A true masterpiece is composed of many elements, and all the details must be in precise balance: The forearm musculature on Michelangelo’s ‘David’ for example—the intake of breath in the nostril of Sanmartino’s ‘Veiled Christ.’ This is as true for a magnificent meal as it is for a sculpture, and any constituent of your Thanksgiving Day spread that’s treated as an afterthought may glare more than the successes.
Naturally, we consider wine to be an indispensable part of this annual meal, not only to reinforce the overall sensory enjoyment, but as a nod to a greater sense of appreciation for things that we, as human beings, get right.
It’s possible to overanalyze your wine choices, of course—many of the other elements of a Thanksgiving feast are as fixed as the solar system. Wine is one factor that is not only less preordained, but can (and should) change with vintages and tastes. Our suggestions for Thanksgiving 2023 is an array of Alsatian wines, and are offered as interval highlights at various stages of the meal. They reflect the balance that all cooks, winemakers and artists strive for in rhythm, emphasis, unity and variety.
To paraphrase Churchill, “Nowhere else in the field of vines is so much owed by so many to so few.”
In fact, Alsace—ground-zero for some of the world’s most iconic wine flavors, has about 2000 growers, but about 80% of Alsace wine comes from fewer than 200 of them. For contrast, Napa produces fifty times the amount of wine that Alsace does, and Bordeaux, sixty times as much. But you may, at times, find that these two Cab/Merlot powerhouses emulate one another in style, weight and direction, whereas Alsace stands apart from the rest of the wine world as a unique bastion of climatic and geological diversity that makes their distinctive treatment of familiar grape varieties unparalleled.
These are wines to fall in love with, both supple and delicate simultaneously.
The key to successful wine/food pairs is hardly rocket science, but it can boil down to science nonetheless. And herein lies the rub: You’ll find as many scholarly analyses that tell you to pair tannic wines with roasted meat as will tell you to pair fruity, slightly off-dry wine with the same course. Tart, slightly sour courses can be matched with a high-acid wine… or a wine that is on the sweet side. At the core of the dichotomy, of course, is the ‘compliment or contrast’ paradox.
Fortunately, Alsace produces wine in such a spectacular array of styles that with a little labor-of-love practice, you’ll discover your preferred solution. From the crisp sparkle of Crémant d’Alsace to the dry and distinct mineral notes of Grand Cru, to the mellow sweetness of Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles dessert wines—each treated with equal importance by vignerons—there is taste to suit virtually any mouthful.
When your guests arrive, an icebreaker does not need to contain ice, but the appropriate chill is always appreciated. Red wines, in particular, tend to be served too warm. In this case, Domaine Schoffit ‘Vieilles Vignes Vendange Entière’ hits its refreshing high-water mark at around 55°F, somewhat lower than the typical household room temperature. Likewise, the tendency is to transfer white wine directly from refrigerator to glass, which is too cold to appreciate the nuance of an Alsatian white. Give it ten or fifteen minutes to pick up some ambient room warmth—it will show much better.
•1• Domaine Weinbach, 2020 Alsace Pinot Blanc ($31)
Made of hand-picked, organically grown grapes from the Clos des Capucins climat (first planted in 1612—that is not a typo) and another plot in the Cuvée Laurence vineyard. And now for the odd news: This wine is 70% Auxerrois; a low acid, full-bodied varietal most at home in Alsace where laws permit it to be used anonymously in wines labeled Pinot Blanc—to the extent that wines that are 100% Auxerrois may, in fact, be labeled Pinot Blanc without falling afoul of rules. In this wine, 30% is Pinot Blanc, and it shows intense, very ripe pear notes behind some butter and rum raisin balanced by lots of juicy acidity that resolves into a contrast of sweet honey and salty minerality.
