Grapes and Wine in Alsace
What makes ALSACE so SPECIAL?
Alsace reflects a wine-making culture dating from Roman times with revitalisation by the wine-loving Merovingians and the Carlovingians such that by 1000 AD 160 Alsace villages were growing grapes and, by the Middle Ages, the Alsace wines were amongst the most highly prized in Europe. Wars, disease and commercial decline impacted highly on the region and it was not until after the First World War and more so from 1945 post WW2 that policies and legislation resulted in the production of quality wines from traditional, high-quality grapes. This approach was rewarded in 1962 with AOC status and in 1975 with AOC Alsace Grand Cru status.
The Alsace is sheltered from oceanic influences by the Vosges mountains, and enjoys a semi-continental climate being sunny, hot and dry (one of the lowest rainfalls in France of between 400-500 mm/year). The Alsace vineyards are situated on mainly south and south-east facing slopes of the sub-Vosgian foothills at an altitude of between 200 and 400 metres.
Recent years has seen the adoption of "new world" vineyard management and vinification methods. The vines are trained on high (1.8 m) wires and the canopy trimmed to a narrow profile for maximum exposure to the sun. In the winery, gentle pneumatic presses, temperature-controlled fermentation, and appropriate post fermentation processing has resulted in wines that bring out the finest characteristics of each grape variety and the influence of the particular terroir.
Principal Alsace Grape Varieties
In Alsace the wines generally take their name from the grape variety from which they are made and must by law be bottled in the region of production, and only in the special Alsace "flute" bottle. Some geographical indications such as the name of the village or vineyard may also appear.
One of the world's finest white wine varietals, Riesling is the signature wine of the Alsace and an outstanding expression of this grape. Dry, refined and delicately fruity, it has an elegant bouquet with sometimes mineral or floral tones. Sound acid levels allow for a good aging potential. A gastronomic wine it is unrivalled to accompany fish, shellfish (oysters), seafood and white meats.
With aromas of flowers (violets), spices and exotic fruits, this full-bodied well-structured wine often has a powerful and long palate and can be slightly sweet. It is perfect as an aperitif, or with strong cheeses such as the Alsace Munster, or with ethnic cuisine such as Thai and Asian dishes.
The Alsace expression of this grape is a round, rich wine with an opulent flavour and a long finish. It can have a vegetal, and often slightly smoky, aroma. It is excellent with foie gras, white meats, offal (liver, kidneys and tripe) and sausages of every style and flavour
A stylish dry white wine with aromas of freshly pressed grapes and similar flavours, the Alsace Muscat is unique and distinctive with an unmistakably grapey, yet dry character - it gives the impression of eating fresh grapes. It is a wonderful reception wine and a perfect aperitif - goes really well with asparagus.
Sylvaner is a remarkably fresh, light, and discreetly grapey wine - loved by those who enjoy a fruit forward style. Goes excellently with shellfish, fish, and smoked meats like ham.
Soft and delicate with a fresh and supple finish, Pinot Blanc is the ideal all-purpose Alsace wine. It is perfect with most foods especially seafood and country buffets - great for a picnic lunch.
The only variety in the Alsace to produce a red or rose wine, Alsace Pinot Noir has a typical cherry-like grapey taste and is particularly suited to red meats, charcuterie, goat's cheeses and Gruyere.
FACTS ON GRAPE GROWING & WINE-MAKING in ALSACE
Location: North-east France between the Vosges mountains and the Rhine River
Vineyards: 100 independent producers and 3 cooperative cellars.
Places: 160 villages
Size of the vineyards: 15,000 hectares (45,000 acres)
Production volume: 165,000 hectolitres producing 160 million bottles (95% white wine)
Soil: A mosaic of soils made up of granite, limestone, gniess, schist, and sandstone.
Weather: Predominantly oceanic, with a Mediterranean influence, due to the dry, hot, south wind.
Appellation Alsace Controlée
Compared to other wine regions the Alsace only recently - 1962 - gained A.O.C. (Appellation d'Origine Controllée) status. This status is a guarantee of authenticity and is reinforced by the obligation to bottle all Alsace wines in the region of production.
A.O.C. Alsace Grand Cru
A.O.C. Cremant d'Alsace
Specific Classifications of Alsace Appellation wines
In the finest vintages, some AOC Alsace and AOC Alsace Grand cru wines may be awarded one of two specific classifications: