Day at the Ballpark with Alsace Wines

Day at the Ballpark with Alsace Wines

In July 2008 I attended the second annual “Day at the Ballpark” with Alsace wines. The ballpark involved—THE ballpark—is an icon we are about to lose: the original Yankee Stadium, built in 1923. For those who do not know, the Yankees are building a more modern stadium next door, and tearing down the “House that Ruth Built.” This year is “The Final Season.”

Before I speak about the wines, allow me to speak about my heart. I am not just a New Yorker. I am not just from the Bronx. I am from a family that once had a strong presence in the Yankee Stadium neighborhood. When I first came to baseball consciousness in the 1950's and early 60's, there it stood, just a few blocks away. My grandparents lived even closer to the stadium; they could see the scoreboard from their window, tell time from the stadium clock. Imagine a hot day at the stadium. I might have been twelve or so. My grandfather ordered a beer in a big cardboard cup. He took a swallow, then handed the cup to me. It simply didn't occur to him that I was (considerably) under age. It occurred to me, of course, but I was thirsty, and sitting out in that Bronx sun, I was hot.

I enjoyed the Alsace wines in considerably greater comfort, an air conditioned suite provided by Sopexa (a marketing firm that specializes in food and wine from France), with ballpark food: hot dogs and sauerkraut, sausage and peppers, stuffed shells, chicken wings, potato chips, and the like. Fifteen of the sixteen wines we tasted were white, with a single rosé. Alsace is known for some excellent Pinot Noirs, but the crux of the Alsace campaign, as indicated by the rubric on my souvenir pen, is Les Vins D'Alsace, Les Grands Blancs. I do not know how to say “food friendliness” in French, but this was also a theme, these Grands Blancs offering ripeness, low tannin and food enhancing acidity.

Now I don't want you to think that I wasn't following the game—I was (how could one not, with the television piped in and the magnificent field spread before us)—but I am used to multi-tasking (I do this with a wineglass rather than a Blackberry), and here are my notes on the sixteen wines:

Domaine Barms-Buecher, Crémant D'Alsace 2006: A sparkling blend of biodynamically farmed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay using the méthode traditionnelle, this $16 Crémant has a fine and yet energetic mousse, equally energetic acidity, floral, bread and toast, and some light nutty notes. Fruity in general, apple and apricot in particular.

Lucien Albrecht, Crémant D'Alsace Brut Rosé, Non-Vintage: 100% Pinot Noir, whole bunches are softly pressed to form the base of this crisp sparkling $20 wine. I call the color a very gentle tangerine. The specs call for “light pink/salmon.” The nose is very pleasant, with dried apricots, fresh strawberry, rose, a touch of minerality. Decidedly dry, the wine takes over the mouth with a wave of tiny bubbles that work in concert with the acidity. The touch is elegant, the finish long, the sensation at the end a refreshing touch of bitter almond.

The above two wines being sparklers, they would qualify as celebratory icons next time the Yankees win the World Series—patiently we wait.

Frédéric Mallo, Muscat 2006: Made from 100% Muscat Ottonel, this $18 wine is near water-white, with a nose and palate of peach, pear, mango and banana, unapologetically fun, delicate and at the same time firmly determined to refresh.

Domaine Weinbach, Muscat Reserve 2005: Again a near water-white Muscat, this $25 wine has an intense aromatic nose, with orange blossom and white flowers, a palate offering tropical fruit—mango and banana—carried along by moderate acidity. The finish is ripe, dry, and long and I was left with a final sensation of bergamot.

Alsace Willm, “Gentil” 2005: I have to be honest; the Yankees turned a double play while I was tasting this wine. It was an extremely clean double play, as this is a clean and direct wine. The $11 blend brings in Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Pinot Blanc. Medium straw in color, the wine has a mineral and citrus nose, apple and citrus on the palate, an elegant powdery mineral finish.

Pierre Sparr, “Alsace One” 2005: Another $11 blend, this time of Gewurztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling. I enjoyed the wine even without concurrent dramatics from the pinstriped brigade below. The wine is a pale lemon, with white flowers, white pear, and white almond on the nose. These open up a bit in the palate to a more dynamic range of fruit, a touch of mango and ripe peach, with acid to complement the fruit. Very ripe on the finish.

Cave de Ribeauvillé, Pinot Blanc 2006: This $15 wine made from 100% whole cluster Pinot Blanc projects peaches on the nose, but you haven't sliced into them yet; the nose is subtle, with floral elements. Very fruity in the mouth, with pear, citrus and more peaches. The acidity, if not racy, is a little impish. The wine has mineral elements on the nicely dry finish with an acidic touch related to that peach at the finale.

Marc Kreydenweiss, Kritt Pinot Blanc “Les Charmes” 2004: A $15 wine, nicely gold with lemon tinges, this is a blend of 50% Pinot Blanc and 50% Auxerrois. Apricot and pear on the nose, with a mineral tinge. More mineral on the palate, with some citrus bitterness, ripe but hardly sweet, the wine travels in several directions, but I enjoyed them all. Approaching full body, with a fine, un-shy mouthfeel. A bit of grapefruit with stone on the finish.

Domaine Ostertag, Sylvaner “Vielles Vignes” 2006: A $20 wine of 100% Sylvaner, the best feature of this wine is its superb integration of acid and minerality. Apricot and peach take the point at all levels, with elegance and subtlety. It all comes together nicely, with a very pleasurable mouthfeel. You don't spit this one so readily, if at all.

