Home Cultural Exploration A Consumer’s Guide: The Wines of Alsace, France

A Consumer’s Guide: The Wines of Alsace, France

by Penny Sadler

One of the things I love about wine is that every bottle is a multifaceted story. I’ve learned more geography, geology and history than I ever learned in school, since I began my course of Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) study, and  pouring wine for tastings.

Imagine an area defined by the Vosges Mountains in the west, and the Rhine River in the east. Undulating terrain unlike any other place in France lies between, blanketed in vineyards.

Geographically situated at the crossroads of Roman and German influences, the landscape of Alsace is a charming mix of cultures and architectural styles, rolling hills, plains, and farms.

I didn’t know at the time that I was already in love with Alsace and its wines. The floral and stone- fruit aromas simply make me happy. Once I started doing some research on the area it was easy to see why —Alsace is beautiful!

 consumers guide the wines of Alsace France

Katzenthal

The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it and were growing wine grapes there in the first millennium. Passionate winegrowers carried on the tradition and for centuries Alsace wines were the most prized in France. Due to the politics of being at the crossroads of two cultures, German and French, Alsace experienced a period of complete devastation.  Today however, Alsace is at the top of its game.

Located in northeastern France, Alsace is protected from cold, wet winds and weather by the Vosges Mountains. It has perhaps the most perfect climate for grape growing—a combination of 1,800 hours of sunlight per year, cool continental climate, excellent soil, and the second driest climate in France. This makes it possible for Alsace to produce extremely high- quality wines that express the unique terroir of the region.

What exactly is terroir?

In a nutshell, or grape, if you prefer:

“Terroir is the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.”  

From Alsace-wine.net

“The concept of terroir can be used to summarize all the natural characteristics that give a vineyard specific qualities. Terroir is composed of geological factors, such as the chemistry of the rock and the soil, physical properties such as the exposition and slope, as well as climatic factors such as solar irradiation, temperature and precipitation.

It is said that if you walk 100 feet in any direction you’ll find a different soil type. In fact, Alsace has 13 different soil types, more than any other region in France.

Consumers guide wines of Alsace France

photo courtesy of Drink Alsace

These rich and diverse soil formations are what give Alsace wines their unique minerality with a range of complexity for each grape variety.  This accounts for the wide variety of wines produced in Alsace and the variation in flavors of wines produced from the same type of grape.

  The different soil varieties help to express the various flavors and styles found in Alsace wines.  Combined with warm spring months, hot summers and cool nights, the weather gives higher levels of refreshing acidity, balance and harmony with ripened fruit flavors. In Alsace the saying is “purity of grape, purity of place.”  If you can’t make it to Alsace just now, then open a bottle of wine, close your eyes, engage your senses, and let the grapes take you there.

Not sure which wine is for you? Read on for information on the grapes and food pairings.

Alsace wines are extremely consumer friendly as this is the first and only region in France that lists the name of the grape variety on the bottle. You know exactly what kind of wine is in the distinctive tall, slim, bottle. Further, each wine must contain 100% of the varietal. The bottle label will also list the information about the appellation.

What is an appellation?

Quite simply, an appellation is the geographical area where the wine grapes are grown. In France, AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. In Alsace you have Alsace AOC, Alsace Grand Cru AOC and Cremant AOC. Each appellation is governed by strict rules regarding what kind of grapes can be grown there and how they are grown.

Check out this infographic from Wine Folly to understand Alsace appellations.

A Consumers Guide To The Wines of Alsace

Graphic courtesy of Wine Folly.com

 A Consumer’s Guide: The Wines of Alsace

There are seven main varietals grown in Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Noir, and Sylvaner.

The wines produced from these grapes range from very light and dry to full bodied and fruity.

Let’s explore these grape varieties and the wines made from them. If you haven’t found a white wine you like yet, you haven’t tried a white wine from Alsace.

The consumers guide to the wines of Alsace

Rangen the most famous Grand Cru in Alsace.

Riesling

The grape that best expresses the terroir of Alsace is Riesling. It is the number one grape grown in Alsace. Like Chardonnay, Riesling is a grape that has the unique ability to express many different characteristics. And due to the climate, it ripens longer and can develop more complex flavors while at the same time expressing the minerality of the exact vineyard where it is grown.

I often host tastings and the number one comment I hear is, “I don’t like Riesling. It’s so sweet.” Newsflash: Alsace Riesling is not sweet at all. In fact, it is a dry wine with notes of citrus, white flowers and a distinct minerality. It pairs well with many different  dishes including: chicken, fish, shellfish, goat cheese and classic German dishes, such as sauerkraut and sausages.  So the next time you have a chance to try a Riesling, ask its origin. If it’s from Alsace, drink up!

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is a subtly fruity wine. A delicate wine from the same family of grapes as Pinot Grigio but with more complexity and body, I predict once you try a Pinot Blanc from Alsace you’ll never drink Pinot Grigio again. You can pair it with many different foods, including seafood. Or enjoy a refreshing glass on a hot summer day, all on its own.