Named after the little stream which runs through the property, Domaine Weinbach was first planted with vines in the 9th century and established as a winery by Capuchin friars in 1612. After being sold as national property during the French Revolution, it was acquired by the Faller brothers in 1898, who then left it to their son and nephew, Théo Faller. Following his death in 1979, his wife Colette and daughters Catherine and Laurence continued the family’s passion for the great wines of Alsace until the untimely deaths of Colette and Laurence. Since 2016, Catherine has led the estate winery with her sons, Eddy and Théo.
Domaine Weinbach owns 65 acres of vineyards in the Kaysersberg valley in the Haut-Rhin of Alsace at between 600 and 1300 feet above sea level. Vines are grown organically with a view to quality rather than quantity and grapes. Unlike most producers in Alsace, who purchase from négociants, Weinbach vinifies only estate grown grapes, and their aging philosophy is best described as passive, carried out in huge old oak foudres, a technique they believe allows each climat and each terroir (along with the other unique characteristics of grape and vintage) to shimmer through and produce elegant and sophisticated wines.
•2• Christophe Lindenlaub ‘En Équilibre’, 2021 Alsace Riesling ‘natural’ ($35)
100% Dorlisheim Riesling comes from 25-year-old vines. The grapes are cold-soaked and direct-pressed into stainless steel tanks, then aged ‘sur lie’ for eight months in stainless steel. This is a wine well-anchored in the ‘natural’ category, unfined and unfiltered and shining with elegant liveliness, crunchiness and notes of white flowers and citrus fruits, leading to a mineral-driven finish.
When (in 2014) Christophe Lindenlaub forwent the use of Sulfur in the cellar, his wines were said to take on his personality: Unfined, unfiltered and brimming with energy. Not that his family had not been producing outstanding grapes all along—the Lindenlaubs have been farming since 1759 in the large village of Dorlisheim in the Bas-Rhin, located along the Alsace wine route to the west and a touch south of Strasbourg.
Christophe’s father Jacques started bottling the family’s wines in the 1970s; at the time, they were still raising livestock, and it would be another decade before they plunged fully into winemaking. Christophe arrived on the scene in 1999 to work alongside his father with a specific direction in mind: Organics. The twenty-acre estate, built upon clay and limestone with scattered sandstone, was officially certified thus in 2012.
•3• Domaine Schoffit ‘Vieilles Vignes Vendange Entière’, 2018 Alsace Pinot Noir ($32)
‘Vendange Entière’ refers to whole-cluster fermentation—a cellar technique intended to make a given wine more complex, weaving in spicy and herbal tones while adding candied and airy fruit and tannin structure, and also, to smooth out high acidity. In short, it is a method winemakers use to override anything lacking in a cool climate Pinot. Here, it works, and the wine is finely knit, featuring crushed black cherry, mandarin orange peel, Herbes de Provence and anise notes.
As the southernmost Grand Cru, Rangen de Thann is a fitting ‘ciao’ to Alsace; ‘ciao’, of course, can translate to either ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ depending on the direction you are heading. With Bernard Schoffit, it is high time the world gave him a hearty hello and never mind the rest; he is a star who has not yet supernovaed in the wine universe, and as a result, his gems are extremely affordable.
To call a man a ‘pioneer’ who cultivates wine country that has been famous for eight hundred years (vintage 1228 was described as ‘extremely good; so hot you could fry an egg in the sand’) may seem a stretch, but the spirit that impelled Bernard Schoffit to purchase 16 acres around Clos Saint-Théobold belongs to a frontiersman. Previously abandoned because the slopes were deemed too steep to work, the vines in question (in Rangen de Thann AOP) grew on a plot of soil that has been likened to Montrachet and Chambertin. And from this forbidding site, relying on extremely low yields, he is making extraordinary wine with each cépage.
In addition, Schoffit raises grapes in the lieu-dit Harth, an alluvial terroir close to the commercial area of Hussen in northern Colmar, and three acres in the granitic Grand Cru Sommerberg to the south of Katzental and to the north of Niedermorschwihr. In Harth, Schoffit tends 80 years old Chasselas vines, of which a few percent are replanted each year as an illustration of Schoffit’s long-term perspective.
