Year in and year out, Kuentz-Bas proves that you do not need to pay a premium for wines steeped in tradition. Olivier Raffin ferments this dry and generous white wine in foudres assembled in 1894, during the construction of the domaine’s “new” cellar. Given their age and how many vintages of wine they have held, these massive wooden casks no longer impart flavor to the wine. Their main purpose is to allow a slow exchange of oxygen between the inside and outside of the vessel, which enhances fermentation and adds complexity to the aromas. Floral and honeyed, this Pinot Blanc has everything you want in a weeknight white wine and more.
Winemaking has been part of both the Kuentz and the Bas family histories since the 18th century, and when a son of the Bas family married a Kuentz daughter in 1918, the two families joined forces combining the strongest of the vineyard holdings under one label. Hence the present name, Maison Kuentz-Bas.
While many winemakers experiment with stylistic innovations today in Alsace -residual sugar and the use of new oak are two of the more popular - Christian Bas speaks of preserving the traditional, more elegant style of Alsatian winemaking, lively and delicate, with finesse.
Kuentz-Bas bottles under two labels. The Cuvee Tradition wines are made from grapes that they purchase. They are vinified in glass-lined tanks to preserve fruit and freshness, and are intended for foudres, and bottled approximately a year following the vintage. The family also has three Grand Cru vineyards, Pfersigberg, Eichberg and Florimont.
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.