Both of these Alsatians, in their easily recognizable, tall green bottles with yellow labels, are full-bodied, dry white wines well suited for drinking with appetizers or with the first course of a holiday feast.
And although they are both called Pinot Blanc, they are not true varietal wines but blends of family-member grapes. It’s in the blend that the wines vary slightly in their distinctive flavors of apple, apricot and pear and in their floral aromas.
I’ve liked both of these wines for some time, but I have to admit they are so similar in packaging and flavor that I often buy them indiscriminately and enjoy them with equal pleasure.
There’s no requirement in France’s Alsatian wine region that the grape named on the label be even the dominant grape used to make the wine. Pinot Blanc, a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir, is mostly grown in Alsace, Luxembourg, Germany and the mountainous areas of other nearby countries. In these two wines, Pinot Blanc plays an accompanying or minor role, sharing the blend with its progeny Auxerrois Blanc.
Trimbach, which is a blend of 75 percent Auxerrois and 25 Pinot Blanc, is slightly less acidic than the 50-50 blend of Hugel, the wines’ tasting notes say. I didn’t drink the wines side by side, but if I had, I’m not sure I could have been able to taste the differences.
These highly-rated crisp wines are produced by families who trace their winemaking heritage back almost 400 years, to the reign of Louis XIII, the Holy Roman Empire and the Thirty Years’ War with its 8 million deaths.
Alsace is a relatively small region in the east of France bordering the Rhine River and Germany. The area has had a pingpong history, bouncing over the centuries from one warring group to another. It most recently had been been claimed by Germany and since World War I, France, although Hitler took it over during World War II.
One would think after 1,000 or more years of occupation and fighting, the area would be a mess and its residents all nervously looking over their shoulders to see who’s coming over the Vosges mountains or across the Rhine. To the contrary, Alsace is a very pleasant place with a cultural blend of German and French heritage. The towns and villages are quaint with brightly colored half-timbered buildings with steep roofs and storks nesting at the peaks. It’s a quintessential picturesque yuletide sort of place where the capital, Strasbourg, annually holds one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets that attracts hordes of tourists for holiday shopping.
Famille Hugel, now with its 12th generation in charge, places the start of its winery at 1639. Trimbach one ups its competitor, claiming it began in 1626 and has had 13 generations of the family at the helm.
The wines produced by both families benefit from the Alsatian microclimate provided by the Vosges, a mountain range that blocks heavy rains from the west, keeping them from falling on the Rhine River Valley where the grapes are grown in complex limestone soils. The terroir of Alsace is excellent for growing grapes that produce crisp white wines, including dry Rieslings and Gewurtzraminers as well as Burgundy-style wines that deploy Pinot Blanc, which is best when it comes from Alsace, according to wine writer Eric Asimov in a recent New York Times article.
Trimbach and Hugel Pinot Blancs are very good, affordable wines and real bargains, particularly if you find them on sale. Both are available in most of New England, but Hugel may have to be ordered by wine merchants in some markets. If you can’t get one, the other’s just as good.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.