This week in our tour of the grape varieties of France we head to Alsace. Its perilous location on the German border has given this region a unique viticultural heritage and influences from both countries permeate the wines produced here today. It runs 100km in length from North to South but spans only 2 to 15km in width. With the Vosges Mountains to the West and the Black Forest to the East, this narrow and picturesque slice of France is a series of rolling hills and valleys carpeted in vines and interspersed with fairy-tale villages. Although reds are produced here, it is the aromatic whites that generally catch the attention of wine enthusiasts (it nonetheless remains an underappreciated treasure).
Read on for more information about the most prolific grape varieties cultivated in Alsace:
Riesling (white skin, white juice)
Late ripening, Riesling is a native grape variety of the Rhine valley and grows prolifically in both Alsace and Germany.
Dominant aromas (dry whites): citrus, orchard fruits, white flowers and a striking aroma similar to petrol.
Dominant aromas (sweet wines): candied citrus, apricot, exotic fruits, white fruits, honey and sweet spices.
Characteristics: high acidity a steely minerality (dry whites).
Key appellations: Alsace Riesling, Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace Sélection de Grains Nobles, Alsace Vendanges Tardives.
Gewurztraminer (red skin, white juice)
A grape variety grown in various winemaking regions around the world. It is the white wine to drink with red wine food or spicy food.
Dominant aromas (dry whites): intensely aromatic with aromas of white flowers (rose, geranium, violet), exotic fruits (lychee, banana, mango, passion fruit), spices (clove).
Dominant aromas (sweet wines): apricot jam, baked apples and honey.
Characteristics (dry whites): round and opulent in the mouth with a golden colour.
Characteristics (sweet wines): heady wines their sweetness and unctuosity is balanced by their fatty texture.
Key appellations: Alsace Gewurztraminer, Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace Sélection de Grains Nobles, Alsace Vendanges Tardives.
Pinot Gris (grey skin, white juice)
Previously known as Tokay d’Alsace, Pinot Gris is cultivated all over the world and can also be used to produce rosés. It’s particularly good picked late (VT)
Dominant aromas (dry whites): orchard fruits, dried fruits, smoked and spiced notes.
Dominant aromas (sweet wines): quince, apricot, baked apples and spiced bread.
Characteristics: weak aromatic intensity but very complex. Weak acidity and a generous mouth feel.
Key appellations: Alsace Pinot Gris, Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace Sélection de Grains Nobles, Alsace Vendanges Tardives.
Pinot Blanc (white skin, white juice)
Known sometimes as Klevner, Pinot Blanc is a useful variety that is used in blends and for Alsatian crémants. You’ll find this variety cultivated in many winemaking regions.
Dominant aromas: citrus, fresh apples, flowers and dried fruits.
Characteristics: still white wines with a tinge of colour and refreshing acidity. Wines from Pinot Blanc are generally very well balanced thanks to the residual sugars which help make it supple. To be drunk young. Also used to produce sparkling wines (crémants).
Key appellations: Alsace Pinot Blanc, Crémant d’Alsace.
Notable producers: Domaine Alfred Meyer, Domaine Straub.
Sylvaner (white skin, white juice)
Sylvaner needs a good plot to ripen fully and produces lean wines.
Dominant aromas: floral notes, citrus, peach, apricot and fresh grass.
Characteristics: Dry whites that are straw yellow in colour and low in alcohol. Subtle aromatic intensity, in the mouth they are raw and light with a fresh acidity.
Key appellations: Alsace Sylvaner.
Notable producers: Domaine Paul Humbrecht, Domaines Schlumberger, Domaine Weinbach.
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