Sylvaner

Sylvaner d’ Alsace is a light- bodied wine with fruity citrus notes and a hint of freshly cut grass. This is the wine to replace your Sauvignon Blanc.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is more full-bodied than a Pinot Blanc and can be kept longer. It can be dry or off-dry, with smoky aromas and notes of dried fruit. Serve this wine with savory foods and Asian dishes.

Muscat

Muscat d’ Alsace is the same grape as Moscato in Italy but it is drier, with a biting acidity. It is usually served as an aperitif wine.

Fun fact: This wine pairs well with asparagus and if you go to Alsace during the asparagus harvest you can find restaurants devoted to serving only Muscat and asparagus.

Gewürztraminer d’ Alsace

Gewürztraminer is a full bodied off – dry wine with very powerful aromas of exotic fruits like lychee, roses and spices. This can be served as an aperitif wine and also pairs well with strong cheeses and spicy food. If you think you don’t like sweet wine, try this with some good Indian or Thai food. It’s a whole new world. Though I typically avoid wines high in residual sugars, the aromas of Gewürztraminer won me over the first time I tried it. I’ll happily sip a glass of Gewürztraminer any old time.

Finally, the only red wine grape grown in Alsace is Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is used to make Crémant d’ Alsace — a sparkling wine produced in the méthode champenoise, as well as still wines. Red berries, autumn leaves and more structure make this a wine you can pair with meats, and it will stand up well to aging. This is the second most popular sparkling wine in France after champagne.

Fun fact: Pinot Noir is gaining in popularity and more land is being dedicated to growing this varietal.

Consumers guide to the wines of Alsace

Dry Riesling. Try it!

If you’d like more food pairing information, Drink Alsace has a wonderful page that includes recipes to pair with specific wines. http://www.winesofalsace.com/wines/varieties/

When are you going to Alsace?

My thanks to Wines of Alsace, a sponsor of the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California. Wines of Alsace held a one-hour workshop and tasting for those interested in expanding their knowledge of this unique wine region. Though I was already familiar with Alsace and some of the wines produced there, I was eager to learn more. Besides, learning meant tasting. And since a glass of wine is a history, geology and geography lesson accompanied by happy aromas, I’d have been crazy to miss it.

PIN IT!

A consumers guide to the wines of Alsace

Thanks to the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund for assistance with travel to Lodi.

If You Liked This Article Check Out Another!

38 comments

Alli November 21, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Oooo! Thank you for this! As a wine lover myself, I found a lot of this information super interesting! The wines of this region of France sound absolutely divine!

Reply
Paige W November 21, 2017 at 10:31 am

This is a really great wine guide. I don’t know much of anything about wine, but this post left me feeling educated! The Gewürztraminer d’ Alsace sounds right up my alley because of the fruity flavors!

Reply
Sangeeta November 21, 2017 at 10:21 am

Fantastic Guide on Wines. I write on food too and get several invites to sample and comment on Indian Food and Wine Pairing. This concise guide is going to be like a reference for me.

Reply
Thomas Mathys November 21, 2017 at 6:23 am

My girlfriend is the wine drinker and I’m the beer drinker. She recently went on an Alsace Wine Tour with her mother though and only had good words for the wine and the region. I knew what a terroir is (I’m Swiss and had to learn some French at school 🙂 ) but I didn’t knew that there are 13 different soils in the Alsace region. This is really fascinating. Of all the wines from Alsace, the Gewürztraminer is definitely my favourite one. It’s quite sweet and perfect for dessert 😀 Thank you for this informative article

Reply
Danik November 20, 2017 at 4:47 am

As a regular traveler to my neighbours, France, I have barely touched the Alsace region. I tried wines form other regions but not this area but hopefully will try them out soon. Very informative post and loved reading this. Now I want some wine and it’s only breakfast! 😀

Reply
Penny Sadler November 27, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Cheers!

Reply
Lois Alter Mark November 19, 2017 at 11:08 pm

I’m not really a wine drinker but I have visited Alsace, which is beautiful. Sounds like you had a great time learning and tasting!

Reply
Penny Sadler November 19, 2017 at 11:33 pm

HI Loise, I did!

Reply
Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie November 19, 2017 at 6:48 pm

It’s so fascinating to think about how the different soil types play a role in the flavor of the wine. A winemaker has to be such a knowledgeable artisan to understand all the factors that go into a bottle. I’d love to visit Alsace and do some tastings. I love Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc wines. They both are very drinkable wines suitable for a variety of meals and occasions.

Reply
Penny Sadler November 19, 2017 at 11:33 pm

I agree and it’s one of the factors that makes wine and winemaking interesting to me.

Reply
Julie November 18, 2017 at 8:36 pm

This is fantastic! I always wish I knew more about wine but I feel like I actually learned something. I do love Riesling and I’m guessing I’d love a Pinot blanc…going to look for that ASAP! And of course I’d love to experience it all in the Alsace region itself…ahhh- one day!!

Reply
Penny Sadler November 19, 2017 at 11:34 pm

Alsace is high on my radar.

Reply
Dany November 18, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I’m not very much a wine drinker but the wine making process always fascinated me. Maybe because my husband’s family produces wine in Italy. Yet I never heard of “terroir” before. It makes sense, but woah, 13 different soil types is a lot, and I guess it’s what makes the difference!