Based near Colmar, Bernard took the winery over from his father Robert and his son Alexandre is now a co-owner. Demonstrating the estate’s commitment to sustainable agriculture Alexandre maintains, “All our vineyards are organic, and we also started to work biodynamic a few years ago. In order to show more transparency, I decided in 2016 to launch the official certification process, but for administrative reasons it was stretched over different years. The first wines officially labeled fully organic will be some cuvées of the 2019 vintage (Harth Riesling and Harth Pinot Gris for example), and the rest of the classic range will follow in the 2020 vintage. For the Grand Crus, it will be from the 2022 vintage. The official certification for biodynamic is in progress and we are still waiting to know from when we will be able to use it on the labels. But for now, Domaine Schoffit gives the assurance that we are both bio and biodynamic!”
Today’s planet has as much to toast as it has to mourn, so take a moment with your guests to raise a glass to our survival and perhaps, to commemorate those who have not been so fortunate.
France’s ingenious Méthode Champenoise makes the quintessential toasting wine, but such singular improvements have been made throughout the world of bubbles that now is an ideal time to expand your horizons beyond the familiar world of Champagne. As in the Grand Crus of Alsace, Crémant AOP is riddled with rules, some even stricter than Champagne’s. Among them, Rosé may only be made from Pinot Noir. Additionally, the harvest must come from vines into its 3rd growing season and the wine may not be bottled for the second fermentation before January 1 of the year after the harvest. The wine must then spend at least 12 months ‘sur latte’ before disgorging. It is—like Champagne—required to be made via Méthode Traditionnelle.
•4• Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Crémant d’Alsace Rosé Brut Zéro ($37)
A perfectly dry Brut Zéro, and since it is forbidden for Crémant producers to blend red and white grapes to make rosé, this one is 100% Bollenberg Pinot Noir, created and bottled without sulfites. It is an elegant saignée rosé with red berry aromas on the nose, intense fruit-skin intensity and a striking mineral profile to the finish.
Aligned with the same winemaking traditions it first established in 1691, Zusslin is located in the southern part of Alsace in Orschwir on the Bollenberg, Clos Liebenberg (a Zusslin monopole) and the hillsides of Pfingstberg Grand Cru.
Early to the Crémant game, the domain was also an early practitioner of biodynamics, having introduced this philosophy to viticulture in 1997. Says Valentin: “We plant cover crops to encourage good insects and microbial life for the soil, encourage bees to pollinate the beneficial plants and we grow trees to attract the birds that eat the harmful bugs. This way of thinking carries through everything we do in the fields and in the winery.”
In addition, his wife Marie insists that their lifestyle goes far beyond a philosophy, and as evidence, she indicates the wall on the property that bears names of 13 generations of Zusslin winegrowers: “We represent not only history, but the circle of life.”
When the curtain rises on the main event, cast and crew must be on cue; no more dress rehearsal holidays, this is opening night. And although we’d only recommend diva wines for this important matchup, the fact is that fancy-costume labels should not be a deciding factor when there are plenty of remarkable main-floor wines available for mezzanine prices. Roast turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving of course, although it is by no means a mandate. Not only that, but the accompaniments—traditional or novel—represent a wide variety of textures, flavors and attitudes, from crunchy to sweet and unctuous to salty. It’s often wise to curate a selection of wines rather than look for a perfect pairing to a single wine, or even a single style. These three selections offer a range of options, a weight for every side course and a flavor for every palate.
•5• Domaine Valentin Zusslin, 2018 Alsace ‘Bollenberg’ Pinot Noir ($47)
A biodynamic and 100% Pinot Noir from the long-awaited 2018 vintage, the wine is from vines planted on the slopes of the Bollenberg lieu-dit, where the limestone equates to finesse and a salty undertone. The vineyard sits at the foot of the Vosges Mountains in one of the driest places in France with only about 15 inches of annual rainfall. Supple and silky, showing tones of cherry and minerality.
