Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Drinker's Notebook #11: Personalized Pairing in Alsace

A special joy of wine trips is the opportunity to meet with winegrowing families who have for generations, often centuries, made wines and paired them with foods from their own kitchens. But a stop last week in the small town of Mittelbergheim in Alsace, known for its grand cru Zotzenberg vineyard, was extra special among the specials. While brother Thomas processed early grapes coming into their Boeckel winery in the middle of the village (where the family residences are also located, as is the regional custom), Jean-Daniel Boeckel, the fifth generation, took us on a tour of the family's vineyards as rain clouds threatened overhead. After an hour of walking among the vines, we returned to town for a tasting of Boeckel Cremants, Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, a Pinot Gris, Pinot Blancs and Sylvaners. Sylvaner is special in Mittelbergheim, as here alone it is given grand cru status when grown in the Zotzenberg. As we sipped, spit and swallowed in the Boeckel tasting room, Jean-Daniel's young daughters played games in the private rooms above us. Following the tasting, we moved next door to the family dining room, where mother Christiane had prepared a mouth-watering lunch whose centerpiece was a steaming coq au Reisling. Not to be outdone, father Emile, "officially" retired, pulled a rare bottle of 1957 Boeckel Riesling Reserve, made by his father, from the cellar to get things started. "In those years, we hadn't yet officially named the grand crus," he reminded us, "so we just called the best wines our 'Reserves.'" The 56-year-old wine had its cork changed about 25 years ago, Emile informed us as he gently extracted it. The wine was more than just a curiosity. It was lovely - delicate and golden, yet with a firm backbone. I drank my portion of the wine with the creamy coq, and it was a divine pairing. There were other foods and other wines as the meal progressed, but these two were the stars of the show - along with Christiane and Emile. As we said our goodbyes, I reflected on the great vineyards, wines, foods and conversation, but especially the lovely Boeckel family who took us into their home and provided us with lasting memories.

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