Wine aficionado Mathieu Germond is enthusiastically swirling a glass of Alsace in his hand at his Charlotte Street restaurant Noizé, raising it to his nose and eulogising about its aromas. “I love Alsace wine due to the great mix of styles and the complexity of all the different grape varieties,” he says. “We can play so much with them when there’s food involved.”
This is a sentiment echoed by sommeliers across the country. They not only have a particular sweet spot for Alsace Riesling but also love the Gewurztraminers, Pinot Gris and Sylvaners, amongst other grape varieties. “Alsace wines, despite being mainly white, have a unique ability to amp up the sensuality of the best ingredients,” suggests Dan Illsley of Maison Francois in St James’s. Nuno Pereira, head sommelier at Chelsea’s Five Fields, agrees: “Alsace wine brings an incredible range of pairing options. From light starters using the freshness of Sylvaner, the option of fish or meat using the richness of a Riesling or Pinot Gris. And even the Vendange Tardive can be an experience for a customer while pairing with fruit-based desserts. Not to forget the versatility of a Gewurztraminer for a spicier dish or for a customer who has a sweeter preference of wine.”
Laurent Chaniac, head of wine at Cinnamon Club sums it up nicely: “With its dry climate and multitude of soil profiles, Alsace wines are certainly versatile. The wine spectrum goes from rich, textural, full-bodied styles to dry and lean. Add to this variations in residual sugar and that gives you a wonderful palate to choose from.”
So how does all this wine-y sumptuousness fit into our lives? For a start, think canapés. These ever-fashionable, gastronomic morsels are a great people pleaser. But the more varied they are, the more versatile your drink needs to be. Step forward Alsace wines. With their mostly dry and deliciously aromatic profile, there’s a wine for every type of canapé – a wine that will also leave the palate clean and fresh for whatever might follow next.
Take, for example, cheese straws, a savoury croquette or tempura prawns: the fine acidity and freshness of Crémant d’Alsace would be an ideal accompaniment, cutting through the richness while complementing the bready tones of the former, while the fine bubbles and the wine’s light freshness slices brilliantly through the salty, fatty, batter richness.
Muscat d’Alsace is another classic. Dry but fruity, it provides a terrific canvas for an array of hors d’oevres or, say, a tomato-based thin pizza. The lightness and dryness of the wine lifts the tomato and herbal notes while the acidity again cuts through the richness.
And if you don’t want to play the me-too game, why not show some class and partner smoked salmon blinis with an Alsace Riesling. You may pick one with that lovely mature Riesling nose and lip-smacking acidity or one with a bit of residual sugar that tones down the natural acidity. What you’ll also get is a wine that is generally voluptuous and complex – which is needed with salmon – but will finish clean.
According to Johnny Murphy of Noble Rot: “The beauty of Alsace is a great diversity of styles and approaches to winemaking. Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune is one of the greatest white wines on the planet, but at the other end of the spectrum there are a host of young winemakers experimenting with new ideas, from macerated, off-dry Gewurztraminers to Rieslings that drinks a bit like a Macon Chardonnay.”
Meanwhile, if you’re flirting with a range of Asian or Mexican flavours, you really are in safe hands with an Alsace Gewurztraminer, boasting dialled-up aromas, an elevated intensity and a powerful, round character which can stand up to sweet, savoury and spicy food flavours. Alsace Gewurztraminer also goes well with chicken liver paté with a fig chutney or caramelised chicken with bulgur. These big flavoured dishes need wine with flavour too, and the varietal’s oily, off-dry nature, spicy, floral and lychee nose, good body and long length provide exactly that!
Fish and Seafood
The purity of fruit and bright freshness in Alsace wines make them a stand-out on restaurant wine lists particularly when matched with the delicate tender meat of seafood and fish. And with their expressive minerality and balanced acidity, Grand Crus wines are a particular favourite.
The understated aromas and supple fruitiness of Alsace Riesling provides relief for the saltiness of fish while its precision and tangy complexity enhances the flavours without deflecting attention. Sylvaner works a treat too – subtle fruit refreshes and dampens the saltiness of the seafood.
Oysters are wonderful in themselves but the inherent iodine demands acidity and dryness in any paired wine. Rieslings are typically bone dry, so a great match and, if pushing the boat out, a Grand Cru will add purity to the oyster’s creaminess while its minerality enhances the pairing further.
Pinot Blanc shows similar delicate but refined nuances to Riesling but is dialled down a notch. It brings out the iodized nature of fish while fulfilling a contrasting role with a cream-based sauce. Its complexity and weight adds effortless balance to the match, too.
With sushi Alsace Riesling is another stunning combination. Dry and subtle but with an inner power that can stand up to wasabi.
Fish and chips remains the national flag-waiver but it can be a problem dish. As touched on already, the Crémant is always a good choice but again an Alsace Riesling delivers in spades, too. It’s got the weight to be able to handle the fish and there’s a lovely iodine kick to the wine that take you right back to the sea.
If the fish is more exotic and perhaps a touch fiery, as in a Thai green curry, the sensual character of a powerful, rich wine like Alsace Gewurztraminer is just the ticket. It will bring out the ingredients of the curry: the galangal, the lime leaf, the coconut. It lifts the flavours but isn’t overwhelmed by them. And a touch of residual sugar helps to counteract the spice heat. Gewurztraminer is also a terrific foil for sweet and sour dishes – rich and concentrated with freshness in the background.