Reply
noel November 18, 2017 at 12:53 pm

I’ve always wanted to visit this region and this is definitely the types of wines I love to drink from the extremely dry Rieslings to sweet Muscats – looks gorgeous and I’m sure the wines are memorable and delicious to try there.

Reply
Nancy May 24, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Awesome post! I stumbled upon the Alsace when I was driving from Germany into France. Not only is it gorgeous, but the wine is fantastic. I loved stopping at the tiny degustation rooms. The region seemed predominantly focused on white wine when I visited. I’m excited to hear that they are producing more Pinot Noir – one of my favourite wines!

Reply
Penny Sadler May 24, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Hi Nancy, yes they are beginning to focus more on Pinot Noir. I’d love to take that drive.

Reply
carla abanes May 23, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Yes Alsace is really lovely. I had a great time visiting Strasbourg for a day trip outside Paris. I am not really wine drinker so this information are all new to me but sure is helpful to learn some of the words! Thanks for sharing this!

Reply
Penny Sadler May 23, 2017 at 7:11 pm

Thanks for stopping by.

Reply
Philippe AMELINE May 23, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Penny, great article indeed… the first sentence made me laugh since my daughter also learned a lot about geography during her WSET. We even bought a giant map of European wines.

Maybe you should elaborate a little bit more about the Pinot Noir since it is by far not limited to the sparkling wine. The pinot noir is one of the pleasures of Alsace in still wines too – of course it doesn’t compete with Burgundy”s, but it can be a really interesting wine.

Reply
Penny Sadler May 23, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Hello Ameline, About the geography, it’s the truth! About the pinot noir, yes, I was sent a bottle to sample after the article and it was very nice. You’re right. I should write more about it. Thanks for the comments.

Reply
Shruti Prabhu May 23, 2017 at 12:49 pm

This is such a great post. My husband and I love wines but by no means are experts. This really helps. We shall try the pairings. We need to take a vinery resort vacation asap after reading this post.

Reply
Penny Sadler May 23, 2017 at 12:59 pm

Glad to hear you found it helpful. Thanks for the comments

Reply
Sue Reddel May 23, 2017 at 8:18 am

Alsace is one of my favorite regions in France not only is the wine superb but the food pairing is also so delicious. Thanks for reminding me how much I love France and French wine.

Reply
Penny Sadler May 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Thanks Sue. Glad to hear from a fellow lover of Alsace.

Reply
Annie May 22, 2017 at 7:05 pm

I am definitely one of those people who avoid Riesling because I think generally it’s too sweet. But it’s good to know Alsace Riesling isn’t sweet at all, now I know what to look for on a wine list!

Reply
Penny Sadler May 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Yeay! Then I have done my job.

Reply
Tamara Elliott May 22, 2017 at 10:18 am

Sounds like you’ve been learning a ton in your course! My favourite wines are Sauvignon Blac and Pinot Gris- easy summer sips!

Reply
Penny Sadler May 22, 2017 at 10:20 am

Good choices Tamara!

Reply
Leah May 22, 2017 at 4:21 am

I enjoy white wines from Alsace and often choose them over those from Burgundy or the Loire. Gerwurztraminer isn’t very common in the world, so it’s a special treat. Santé!

Reply
Penny Sadler May 22, 2017 at 10:21 am

I’m so glad to know a fellow Gewurztraminer fan. Love to share a bottle some day. Santé!

Reply
Adelina May 21, 2017 at 11:40 am

Yum you make these wines sound amazing. I love Riesling, Gerwurztraminer, and Muscat wines, but I don’t think I’ve had them from this region before. I’ll have to keep an eye open the next time I’m picking up a bottle.

Reply
Penny Sadler May 21, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Ah the best! Definitely try them.

Reply
Anne May 20, 2017 at 3:17 pm

I lived in Alsace for a year and got closely acquainted with many of these wines. We headed back last year on a reminscing trip and I was once again reminded of what a stunning part of France this is.

Reply
Penny Sadler May 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

I have not been there yet but I am planning to go this fall. Very much looking forward to it.

Reply
Sand In My Suitcase October 18, 2016 at 11:55 am

We know a little about wine – and enjoy wines from Alsace. But we don’t know nearly as much as you! It must be great fun learning all there is about the different wines from various parts of the world :-). Especially if you get to travel there and learn right on the spot. We hear Alsace is beautiful too – would be a lovely place to visit…

Reply
Penny Sadler October 21, 2016 at 9:47 am

I want to go to Alsace – let’s plan a meetup there ! Learning on the spot is the most fun for sure.

Reply
Janet Howe August 26, 2016 at 10:37 am

Penny,
This is your most delightful, informative and beautifully photographed blog entry ever!!! Just love you energy, your passion for wine and travel, and your excellent knowledge of food and wine pairings. Happy to trade lives any old time–you live a great one. Thank you for this wonderful
Alsace adventure! Janet Howe, Dallas

Reply
Penny Sadler September 2, 2016 at 11:38 am

Hey Janet, thank you so much for the lovely words. I love Alsace wines. You can come along!

Reply

Leave a Comment