Last month I wrangled an invite to taste some wines from Alsace. Our host’s family has been in the business of growing vines and making wine for about 400 years. It must take something special for so many generations to continue in a family business. The picturesque region of Alsace might just be that special, but for me, the essence of this multi-generational pursuit is in the bottle.
Caught in Crossfire
If you look at a map of modern France, Alsace is on the far right, next door to Deutschland. This proximity, at the cross roads of France and Germany, has shaped its history, culture and, indeed, the tipple they produce. In addition to fantastic wines, Alsace is home to arguably some of the best beers in the country.
A Varietal By Name
Alsace is the only appellation (area) in France that names its wines by varietal, meaning that this is the only French wine where the name is likely to be the name of the grape used to produce the wine inside the bottle.
Where White Wines Reign
A vast majority of the wines produced in Alsace’s 119 grape growing villages are of the white variety. In fact, Pinot Noir is the only red variety produced in the region, clocking in at only about 10 percent of total grape production. Other than tradition, the biggest reason for this is terroir. Hundreds and hundreds of years of trial and error has shown growers that these cool weather varietals thrive in Alsace’s climate, topography, soil and weather. Pinot Noir is also an exception for a red, feeling right at home in colder climes. Among whites, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris lead the way.
Traditionally, Alsace styles have been dry but have become sweeter in recent vintages. Try the dry Pinot Gris, dry and off-dry (read: somewhat sweet) Rieslings, slightly spicy Gewurtztraminer and demure Sylvaner. There are also blends, of which the most popular available from reputable importers is known as Gentil. This wine is dry and features a traditional blend of mostly Pinot Gris and Riesling. In addition to still white wines, they also make their own sparkler: Cremant d’Alsace. There are a few Pinot Noirs available in the global market but, sadly, I’ve yet to see any here in ours. There’s always next vintage. The wines of Alsace are certainly ones worth pursuing; France and Germany have been fighting over them for years.
Michael Kloster grew up in the vineyard countryside west of Fresno, California. He organises the Lucky Wine Buyers’ Collective for spirits and wine lovers in Saigon. If you want something to drink, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.