•6• Domaine Meyer-Fonné, 2017 Alsace Altenbourg Pinot Noir ($48)
Among the best of Alsace’s new guard of Pinot Noirs, this seductive wine (with notes of tea leaves, strawberries and blackberries) is in the class of many Premier Cru Burgundies. It is spectacular now, and should improve for a decade.
Félix Meyer is one of those winemakers whom you sense is a star that will grow ever brighter with every vintage. He is the third generation in his family to be making wine since his grandfather founded Meyer-Fonné in the late 19th century and, since taking over 1992, Félix has modernized equipment, developed export sales and is currently driving the family’s holdings deeply into the best vineyards of Alsace.
According to Félix: “Our vineyard covers eighteen hectares and seven communes, where the nature of the soils, the relief of the land and levels of exposure are varied. The soils range from poor quality filtering alluvial deposits (Colmar) to rich, deep clayey sandstone land in Riquewihr, with granite in between in Katzental, while the reliefs range from the flats of Colmar to the steeply sloping Katzental. The degrees of exposure are also very varied, ranging from the cooler western part which is suitable for the earlier vine types to the south-facing part which is very warm and sunny. This great variety of terroirs constitutes a distinctiveness and a richness in relation to many of the French vineyards.”
A stickler for detail with an overriding sense of responsibility, both the family and the earth, he makes his home in Katzental, known for its distinctive granite soils. With this remarkable terroir beneath his feet, Meyer has developed a knack for mixing wine from various of his parcels into complex and balanced cuvées. Among his cellar tricks is leaving wine to age on lees in large, older foudres, as was once the tradition in Alsace. All of Meyer’s bottlings are characterized by their stunning aromatics and signature backbone of minerality and electric acidity.
•7• Domaine Mann, 2017 Alsace Letzenberg Pinot Gris ($35)
Letzenberg means ‘last mountain’ and the lieu-dit is on an elevation created by long-ago glacial activity; the site is clay and limestone that leaves a pronounced minerality to the wines. A beautiful example of Alsatian Pinot Gris, the wine shows floral notes, citrus and bruised apples while the palate is ripe with orange blossom and honey with a long acid-rich finish.
After stints in Côte-Rôtie and Champagne, where he learned the value of biodynamics from Bertrand Gautherot, Sébastien Mann has been making wine at the family estate since 2009 after taking over for his father. He says, “I think that, thanks to biodynamics, we have succeeded in bringing an additional element to our vines. My father made wines essentially linked to the earth; I have an even more holistic style, linked to the stars.”
Domaine Mann’s 32 acres were founded upon the theory that in order to produce terroir-driven wines with aging potential, legally allowable yields have to be cut in half. From the outset, the estate produced 35 cuvées, one for each parcel.
“The style of the wines changed very quickly when I came on board,” Sébastien maintains. “95% of the wines we produce now are dry. It was not an easy task, since Alsace is one of the warmest and driest regions in France. Grapes can easily ripen with a high sugar level. I don’t think my father could imagine that with biodynamics we would be able to achieve such a great evolution, achieving phenolic maturity while making dry wines.”
•8• Domaine Albert Mann, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($31)
100% biodynamic Riesling offering juicy fresh green apple infused with orange and lime peel on the nose, lively acidity and lift on the palate along with notes of apricot, violets, and tangerine with the slightest seductive hint of petrol on the palate and hints of salt and chalk on the finish.
According to David Schildknecht of ‘The Wine Advocate’, “The Barthelmé brothers, Jacky and Maurice, have maintained their position near the forefront of Alsace viticulture by farming relatively far-flung and outstanding vineyards as well as offering excellent value virtually throughout their range.”
