Requiem for a Wine Region

foiegras.jpgMy first real experience with wine was in Strasbourg in 1974. Before that wine had only been Mateus or Lancer’s and there was that one night during my first week of college when Boone’s Farm left me driving the porcelain bus, but when I arrived in France there was something that made me want to try wine. Wine was not hard to find in Strasbourg and the pitchers of Edelzwicker I gulped in the WienStube of Alsace started me down the wine road that I still follow over thirty years later.

Needless to say, Alsatian wine holds a place dear to my heart. Yet there was even more, when I entered the wine business in 1979 everyone that knew what-was-what about wine loved and drank the hard, mineraly, acid driven wines of Alsace. Times being very different than the dog-eat-dog world of wine sales today, the small group of wine professionals that were really into wine would gather at group picnics and parties, even though we were competitors, and share bottles we loved. When it came to dry white wines those bottles were invariably Burgundy and Alsace.

Today things have changed in both the wine business and Alsace. This weekend, while perusing the list of a very good Indian restaurant with a nice wine list, I sadly passed over the Alsatian wines.  No great wine region has been more deformed and disfigured by modern winemaking fads than Alsace and it is with great sadness that I actually recommend not buying these wines, which have lost their individual character and their reason for being because everything they are trying to do someone else does better.

Today’s Alsatian wines are great examples of the more-is-better school of winemaking that chases points instead of grace at the table. They are “Too” wines: too ripe, too extracted, too botrytized, too sweet, too alcoholic, too flabby and too boring to drink.  The Alsatians make the foie gras of white wines. Just like real foie gras is made by force feeding the bird, Alsatians are force feeding their grapes with the end result being their wines only taste good with foie gras - a somewhat limited use.

Perhaps if we avoid these distended wines a new generation of Alsatian winemakers will return to their roots and make some of the world’s greatest white wines. I hope so because I miss them.