Carpe Vinum’s Tour de France: Alsace

If you follow my Carpe Vinum adventures, you know that a couple of us are heading to France on vacation this summer (I’m going Paris and north; my girlfriend is going Paris and south). Last month, we embarked on an in-depth study of the French wine regions where we’ll be traveling — our very own Tour de France.

For every Carpe Vinum tasting, I try to do a research post on our chosen topic.  It’s part of my self-guided continuing wine education.  Here’s the ongoing list of our Tour de France stages (the research post is listed first):

Stage One: Provence and our Provence Tasting
Stage Two: Alsace and our Alsace Tasting (today’s post)
Stage Three: Champagne

The biggest takeaway from my Alsace research was this:  Alsace grows and produces almost exclusively cool-climate, white wine varieties (with an occasional Pinot Noir).

For our Carpe Vinum tasting, we wanted to have a good representation of the major grape varieties of Alsace, so we brought six different grape varieties to pair with three dishes (along with a cheese & dessert course).  The designed pairings are noted, however, the Gewürztraminer and the Riesling were last minute guests, so they don’t have designed pairings.  But, in the interest of education, we tried them with each of the other dishes.

Alright.  So, here are the yummies:

Artichoke-Rosemary Tart with Polenta Crust
I’d be happy to just sit and eat an artichoke sprinkled with rosemary.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to make polenta into a crust, but that’s brilliant.  Yum.  I was surprised by how much heat the black pepper added to the dish.  It made for an interesting contrast in flavors.

Julia Child’s Quiche Lorraine
The filling for this quiche has just seven ingredients (and that’s including the salt, pepper and nutmeg).  How can something with so few ingredients taste so amazing?!?  Julia says the original Quiche Lorraine has no cheese, but she’s given her permission to add it (see the link).  I love this so much, I went out and bought myself a quiche pan (I usually just make quiche in a pie plate like a big rube).  I made this the other night and added some leftover gruyère . . . so, that’ll be a keeper!

Ina Garten’s Croque Monsieur
Translated literally, Croque Monsieur means, Mr. Crunch, which sounds more like a cereal than a sandwich to me.  A Croque Monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich smothered in a béchamel-gruyère cheese sauce.  It’s like eating a ham & cheese sandwich topped with cheese fondue!  Mmmm.  Another version of the sandwich is topped with a fried egg, and called a Croque Madame.  Btw, my teenage son’s criteria for a “good” sandwich is this:  Can you put an egg on it?  He’s gonna be a happy camper in France this summer.

DSC_4069-1Alsace Willm Crémant Brut Rose  ⭐⭐⭐/86
Pale pink hue.  Light-bodied, with strawberry, rhubarb and almond flavors. Zippy and refreshing.  Not overly complex, but for $15?  Yes, please.  I’m so drinking this on my patio this spring and summer.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍
Artichokes are notorious wine killers, but they can’t kill the delicious bubbles in this Crémant.  Very enjoyable.

Quiche Lorraine 👍
I’m imagining Julia Child sipping Crémant on Sunday morning while eating Quiche Lorraine and reading a French newspaper.  Winner.

Croque Monsieur 👍  (designed pairing)
The bubbles were a perfect balance to the rich, gruyère cheese sauce on the sandwich.  This will be a repeat pairing, for sure.

DSC_4039-1Zinck Pinot Blanc Eguisheim 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
A pale straw color.  The nose reminds me a little of Orangina.  Tart citrus flavors, with minerals and chalk on the back end.  Light bodied, crisp, and acidic.  12.5% ABV.   $17.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍 (designed pairing)
The tart tames the acidity in the wine, and the wine brings out the rosemary in the tart.  Very nice.

Quiche Lorraine 👍
The textures of the wine and quiche compliment each other very nicely.  And the acidity provides a nice balance to the creaminess of the quiche.

Croque Monsieur ↔
It’s not terrible, but it’s not awesome, either.  Let’s go with neutral.

DSC_4066-1Cave Vinicole de Kientzheim-Kaysersberg Pinot Gris Schlossberg Alsace Grand Cru 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/87
The nose is all perfume — I wasn’t expecting that in a Pinot Gris.  It’s almost like this Pinot Gris was going to a masquerade party as Gewurztraminer. Medium bodied with a rich, almost creamy texture.  Slightly sweet, but a great dose of acid balances everything out.  $25.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍
The slight sweetness in the wine balances the pepper, but doesn’t completely destroy the artichoke.

Quiche Lorraine 👍 (designed pairing)
Lovely.  The slight sweetness of the wine compliments the creaminess of the quiche, and the acid makes the whole pairing harmonious.

Croque Monsieur
We forgot to taste this with the sandwich.  Boo, us.

DSC_4057-1Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 2012  ⭐⭐/83
Wine Spectator rated this wine 91 points, and I totally don’t get it.  Smells like someone wearing too much perfume in a floral shop.   The balance seems out of whack.  Looking for the acid.  Maybe flawed?  This is unlike Zind-Humbrecht.  $27.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👎
No.  No.  A thousand times, no.  Like drinking sweet perfume.

Quiche Lorraine 👎
Strike two.  Terrible.  What is going on here??

Croque Monsieur 👎
Strike three (though the most bearable of all three dishes).  The Gewurztraminer is out!

I have much better luck with I pair Gewurztraminer with spicy Asian foods.  I’ll keep doing that.

DSC_4055-1Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvee Theo 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/89
Beautiful pale straw color.  Tart and light, with flavors of green apple and lemon. Mineral driven, with a great backbone of acidity.  $30.

Artichoke-Polenta Tart 👍
Very nice.  The Riesling brings out the lemon highlights in the tart and doesn’t fight with the artichokes.  The artichokes make the Riesling seem a smidge sweeter, too. Works for me.

Quiche Lorraine ↔
This is really more of a meh pairing.  The quiche isn’t doing the wine any favors, but it’s not beating it up, either.

Croque Monsieur 👎
The sandwich is good.  The Riesling is good.  The sandwich and Riesling are not good together.  The balance is just weird.

DSC_4076-12008 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg SGN ⭐⭐⭐⭐/94+
It kind of blows my mind that a wine so sweet and plush can be so perfectly balanced.  Unbelievable texture, like licking a silk pillowcase (and yes, I put that in there to see if anyone really reads these reviews).  Mango, coconut, pineapple, melon.  It’s all in there.  But the most unusual and memorable thing about this wine?  There’s a hint of mushroom on the nose.  Yep, mushroom.  Weird, but unbelievably appealing.  $70.

Roquefort Cheese 👍
I don’t care for the Bleu Family of cheeses.  Every time I eat bleu cheese, I want to re-enact that scene from Big where Tom Hanks tries caviar and wipes off his tongue like he’s just eaten a swarm of bees.  But I don’t want to be closed-minded, either, so I tried Roquefort again.  I still want to wipe it off my tongue.  It’s less terrible paired with the wine, but terrible nonetheless. My girlfriends who like Roquefort enjoyed the pairing, though, hence the thumbs up.

Brilliat Savarin Cheese 👍
This cheese reminded me of a nutty Brie — sooooo much better than the Roquefort.  The wine took on a Sherry like quality with this cheese.  Very interesting match.

Pear Tart 👍👍
This was lovely.  Lovely.  Would it be gauche to lick my plate?

Stage Three of Carpe Vinum’s Tour de France will be . . . Champagne!

Salud!

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