Millésimes Alsace

For ages I puzzled over the fact that Alsace’s annual Foire aux Vins in Colmar seemed to have remarkably little to do with wine. I remember commenting on this to Etienne Hugel a few years ago. He confirmed, with his trademark grin, that if you wanted to buy a tractor, or a mattress, or a ticket for a top-class pop concert, the Foire was great. If you were interested in Alsace wines, it was best forgotten.

This vinous lacuna was addressed in 2012 with the first Millésimes Alsace, a professional salon designed to showcase the best of Alsace. The third edition (it takes place every other year) was on June 13th. It’s held  – like the Foire aux Vins – at Colmar’s Parc d’Expositions, but it’s a very different animal – intentionally, on the part of the founder Marc Rinaldi, who saw the need for a totally wine-focused event that would show that Alsace is capable of producing some of the finest white wines in the world.

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Table of Domaine Etienne Loew, ready for action at Millésimes Alsace 2016 (photo by Etienne Loew)

The 2012 Millésimes was devoted exclusively to Riesling (see my report here). This year the scope was widened to include all the cépages grown in Alsace (viz Auxerrois, Gewurz, Muscat, Pinots Blanc Gris and Noir, Riesling and Sylvaner) – though Riesling still accounted for 50% of the total wines on show – plus a few blends and field blends. (For blends, grape varieties are grown and vinified separately and the wines combined later in the cellar; for field blends, varieties are grown side by side in the vineyard and the grapes harvested and vinified together.) Ninety-nine domaines from A to Z, Adam to Zusslin, presented their wines to a discerning and appreciative audience of wine writers, sommeliers/ères, wine merchants and assorted wine pros, both local and imported for the occasion.

New this year were some excellent fringe events, scheduled on the eve of the Millésimes salon. One, which took place in the gorgeously restored Art Nouveau rooms next door to the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar (formerly the town’s public baths),  was the presentation of a newly-pressed association of top-class growers known as ACT (Association Crus et Terroirs). Its 19 members include names like Bott-Geyl, Zind-Humbrecht, Albert Mann, Muré, Schlumberger, Trimbach and Zusslin, whose vineyards are situated in Alsace’s greatest and oldest established terroirs.

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Séverine Schlumberger of Domaines Schlumberger introduced the association and drew an elegant parallel between the long-overdue restoration of the legendary Unterlinden Museum and the (equally long-overdue) restitution of the image of Alsace as a fine wine region, which is now underway thanks to initiatives like those by Millésimes Alsace and ACT. Alsace wine, once dismissed as le p’tit blanc du comptoir (cheap, generic white wine served at the bar), or condemned as overly sweet, or headache-inducing, is finally resuming its rightful place among the world’s finest whites. “It’s critical”, concluded Séverine, “to rebuild the image of Alsace with the help of wines grown in the region’s historically great crus and terroirs, not forgetting the past but building on past glories.”

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Another event, this one hosted by Les DiVINes d’Alsace, the region’s association of women wine specialists headed by Mélanie Pfister, took place in the courtyard of Jean-Baptiste Adam in Ammerschwihr. In warm evening sunshine (a small miracle in itself this miserably rainy spring/summer) we mingled with Alsace’s top women professionals and tasted the fruits of  vineyards from the southernmost tip of the Haut-Rhin to the northern end of the Bas-Rhin, with classy nibbles to match.

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I’m a sucker for Muscat, my desert island spring apero, and discovered a new one (to me) from Domaine Maurice Griss in Ammerschwihr that ticked all my Alsace Muscat boxes: gorgeous nose, full-on grapey flavour, dry finish and good length. My fave food associations included properly toasty Flammekueche segments with a floral Pinot Blanc from Domaine Alfred Meyer in Katzenthal, toothsome vegetable verrines with a mineral-laden Riesling GC Froehn from Becker and a  10 month-old (young, yes, but delciously precocious) Comté cheese from Colmar cheesemonger Jacky Quesnot served with Mélanie Pfister’s ripe and fragrant Pinot Noir, always a special favourite of ours. My final marriage made in heaven was a totally swoonworthy Stilton proposed with a nectar-like Gewurz Sélection de Grains Nobles by Domaine Hubert Metz in Ammerschwihr.

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It’s clear from Millésimes Alsace and its associated events that the finest Alsace wines – like the wonderful Musée Unterlinden – are busy dusting themselves off, appearing in a new guise and strutting their stuff with pride. If you’re still burdened with misconceptions about Alsace wines and have missed out on this burgeoning transformation, it could be time to revisit.

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