Come summer, I crave wines that are pure, fresh, young, and vivid―wines as invigorating as ocean water or mountain air. Several wines fill this bill, but none outshine those of Alsace. Bordered by Germany and Switzerland, France's Alsace region looks as if it inspired a Grimm's fairy tale, with sun-dappled vineyards, quaint villages, and timbered houses adorned with window boxes.
The five top Alsatian wines are all white: riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris, muscat, and pinot blanc. Boldly aromatic, totally dry, often full-bodied, and crisp, they are about as extroverted and edgy as wines get. These qualities make them stellar food partners. In fact, they are terrific choices when, as is so often the case in summer, you have a table full of different foods and need one wine to serve with everything.
Luckily for us, the Alsatian producers who export their wines here are terrific, so it's nearly impossible to go wrong, whatever brand you buy. Some names you'll see: Trimbach, Hugel, Kuentz-Bas, Zind Humbrecht, Ostertag, Josmeyer, and Weinbach. Because Alsatian wines are named for their grape variety, not for the place from which they come, it is easy to read the region's wine labels and understand what's in the bottle. See below for tips on matching these tasty wines to summer foods.
• Considered the queen of Alsatian wines, the area's riesling is among the world's most powerful and intense. Serve it with smoked fish, scallops, grilled chicken, or pork.
• Exotic and enticingly aromatic, Alsatian gewürztraminer is spicy, rich, dry, and bold, making it a favorite choice with spicy or southeast Asian dishes like Tandoori-Spiced Grilled Shrimp with Mint-Cilantro Chutney .
• Hauntingly dry, hedonistic, and fruity, muscat is redolent of peaches, orange peel, tangerine, and musk. A favorite aperitif, it is often served with steamed asparagus.
• Native to Alsace, pinot gris (later brought to Italy, where it became known as pinot grigio) has tasty almond, herb, smoke, and grassy flavors. Try it with grilled pork tenderloin.
• Simple and satisfying, pinot blanc is the roundest of all Alsace wines with a likable light, creamy quality that works well with all kinds of food.