Delicate white meat such as turkey, chicken or perhaps quail tend to shy away from wine tannins which is why Alsace Riesling and its aromatic finesse fits the bill so nicely. The wine’s texture, structure and spice makes it a terrific foil for food. The flavours will generally soak up whatever these meats are cooked in, while being substantial enough but not aggressively structured to work beautifully with chicken and turkey. “With many of the best Alsace Rieslings you are getting a fuller, riper style than their German counterparts” says Murphy from Noble Rot. “These can indeed pair really well with rich chicken dishes or pork belly.”
“Things get more opulent with the luscious Pinot Gris” says Illsley. “While they often have a touch of sweetness which is just perfect for rich fish dishes, they also work well with sauces laden with butter and cream, be it with fish or meat. Pinot Gris suits roast birds, especially with their skins stuffed with truffle to bring out the smoky mushroom notes of the grape.”
Laurent Chaniac picks up the mushroom theme, too. “An ultimate pairing” he says “is a Pinot Gris issued from calcarus soil with some age on it. It develops aromatics of white truffle and pairs beautifully with white meat dishes that are mushroom-based.”
Alsace acquits itself really well with both subtle and stronger cheese. Think of light but flavourful goats or sheep cheeses – great on their own but so much better with a fresh expressive Alsace Riesling backed by a core of fine acidity and great length. If your cheese has got the subtle bitterness of a fresh creamy brie or Camembert, try it with an Alsace Cremant for a magical pairing. “Gewurztraminer brings the perfume of the orient” says Illsley “and, when carefully selected from a top grower, is dreamy, especially with a washed rind cheese like ripe Munster”, the region’s classic pairing. And if you’ve got stilton or a blue cheese, you can’t go wrong with a Vendanges Tardives Alsatian sweetie which perfectly counterbalances the cheese’s saltiness and power.
A wine for restaurants and home
While the above is a whistle-stop tour of some wonderful food pairings, it does show how great and versatile the wines of Alsace are with contemporary dishes of literally all cuisines and creeds. All this adds up to a whole lot of reasons why canny wine drinkers seek them out on restaurant wine lists and keep some bottles at the ready for drinking at home, particularly at times like Christmas when they provide indulgent and different choices for guests to savour.
Restaurants with good Alsace wine selections
Antidote: Convivial wine bar that hits the spot with its low intervention list and tasty food offering.
Brawn: Informal, perfectly formed wine bar run by Ed Wilson with a veritable treasure trove of natural, sustainable and biodynamic options, including a great offering of Alsace.
City Social: Classy Jason Atherton City outpost overweight in top-notch dishes, distinguished wines and sybaritic views.
Clarette: A passion project of Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos of the Château Margaux family, it's no wonder that wine is the star of the show at this chic bar and restaurant in Marylebone.
Clipstone: Sibling to Michelin-starred Portland, Clipstone is a little easier on the wallet but similarly accomplished and elegant.
The Five Fields: Jewel of a restaurant just off Sloane Square absorbing its soigné audience with high level dishes.
Hithe & Seek: You'll find a considered wine list at this lovely, jewel-toned spot, with views overlooking the Thames.
Maison Francois: Well-run high class St James’s brasserie serving top notch brasserie dishes – it’s a dab hand with rotiserrie chicken. Top wine list too.
Moor Hall: Known for its dedication to hyper-seasonal produce and precise cooking, but the wine list is equally accomplished.
Noble Rot: Newest iteration of the group that fits like a glove into this corner site in Shepherd Market. The list is a thing of joy, with a clear penchant for Alsace Riesling. There’s Grand Cru Gewurztraminer from Weinbach too.
Nobu Restaurant Shoreditch: The Shoreditch outpost of this world-famous restaurant features plenty of Alsace Riesling on the wine list, as well as Gewurztraminer.
Noize: Mathieu Germond’s grown-up bistro in Fitzrovia ticks all the boxes for wine lovers – both with its reasonably priced house list and fine wine list.
NoMad London: Arguably one of London's most beautiful dining rooms, with a wine list to match.
Planque: Billed as a wine drinkers’ clubhouse and a dream ticket for those wanting to expand their horizons, including drinking Alsace Rieslings, Gewurztraminers and a Crémant.
Ploussard: Classic French food executed with integrity at this new likeable neighbourhood bistro. Short but considered wine list includes some nice Alsace references.
Pollen Street Social: Slick but understated Jason Atherton flagship includes a great selection of wines by the glass to suit all budgets and tastes. Alsace Riesling is taken particularly seriously.
Sager & Wilde: The original, super cool Sager + Wilde exuding urban pub vibes and great knowledge particularly on the wine front. All the key Alsace references are here, including Orange wines and red.
St John: Simple but carefully crafted, no fuss temple to nose-to-tail eating. Drinking is always a pleasure here and its French-focused wine list offers Alsace Crémant, Riesling and Pinot Gris.
Trishna: Exquisite Indian cooking and effortless professionalism at this Marylebone landmark at this JKS outpost.
Blandford Comptoir: An underrated Marylebone gem, where great wine is given equal billing to unpretentious cooking.
Want to know more about Alsace wine? Get more familiar with this gem of a wine making region with our complete guide to Alsace wines.