Just the Facts on Alsace Wine
Two words can pretty well sum up Alsace even if there is much more to know:
Alsace wine will change your perception of a traditionally sweet Riesling. Besides Riesling, Alsace produces quite a lot of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Crémant d’Alsace: a sparkling wine that is mushrooming in popularity.
What is the major taste of Alsace wine?
Alsacian wine is all about aromas. Floral and peachy smells fly out of the glass and many of the wines are unctuous enough to pair nicely with savory fowl, like roast quail. Alsace wines give the tingle of brilliant acidity but also offer a rich texture from moderate alcohol (some wines are 14 – 15% ABV). The producers in Alsace do not use oak aging to add spice and richness, instead they rely on a balance of ripeness and alcohol to fill out the flavor.
Where Exactly is Alsace?
Alsace’s capitol city is Strasbourg. The region can be found in the very eastern side of France in a valley along the Rhine River – a river that separates France and Germany. On the other side of the river is Baden, a German wine region that produces wines in a similar style.
The region is broken up into two parts:
- The Bas-Rhin (to the North, by Strasbourg)
- Haut-Rhin (to the South in low slopes of the Vosges Mountains)
Contrary to logic, the Bas-Rhin is actually to the north and the Haut-Rhin is in the south, but the difference is all elevation. The best vineyards have long been associated with the Haut-Rhin. In the Haut-Rhin is where you will find many of the pretigious Alsace Grand Cru vineyards.
The Wines of Alsace
Alsace is broken up by AOC law (aka Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). These laws dictate everything from grape variety allowed to vineyard density (ie how far apart vines are from one another). So to understand Alsace, it helps to understand the 3 major AOCs
- Alsace AOC (92% white still wines)
- Crémant d’Alsace AOC (Sparkling white and rosé wines)
- Alsace Grand Cru AOC (Limited special vineyard wines)
Alsace AOC 74% of production
The Alsace AOC requires that no less than 100% of the grape variety labeled be used. This is way different than US requirements that only require a mere 75% (unless you’re in Oregon). There are blends allowed in Alsace AOC but they must be labeled ‘Edelzwicker, ’ ‘Gentil’ or a named wine. Until recently, Edelzwicker has always been considered a low quality table wine. The Alsace AOC includes white, rosé and red wines (rosés and reds are made with Pinot Noir). The AOC is also allowed to label dessert wines as “Vendages Tardives” and “Sélection de Grains Nobles” (see a description of sweet wines below). It’s true, that in Alsace AOC wines chaptalization is allowed (a method where sugar is added to fermentation), but many producers are moving away from this winemaking technique.
This bizarre white wine has a richly golden hue. A blend of the various ‘Pinot’ grapes (including Auxxerois) of the region, it’s one of the most uniquely flavored white wines in the world.
Crémant d’Alsace AOC 22% of production
Crémant d’Alsace is the fastest growing AOC in Alsace. It is a sparkling wine AOC that produces a shockingly good bubbly using the same methods as in Champagne. Crémant d’Alsace is the only AOC that allows the local Chardonnay grapes, however most of the white brut-style bubbly is made with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Auxxerois (blended with Pinot Blanc it’s called “Blanc de Blancs”) and Riesling. The rosé wine from this region is a special find because it’s 100% Pinot Noir.