As a friend of mine always says, Alsace is the place that is in France that everyone thinks is in Germany. Which is a pretty good description. Wedged between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine, it has changed hands numerous times.
With a dry climate and hot summer, it's pretty much the perfect place for growing vines, something that the invading Romans were quick to spot, and by 58BC, they had established it as a centre of viticulture. While sommeliers love the wines from Alsace, many others seldom give them much thought. But Agathe Bursin, a winemaker from the region, will give you plenty to think about. I met her, quite appropriately, on International Women's Day, as when she started out making wine in 2000 she was pretty much a lone woman in an area filled with male vignerons.
Her grandparents had made wine, and at the age of four, when she stuck her finger into a stream of grape juice and later tasted its transformation into wine, she decided that she possessed the "magic powers" to do this, and planned from that day on to become a winemaker. After studying wine in Burgundy, she returned to Alsace and set up her own winery. Her mother had inherited a small, three-hectare vineyard, so this provided her first supply of grapes. "I bought a tank, a press and a pump for making wine. It was very expensive, and my parents said, 'We hope it's a beautiful wine that you make, and not vinegar'. My parents helped me a lot," she says. "The other winemakers were not happy. They said, 'You are a woman, this is too hard, it's not work for a woman.' The first two wines that I made were with Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer. I liked these grapes when I was a child but when I tasted the wines, I thought that's not the style I like to make. It's too floral and too fruity. I changed how I made wines completely. I had a very clear idea in my head of how I wanted them to taste and I was happy with the wine I made in 2001."
Grapes from Alsace are typically aromatic, and wines like Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc can easily be dismissed as just being suitable for Asian food. Sometimes people just don't know what to make of them. Agathe's 'As de B' wine, which is a blend of grapes all grown in the one vineyard and harvested together, is a wonderful aperitif, and Pinot Blanc, while nice on its own, was quite spectacular when I tasted it with pork at Forest Avenue. She also makes a really good Pinot Noir, which, while fruity, has levels of complexity and texture that take it way out of that cool temperature region. It would be difficult to place in a blind tasting. Agathe's wines, which are imported by Terroirs in Donnybrook, are certified organic, but she also works biodynamically.
So, if you're looking for an interesting wine for Easter, try an Alsatian.
Rum has become hugely popular, and if you're a fan, check out Aldi's own label rums which won two medals at the Spirits Business Rum Masters, one of the world's top blind tasting competitions. The Old Hopking White Rum for €12.69 picked up a silver medal and is perfect for making cocktails or for mixing with Coke. And the Old Hopking Spiced Gold Rum for €15.99 bagged a gold medal, beating rums at three times the price. Rich, smooth, and full flavoured, this blended Caribbean Rum is packed with spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg with warm vanilla notes and a long rounded finish.