Pretty in pork
Part 9 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue
by Thor Iverson
30 March 2006 – Hunawihr, France
After a post-rain evening stroll around St-Hippolyte, enjoying the views up the slope to Haut-Koenigsbourg, we arrive back at our gîte to find it full of Germans. Apparently, there’s a party downstairs in the caveau, and the courtyard is filled with Mercedes and BMWs. To judge by the noise, they certainly seem to be having a good time.
Léon Beyer 1993 Riesling Les Écaillers (Alsace) – From 375 ml, and a gift from the owner of our gîte, who apparently has quite a stock of them; he gave us another one the last time we stayed here. Unfortunately, this – like the last – has seen its day come and go. It’s quite faded, with oxidation and stale wax predominating. The acidity is vivid, and at the very heart of the wine there’s some nice apple skin and white plum, but it’s just too sour and old to be any good.
With a “light” dinner of bacon spätzle and veal (OK, OK, there’s a salad too…but it’s dressed with bacon fat), we need something a little better. Unfortunately, there’s no gewurztraminer at hand, and the closest thing I can find doesn’t really substitute very well. It’s fine on its own, but no match for the food.
Gresser 2002 Pinot Gris Brandhof “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – Showing red-fruited (which pinot gris can often do), with strawberry and a blend of red, Rainier, and maraschino cherries, plus peach and tangerine. The fruit is fresh and vivid, and the wine is supported by a solid foundation of granite and marble. A medium-length, almost feathery finish brings out hints of fennel frond. This is a nice wine with good aging potential, but I suspect more could be wrested from these grapes.
31 March 2006 – Ribeauvillé, France
Zum Pfifferhüs (14, Grand Rue) – This tiny and incredibly old building houses perhaps the most classic of Alsatian winstubs. The cuisine, too, is classic, but neither stuffy nor calcified. There are apparently new owners involved, but the same old chef, and if anything the always-warm welcome has become even warmer.
I start with a brilliant house-made terrine of foie gras, followed by…well, it’s a thick, juicy slice of ham surrounded by a sausage-like forcemeat and wrapped in puff pastry. For a dedicated lover of the fruit of the pig, it’s heaven, even though the description sounds a little odd. “It’s pretty,” our server notes in passing. Only in Alsace…
Sipp Mack 2004 Gewurztraminer “Vendange Tardive” “Lucie Marie” (Alsace) – Lighter-styled, showing rose oil, cashew juice, and ripe peach. Moderately sweet, elegant, and smooth, this is the perfect style of VT to have (as the Alsatians do) pre-dinner, with foie gras, rather than afterwards as a decadent dessert.
Lorentz 2000 Riesling Kanzlerberg (Alsace) – From 375 ml. Assertive at first, but then strangely reticent as it airs, as if it’s shutting down hard (which is likely). Moderately mineral-driven, soft and floral, with a thin layer of fat. It’s long enough, and given the producer and the site I’m inclined toward the benefit of the doubt here; certainly, there’s little point in opening a bottle if it’s like this.
The list of digestifs is beyond extensive, and I’m determined to push away from familiar fruits (or grapes) and into new territory, so I ask for a consultation…which leads to a long conversation that eventually involves both the proprietress and the chef debating the merits of one distillate or another. So typically French. As a result, we’re the last patrons for a good, long hour of sipping and conversing.
Metté Bouillon Blanc Eau-de-Vie (Alsace) – Also known as fleur de molène, this is (if my investigations are correct) what’s known in English as mullein (Verbascum thapsus). It’s light, but quite floral and vividly spicy, yet a profound elegance remains throughout. It’s almost “pretty,” if one can call a 45-degree spirit that.
Though perhaps not as pretty as the pork dish.
Copyright © Thor Iverson.