The fifty acres for which the Barthelmé are responsible are highly regarded throughout Alsace. Headquartered in the village of Wettolsheim near Colmar, the spirit animal of the operation is Albert Mann, Maurice’s father-in-law. He was the first to hit upon the idea of using modern production tools without neglecting the constraints of the land and his philosophy was to make wine using the elements of the soil, without the help of fertilizers. The Barthelmé brothers have embraced his beliefs and are now at the forefront of organic/biodynamic Alsace producers. The goal of the estate is to produce wine that is in harmony with nature: “Wine is the memory of the grape and is capable of transmitting the taste of the earth.’
The brothers began practicing biodynamic viticulture in 1997 in three of their Grand Crus vineyards, receiving certification from Biodyvin in 2015. This labor-intensive technique is intended to give the wine the purest reflection of its terroir and own identity. Says Maurice, “In ploughing the vineyards, we encourage the roots to descend to a maximum depth to capture the beneficial mineral elements from degraded rock below. Our holdings are divided up into a myriad of distinct plots, thus ensuring that each wine is reflective of their precise origins, while remaining as complex and multi-faceted as possible.”
The domain owns vines in five separate Grand Cru sites. Hengst and Schlossberg are two of the better known. Hengst (meaning stallion) has a southeast orientation and shallow stony/calcareous soil while Schlossberg, with its steep, terraced slopes of granite, sand and shale, yields particularly expressive wines with pronounced floral bouquets. Both sites produce wines that age superbly.
On Thanksgiving, there are those who consider dessert an entirely separate meal, generally offered after a breather and, in the case of football fans, a nail-biter game. Hedonism is a given, and a sugar blast from confections is as easy as pie or as complex and elaborate as your inner pastry chef can concoct.
Fortunately for the wine decision, Alsace offers two categories of dessert-style wine; Vendanges Tardives is made from late harvested grapes and must be made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris or Muscat.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2018 Alsace ‘Boland’ Vendanges Tardives Gewürztraminer ($71) – 500 ml
Jean Boxler of Domaine Albert Boxler owns some of the most highly sought-after vineyard land in Alsace, including plots in the storied Grand Crus Sommerberg and Brand. Boland is a lieu-dit directly adjacent to Brand, a steep limestone slope that has, over the years, yielded mesmerizing expressions of Gewürztraminer. In truly special years such as 2018, Boxler plays a game of patience and harvests late for a Gewürztraminer Boland Vendanges Tardives. A deep and luscious dessert wine for the ages, it is loaded with aromas of flowers, spices, and dripping honey—an utter masterpiece of Alsatian viticulture.
The list of storybook names in Alsace does not always include Domaine Albert Boxler (who produces a scant 5200 cases of wine per year) but it should; there are few serious critics who would take exception to the statement that Jean Boxler, Albert Boxler’s grandson, is responsible for producing some of the most complex and terroir-driven white wines not only in Alsace, but in the world. In an equal blend of nature and nurture, Boxler’s portfolio contains a remarkable roster of racy, intensely structured and very long-lived wines.
The Boxler family’s 32-acre holding is centered around the ancient village of Niedermorschwihr in the Haut-Rhin, dominated by the imposing granite hillside Grand Cru, Sommerberg. “At the conclusion of World War II, my grandfather Albert returned to Niedermorschwihr from Montana, where he had been busy enjoying the natural gifts of Big Sky country.” Jean says. “He was in time to harvest the 1946 crop. He became the first generation to bottle the family’s production himself and commercialize it under a family label—in fact, the wine still wears a label drawn by our cousin. My father Jean-Marc continued the tradition for several decades until passing the baton to me in 1996.”
Jean vinifies micro-parcels separately, de-classifying some into his Réserve wines and producing multiple bottlings of Sommerberg from the different lieux-dits depending on the vintage. Sommerberg Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are the specialties of the domain, while Boxler also produces one of Alsace’s best Crémants (and Edelzwicker), an incredible Gewürztraminer grown in limestone, and some of the most hauntingly pure Vendanges Tardives and SGNs in all of Alsace. If that weren’t enough, the Boxlers also own land in the powerful Grand Cru Brand, the ultimate counterpart to their holdings in Sommerberg.