Albert Boxler, Sylvaner 2004: I had to have a favorite among these sixteen wines, and here it is. The $25 wine is 100% Sylvaner, the color a vibrant lemon/gold. The nose is citrus: lime and grapefruit. Dry, with racy acidity, the lead note is a pure grapefruit, wonderfully concentrated and fresh, with citrus peel as an accompaniment. I suspect there is some residual sugar in this treat, but it is so well balanced with the acidity that it doesn't shout. Food friendly to be sure (in my case, the sausage and peppers on a hotdog bun).

Paul Blanck, Riesling “Grand Cru Schlossberg” 2004: This wine is $33, and worth it; Riesling is one of the four “noble” grapes of Alsace, and this one is no slouch. A medium gold, the wine brings notes of slate, flint, floral, rose, melon and pear to the nose and continues to pay off, in a decidedly dry yet richly ripe format, on the palate. The acidity weaves and wends its way through the experience, the mouthfeel is infinite, the finish complex, with a powdery flintiness and complex fruit.

By the time I reached the Rieslings (about the fifth inning) it had become apparent to all that the Yankees and their adversaries (tied at one run each) were locked in a grueling pitchers battle. There had been no errors on the field, and certainly none among the fine platoon of wines. Many true baseball devotees consider this type of game to be the most subtle, the most sophisticated, the type you savor and remember. I felt a similar “this is the way it ought to be” sensation with both Rieslings.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2004: A $32 Riesling, golden yellow, the wine has aromatic notes of white flowers, peach, pear, some flint, warm citrus, and orange. The palate is dry, with citrus, pineapple, and floral elements that seem more perfume than plant. This is a wine of high tone with nicely concentrated and very ripe fruit.

Albert Mann, Pinot Gris “Cuvee Albert” 2005: By far the easiest to pronounce of all today's wines, the $25 wine, 100% Pinot Gris, has other fine attributes. The lemon colored wine has a nose of rose, peach, and baking spice. There is some residual sugar in this, but it is well camouflaged by the wine's full body and its velvety texture. On the palate the key fruit note is a tasty orange marmalade. The finish is fruit-filled and warm. The simple name deserves a simple verdict: yum! Note that I have previously reviewed this winery's 2006 Alsace Pinot Blanc.

Domaine Ehrhart, Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2004: $22, and 100% Pinot Gris with lees aging in neutral oak. The nose is mineral first and foremost, with pear and white flowers. In the mouth you taste a dollop of sweet, but flinty mineral, citrus, pear and dried apricot soon join the chorus. Bitter on a well-defined finish, this wine is nicely civilized.

Hugel, Gewurztraminer 2006: 100% Gewurztraminer, $24, a golden yellow. The nose is spicy, floral and fruity, with rose and apricot. The wine is dry, medium bodied, with mid-level acidity, palate notes of apricot, banana, and mango with some exotic tropical flora. Finishes warm, with lemon zest and ripe, well balanced fruit.

Trimbach, Gewurztraminer 2005: 100% Gewurztraminer and $20, this lemon-hued wine teases the nose with a floral arrangement, adds spice, mineral, grapefruit and peach. I am almost tempted to say “refer to the nose,” when describing the palate, but if you keep this wine in your mouth long enough, the aromatics deepen and you sense pear, then tropical fruit, banana, and orange peel. The wine is low in acid and tastes dry. You've got to be ready to have a little fun to appreciate this one.

A good portion of the Alsace Wine Bureau's current campaign to increase consciousness of these excellent wines among the American public involves their food friendliness (many of their new materials stress the mix between these wines and Asian foods). I thought the wines in general coexisted well with the ballpark cuisine, and it is no surprise. The sausages, charcuterie and other specialties Alsace is known for are not far removed from many well-loved “American” favorites, especially the meats we grill outdoors all summer long. We know there is a general trend in the United States to wine (at the expense of beer) to accompany just this kind of casual eating. Where better than a ballpark to test out the food friendly theorem and give the suds a run for its money. (Ironically, Alsace also produces excellent beer—it is the only region of France known for both beverages—but that's another piece.)

The taste in my mouth as I inched out of the stadium with the crowd was a pleasant one, not only because of the sixteen wines and the food but because—I know you have been wondering—the Yankees did win that day, 2 to 1 in the bottom of the tenth inning. Bittersweet was this victory, however. As I shuffled down the ramp thunder clouds began to bear in on us from the west, the sky darkened, and having a fertile imagination I could envision the structure—always larger than reality—flattened into a parking lot for the new stadium fast rising to the north. I was not alone in these thoughts. The emotion generated volubility in some, a grim stoicism in others. The words “last time…last time” echoed and re-echoed from the lips of many, voices cracked, eyes misted, a tear or two may well have dropped. And why not? We Yankee fans are sensitive now. We even drink wine with our hotdogs.


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Alsace Wines

Sopexa's JoLynn Howe explains some of the sixteen wines from Alsace in the Ron Guidry Suite at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium

The two Alsatian wines to the right of the picture are obviously in foul territory, but how would the official scorers deal with the glass to the left? (The cleaned plate, of course, speaks for itself.)


Alsace wine map

The Alsace wine region in France.


Elliot Essman, David Rosengarten, Howard Goldberg at Yankee Stadium

Food writer David Rosengarten, wine critic Howard Goldberg and the author begin to examine a fine array of Alsace wines.


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