I was originally going to call this article – ‘Alsace wine region needs to get on Tinder!’ Crazy title, but after visiting Alsace in June, I observed a lack confidence. The winemakers knew their wines were world class, but wondered if the rest of the world realised that too? As I tell all my hot friends who are going through a dry spell; ‘get on Tinder, and flaunt yourself to the world!’
For the past two decades Alsace wine producers have been seriously lifting their game, and it’s my job to flaunt their wines to you. Forget those preconceived ideas – Alsace is no longer a quaint wine region serving unbalanced, sulphur-heavy, sweet wines in silly little green glasses. So let’s dive head first and start some wine re-calibration…
- Where the heck is Alsace and why is this land so special
Alsace is a French wine growing region that sits on the border of Germany. It is home to world-class Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.
The region is long and thin, just like Burgundy, with the region being divided between the north and south (Bas Rhin and Haut Rhin). The Vosges mountains forms a border to the west, and the Black Forest to the east. But don’t expect the north/south aspect to determine the wine’s flavour – here, it’s all about soil makeup –Alsace has the most diverse soil types in the world and these heavily influence the wine’s flavour.
- If you only drank three Alsace wines – drink these babies
Riesling is king: Mostly dry, they range from subtle citrus, peach and pear to more opulent flavours of stewed fruits, floral notes and exotic spices. They always sport an exciting acidity which brings about a perfect balance to the richer mid palate.
Gewürztraminer is heavenly aromatic: with multifaceted array exotic fruits, spices and floral notes. Think: lychee, mango, passionfruit, rose, mandarin, gingerbread and cloves.
Pinot Gris is full bodied, rich and intriguing: Think earthy aromas with elements of smoke, mushroom and moss, dried fruit flavours, gingerbread and honeyed nuances.
- These are the best subregions
The best wines of Alsace have been classified as Grand Cru, and there are 51 vineyard sites spread across the land. You’d expect these vineyards to be owned by one company each, but in fact it is possible for one Grand Crus vineyard to be owned by many different wine labels and to be very large in size (up to 60 ha). While there are 51 regions – the cream of the crop to look out for are
- Altenberg de Bergheim,
- and Rosacker
- These are the best vintages to look out for
The best vintages to look out for over the past decade: 2010, 2013. These were both low yielding, however not very profitable for the winemakers. What constitutes a great vintage (quality wise)? A cool summer that is long ripening, as well as a touch of summer rain. Alsace is renowned as the driest wine region in France, thanks to the Vosges mountain range stopping rain clouds from entering the region. The rain is needed!
- Alsace is brilliant with food
Visit Alsace, and you will appreciate how seriously good the food is and how perfect matched they are to the local wines. Pork is king in this region, so too is game, fois gras and the local vegetables. But don’t just match these wines with the local fare, the fragrant nature, fruitiness and mineral backbone also lends themselves to spicy Asian and Middle Eastern foods.
Riesling: goat cheeses, charcuterie, seafood, poultry and pork dishes, and most Asian cuisines.
Pinot Gris: it’s the white wine for red wine drinkers, pairing well with hearty dishes like roasted pork and game, and earthy ingredients like mushrooms and truffles.
Gewürztraminer: – Full-bodied and unctuous, with a fruit driven, fragrant palate. This means it’s an ideal partner with many aromatic and intense cuisines such as Thai, Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines.
- Field blended wines are the norm here
Unless stated on the front label as a single variety, often the wines are ‘field blends’, and the wine is made up of several grape varieties.
When making blended wines in the new world (eg. Australia and USA), winemakers will vinify grapes separately and then blend the finished wines together at a later stage. Not in Alsace. Different grape varieties are grown together in the same vineyard, picked at the same time, and fermented together. The whole experience is said to make the resultant wines more harmonious, and a true expression of the terroir!
- Alsace wine labels are relatively easy to understand
Often you need a decoder to understand French wine labels. More often than not, Alsace wines are easy to decipher – they actually do what they say on the label; grape variety, the year, vineyard sub region and the quality level such as Grand Cru. Simple for people like me!
- Those stupid traditional wine glasses are gone-ski!
Along with ramping up the quality stakes, winemakers are finally distancing themselves from the traditional glasses that have long been associated with wines of the region. Long stems, thimble sized bowls and the colour green – WTF!? The new purpose-built glasses (RG Ultima from royal-glass.com) are streets ahead and actually enhance the wine’s aroma.
- Organic and biodynamic wines thrive here
Being the driest wine region in all of France has its advantages; namely the absence of many diseases that can affect vineyards. And this means it’s easier for vineyards to become organic, and even biodynamic. The windy climate also aids in the lowering of diseases (due to the drying effect on leaves and grapes)!
- Alsace offers excellent value
Grand Cru Alsace for $30 (US) – it’s possible – try buying Grand Cru Burgundy that price –you cant!
- It’s not just about still wines – Cremant d’Alsace
Can’t afford Champagne but still want to celebrate with French Fizz – look no further than Cremant d’Alsace. It’s made in the French style using a blend of grapes which could include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Auxerrois or Chardonnay. Elegant, a racy acidity with citrus and floral notes.