Situated in the far eastern
corner of France, smack up against Germany,
Alsace is one of the most interesting and beautiful wine
regions in the world. This corner, which produces great white wine, is
also one of the sunniest and driest places at these latitudes in Europe.
The Vosges Mountains to
the west act as a protective barrier to rain and snow clouds
the lower slopes provide the varied and well-drained soil diversity for
the top-ranked Riesling,
and Pinot Gris.
The Grand Cru (GC) designation is granted to these varieties that are
situated on proven east and southeast facing slopes. Six percent of the
total area of vines is rated Grand Cru and that area represents 3% of
There is some controversy
regarding the CG designation which was decreed in 1975 and implemented
in 1983. The argument goes that only
can truly reflect its terroir properly and with all these other
varieties in the mix, the demarcation lines are too loose and subject to
Add to this that some vineyards with so called “lesser” varieties such
have been let into the GC club. The classification has been boycotted
by the well known Hugel et Fils and, to a large extent, by the
House of Trimbach.
The soils of Alsace are as
varied as any
region with at least 20 major soil formations. The parent material for
these soils includes granite, limestone, volcanic and sandstone. The
pink Vosges sandstone is the stone of choice for many churches and
cathedrals in the area and the old castles and fortifications that are
scattered along the west flank of the Vosges. Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg
is the pick of these historic relics dating back to the 12 Century. The
view from the Chateau over the valley and the Rhone River is spectacular
and on a clear day, you can see the Black Forest in Germany and the
long, cool growing season aids in the flavour development of the
varieties grown, 90% of which are white. Despite the long hang time,
musts and juices are still chaptalized although malolactic
conversion is not generally practiced. The use of natural yeasts,
slow fermentation, minimum racking, filtering and fining produces wines
that maintain their
character year after year. Large old wood ovals lined by years of built
up tartrates are used for ageing and clarification. Fermentation
temperatures are usually around 14°-16°C degrees and maybe a little
higher for Gewurztraminer. Some critics maintain that tradition is being
sacrificed for commerce because some Houses are leaving a little
residual sugar in wines that, for years, have been bone dry. They are
also grumbling about the use of Chardonnay in the local sparkler
Pinot Blanc is the usual base wine for
Crémant, so Chardonnay
on some cuvées is named just that.
only important red grape in this region is Pinot Noir which will undergo
malolactic fermentation and new oak ageing. The best Pinot Noirs
in the region actually come from across the Rhine at the Kaiserstuhl.
These terraced south-facing slopes produce
that have really drawn serious attention in recent years. A fair amount
is also grown there.
Alsace is a wonderful
destination for the casual or non-wine lover in your group. Medieval
towns with timbered architecture dot the vineyards and forested
of the Vosges Mountains. Three villages in particular are noteworthy –
Ribeauville, Riquewihr and Kayserberg - the
birthplace of Albert Schweitzer. The cities of Colmar and
Strasbourg are worth a visit and stay. Most of southern Alsace
is within an hour’s drive to Basel, Switzerland and the Black Forest.
The Route des Crêtes is a spectacular drive through the mountains
and the high pastures of the Vosges.
This region is also home to a
number of famous breweries with Strasbourg being the main center for
beer production in France with familiar names like Fischer, Karlsbrau,
Kronenbourg and Heineken.
The regional cuisine is
predominantly German-based with pork a mainstay of the diet. Many menus
feature sausages, ham, bacon and smoked pork with sauerkraut. Cabbage
harvest follows grape harvest and many
households process their own choucroute - shredded cabbage
layered with salt, cumin, bay leaves and juniper then fermented in
wooden barrels. Foie gras from Alsace is considered exceptional
and there is an abundance of fish from the Rhine and the other rivers to
add to the menu. Wild boar and rabbit round out the meat side of the
local diet. Munster and Trami d’Alsace (washed in
represent two of the most popular cheeses.
note on the famous Routes du Vin - the 180km north-south scenic
route that stretches from Marlenheim to Thann and links
the villages and vineyards of the area. To do it properly would take 3
days and, quite frankly, some of the sections are poorly signed - losing
your way is common practice. The best use of your time would be to
travel north and south of Riquewihr, stopping at vineyards or
wineries that you are interested in along the Route and then hike the
most scenic parts. You can obtain maps from local tourist offices that
show hiking trails through the vineyards as well as roads less
traveled. Take a picnic and then work it off as you tramp this historic
and beautiful corner of the world.