Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Adam Crémant d'Alsace and Espelette Piperade

Dishes dominated by chillies, such as the Espelette pepper, pair well with aromatic sparkling wines which are refreshing and provide a good level of mouth watering acidity. Excess alcohol can add to the burning sensation of chillies so it should not be over 12%. You need to avoid wines that are tannic as they are mouth drying and those that are oaked as it clashes with the spice giving a bitter, harsh after taste. A perfect choice would be the Adam Crémant d'Alsace Extra Brut (£12.49) which is made with 100% Chardonnay and comes from the House of Jean-Baptiste Adam, founded in 1614, in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr. No less than 14 generations of winemakers have contributed to the tradition and exceptional skills of the Adam estate. There are few families that can take advantage of 4 centuries of passion for wine!

Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Extra Brut is a delicate and dazzling wine with a fine mousse of creamy bubbles. It has notes of melon, lemon, ripe pear and toast and is crisp and effervescent. It is a medium weighted sparkling wine with a dry, robust finish and although excellent as an aperitif or as a party drink it accompanies rich dishes such as duck, venison and beef as well as mackerel, smoked salmon and sturgeon.
Today, the founder’s namesake, Jean Baptiste, is the current owner and general director and has followed biodynamic policies in his vineyards since 2003. Jean Baptiste sees the vineyard as a living organism in its entirety only uses natural products based on sulphur, copper and herbs such as yarrow, nettle and seaweed to control pests and fertilize the vines.

Located right in the heart of Alsace, Ammerschwihr enjoys a microclimate of sunny, warm and dry days that guarantees ideal conditions for growing grapes. The region also receives the least amount of yearly rainfall which ensures the gradual ripening of the grapes creating extremely aromatic wines. The wines of Adam come from slopes with optimum exposure to sunlight. The vineyards are geologically varied consisting of gneiss, granite, limestone, shale and sandstone.

Prior to the Second World War, Ammerschwihr was like a village out of a fairy tale complete with fortifications, towers, grain market, gabled houses and cool wine cellars where empty barrels silently awaited the wine to be made from grapes ripening on nearby hillsides. The town was so rich that it belonged to three sovereigns - the emperor, the Lord of Ribeaupierre and the Lord of Hohlandsberg. And so it was that back then Ammerschwihr had three provosts, three gates and three towers!

In 1944 tragedy struck. The village was turned into a field of smouldering ruins during the Battle of Colmar. Ammerschwihr arose from this desolation and little by little a new town was rebuilt upon the vestiges of the old. The war, with all its suffering, spared one thing: the cool wine cellars where empty barrels silently awaited the wine to be made from grapes ripening on nearby hillsides. Ammerschwihr recovered and has remained one of the foremost wine-producing towns in Alsace.

During the Second World War the House of Jean Baptiste Adam was considered "deutschfeindlich - hostile to the Germans – and their cellar was used as a shelter for many inhabitants of Ammerschwihr during the American bombing. The cellars survived intact.

Ammerschwihr lies in the Kaefferkopf Grand Cru vineyard and is the appellation is the 51st Grand Cru of Alsace . The vineyards of Jean Baptiste Adam are spread over 15 hectares around the village and surrounding slopes and are made up of 100 small vineyard lots.

The diversity of vineyard soils in Alsace has no equivalent anywhere in France for one easy-to-understand reason: about 50 million years ago both the Vosges and the Black Forest (in Germany) were a single massif, and when it collapsed the Rhine plain was formed. As the Alsace vineyards are situated along the fault line between the remaining massif of the Vosges and the plain, it is logical that their soil is a mosaic of the collapsed ancient upper layers. For the same reason, all the vineyards vary in size, some being extremely small and each one possesses its own geological characteristics.

Sheltered from oceanic influence by the Vosges mountains, the Alsace wine region enjoys practically the lowest rainfall in France (only 400-500mm per year) and is blessed with a semi-continental climate, sunny, hot and dry. Situated on the sub-Vosgian foothills, at an altitude of from 200 and 400 metres, the vineyards take maximum advantage of their exposure to the sun, particularly as the vines are trained along high wires. These specific advantages of the Alsace vineyards favour the slow, extended ripening of the grapes, giving wines with very elegant, complex aromas.

Wine making in Alsace dates back to the Roman era and was revitalised by Merovingians and Carlovingians who consumed great quantities of "this stimulating wine that makes you happy". By the end of the first millennium, 160 Alsace villages were already growing vines and, by the Middle Ages, the wines of Alsace were among the most highly prized in all of Europe.

Crémant is the French word for "creaming" - this means that they are made with slightly more than half the pressure of champagne. This doesn’t give them any less sparkle but makes a wine with a fizzy mousse of bubbles and a delicious refreshing tingle on the tongue. Today, Crémant d’Alsace is the market leader in at-home sales of AOC sparkling wines in France. It’s an undiscovered gem. It’s a favourite of those vintners who make Champagne and you’ll find it gracing most celebrations and parties in France.

This summer if you like a nice glass of chilled fizz you could not go far wrong with this Adam Crémant d'Alsace not only will you be bowled over with its quality but you wont believe how little you paid for it!

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