- Q & A
France - Alsace
Alsace is nestled in the Vosges Mountains, which form a natural barrier, protecting it from the cold air coming from the West. The Rhine River borders on east. Though French region today, the dialect spoken here is German influenced. Germany is also evident in the architecture, cuisine and wines.
While most of the best German wines have some sweetness to them, the best wines from Alsace normally don't. The French call it "nerveaux" or tightly knit with balance, character and breeding. Foods of the area, pork, veal and game, match well to the wines. Few other regions produce wines which perfectly cover meal from aperitif to dessert.
Vines arrived with the Romans around the eighth century. Strict regulations regarding grape types were in effect by the 16th Century. The Confrerie St, Etienne originated to control the quality of the wines.
Though vineyards are among the Northernmost in the world, the Vosges mountains block flow of moist air from the west making Alsace among driest regions in France. Vines are planted in strip along Vosges from 600 to 1500 ft. up. The climate is warm and sunny, cool springs and falls with frost almost never a problem.
Alsace is the only fine wine region in France that labels its wine by the varietal. All others use the place name. Since 1962 all varietals must be 100%. Since 1972 all bottling must be done in the region of origin.
In 1975 the I.N.A.O. introduced a new "Alsace Grand Cru" appellation. The Grand Cru designation was restricted to wines made from one of the four noble varieties - Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The minimum alcoholic strength was fixed at 10 percent for Riesling and Muscat, and 11 percent for Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Yields were reduced to 4.1 tons per acre.
In 1983, twenty-five Grands Crus were recognized by the authorities. By 1992 a further twenty-five were awaiting final classification, and whether the total will increase beyond fifty Grands Crus remains to be seen.
Alsace came under German rule in 10th Century. It was ruled by Germany until the end of the Thirty Year War in 1648. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace was twice size of Napa. It was annexed by Germany and forced to produce high yield grapes to blend with lower alcohol German wines. French regained control after WWI and planted Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Germans took control during WWII and it became a battleground until after war when 12 co-ops, representing about 1/3 of production, were formed.
Five grapes qualify for AOC status: Sylvaner, Tokay d'Alsace, Muscat, Gewurztraminer Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. These are the best wines produced here. Cremant d'Alsace is a blend of grapes made in the Method Champenoise to produce as sparkling wine.