Alsace, in France's northeastern corner, is achingly picturesque — and linguistically and culinarily confusing. Because the region, between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, has bounced back and forth between French and German control over the centuries, it has become something of each.
Many of the towns and vineyards have German names — Kaisersberg, Pfingstberg. The architecture looks German, too, and the food is a cross between French and German. Charcuterie, anyone?
But the wines of Alsace are unique.
For one thing, Alsace is the only French wine region that requires the name of the grape on the label. And while some of those names may sound German — riesling, gewürztraminer — Alsace wines have their own persona. Almost all the wines are white, and they are big, ripe and often alcoholic and go with a wide array of foods. Not just Western European cuisine, either, but Thai and Indian food, as well — maybe even Mexican. The wines are rich and versatile and, considering their competition, usually are very good values.
History plays a big part in the Alsace wine industry. Many of the top wine firms date back hundreds of years. Case in point: the wine maison of Lucien Albrecht.
The first winemaker in the Albrecht family was Romanus Albrecht, circa 1425, in the town of Thann. In 1698, Balthazar Albrecht moved the family to Orschwihr.
Today, Jean Albrecht, son of Lucien, is the owner and winemaker, and he's the 18th generation.
I recently tasted through many of the Lucien Albrecht wines with Bertrand Denoune, Albrecht's "commercial director," and Dan Redman of Pasternak Imports at the happening new wine bar called the Corkscrew on Washington.
Denoune told me the story of the Albrecht winemaking regimen — the grapes are hand-picked, the vinification is traditional, with almost all of the wines cold-fermented in stainless steel to preserve their fruit and mineral character.
The courtly Denoune also told how Lucien Albrecht made Alsace's first sparkling wine back in 1971. And now they've introduced a jim-dandy sparkling rosé, too.
The Lucien Albrecht wines come in several tiers. The reserve tier has riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris and gewürztraminer. There are two special cuvées, as well as some grand crus. For example, Albrecht is the largest owner of the grand cru Pfingstberg vineyard.
Bottom line on the Alsace wines of Lucien Albrecht: fine to exceptional quality, and some are bargains whatever the price.