herbs with ease.
One of the great white wine varieties, Riesling achieves its greatest success in Alsace. Vivacious, refined and crystal clear, its bouquet is delicately fruity with floral notes and sometimes delicious mineral hints. Lively on the palate, it later reveals its fine balance and long aftertaste. A gastronomic wine par excellence, many sommeliers recommend it with seafood and fish; try Riesling with pad thai noodles or Thai crab cakes
Powerful and opulent, with a deep colour, a good structure and a long finish. The complex bouquet is fruity and sometimes smoky. It is relatively rich and full-bodied, and can often replace a red wine (with white meat or game). Pinot Gris works well with Peking duck, chicken tikka masala, or tandoori flavours.
Well-rounded yet delicate, it combines freshness and softness, and represents the happy medium in the range of Alsace wines. A great apéritif, or delicious with simply cooked seafood, Pinot Blanc is also a perfect match for sushi.
A remarkably fresh, light wine with a delicate flavour, it is refreshing, vivacious and easy to enjoy. Sylvaner is another winning combination with sushi and sashimi, delicious with prawn or eggplant tempura.
Very aromatic and wonderfully grapey, it is a dry wine, very different from the sweet Muscats of the Mediterranean. Muscat d'Alsace can be a surprisingly good match for Chinese salad with prawns and pineapple or even mussels with curry.
The only Alsace variety producing red or rosé wines, the wines have a typically cherry-like, fruity character. Matured in oak barriques, it gains additional structure and complexity. Try Alsace Pinot Noir with chicken curry or sweet and sour pork spare ribs.
Square Meal's top restaurants in which to experience Alsace with some top food matches: