Alsace is a region that looks two ways. When you visit, the architecture, the food, the local dialect and many of the place names all suggest you are in Germany, which lies just a few miles to the east across the River Rhine. This view is supported by two of the most widely planted grape varieties there being Riesling and Gewurztraminer. But despite times under German rule in the past, today Alsace is firmly in France – although many of the locals would probably say that they’re from Alsace first and France second.
The climate, too, is not quite what you’d expect: lying around 48˚N (similar to Champagne and more northerly than Chablis), and with Riesling and Gewurztraminer thriving, you’d be thinking it would be decidedly cool. Yet, thanks to the shelter of the Vosges Mountains to the west, Alsace is often one of the sunniest and driest regions in the whole of France, allowing more warmth-loving varieties such as Muscat, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to ripen, if planted in the right spots.
And Domaine Paul Blanck has certainly found those, with vineyards ideally situated around the village of Kientzheim, just north of Colmar.
His Pinot Noir (Waitrose, £14.99) is especially recommended. It’s a grape variety that can be very fussy – thin and tart if under-ripe, jammy if over-ripe – but Blanck has got it just right: quite restrained on the nose but with lovely ripe raspberry and cranberry flavours on the palate leading into a long fresh finish. The only sign that this comes from a relatively cool site is the modest (12.5%) alcohol, but, for me, that, too is a plus giving the wine elegance and style and making it really food-friendly: duck or turkey certainly, but the lowish tannin would also point to pairing it with some robust fish dish, say a tuna steak.
Although Pinot Noir is most famously grown in Burgundy, it’s also found (as Spätburgunder) in parts of Germany and this example from Alsace is, for me, closer to that country’s style. One more sign, perhaps, of this region looking two ways.