Choucroute and Dopff
Choucroute (sauerkraut) is the signature dish of Alsace – as emblematic of the region as storks on rooftops, Munster cheese, and colourful floral window-boxes in summer. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this dish, and after considerable soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that it all depends on how hungry you are.
We’d built up the mother of all appetites tasting copious Dopff wines in their cellars just outside Riquewihr’s lower gate. The tasting included a blind cork-versus-screwcap tasting of their famous grand cru Schoenenbourg riesling, 2010 through ’14 (tastings). The tasting was inconclusive: most of us were unable to tell which of the samples was the screwcap and which was cork with any reliability. My own impression was that the cork-sealed bottles were – at these young ages – slightly more enjoyable because the wines were a smidgin more evolved, probably thanks to the extra available oxygen. Their bouquets had evolved more under cork than under the more inert screwcap.
Winemaker Pascal Batot tasted with us and was not fazed by the results. For him, the screwcapped wines would prove their value with increasing age, and anyway, screwcaps are worth using if only for the fact that the loss due to tainting is zero.
Adjourning to the restaurant, we were assured by Dopff’s irrepressible public relations man Philippe Durst and co-owner Etienne-Arnaud Dopff that we were in for a surprise. They weren’t kidding.
The choucroute arrived at the table, the waiter jammed a split of Dopff’s famous Crémant d’Alsace, Cuvée Julien, into the mound of sauerkraut in the centre of a platter heaped with no less than seven types of pork meat and sausage, plus spuds. The cork had been removed. He’d agitated the bottle beforehand, no doubt, so that when the cork was loosened, and the neck banged with a knife, the cork ejected and so did the entire contents of the bottle, wetting all and sundry. The choucroute was suitably soused in wine by the time the eruption subsided, and I fancy it added to the flavour of the dish. I had seconds, or maybe thirds.