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Alsace: A tale of two countries

Alsace: A tale of two countries
Krista Matthes is owner of SOMM Wines, located just off the square in Fairfield, Iowa. (Submitted)

During my nearly 20-year career in wine, I have developed a profound admiration for history, both the cultivation of wine and the impact world leaders have had in shaping our current landscape. Visitors to my store, SOMM Wines in Fairfield, ask a plethora of questions, but my favorite inquiries always produce answers that whet not only your palate, but also your appetite to learn.

Time for a pop quiz!

Question: Is the wine region Alsace a part of Germany or France?

Ninety percent of the wines produced there are white wines, predominantly Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Wines are bottled using tall, brown Rhine flutes and may list varietals on their front labels. Sounds German. However, most wines are fermented dry. Exceptional vineyards carry an AOC Grand Cru designation, 51 in total, and French is the official language. So, maybe it’s French?

Answer: Alsace is a little of both.

Due to its location, bordering eastern France and western Germany, Alsace has changed hands several times throughout history. At the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, southern Alsace was annexed by the French. In 1871, after centuries of French rule, the Franco-Prussian War secured Germany the land. German occupation continued until the parcel was lost after World War I to France once again. You probably see a pattern developing. World War II brought the Germans back to capture Alsace, only to have the Allies reward the property to France at the end of the war.

If you feel dizzy with this back and forth between the two nations, imagine how Alsatian citizens felt! It is only natural a hybrid culture, architecture, and even language, called Alsatian, developed. The wines also become unique, a perfect confluence of both nations. Varietals that thrived in German winemaking also excelled in Alsace. Although they were produced from the same grapes, the Alsatian wines drank more austere and much drier than the sweeter German counterparts. This leads me to our recipe.

It too is a tale of two: savory and sweet. The pork chops, herbs and shallots are all savory and delicate. The addition of apples, balsamic vinegar and honey highlight a decadence that is slightly sweet. For this pairing, I can happily suggest the Domaine Weinbach, “Cuvée Colette,” Riesling, Alsace, France 2019 ($59.99) which captures the duality, the very spirit of Alsace, in a bottle. Its intense, velvety texture unfolds with notes of Bosch pear, Granny Smith apple, honey and white blossom.

The Domaine, too, is steeped in socio-political history, having been founded by Capuchin friars in 1612. It was sold as national property in the French Revolution but became privately owned in 1898. The Faller family has farmed the land ever since. Now third generation and practicing biodynamics, which marries the organic nurturing of plant life with the cycles of the moon, sun and tides, the Fallers prefer the soil to speak its history, allowing you to taste the complicated past that continues to shape its future.