The Alsace region of France sits on the border of France and Germany, with the Pfalz region of Germany just across the way. Over the years the region has been a part of Germany, then France, then Germany, then France…you get the picture. Though completely French today, the Germanic influences on the region are noticeable.
These traits are most obvious in traditional parts of the culture, most typically the cuisine of the region reveals a distinct Germanic influence, i.e. unctuous and rich. Dishes like spaetzle, schnitzel, Strasbourg sausage, and streusel, meld with cheesy Cordon Bleu, Vol-au-vent, and Alsacian foie gras, considered some of the best in the world. To pair with these abounding flavors you need clean, crisp, light, high acid wines that will cut through the richness, while shining pure and bright on their own. Here is where another Germanic influence comes in.
The cool-climate varieties Alsace specializes in are also produced as single-variety wines, noting the grape on the bottle. Typically, throughout France, wine bottles denote regional classifications, and often those wines are produced from a blend of varieties, i.e. Rhone, Champagne, Bordeaux.
Not in Alsace. Here, single-variety wines shine, showcasing the terroir. Situated between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, Alsace enjoys a continental climate, sheltered from wind and rains, delivering a very sunny, dry climate, ideal for creating dry white wines.
Though the region does produce selections with some residual sugar, it is not as typical as in the wines of their German neighbor. If the wines have some residual sugar included, it is often the varieties that are inherently fruitier, like Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. But, even these selections maintain the crisp, mineral-driven style Alsace is famous for.
Like their friends across the border, the wines of Alsace are predominantly white, with dry Riesling leading the way, followed by varieties like the other noble white varieties of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat, along with cool-climate Pinot Blanc, Auxerrios Blanc, Sylvaner, to name a few. The only significant red variety planting in the region is Pinot Noir, adapting ideally to the atmosphere, creating a long, even growing season.
Embracing environmental awareness, wine growers and producers of Alsace have focused on clean, sustainable, and organic farming for generations, moving to biodynamic viticulture in the past few decades. Considered the birthplace of farming biodynamically, the vintners of the Upper Rhine have a deep respect for the vines, following the phases of the moon in their farming, returning the earth to the universe, working in harmony with the cosmic cycles.
Within the Alsace AOC region, there are 51 Alsace Grand Cru vineyards. These Grand Cru vineyards meet quality restrictions to ensure the wines are of premium quality, including yield restrictions, location, the use of only the four noble varieties, and labeling regulations to denote the Grand Cru status. The area as a whole sees a range of soil types and climate sub-zones, with the Alsace plain delivering a mix of limestone, granite, shale, and sandstone, with vineyards on the lower slopes of the Vosges Mountains enjoying a mix of limestone, silty sediment, and metamorphic rock.
The resulting wines are textured, complex, mineral-rich, and filled with sunshine. @WinesofAlsaceUSA and @DrinkAlsace created a fun quiz to help you figure out which Alsace wine fits your palate, “Alsace Rocks” quiz. But, here is a little sneak peek to get your palate ready.
If you enjoy something very approachable, supple, and versatile, Alsace Pinot Blanc is perfect for you. Also known as Clevner, the sister wine to Pinot Noir, the fresh and easy wine is always welcome as the flavors and round texture easily pairs with just about anything you may want to enjoy it with, from fish to poultry to pork to pasta to omelets. Since the turn of the 20th century, Wolfberger has been producing refined Pinot Blanc ($25) with quality. Slightly floral, with lemon leaf and honeysuckle, followed by apple and pear flavors, a touch of fresh acidity, and an even balanced palate, the wine is an agreeable addition to your weeknight repertoire.
For wine aficionados who adore refined, elegant, very fresh, with a note of earthiness and petrol when aged, pairing beautifully with anything from salty to creamy to smoked to roasted dishes, Alsace Riesling has your name on it. From Grand Cru Sommerberg, Albert Boxler Riesling ($65) with fruit planted in the hillside of Sommeberg with granite-filled soils giving the fragrant wine a mineral intensity that defines the great Riesling wines of the region. Since 1673 Albert Boxler has showcased the white varieties of Alsace. This Riesling showcases an opulence with a bold acidity, showing flavors of candied ginger, apple, and ripe lemon.
If you like something a bit spicier, floral, and juicy, with complexity and richness, Alsace Gewurtztraminer is for you. And, for every winery in Alsace, the Trimbach family is perhaps the most solid option for every grape variety in the region. Since the early 1600s Trimbach has been producing the noble varieties of Alsace with grace, dedication, and always great taste. Sheltered by the Vosges Mountains, few meters from the heart of Ribeauvillé, the elegant, expressive Trimbach style, highlighting the terroir of the region and individual character of the fruit, is a distinction that many wines of Alsace try to emulate. Highly aromatic and complex, Trimbach Gewurtztraminer ($25) layers spicy notes of Tumeric, saffron, and ginger with floral roses, citrus and tropical fruits like lychee and pineapple.
If you ask any old school Oregon Pinot Gris producer the style they were looking to emulate when they first made Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, 99% of them would say to try to mirror those of Alsace. Here Pinot Gris shines in all its noble variety glory. More medium-bodied than other Pinot Grigio/Gris wines easily enjoyed upon release, but also able to age, helping concentrate the wine’s distinct flavors. Gustave Lorentz Reserve Pinot Gris ($28) is nicely structured and vibrantly clean. The wine opens with honeysuckle and wisteria, leading to lemon peel, grapefruit, peach blossom, and a touch of crushed stone and silex.
Each of these white wines has character, and a distinct personality, a desirable trait for defining any wine region. The Pinot Noir follows suit appropriately.
The Pinot Noir wines of Alsace deliver a full-bodied, intense, powerful palate. The wines are filled with typical red fruits and earthy qualities, with spiciness and smokiness, but they are more robust than you may think they would be. Domaine Riefle Pinot Noir ($30) reveals a structured palate of red cherry, wild berry, wet stone, and dried woody herb.