Winewyse Press Articles

Alsace - Land of Kugelhof and Riesling

Richard Esling - Friday, November 23, 2018
Alsace - Land of Kugelhof and Riesling

Head to the far east of France, just before you hit the German border, and you’ll discover a land of pretty towns and villages, with an array of half-timbered houses, each with their window boxes cascading with flowers. This is the Alsace, one of the driest and sunniest regions of France, sheltering in the lee of the wild mountains and forests of the Vosges. Its an area that could be ‘The Shire’, full of hobbits, before our imagination was influenced by the film.

The region borders both Switzerland and Germany and there are many influences from the latter, since in recent centuries control has changed between France and Germany several times.  Strasbourg is the region’s capital, but the main centre for the wine region is around the beautiful town of Colmar, with its brightly coloured houses and canals in the town centre. The Alsace is one of France’s top white wine producing regions, though little understood in this country, where they are often confused with sweet, German wines of the old days.

Many different grape varieties are grown here, partly reflecting the great variety in soils, micro-climates and terroir, with the majority of wines being dry and full-bodied, amongst the best food wines that money can buy. Riesling and Gewurztraminer dominate the varietal offerings for still wines and additionally there is a very large production of sparkling Crémant d’Alsace – the second most popular sparkling wine in France after champagne.
The majority of the vineyards are squeezed into the strip of land along the foothills of the Vosges and the top wines designated ‘Grand Cru’ are grown on steep, stony slopes, often at heights above 1000 feet. The dozens of wineries are tucked away in every pretty and characterful village, most offering tastings of their wines. The walled town of Turckheim, Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr are villages which are paradise for wine-lovers and gourmets.

In Colmar, there is only one restaurant to go to – well, perhaps two. Restaurant Bartholdi on Rue des Boulangers has been run by the family Foit for over 40 years and with its fine, authentic, Alsatian cuisine, together with an extensive wine list of the best wines from the region, it is a place not to be missed. The iced Kugelhopf with raisins soaked in Gewurztraminer brandy is heaven on a plate. The other great place is Wistub Brenner on Rue Turenne, serving traditional Alsatian dishes such as Choucroute, Tarte à l’oignon, or dishes made with the super-smelly Munster cheese.

Kugelhopf – a brioche-like cake, with connotations of Marie Antoinette (let them eat cake!), is just one of the many specialities, and Riesling just one of the wonderful wines to discover. A few days pottering around the wine villages of this historic region, visiting a few wineries as you go, is a truly relaxing experience. Domaine Muré in Rouffach, owners of the famed Clos Saint Landelin, dates back to 1650 and is now run by the 12th generation of the Muré family. Whilst in the tiny village of Hunawihr, with its fortified church, Domaine Sipp-Mack welcomes visitors to experience a taste of top-quality wines such as Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker, or their superb, dry sparkler.

Whilst there are many hotels to choose from, an ideal location for visiting the whole region is the village of Itterswiller, and its chalet-style Hotel Arnold overlooking the vineyards, has 30 rooms, a Spa and a Wistub. Sit back and relax, with a glass of Riesling.


Fab wines from Villa Maria

Richard Esling - Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Fab wines from Villa Maria

By George! These wines are good!

Recently I had the privilege of having lunch with the owner and founder of Villa Maria - the most awarded Wine company in New Zealand. At the age of only 21, Sir George Fistonich founded the company back in 1961, when the wine industry in New Zealand was in its infancy. Starting his working life as a professional carpenter, his Croatian background soon led him to a passion for wine, and his skills as a tradesman helped him to build his first winery.

The quietly spoken, unassuming nature of Sir George, belies the utter determination, passion and ingenuity of a man who believes that quality counts far more than increased profit. Now No 1 in NZ and the fourth most admired wine brand in the world, Villa Maria is a leader in innovation, with a passionate team of people making exceptional wines, proudly pursuing the visions and ambitions of the company’s founder.

In the first years, George was on his own, but his success led to taking on staff in the 1970’s and first exports were achieved in 1988. George has undoubtedly been instrumental in helping the global success of New Zealand wines, and was knighted in 2009 for services to the wine industry - the first award of its kind.

With nerves of steel, George has always pushed the boundaries in the pursuit of excellence. Experiments with different grape varieties and different techniques both in the vineyard and in the winery, continue to this day, with Albariño and Verdelho having particularly good results, apart from the iconic Sauvignon Blanc in all its manifestations. Sometimes these innovations have expansions have been problematic and the company has had its troubled times in the past. A recent experimental planting was eventually abandoned after some years, costing the company some 2 million dollars.

The company currently exports to over 50 countries world-wide, with the majority of the grapes coming from Marlborough in the South Island and Hawkes Bay in the North. I personally have always been a great fan of Villa Maria wines and from their very wide selection, I have yet to find one not to my liking. During the lunch at 67 Pall Mall, London, we were treated to some very special wines, some of which are only available at the cellar door. A trip to New Zealand beckons..........! Sir George now undertakes the role of Global Brand Ambassador, a task no-one on Earth could perform better.

But without the need for a trip down under, Villa Maria wines are widely available in the UK. Two of my favourites are the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from Clifford Bay (Sainsbury’s £15.95) and the Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2016 (Majestic £12.99 at the mix six price). The Sauvignon Blanc 2017 comes from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough is powerful, with aromas of wild flowers and fresh lime, complementing the tropical flavours on the palate. The Pinot Noir is also from Marlborough, medium bodied with delicious red berry fruit and subtle, integrated oak. Fine tannins, with a long finish and great finesse.

Wines which you can trust, from one of New Zealand’s undisputed wine pioneers.