Alsatians are the dogs. The people of Alsace would prefer that their wines are called "the wines of Alsace" or Alsace wines. Fair enough. For there's nothing shaggy about their wines. To be sure, between 1870 and 1918, when Alsace was tossed from France to Germany and back again, they were the ugly ducklings of both countries, neither prestigious enough in France nor permitted by the Germans to become competitive with their own wines.
Perhaps that's why we have been a little confused about Alsace wines. The names of the producers, villages, vineyards and grapes often sound more Germanic than Gallic. But Alsace and its wines are definitely French. It has had an AOC (app,ellation d'origine control,ee) since 1962 and, as if to confirm its patriotism, the style of the wines leans toward the drier French whites rather than the fruitier Germans.
I love them. I may as well confess it right away. There's nothing quite like an Alsatian . . . sorry, Alsace . . . wine at lunch on a summer's day or as a partner to early evening relaxation. Almost totally white in production, there are seven grapes designated as noble: riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris (tokay d'Alsace), muscat, pinot blanc, sylvaner and, for the few reds and ros,es, pinot noir. Unlike other regions of France, the name of the grape variety is as important on the label as the vineyard or regional designation.
While Alsace wines have their own style (a pinot blanc won't be like one from elsewhere in France, nor a riesling like those of Germany), there's no single definition. One producer's riesling may be more flowery than another's. His gewurz more spicy.
Alsace has long overcome its ugly-duckling image. The growth of cooperative wineries since the '50s has expanded distribution in the home and export markets. The cooperatives offer larger quantity, less expensive wines for the supermarket trade, leaving the grandes maisons, the producer-landowners, Trimbach, Hugel, Dopff & Irion et al., to supply the upper end of the trade.
Most recently, there's been another element in the export market: Single vineyard, or climat, wines from small family- owned producers (Domaine Weinbach, Clos St. Landelin of A & O Mur,e and the latest on our shelves, Domaine Zind Humbrecht).
Alsace is in the happy position of being the only major white wine area of France to produce a large harvest in 1981 (42 percent above the 1980 level). There will be plenty of fine wines to replace the good '79s, and prices should remain stable.
Recently tasted and much appreciated single vineyard wines:
'79 Riesling, Cuv,ee Th,eo, Domaine Weinbach, $13.50: This may sound pricey, but the quality is there. A delicate wine, with a flowery nose and finely balanced finish, to match fish and light white meats.
'79 Tokay d'Alsace (Pinot Gris), Clos St. Landelin, Mur,e, $7.49: Delicious aroma from the moment the cork is pulled. A smooth, surprisingly full body, finishing on a crisp note. Great with the pork-based recipes of Alsace.
'79 Muscat, Clos St.Landelin, Mur,e, $7.49: A muscat can be overpoweringly grapey, but this is a subtle one. Delicious on its own or with summer foods.