“The Sommerberg hillside terminates in my driveway,” Jean laughs, “making it easy to basically live in the vineyards and ensure exceptionally healthy fruit year after year. After harvest, our wines are vinified and aged in old foudres in a small cellar underneath the family home until bottling. Not much has changed over the centuries because not much has needed to.”
Global warming is playing into virtually every vintage report, and 2020 is no different. In Alsace, it began with an unusually warm spring, which saw both an early budburst and flowering. The heat followed through developing into an extremely hot, dry summer and drought became a serious issue for some vineyard plots, as the delicate nature of Alsace white grapes means they are particularly sensitive to heat stress.
There was enough intermittent rainfall to prevent the grapes from becoming completely parched although the high temperatures inevitably sped up the growing season and prompted an early harvest, which began during another heatwave, meaning that pickers had to be careful grapes were brought in under suitably cool conditions.
Overall, despite the problems with drought, the grapes tended to be in good condition, with their essential aromatics and acidities preserved, making for many nice, high-flying wines.
Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Edelzwicker d’Alsace ($35)
‘Edelzwicker’ is a term that throws newbies to the world of Alsace, but it indicates a blend of the allowable white grapes of the region. Here, Jean Boxler ‘steals’ from his Grand Cru Riesling and Pinot Gris and adds Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner to produce a honeyed and luscious nectar with pineapple and lychee on the nose and a soft mid-palate with green apple and pear, a nice assertion of the superb Pinot Blanc.
Pinot Blanc is often thought of as understudy to Chardonnay (especially in Burgundy, where it is still permitted in many Grand Cru vineyards), but it takes on the diva’s role in Alsace. It is the region’s favorite mutant, the ‘white sheep’ of the Noir family since it is a genetic anomaly that originated as Pinot Noir, but with a smaller concentration of color-producing anthocyanins. Alsace puts the grape to work in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines, although it is frequently overshadowed by more popular Alsatian gems made from Gewürztraminer and Riesling.
Pinot Blanc d’Alsace frequently displays toasted almond aromas with hints of pie spice; nutmeg especially. On the palate they show a range of creamy applesauce flavors, and may display some light mineral characteristics, although these are generally muted by the oak treatment that Alsatian winemakers tend to favor.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Pinot Blanc ($40)
A domain flagship, from 40-year-old vines. It shows clean and crisp peach aromas with a hint of almonds and pale chamomile within a creamy texture that resolves itself with the coolness of damp stone.
Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Pinot Blanc ($54)
Blending very poor plots of the Grand Cru Brand with a parcel next to the domain that contains 50-year-old vines, the 2020 Pinot Blanc Réserve offers an elegant nose with lime notes and apple aromas in which the stony terroir takes the forefront.
With little space for argument, the statement can be made that Alsace produces some of the most terroir-reflective Rieslings on earth, echoing precisely the mix of granite, limestone, schist and sandstone on which they are grown. The wine is rarely oaked and only produced in off-dry versions labeled Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) or Sélection de Grains Nobles (from grapes affected by botrytis). In general, it is the most prolific grape among Alsatian vineyards, accounting for 22% of planted acreage. Average annual Riesling production is about 33.6 million bottles by some 950 producers.
The wines are intensely linear, and have a distinctively complex acid structure and high concentration. Aromatic and expressive, they display intense aromas of citrus, peach, pear, white flowers and a steely minerality and are particularly well-suited to aging, where the fruit recedes and yields to aromas of beeswax, lanolin, butter, smoke, pine, honey, butterscotch, mushroom, lemon candy and especially, overtones of gasoline, which is more delectable than it sounds.
Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($72)
Sourced from the Dudenstein lieu-dit within Sommerberg (because the other two parcels normally added to the Réserve were too low in acidity), the 2020 Riesling Réserve is bright and aromatic with ripe peach and mango intertwined with soft smoke. Slightly piquant in the style of the best Alsace Rieslings, the finish is structured and dense, yet maintains its signature cleanliness on the palate.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling ($99)
The granitic soils of Sommerberg are further shaped within the wine by allowing the élevage time to develop in well-seasoned foudres. The wine, with the potential to become even better over the years, shows perfectly ripe fruit rife with the beautifully flinty and herbal terroir notes of the super-steep vineyard.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg ‘Eckberg’ Riesling ($117)
From 45-year-old vines in a steep mid-slope lieu-dit in the geographic center of the Sommerberg, the Eckberg parcel is vinified separately by Boxler only in exceptional years; 2020 certainly qualifies. The wine boasts vivacious acidity combined with saline undertones that set off apricot, citrus, wet rock, honeycomb and freshly-cut jasmine.
Another mutation within the Pinot family, Pinot Gris is a sibling of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, and perhaps among the most double-faced grapes on earth: It creates the light, crisp, often forgettable Pinot Grigios of northern Italy and (without undergoing any mutations whatsoever) becomes rich and unctuous in Alsace. Location, location, location… and restricted yields.
Most identifiable by ripe poached pear notes, in Alsace the grape also reveals a floral, flinty, smoky, spicy and honeyed profile, allowing winemakers to revel in the possibilities.
“In the past, Grand Cru Alsace Pinot Gris was usually made in an off-dry or sweet style, but today, it is possible to make it in a dry style,” says Alsatian winemaker Samuel Tottoli. “For me, it is necessary to vinify it dry. Low yields from stony vineyards ensure the wine is concentrated, while prime sites with well-drained soils further promote ripening before too much sugar develops in the grapes.”
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris ($99)
No spot on earth is better suited to Pinot Gris than the Turckheim Grand Cru of Brand, where steep southern exposure on granite allows the vines to deliver grapes with the rich, smoky depth of which this varietal is capable. The bright aromas of orchard blossoms on the nose ease into white peach notes livened by bolts of lime. Fresh and spicy throughout, the structure shows the depth and breeding of the vineyard with the intense attack of fully-ripened fruit.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Florimont Pinot Gris ($99)
Meaning ‘Hill of Flowers’ and true to its name, the south-facing Florimont vineyard delivers beautifully aromatic white wines. The 2020 is remarkablely ripe while maintaining its refined purity, offering aromas of lime marmalade, sweet peaches, toasted almond with honeycomb and orange zest around a crisp core of minerality.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg ‘Wibtal’ Pinot Gris ($117)
Wibtal is the highest-altitude lieu-dit in the Sommerberg vineyard, an amphitheater that clings to the very top of the vineyard’s steep granite slope—when Jean Boxler looks out his kitchen window in the morning, he sees the sun glinting off its trellises. The site produces sumptuously rich and perfumed Pinot Gris that maintains vibrant acidity and a stony backbone to shore up the stewed apples, candied lemons and almond cake palate.
If ever a grape variety can be thought of as an ‘acquired taste’, it’s Gewürztraminer, whose unctuous, oily, often musky scent is (at least) easy to recognize. It is a white wine, although the grapes themselves are pink and impart a slight tint to the juice, making it a wine identifiable not only by bouquet, but by color alone.
Gewürz performs best on the heavier, clay soils of Alsace’s Haut-Rhin department, and can quite easily attain the sort of ripeness needed for the sensational late-harvest bottlings labeled Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles. That said, the variety ripens so fast it needs to be planted somewhere relatively cool if it is to develop any discernible perfume but must be harvested while acid levels remain high enough to balance sugars.
Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Gewürztraminer ($61)
A blend of young vines from Heimbourg and Pfoeller vineyard, which has predominately limestone soils, producing the great acidity, pinkish hue and ethereal quality of the variety. The nose offers passionfruit and hints of rose, while in the mouth, the attack is supple and fresh, with spicy notes of pepper and ginger accompanying lychee and pink grapefruit.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Brand Gewürztraminer ($99)
A blend of vines from the granite soils of Brand with an average age of 40 years. The wine is a remarkable concentration of candied lemon and lychee aromas with notes of crushed stones and lemon peel. The Grand Cru breeding is proven by the lush tension of the palate, reminiscent of bitter oranges and kumquat.
Pinot Noir in Alsace—the only red wine grape permitted by AOP law—is a poster child for the upside of climate change. Once capable of producing only highly acidic, thin-bodied wine except in rare vintages, the slow creep of temperature increases throughout the region has seen a remarkable make-over for Burgundy’s pet red: Pinot Noir d’Alsace is currently producing rustic wines that showcase the varietal’s classic cherries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries cloaked in supple, soft tannins. In the hands of top producers in particularly warm seasons, these wines are as earthy and complex as Cru Burgundy.
Domaine Albert Boxler ‘S’, 2020 Alsace Pinot Noir ($99)
Grapes come from Grand Cru Sommerberg (that’s what the ‘S’ stands for); only about seven barrels are made each vintage. After a two-week maceration, it is gravity-racked into Burgundian barrels, then aged for 18 months ‘en barrique.’ As the vines are grown in granite soils that retain even less water than their limestone-rooted counterparts, the grapes tend to be small and concentrated, leading to a marvelous robustness, from the smoky nose to the palate ripe with black cherry woven into herbs and flint, with a fresh, clean acidity that makes for a long finish.
Domaine Albert Boxler, 2018 Crémant d’Alsace Brut ($45)
50% Pinot Auxerrois, 30% Pinot Blanc, 20% Pinot Noir, aged in bottle ‘sur latte’ for a minimum of 24 months. The notes of peach, pear and quince that appear so often in Boxler’s wine are here wreathed in a fine, biscuity bead. Dosage is at the level of extra brut,approximately 3 grams/liter.
A few bottles from the previous special offer are still available: Hard Cider That Takes Its Cues From Wine: A Taste Of Fall In Artisanal Pure Heirloom Apple Cider From Normandy, Brittany and Catalunya To Pair With Holiday Meals.
Cider that’s ‘hard’ contains alcohol, although generally much less than wine, making it (perhaps) a wiser choice through a holiday season that often involves driving from one celebration to another. In Normandy, for example, sweet ciders have a minimum of 3% abv, while drier styles must reach 5% or 5.5% for Cidre Bouché.
With a choice of dry or sweet styles, food pairing is rife with opportunity. There was a time, of course, when the ciders available to Americans tended to be fizzy, fun and largely uninteresting, but with the arrival of complex and sophisticated ciders from France and Spain, they have an obvious place with a large and multi-course meal. Perhaps surprisingly, cider may be a better main-course accompaniment since richer wines can steamroll turkey.
While every holiday table is different, a few pointers and tips that should help:
Since the French have long treated fermented apple juice with the near-reverence of wine, passing laws that restrict apple varieties (winnowing 750 varieties grown to about fifty) and delineate appellations, as an opening salvo, a high-end cider makes a quaffable alternative to Champagne.
Cider fermented on wine yeast results in a somewhat vinous cider, with flourishes of acidity and rusticity, a fine alternative to a bright white like Sauvignon Blanc.
Most high-end ciders gravitate toward dryness, but a touch of sweetness can buoy a cider’s complexity, especially tannic and ‘sauvage’ characteristics that might feel unbalanced on their own. These are enjoyable as a swap for an off-dry white like a Riesling.
Cider aged in oak barrels rounds out the edges of tart cider with notes of vanilla, making it hold up against heavier courses much as a barrel-aged white wine might.
Sweet with sweet is a rule of thumb, but the beverage should never overpower the food. For dessert courses (especially pie) a fruity cider works best.