Alsace Pinot Gris

The Alsace AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées) was established in 1962 and its fairly stringent winemaking requirements reflect the pride and ambition by Alsatians to codify their vinicultural expertise. Anchoring the north-east corner of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the region’s vintners; sharing geography with a smaller group of select estates that carry the AOC designation Crémant d’Alsace (sparkling) or Alsace Grand Crus. Their output of varietal whites such as Sylvaner, Riesling (Dry), Gewürztraminer, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Blanc (Klevner), Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy, and this week’s DéClassé featured Pinot Gris are widely regarded as the benchmarks for more fulsome versions of the sometimes, lightweight wines produced elsewhere. In embracing the challenges of high AOC standards, particularly the preference for quality over quantity, Alsatian vintners are guarding the regional character that’s taken centuries to forge. Arguably, they remain in a leadership role for the cultivation/refinement of these cool climate grapes and wine styles; just ahead of burgeoning competition across the German border!

maison-pierre-sparr

Alsace’s most reputed wine-producing district is the geographic portion called the Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine). Centered on the ‘wine capital’ town of Colmar, its vineyards line the foothills of the Vosges mountains and roll out onto the adjacent river plain. Conquered by Caesar in the 1st century BCE, this was a desirable agricultural tract in the Roman province of Prima Germania for about 600 years before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496. After a long period of acting as a buffering borderland region in the Holy Roman Empire, it was annexed by French troops in the late 17th century as a territorial spoil of the 30 Years War. For the next 350 years, this contested strip of land traded Franco and Germanic occupation before settling as a hybrid people/culture within modern-day France; so it also is with their traditions of fashioning wine.

Amid this latter period of regional history, lies the familial legacy of Jean Sparr and the 9 successive generations that have culminated as one of Alsace’s best-recognized producers, the Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs. Their modern renaissance begins after the devastating 2nd World War, during which the family’s village of Sigolsheim and its surrounding vineyards were largely razed. Rebuilding the long-held family estate and replanting 15 hectares of vines, in time, has led to an expanded collaboration with other dedicated local growers and the current, and very capable cellar master, Alexandra Boudrot. Judging by the mid-grade offering of Pinot Gris Reserve 2014, the reputation of this consistently accomplished winemaking dynasty remains well deserved; with a future that’s distinctively dressed in a tall and slender bottle called a Flute, and its content that has a bright straw-coloured hue!

Pierre Sparr

PIERRE SPARR RESERVE PINOT GRIS 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #983395 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cvb Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs
Release Date: April 16, 2016

Tasting Note
Plush and soft, with layered aromas of apricots, honey, and spice, this fruity wine also incorporates citrus and a dose of minerality to refresh the palate. Though well-suited to a traditional gastronomic mix of Choucroute à l’Alsacienne (pickled cabbage, steeped potatoes, and assorted smoked sausages), Pâté de Foie Gras (goose liver paté with truffles, wrapped in pastry) and Flàmmeküche (flatbread with crème fraîche, onion, and lardons), it would also add a tangy balance to spicy Asian cuisine loaded with fresh vegetables. Try the latter pairing first; well chilled!

Sylvaner Alert

Firmly part of territorial France in the 21st century, Alsace has been enriched by
its dual Frankish and Germanic cultural history, but has also experienced some
geopolitical upheaval due to the competing aspirations of its 2 parent nations:
Colonized by 1st century BC. Romans; then allied with the Medieval Holy Roman
Empire a millennium or so later; occupied by ambitious 16th century French Kings;
annexed by Germans in the late 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War;
ceded back to France in the terms of armistice following the First World War
and finally, after many areas were entirely destroyed in the second world war
bombing campaign by Allied forces – reaffirmed as French again. Throughout
all of this tumult, steadfast Alsatians have rebuilt and found many ways to keep producing fine grapes and a highly distinctive quality of wines.

Geographically bookended by the banks of the Rhine River to the east and the
Vosges Mountains westward, an undulating, fairytale-like landscape of verdant
vineyards is punctuated by castles on hilltops and half-timbered, half-plastered,
colourfully painted villages and towns such as ancient Sigolsheim. This is home
to this week’s DéClassé recommended, varietal bottling of a Sylvaner: Alsace’s
lesser-known, golden-yellow grape. As is often the case with once-popular styles,
in cycles, careless overproduction of a high-yielding grape to satisfy the market, can 
result in the making of unremarkable wine; thereby depressing demand or
eroding a producer’s reputation. Arguably, this is somewhat more Sylvaner’s
legacy across the border in Germany rather than in northern France. Here, the
AOC standards established in the1960’s, better ensure a judicious practise of pruning to tailor yields and traditional, hands-on harvesting to boost quality.

Bernard Sparr is the current vintner heading Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs,
following in the lineage of 9 family generations that date to 1680 and the reign
of Louis X1V. Proud Alsatians, the House of Sparr has been tending to their 37
hectares of vineyard in the Haut-Rhin (upper Rhine) for a very long time. In the
modern age, they’ve expanded collaborations with a select group of regional
growers, drawing fruit from an additional 150h. With this increased output the
brand has evolved into one of the region’s more renowned and identifiable.

Sylvaner is a delicate and charming summer white, whose release onto shelves
here should be on your calendar of time-limited selections to be on the lookout
for; this time of year. Stock up and serve this dry wine chilled, though not cold,
or you’ll miss some of its subtle layering of citrus, apple and pear flavours.

Sylvaner

PIERRE SPARR RESERVE SYLVANER 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #408179 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Alsace, France
By: Cvb Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs
Release Date: May 16, 2015

Tasting Note
Try serving this beguiling, light, white flower and lime-scented refresher with
salad and onion tarts, choucroute, smoked ham hock and sausages, all sorts
of freshwater fish dishes or as apéritif with pickled herring.