It’s a strange analogy to make, but the wines of Alsace are very much like the dogs, Alsatians (which were named after the German-French border area of Alsace itself).
They are strong, lean, steely in character but beneath the austerity there is a soft, aromatic temperament, with a little spice to jazz things up!
Alsace is in the north-east of France and is very, very French! I say this because many people believe that Alsatian wines are German? They might be made from the same grapes as German wines but they are still very French in style (the official language of the region is German though!).
It’s quite cold in Alsace but very sunny and the Vosges Mountains spanning the left-hand side of the region protect the vineyards from the wind and the rain. Perfect grape growing and wine-making conditions!
Stunning villages with cobbles and beams dot the wine route and the people of Alsace are very welcoming as the producers are mainly small, individual growers who care greatly about their region and their wine.
They produce very high quality wines in small quantities, in beautiful, fluted bottles. The best vineyards (Grand Crus) are located in the Haut Rhin in the South, near the town of Colmar. The Bas Rhin in the north of the region also has some superb, yet lesser known producers.
There are two main styles of wine in Alsace.
Firstly there are the fruity, clean, aromatic and spicy wines. Then you have the sweet, full-bodied and luscious late harvest wines. These are otherwise known as ‘vendage tardive’. Even sweeter are the Selection de Grains Noble, which are wines made from noble rot infected grapes (see Wine Dictionary for further explanation).
It seems very easy to understand the wines of Alsace, divided only into Alsace AC and the best fifty vineyards being Alsace Grand Cru AC. That’s all there is to it, but this has its pitfalls as you will have to explore these wines to discover your favourite vineyards and producers. Not such a hard task though as they are delicious!
Your saving grace is that the grape variety is clearly specified on the label (totally New World way and not French at all?!). This will help enormously to find the style that you prefer.
The wines of Alsace are not blended. They are single varietal wines. The best (Grand Crus), being made from the ‘noble varieties’. This means the king grapes of the region-Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris.
Pinot Noir is also grown in Alsace (the only red wine made). Also Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc are becoming of increasing importance.
Riesling is the most important grape; it is infamous of the area producing high acid, pure fruit and steely wines.
Gewürztraminer is also a favourite (‘würze’ is the German word for spicy). This gives full-bodied, high alcohol, spicy and lychee scented wines. Do try if you haven’t before!
Alsace wines, especially Gewürztraminer, are a superb match with spicy foods like curries, or fragrant foods like Thai or Chinese cuisine. So ditch the beers and food and wine match these flavours please! These are normally very difficult foods to match with wine so get your Alsatian wine boots on! This match of spice and aromatic flavours really does work, trust me.
Gewürztraminer is also a perfect match with foie gras.
It’s up to you then to discover what joys these wines have to offer. Due to the many different types of soil in Alsace, there are many different styles of wine and nuance for each varietal which is produced. So have fun and do be brave the next time you go to a restaurant or order that take away!
- Steely, clean whites packed with fruit and aromatic, spicy, lychee-scented whites
- Full-bodied, rich, sweet wines
- Full-bodied, soft, strawberry reds and rosés
- Pinot Gris (whites)
- Pinot Noir (red)
- Marcel Deiss’ Pinot Noir
- Trimbach’s Riesling
- Humbrecht’s Gewürztraminer