Monday, October 12, 2009

Wine and Cheese - Le Welsche and Gewurztraminer

I'm one of those weirdos who likes Gewurztraminer. It's true, so many of the wines are very bad - sweet and unbalanced, too viscous, devoid of subtlety, crude. But there are good versions out there, and they get lost in the shadow of badness. I understand Gewurztraminer, like Muscat, the way they relate to the other white Alsace grapes. In general, Gewurztraminer and Muscat make aromatic wines, whereas Riesling and Sylvaner are more mineral, and Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are more about fresh fruit. None of these general descriptors indicates anything specific about sweetness. Alsace producers make dry, off-dry, and sweet wines from all of these grapes, yet the average Gewurztraminer seems to be too sweet.

Aromatic doesn't have to mean sweet, though, and my favorite Gewurztraminer wines are dry, or at least they don't seem sweet because they are balanced by good acidity. Truth be told, I haven't found many that fit this description, but those I've found, I love: Dirler's and Binner's particularly. I haven't tried Boxler's, but I bet it's very good too. The other day I found another one, by a producer I'd never heard of, Helfrich. Full disclosure- this wine, along with several other Helfrich wines, was sent to me as a sample by a firm representing Underdog Wine Merchants in California.

A friend came over the other night and after dinner we served an Alsace cheese called Le Welsche, a washed rind cow's milk cheese in the Munster family. This particular cheese is washed with Marc de Gewurztraminer. I always thought Marc was a kind of Brandy, but it isn't (thank you blog) Marc, like Grappa, is a distillation made from leftover grape skins, stems, and seeds (called pomace), Gewurztraminer pomace in this case.
We unwrapped the cheese a solid two hours before eating to let it air out and come to room temperature. It is not a runny cheese like Epoisses, but is is soft and easy to spread - we went with thin slices of a seven-grain loaf. Le Welsche is not on the stinkiest end of the washed rind cheese spectrum, but it has a pungency that harmonizes well with its grassy sweet cream.

The pairing was great, and that's probably why it's a classic. The 2005 Helfrich Stenklotz Grand Cru Gewurztraminer, about $23, Imported by Underdog Wine Merchants, is a great wine, and a great value. Steinklotz means "stony block," and Helfrich's plot is calcareous bedrock covered in about 8 inches of loamy topsoil. This mineral character really comes through in the wine. The nose shows pure springwater and rock, and also classic aromas of exotic fruit and spice, but it is an elegant expression, not some sort of opulent explosion. The minerals continue on the palate, which comes across as dry, although there are 21 grams/liter of residual sugar here. That's well into demi-sec territory by Loire Chenin standards, and like the best examples of demi-sec Vouvray, the sweetness here is balanced by superb acidity. This wine is defined by its balance - it feels completely unadorned. It is only 13% alcohol, it is highly aromatic, especially on the finish, but it isn't sweet. It is full in body, but not viscous, it is very pure and almost cutting in its minerality, and the whole package is seamless. I would eagerly buy this wine, and probably lay down a few bottles too, but it is not available right now in NYC. A simple web search reveals that it is available in California, Colorado, and New York state, and it's probably available in other markets too. I still haven't sprung for the good version of wine location software.


Jack Everitt said...

I'm one of those weirdos who loves Gewürztraminer. I've drunk more than two dozen bottles this year (the most for any white variety for me), and all from Alsace and Alto Adige. To me (and others), Alto Adige's top Gewürztraminers are of the same quality level of top Alsace producers (for dry wines).

I've had five from BC (by the glass) the past two weeks; they seem slightly superior to California's, but don't at all reach the level of the best from NZ, much less Alsace and A.A.

...It's never a good sign when you smell a Gewürztraminer and it doesn't smell like a Gewürztraminer. Being aromatic doesn't count.

Weston said...

JACK! BC wines hell yes but for Gewurtz yeah they have some nice old vines especially.

I am one of those people who like/love/like gewurtz at one point it was my favourite WINE, then white, then wine, then Viognier. But you can not go wrong with Floral wines IMO I love it just like a floral Muscat. I love when im at a wine tasting just smelling it, and someone notices and I make a comment about how I just love the Floralness.

I must say I need to dive into the NZ stuff. Always loved the Alsace for Gewurtz

Wow, that must of been the half bottle of wine in me. har. good ole gewurtz