Alsace is unique in France, in that its history has been closely intertwined with that of Germany – the region has belonged to both countries over history. Wine-wise, it’s one of my favorite regions, laying claim to the best of both worlds.
Alsace is another region defined by its geography: the Vosges mountain range forms it western border, and the Rhine river its eastern one. A wide range of soils lie in between, lending uniqueness and diversity to the wines that come from such a small area. Once again, the rain shadow of the Vosges range means that rainfall is scant, and the long dry autumns allow for perfect grape ripeness most years – and the necessary over-ripeness of Vendage Tardive and botrytis-affected Selection de Grains Nobles wines as well.
Alsace is more French in its:
– legal geography
– AVA wine laws
– creation of dry, bold wines (traditionally, rarely sweet unless as Vendage Tardive or Selection de Grains Nobles)
– attitude of “less is more”, i.e. to let the grapes do what they do best, in the soils that they happen to be in
– creation of Champange-method sparklers, Cremant d’Alsace (most German sparkling Sekt is made by the Charmat method)
Alsace is more German in its:
– use of cooperative cellars
– labeling that identifies the grape varietal
– embracing the grapes that are best known in Germany, and thus, being known almost exclusively for its white wines
– rarity of blended wines
– use of only the iconic flûte bottles
The main grape varieties, as of 2008, were Riesling (22%), Gewurztramminer (19%), Pinot Gris (15%) and Auxerrois Blanc (14%). The others include Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. I dream of a summer spent in Strasbourg, sampling all these beauties paired with the specialties of the region: the cheeses, escargots, charcuterie… heaven!
I participated in a tasting of Alsace wines a couple of weeks ago. The winner of the night for me: the 2008 Trimbach Ribeauville Riesling. Dry, with bracing acidity, it showed petrol, orange blossom and peach on the nose. The palate offered nectarine and honey, balanced by fabulous minerality. Would be perfect with a roast pork dinner. $33 at Everything Wine.