Ashley Ragovin

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A feel good kind of wine

There is something about wines from the Alsace that keep quenching my thirst.

A 106 mile stretch of winemaking country winds through the charming timber villages and the Vosges Mountains, tracing the edge the Rhine River that notoriously divides Germany and France, a slice of land that has been invaded and repossessed many times over the last several hundred years. This is the Alsace Wine Route, and along it over 100 wine villages thrive, each a little scene as easily stolen from Hansel and Gretel as from Freres Jacques.

This sparkling wine is was a chance encounter that knocked my socks off. And I don’t even really wear socks too much. But it’s got this steadfast balance and tension between ripe fruit, bright minerality and a punky acidity that is lively and fresh and firm. It keeps you thirsting for another glass so you best be having enough for refills, know what I’m sayin?

But this isn’t just some brainless bottle of bubbles for lushes (I speak for all of us). Winemaking history in the Alsace runs deep and the Bechtold family traces its own winemaking roots back to the 1980s, growing their grapes on land that has 2000 years of viticulture under its belt. Land that is being farmed biodynamically and organically. Those are very legit credentials, don’t you think?

Jean-Marie Bechtold is 4th generation winemaker, and he’s taking a very hands-off approach. He’s actually the ONLY organic grower in the region (currently practices are biodynamic, but he is awaiting certification), and has said that he believes in approaching the winemaking the way a parent would a child. He takes a totally hands off approach, with minimal intervention so that they can fully express themselves and reach their true potential – the wines, not actual children.

That would be free-range parenting – you know, where you give a 9 year old a hammer and a bus route and drop him off across town, only to let him find his way home alone and hope he doesn’t break anything or fall into a ditch? Luckily, the hands off approach in winemaking will always yield incredible results when the raw material is there, and then you don’t have the added consequences of abduction or embarrassment or broken bones to worry about.

Bechtold’s Cremant is a truly sparkling example of what those practices can produce: a perfectly balanced blend of Chardonnay and Alsace native grape, Pinot Auxerrois (pronounced Oksh-err-wah). A little from France, a little from Germany if you will. And, given the physical location of Alsace nestled in that northeastern corner, it makes good sense to impart influence from both France and Germany.

It’s like you’re at afternoon tea in France, in some tufted sitting room, and then in busts a lederhosen-clad fella who pops the top of the best sparkling wine you’ve had in ages. It’s aromatic and shockingly delicious. It’s French, yes, but different somehow. You learn it’s made in the same manner as real Champagne, and yet it’s got this newness to it. What youth! What whimsy!

So you dump out your tea, put on a dirndl and kick your heels up in some kind of elegant version of the Schuhplattler, your drinking cup full of twinkling, pine-laced bubbles that couldn’t be more celebratory if they were exploding out of a wedding cake at a 90 degree trajectory – all while singing in German – and you don’t even speak German!

Somehow, Alsace almost feels like a land of its own, unique from the rest of France. It can get overshadowed in the wine world by super powers like Champagne and Burgundy – and I love both of those regions – the great producers and histories there are dense, meaty chunks of the wine world worth consuming and savoring over the course of infinity.

But Alsatian wines seem easier to digest sometimes, made with meticulous care and integrity, but against a far less severe backdrop of rules and politics. And that’s not to say they don’t take their winemaking seriously – Bechtold’s 12 hectares of land sit smack dab in the middle of Grand Cru vineyards (yes, Grand Cru exists outside of the aforementioned goliath of wine regions, too) and grows some very elegant, beautiful whites. There is just an ease about them, a drinkability in their early years that make them feel unguarded and friendly. Like the best kind of chance meeting between you and a stranger-turned-lifelong friend that you just had to stumble off the beaten path to find.

THE CHEAT SHEET

THE WINE: Domaine Bechtold Crémant d’Alsace Extra Brut, Alsace France 2013

THE GRAPE: Chardonnay + Pinot Auxerrois

HOMETOWN: Alsace, France up near Germany

TASTES LIKE: This is a feel-good wine. It doesn’t demand your academic attention but it’ll stop you in your tracks with its effortless scents of pear, fresh Alpine air, crisp saltiness and pretty little French kiss of herbs and flowers.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Eggs for breakfast, cake in the afternoon, mac and cheese for dinner, late night ham sandwich… this is a dry sparkling wine people – anything – and anytime – pretty much goes.

IF YOU LIKE: Grower Champagne (dry, refined, delicious), this is your new go-to. It’s also made with the same strict and meticulous methods.

WINE HACK: Serve very cold.

NERDY EXTRA CREDIT: Crémant d’Alsace is the only designated Alsatian wine district (A.O.C.) that legally allows Chardonnay in the blend.

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