by Holly Madrigal
What better way to while away a sunny spring afternoon than by hosting a wine tasting with friends. That is just what longtime wine enthusiasts, the Talmage Tasters, did. Hosts John and Heidi Dickerson welcomed this diverse group of expert winemakers to blind sample an assortment of Alsatian Whites. They have been meeting like this since 1982, allowing these industry insiders to keep their palates sharp while indulging in Heidi’s legendary cuisine and visiting with friends. Alsace style wines are a personal favorite, so I was invited for an insider’s view.
Primarily known for dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, the Alsace region of France is one of the delicious secrets of the wine world. Located in the northeast corner of France near the German and Swiss border, the area was at times French or German as the political winds shifted. Characterized by dry, hot summers, they produce opulent whites that balance aromatic wines with bright minerality. Regions of Anderson Valley in Mendocino County have a similar terroir, leading some winemakers to produce varietals that rival the Alsace natives.
This evening, John Dickerson brought an eclectic selection of Alsatian whites from near and far—three each of Riesling, Gewürtz and Pinot Gris varying in price from $19-$75 per bottle. As each bottle was wrapped in a paper bag, we had no idea if what we were tasting was local or imported, high-end or moderate. And the group was as varied as the wine preferences. No pour was unanimously favored or reviled. I heard terms I had never considered like “citrusydiesel,” “good acid,” and “sweet and sour petrol.” The Gewürtz came back with “grapefruit” and “touch of botrytis, the noble rot.” The thirteen gathered members swapped opinions and stories. One winemaker thought a pour tasted like Anderson Valley, and sure enough, she was right! When the bottle was uncovered, it was a Handley 2014 Gewürztraminer! And this local wine had held its own alongside a Hugel 2009 Jubilee and a 2015 Weinbach Cuvee Laurence.
I couldn’t be prouder that the local 2016 Pinot Gris from Toulouse stood its ground with a Hugel “Grossi Laüe” (Grand Cru Pflostig) Pinot Gris. The names of these wines and regions reminded me of an article I read about Alsace, which said that the wines are less common because the names can be hard to pronounce with the English tongue. Perhaps there is some truth to that.
After all the bottles had been tasted and judgments cast, Heidi brought out the food. One of the joys of Alsatian whites is that they are so versatile. Dry Rieslings pair well with seafood, with white meat, and with foods of their French/ German origins, like sausage and onions. We devoured a Manchego and a Petit Basque cheese, a savory onion Alsatian tart, and Redwood Valley sausage. Filled to the brim with good food, the conversation lasted well into twilight, discussing how the Husch family had been the first vineyard to plant Gewürztraminer grapes in Anderson Valley, and the future of the local vintages. Our host John, well satisfied with his wine choices, couldn’t resist some bad humor. “I know they call German Shepherds Alsatians, but there is not a dog among this flight.” Groans all around as we reached for another slice of onion tart.
You can host your own Alsatian White tasting with these noteworthy bottles. Not too sweet, the skill and quality of our local wine makers is sure to impress a crowd:
Husch 2015 Dry Gewürztraminer
Navarro 2017 Gewürztraminer
Handley 2015 Pinot Blanc
Toulouse 2016 Riesling
Blue Quail 2016 Dry Riesling Organically Grown (not Anderson Valley but delish all the same)
Holly Madrigal is a Mendocino County maven who loves to share the delights of our region. She takes great joy in publishing this magazine.