Welcome to this first instalment of blogs designed as a quick reference to French wine regions and wines. As an added bonus, it will help me digest information as I'm studying the subject!! :-)
First introduced to viticulture by the Romans, with records dating back to 2 A.D., Alsace is tucked away in the north-eastern corner of France. Alsace is a unique blend of two cultures: France and Germany. Over its long history, Alsace has changed hands between France and Germany many times. The end result is a unique culture, cuisine and language. Alsace is back safely in French hands, but the German legacy lives on. Alsace proudly embraces both heritages. In keeping with German tradition, Alsace labels the grape variety on the label (not the region) and uses the flute bottle.
With the Vosges Mountains to the west, and the Rhine River to the east, Alsace is a cool-moderate continental climate, meaning cold winters and warm-hot summers. Protected from rain by the Vosges mountains to the west, Alsace enjoys long, dry, Autumn sunny days. The long sunny days are a key part of the quality and flavour of Alsace's wines. Alsace receives 1,800 hrs of sunshine per year. Coupled with cool temps overall, this translate to a long slow ripening time for the grapes, resulting in complex aromas and flavours. Alsace is quite distinct in this regard.
Alsace lies in what is called the Rhine Graben. This is a rift valley formation caused millions of years ago by an upthrust of earth (think soufflé), caused by pressure, which then collapsed on either side along fault lines. The Vosges mountains were not a clean break, causing multiple fractures and cross faults creating/exposing a diversity of soil types along with erosion from the Rhine River. This is the other key to Alsace's wines. There are 13 different soil types in an area that is 120klms long (N-S), and 5.8klms wide (E-W) approx.
This diversity of soil types/location and exposure to sunshine hours is the key to the quality of sites/wines in Alsace.
Grapes/Style: Alsace wines are traditionally dry. However, with the onset of climate change, sugar levels in the grapes are on the rise. Although still technically dry, Alsace wines have a little more residual sugar, so there is a noticeable sweetness now in some styles. Consistent with French wine law, Alsace is permitted 7 principle grape varieties to make wine. They are:
Pinot Blanc (also known as Pinot Vrai or Klevner)
Muscat á Petits Grains Blanc
The secondary grape varieties permitted are:
Chardonnay (Cremant/sparkling production only!!)
Klevener de Heiligenstein (non-aromatic version of Savignan Rose)
There are 4 Noble varieties in Alsace that are used in Grand Cru, Vendages Tardives (V.T) and Selections de Grains Nobles (S.G.N). Both V.T. and S.G.N. are sweet styles. They are:
Appellations/Laws: There are 53 AOC status' that have been awarded to Alsace. They are: Alsace AOC:grapes can be collected and used from any vineyard in Alsace. The varietal must appear on the label. Alsace Communal AOC (a sub-category of Alsace AOC)this AOC recognises sites with a heightened character. Alsace Lieu-Dit AOC (a sub-category of Alsace AOC)a name given to a plot of land or vineyard because of its notable and significant expression of terroir. This status has to meet more stringent production standards which includes limitations to the grape varieties planted, specific vine density, pruning methods and trellising, plus higher grape maturity levels at harvest and more restrictive yields. Alsace Grand Cru AOC:to receive this status grapes must be grown on a Grand Cru site! Grand Cru vineyards produce fruit of stunning quality due to their special combination of soil type, grape variety and sun exposure. Like Burgundy, vineyards are ranked, not the producer. Fifty one vineyards have been recognised with this status. Cremant d'Alsace AOC:This is a sparkling wine status and all are produced in the Mėthode Traditionelle. Crémant is primarily produced from Pinot Blanc, but Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Auxerrois, and Pinot Noir can also be used in a cuvee (blend). Rosés are made exclusively from Pinot Noir. As always, leave your comments and questions below. Cheers!!