Friday, January 1, 2010

Muscat Ramble

Muscat d'Alsace: what a remarkable and distinctive aromatic character this wine has.

Muscat, that most ancient of grapes, has many names, many faces, many guises, and since it has developed countless numbers of clones and variations over the years, you often don't know quite what you'll get with Muscat. It can be evanescent, light and crisp and dry and floral or dark and brown and treacly sweet---and pretty much every variation in between, depending on the version of grape, where it's grown and how it's treated.
Muscat, derived from the Latin musca, for flies, was so named because when the ancients did their harvests, the Muscat grapes always attracted the greatest number of flies and bees because of their strong, pungent aromas and their high sugars. These high sugars also served to preserve the wines for longer life and the aromas made them distinctive in style.

Over the years, different clones prospered, and different styles developed. But in Alsace, it is traditional to make the Muscat (which is Muscat a' Petit Grains, or Muscat of the small grapes) from the regular harvest in a crisp, bone dry style, as opposed to the late harvest versions, which can be unctuously sweet.

For a dinner with friends, we served the Domaine Gerard Metz Muscat 2006, a dry, crisp style that is moderately aromatic, light, and floral/herbal. As Muscats go, this was assertive without being weighty or heavy, with a little sage and dried thyme taking it into the herbal zone.

The wine went nicely with the assorted olives, hummus and red peppers, and endive stuffed with goat cheese. It even managed to step up to the baked brie en croute our guests brought!

In retrospect, I wish I had thought to serve asparagus with dinner; the Metz Muscat would have been an ideal companion---and asparagus is not always easy to match with wines. Some crisp blanched green beans would have been suitable companions on the plate as well, with the legumes playing off the herbal nuances of the wine.
The view of the Route du Vin in the Alsace, from Strasbourg south to Colmar.

The great majority of the Vineyards in Alsace are on the eastward facing slopes of the Vosges Mountains, looking down on the Rhine River and the Black Forest of Germany.

Domaine Gerard Metz is situated in the village of Itterswiller on the Route du Vin, the 'tourist friendly' stretch of picturesque little towns and villages studded with countless wineries, ranging from tiny, single-family producers with small and carefully tended ancestral plots to the large volume producers---although Alsace is not, in its nature, prone to the same volume as other regions in France.

The architecture and style of the Alsace is unique, a curious reflection of the constant interchange of the region between the German peoples on one side and the French peoples on the other. And it's still common in the Alsace for the inhabitants to speak three languages as a matter of course: German, French, and a unique patois of both that is considered its own Alsatian dialect.

Just as the wine reflects the duality of culture and heritage here, so does the food, with frequent use of pork and other preserved meats on one hand, and the luscious foie gras on the other. The traditional dish of the Alsace is basically a French version of sauerkraut---Choucroute d'Alsacienne, juniper-berried cabbage covered with various sausages and meats and boiled yellow potatoes, and customarily served with a dry Riesling (or Muscat!).

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