The 11 things you need to know about wine from Alsace

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!’

Confidence restored!

drew alsace
Wine Wanker Drew shows his love for Alsace Riesling at Milesime Alsace!

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…

  1. 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.

Image courtesy of Wine Folly
Image courtesy of Wine Folly
  1. 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.

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  1. 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

  • Sommerberg,
  • Salzenberg,
  • Hengst,
  • Brand,
  • Mambourg,
  • Rangen,
  • Schlossberg,
  • Schonenberg,
  • Fürstentum,
  • Altenberg de Bergheim,
  • Goldert
  • and Rosacker
  1. 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! 

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Perhaps these great vintages from the past 10 years will still be drinkable like this 1945 we tried while in Alsace!
  1. 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. 

IMG_8088
Did someone order pork!!!
  1. 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!

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  1. 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!

  1. 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.

Spargel und Riesling
Hideous! Not the asparagus – the old Alsace wine glasses. Hideous!!
  1. 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)!

  1. Alsace offers excellent value

Grand Cru Alsace for $30 (US) – it’s possible – try buying Grand Cru Burgundy that price –you cant!

  1. 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.

The Wine Wankers were guests of Vins d’Alsace during Millésime Alsace 2016

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30 comments

  1. I just can’t find a Gewürztraminer I like. We have poured bottles down the drain after struggling with a glass, so bitter and vile. Now I am on board with the others you’ve listed. Gorgeous French wines, count me in.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree with this nice glasses. I am from the german region in France they called them Vosges du nord, you know.
    Riesling is king too, for me. But what is with this Edelzwicker i found on everey ferme auberge and taste very fine after a long hiking. You don’t talk about this.
    In germany we don’t have that wine, could you write some of this fine stuff? Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been working in grape fields for a few months now and appreciate wine at a higher level! I’m looking forward to picking grapes! So my point is that I have a better understanding of your blog, great information.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve avoided Pinot Gris because I associate this wine with a “grassy” taste. I will take a look at which (from the wineries you listed) labels I can find in my area and will give them another try. If you have a particular suggestion I would love to hear it. And I will definitely try Cremant d’Alsace which sounds fabulous! Thank you for this interesting and informative post.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I once did a taste comparison between an alsace and a german riesling-it’s amazing how different region and climate can shape the taste of a wine. I love alsace riesling-the gewurtztraminer is excellent also. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well Very well I would say Nice overlook of the subject … nop the region.

    I recommend you not the vendange tardives but the grains nobles wich is far away from the common vendange tardives, closer to the ice wine from austria than anything else.
    About edelzwicker … Just be aware it’s not a real cepage in fact it’s every botton of each barrel mixing together and you have this blend, inside you’ll find sylvaner pinot gris riesling etc … If people from alsace didn’t give you the opportunity to test it please trust them !

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on The Uncorked Bottle and commented:
    I have long been a fan of Alsation Gewurztraminer and I know that their Riesling and Pinot Gris is beyond reproach but I don’t know of many people who have tried any of these wines unless I have introduced them to it. Here is a great guide from the Wine Wankers to all that you need to know about the Wines of Alsace and the culture of the land from which it comes and I would urge every lover of wine to seek out the wines of Alsace.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great summary Drew! There’s so much going on with Alsace that it’s difficult to get into one article.

    I definitely agree on the top 3 grapes, but I would also add that there are some delicious Pinot Blancs flying under the radar!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Can I just say I would love to have been with you guys on your Alsace trip. Closest I got was the wine bloggers conference in Lodi where there I had a lovely introduction to the Pinot Blanc and a Grand Cru Riesling. Yes Grand Cru everything. Oh and they poured plenty of Cremant d’alsace as well. Love these wines. Your article organized the area well. It’s a lot to cover! I have more info on the grapes in my review of the workshop. fyi. 🙂

    Like

  10. I first tried Gewurztraminer after hearing it mentioned on an episode of Frasier, where he and Niles had a blind wine taste-off. Niles said “Prepare to be stomped like a late-harvest Gewurztraminer!” After hearing such an intimidating threat, I had to check it out! Delicious.

    Like

  11. I can’t get over field blends. Something mysterious & captivating about them… Alsace wines charm me. Gorgeous stuff thanks for sharing (though I’m half a year behind on reading this) …

    Like

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