First class: French Wine Scholar in St. George
The first ever French Wine Scholar program comes to southern Utah in St. George.
We meet at the lovely Granary bistro and restaurant in Santa Clara. Can there be a more perfect setting. It is in a very old building built entirely of large stones. At its beginning it was a working granary used by the pioneer families. Now it is quaint, charming and feels like some old stone house in France. Perfect.
Our host is Patricia Nevot Johnson, who is herself a native of France, born in Alsace. Another of the students is French-born Carolyn, who is the cheese-monger at Harmons. So together with Sheral Schowe, wine educator, we are in good hands.
Our first class in about the wines of Alsace. Which can be confusing, because of the many times the Alsace has changed hands over the past centuries between France and Germany. So depending upon who was in power, the vines, the grapes and the marketing choices have changed. Sometimes dramatically.
[For now!] the region is French. But with some German idiosyncrasies. For instance, nowhere else in France is the varietal written on the label, but here it is required. Even the varietals differ form much of the rest of France. So it is a fun place to study and to taste.
A few interesting points:
Alsace is in the Northeastern corner of France, on the border with Germany. it lies between the Rhine river and the Vosges mounains. It is nearly as far north as champagne (and north of Maine!)
In the Alsace, there is a preference for unblended varietals, but when they are blended, they are regulated. And, of course, the bottles are the fluted, German ones.
There are four “Noble” grapes: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. These are always at least 50% in the permitted “Gentil” blends.
The other common grapes are: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and some Chardonnay and Chasselas. These are often blended into Gentil or Edelzwicker, which can be pretty much whatever the winemaker likes. There is even a traditional style sparking, called Cremant d’Alsace. Made in the manner of Champagne sparkling and always a blend.
Because so much of the Alsace is very steep, bio-dynamic farming is popular. Using horses in place of tractors is common. The terrains is treacherous for horses and tractors are dangerous.
We tasted several wines from the region, including a Gentil, a Riesling, a Gewurtztraminer and a Seleccion de Grains Noble.
What a treat. Contrary to popular belief Riesling is not cloying and sweet. The Riesling we tasted had nice acidity and a lovely fragrance. It would go wonderfully with food. The Seleccion de Grains Noble was a special treat. It was from Sheral’s own cellar and had been resting for years, waiting for us.
After the class, we had a wonderful lunch, channeled directly from Alsace, Choucroute Garnie with homemade sauerkraut. Patricia makes all the food at the restaurant herself.