Eating to Cook: A Trip to Alsace

At a recent wine dinner celebrating the great Alsatian wines of Zind-Humbrecht at Legal Sea Foods, it took me a good 20 minutes to work out all the Al’s ass jokes I was able to brew in my teenie little mind. My fellow diners indulged my jokes (a 13-year-old boy at a Little League game might have done slightly better), which included, “seriously, this wine is from Al’s ass?” and “so you’re telling me wine in Al’s ass is highly regarded and delicious?”

I can’t help it.

I became a convert to these gorgeous wines while eating Thai food at Jean Georges’ Vong in New York a good decade or so ago. I, like so many, considered grapes like Riesling and Gewurztraminer far too sweet and cloying to be enjoyed with savory food, if at all. Another great wine lesson learned. The beauty of these fermented and bottled juices is their crisp acidity, dryness, and mineral attributes, which combine to make them wines that beg for some food to be fully enjoyed. Perfect for the Thai-inspired meal I indulged in so long ago, but equally well-suited for New England seafood this summer.

Olivier Humbrecht, a dashing man (and Master of Wine) from Alsace, is the 12th generation wine maker for his family’s many hectares of vineyards. He poured a 2008 Pinot Blanc, which is the “Miss Congeniality” of his portfolio. Creamy crab tartlets, king crab tempura with wasabi, and a spicy shrimp fondue were served with it — both the rich dairy and the spice of the appetizers came through and got along famously with his selections. Humbrecht said, with Franco-Germanic accent: “We drink this wine with everything, all year long, with everything but meat and dessert — but sometimes them, too.” At that point, he could have asked me to drink a glass of sand and I would have (and told him it was delicious).

Back to the wines, though. From Pinot Blanc, we moved into richer and fuller bodied Rieslings from different land parcels (by the way, all the Zind-Humbrecht wines are both organic and bio-dynamic, “to respect the environment and the people who work the land”). As Humbrecht spoke about how difficult these grapes are to grow due to the particular extremes in the weather and “the mosaic” of complicated geology, it became clear what a labor of love these special wines are. To match the wines, the kitchen plated its version of the traditional Alsation “choucroute garni,” a pork sausage and sauerkraut dish, using rainbow trout instead of pork, with bacon-wrapped potatoes, grainy mustard, and juniper scented sauerkraut — another fine match.

We tasted Gewurztraminer with grilled duck served with a mango chutney and fava bean puree, which brought out the rose and geranium notes and balanced the acidity of this late-harvest Gran Cru.

You, too, can taste these special wines, as well as wines from other stellar Alsatian producers (including Trimbach, Hugel, Schlumberger, and Gisselbrecht) through July 3 at Legal Sea Foods throughout New England.

Legal Sea Foods, 26 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-426-4444. For a list of other locations, go to