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Alas, poor Alsace. Such a beautiful land — and such a cursed one. Not quite French, and not exactly German either, Alsace has been the focus of Franco-German desire and distrust for centuries — and a prime war-time objective in 1870, 1914, and 1939. (It’s nice to be loved, but this is ridiculous.) Alsace is a quirky blend of these two vastly different cultures. The gingerbread houses with their pointed roofs are of German origin, as are many of the local family names: Sipp and Sparr, Boxler and Zind, Kientzler and Klack. But the language the natives speak is French. Not German, but not exactly French either. Maybe that’s one explanation to one of the abiding mysteries of the wine world: why there’s such a small market in this country for the very fine wines of Alsace. Or maybe it’s the long, green-colored bottles that they come in and that make them look to the eye like the wines of Germany’s Mosel region. Or maybe again it’s the varietals themselves: riesling, gewurtztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc, and muscat, every one of which is a good deal more esoteric than your run-of-the-mill chardonnay. Yet the best of these Alsatian wines are so appealing — and so food-friendly. You just have to try them to be convinced. If you do, I guarantee you’re in for a treat. The most fashionable Alsatian wines today are probably those from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, with Domaine Weinbach a close second. Certainly, none are more chi-chi — or more expensive, produced as they are on a boutique scale. These included, however, no one makes a better range of Alsatian wines than the old firm of F.E. Trimbach. The Trimbachs, Jean and Pierre, though, are in the merchant business; the range of their wines is wide, from high-quality “basic generics” to the jewels of their own property (or domaine). None are less than good, and the best are every bit as great as Humbrecht’s. Indeed, dollar for dollar, these are some of the fairest-priced wines in the world, especially those in the $25-$30 range. A word on older vintages: If you can still find them, look out for wines from the trio 1988-89-90. The ’88s are stylish, the ’89s rich (even unctuous), the ’90s perfectly balanced. 1998 PINOT BLANC The slightly buttery fruit makes this a nice match with poultry. $10. 1998 GEWURTZTRAMINER A restrained sort of gewurtz, the rare wine that pairs with Chinese cooking. Great too with country p�tŽ. $15. 1997 RIESLING A laid-back riesling that’s totally dry. Fine with rabbit or almost any fish. $15. 1998 PINOT GRIS “RESERVE”There’s a spicy aspect to pinot gris that makes it the perfect match for anything with mushrooms or truffles. $15. 1996 RIESLING “CUVEE FREDERIC EMILE” From Trimbach’s own domaine. Classy, cool fruit, a beautiful expression of what the riesling is capable of giving. Fabulous value. Try it with trout (cooked “au riesling,” naturally). $28. 1996 GEWURTZTRAMINER “CUVEE DES DEIGNEURS DE RIBEAUPIERRE” Again, domaine wine. Refined and elegant — especially so for a gewurtz. $28. 1997 PINOT GRIS “RESERVE PERSONNELLE” Another domaine wine. Drier and more stylish than the regular “reserve” bottling. $28. 1996 PINOT GRIS “HOMMAGE A GEORGETTE TRIMBACH” This one is better still. Bring on the truffles. $50. 1995 CLOS STE. HUNE The ultimate Trimbach domaine wine. Arguably the greatest riesling to come from Alsace. Steely, characterful, hard to come by — and expensive. $80. 1997 GEWURTZTRAMINER “VENDAGE TARDIVE” From late-harvested grapes, this would make a fine pairing with seared foie gras. $65. 1994 GEWURTZTRAMINER “SELECTION DES GRAINS NOBLES” From concentrated, shriveled-up, botrytised grapes (think Sauternes, only much spicier), this would be lovely with fruit at the end of the meal. $120. 1994 PINOT GRIS “SELECTION DES GRAINS NOBLES” Less spice but perhaps more complexity, another great wine to be drunk by itself or with a very simple dessert. $120.

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