Willm Pinot Blanc Reserve 2011
In 1896 the Willm family founded the Willm Estate in Barr, at the foot of the majestic Kirchberg de Barr Grand Cru vineyard. Willm has always been concerned with revealing the best of its terroirs and sharing its exceptional wines with the whole world. Thanks to the adventurous founder Emile Willm, the estate’s wines were the first from Alsace to be exported to the United States in the early 1930s, after prohibition laws were lifted. Their wines are celebrated for their blend freshness, minerality and elegance; they are synonymous with tradition, terroir, purity and refinement.
If Willm isn’t in an American history book, it should be. The winery was the first producer in Alsace to export to the United States after prohibition, and it’s said that Al Capone favored the wines after his release from Alcatraz. Though the Willm family has been making wine in Alsace since 1896, their French heritage dates back to 1398. Willm’s portfolio includes four Grand Crus, sparkling Cremant d’Alsace and late-harvest sweet wines, in addition to their reserve range. The winery is known for its easy-drinking, well-priced Riesling that pairs well with shellfish, grilled seafood and white meats. Among Alsace’s rarer sparklers is Willm’s Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Noirs, a white bubbly made from 100% Pinot Noir. The vineyards span the Haut-Rhin (upper Rhine) and the Bas-Rhin (lower Rhine) in three locations, encompassing a diversity of soils and allowing Willm to produce a range of styles. The winery received its organic certification in 2012.
With its fairytale aesthetic, Germanic influence and strong emphasis on white wines, Alsace is one of France’s most unique viticultural regions. This hotly contested stretch of land running north to south on France’s northeastern border has spent much of its existence as German territory. Nestled in the rain shadow of the Vosges mountains, it is one of the driest regions of France but enjoys a long and cool growing season. Autumn humidity facilitates the development of “noble rot” for the production of late-picked sweet wines, Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles.
The best wines of Alsace can be described as aromatic and honeyed, even when completely dry. The region’s “noble” varieties, the only ones permitted within Alsace’s 51 Grands Crus vineyards, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Pinot Gris.
Riesling is Alsace’s main specialty. In its youth, Alsace Riesling is dry, fresh and floral, but develops complex mineral and flint character with age. Gewurztraminer is known for its signature spice and lychee aromatics, and is often utilized for late harvest wines. Pinot Gris is prized for its combination of crisp acidity and savory spice as well as ripe stone fruit flavors. Muscat, vinified dry, tastes of ripe green grapes and fresh rose petal.
Other varieties grown here include Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Chasselas, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir—the only red grape permitted in Alsace and mainly used for sparkling rosé known as Crémant d’Alsace. Most Alsace wines are single-varietal bottlings and unlike other French regions, are also labeled with the variety name.
Approachable, aromatic and pleasantly plush on the palate, Pinot Blanc is a white grape variety most associated with the Alsace region of France. Although its heritage is Burgundian, today it is rarely found there and instead thrives throughout central Europe, namely Germany and Austria, where it is known as Weissburgunder and Alto Adige where it is called Pinot Bianco. Interestingly, Pinot Blanc was born out of a mutation of the pink-skinned Pinot Gris. Somm Secret—Chardonnay fans looking to try something new would benefit from giving Pinot Blanc a try.