Last month we were fortunate enough to attend a unique dining event at Craigie on Main in Cambridge that paired an impressive range of Alsatian white wines with a seasonal menu of exquisitely prepared small plates and entrees. And what an evening it was!
For those that aren’t familiar with the Alsace region, it is located in the northeastern area of France, bordering Germany. Based on its location, it’s no surprise that its cuisine and wines are heavily influenced by both France and Germany. In fact, it was mentioned during dinner that an old Alsatian saying goes: “In France, you eat well. In Germany, you eat a lot. In Alsace, you eat well and a lot!” In fact, it was also noted (but not confirmed) that Alsace has the most three-star Michelin chefs of any region in the world. Quite a feat, if it’s true.
What Alsace undoubtedly does have is outstanding wine. White wine accounts for the vast majority of all wine produced in the region, as would be expected given the most common types of grape varietals grown in Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Pinot Noir can also be found in Alsace, but it is much less common. And since Alsatian wines are rarely, if ever, aged in oak, (Pinot Noir being the exception), they tend to be much crisper and fresher tasting, with more clear fruit flavor. As such, the wines are typically quite food-friendly.
Our evening began with a refreshing glass of Schoenheitz Cremant d’Alsace Brut NV. This elegant sparkling wine, made in the methode traditionnelle, was clean and crisp with a hint of berry and very little sweetness. Better still, it was a superb pairing with a tantalizing Amuse Bouche trio: a dime-sized Nantucket Bay scallop with crystalized ginger vinaigrette, melt-in-your-mouth squid noodles, and a smoked sablefish rillette. The pairing set the tone for the rest of the evening, showcasing Alsatian wines’ versatility with a wide range of flavor profiles. It also made clear why Cremant d’Alsace makes up over 20 percent of Alsatian wine production. With so many pairing options, the style could easily become a go-to when one is unsure of what wine to grab for dinner.
What followed was a seemingly unending stream of exquisite dishes paired with one or, in many cases, two different (yet similar styles of) Alsatian wines. One highlight was the house-made fettuccini with a foie gras-Jerusalem artichoke cream, Brussels sprout leaves, and house-cured lomo (pork loin) paired with both the 2007 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten (translates to “Garden of the Angel”) and the 2004 Rolly Gassman Pinot Gris. Both wines were lovely complements to the pasta dish, but our preference was the Engelgarten, a field blend of Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Floral with notes of citrus and strong minerality, its well-balanced acidity went well with the richness of the unctuous pasta.
Another was the whole wheat crepes with Macoun apples, pepitas, and butternut ice cream. This dessert was accompanied by the extraordinary 2001 Charles Koehly Pinot Gris Vendages Tardives ‘Altenberg Grand Cru’. Much sweeter and fuller than the previous wines of the evening, it tasted of honey and apricots and was a great pairing with the sweet and tart crepes. Sadly, we were told that the vineyard’s owner and winemaker, the sole heir, had passed away in 1999, and that his wines were no longer being produced. Quite a loss for the wine world, but the news made each of us appreciate the uniqueness of this vintage all the more.
Other standouts included the 2006 ‘Cuvee Frederich Emile’ Trimbach Riesling (magnum) with its hefty bouquet of petrol aromas, the classic signature of a mature Riesling. On the palate, the wine tasted of tropical fruit, and while quite dry, drank silky smooth. Just as impressive was the 2010 ‘Hengst Grand Cru’ Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer. We love this producer’s wines, and this bottle was no exception. Gorgeously floral and stone fruity on the nose, with a hint of sweetness and a round mouth feel, the wine paired nicely with the slow-roasted pheasant breast and confit leg with quince, chestnuts and matsutake mushrooms.
While Alsace has yet to gain the same acclaim as other notable French wine regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy, its producers are crafting a number of extraordinary wines that are not to be missed – and this night proved that, without a doubt.
A big thanks to Stephanie Teuwen and Louise Jordan for organizing such a special event, and to Tony Maws and his team of exceptional chefs for preparing a truly memorable meal.