The Wines of Alsace

As spring turns to summer I begin thinking more about white wines and the pleasure of a chilled glass in my hand. So let’s dial in to the wines of Alsace. It’s a wine region that seems a little out of place in the whole scheme of French wine country. It’s unique because there is a distinct geographic, cultural and wine making connection to Germany, which lies just across the Rhine River.

Alsace is narrow wine region running north to south from near Strasbourg for about 60 miles and is plunked right between the Vosges Mountains on the west and the Rhine on the east. Like its German wine neighbors it is a cold climate region, but the mountains ensure that it is also a dry and sunny one, which helps the grapes reach maturity before the chill sets in. That’s why Alsace is a terrific place to find refreshing, fruit forward, dry Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat.  And the good news is that Alsace, unlike other French wine regions, labels the bottle with the grape variety.  At the store you’ll see those tall green bottles that look German, with German domaine names too, but the wine will be pure French and easy to identify.

What’s the Alsatian style?  Well I mentioned fruit forward and that’s for sure, but the other thing to know is that they really don’t use any oak and generally what is says on the label is 100% in the bottle so you get a full expression of that grape.

  • The Riesling will have the classic flavors of stone fruits like peaches and won’t be as sweet or acidic like most of its German counterparts (read more about Riesling here). It’s a delightful sipping wine, especially to begin an evening or a meal since it’s traditionally lighter in alcohol.
  • The Gewurtztraminer is a favorite of mine. Gewrurtz may seem sweet when you take the first sip but that’s its profound fruity character. Usually tropical flavors of lychee, jasmine, pineapple and honeysuckle lead the way with spiciness underneath. These are floral and aromatic wines.  Gewurtztraminer is awesome with Asian foods and just plain terrific with smokey ones. And this is my wine choice with Indian food – Vindaloo chicken anyone?
  • Pinot Blanc is like a more delicate version of Pinot Gris (FYI –  I think the Alsace Pinot Gris is richer in style than Italian Pinot Grigio) and they’re both easy drinking. I like them best simply to sip or to share with some seafood.
  • Then there is Muscat. Muscat is an ancient grape found in many wine regions where it is often made into sweet dessert wines, but in Alsace this is a dry and lively wine with notes of orange blossom.

The grape types I mentioned above are known as the “noble” grapes of Alsace (except Pinot Blanc) and the local rules permit some blending of them. In a blend when at least half of the wine is from these grapes you will see the word “Gentil” on the label. I have to say, this is a pleasant and typically inexpensive white wine to have around for simple sipping times.

There is also sparkling wine made in the Alsace region.  It’s called Cremant d’Alsace which is made in the traditional Champagne method and may even contain a little chardonnay.  It is a lively sparkler that features delicate bubbles, some toasty flavor and lighter alcohol that makes it fun and simple if you have a taste for a little tingle.

In case you’re keeping track (like I am!) this post is part of the continuing fulfillment of my New Year Resolution!  For those of you playing along at home: “April – makes me think of the song “April in Paris” so let’s head to France. Hmmm, how about some of the lovely whites of Alsace?”

So now that we know a bit about those lovely white wines I think it’s time to sip!

Every Day Sip
2015 Hugel Gentil $12

2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc Les Princes Abbes $15

2014 Emile Beyer Gewurztraminer Tradition $18

Lucien Albrecht Blancs de Blanc Cremant d’Alsace $18

2012 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve $22

2013 Trimbach Riesling $20

Guest Sip
2013 Zind Humbrecht Muscat $25

2014 Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Cuvee Theo $30

2013 Ostertag Riesling Clos Mathis $40

Splurge Sip
2012 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim $50