Wine Regions: Alsace
Important wine region in the north-east of France. Wines have been made here for centuries – Queen Elizabeth I drank ‘Elsasser’ – but, during the period in the 19th century when Alsace belonged to Germany until the end of World War I, the wines and vineyards suffered a serious decline. Today the wines are of excellent quality and admirable value, although for some curious reason, they are difficult to introduce to the general public: yet I have never found any Alsace wine (‘Alsatian is the dog’, the late Andre Simon would growl) that is even slightly defective and many people would do better to buy good Alsace than mediocre German wines.
The most important wines are white. The Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Tokay (Pinot Gris), Muscat, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc grapes are the most important. A blend of grapes will make a wine called Zwickeror, if what are considered to be ‘noble’ grapes only are used, it will be called Edelzmeker. The Riesling is certainly the noblest of all the grapes, making distinguished, dry wines; the spicey Gewurztraminer is the grape that usually appeals most immediately to the beginner in wine, with its full, aromatic style. Tokay is said by some to have been brought back from the medieval wars in Hungary by the mercenary, Baron Schwendi. but some Hungarians think that the grape was actually brought to Hungary by the Alsaciens; although today’s Hungarian Tokay has nothing to do with this particular grape. Tokay makes a dry, full wine; the Pinot Blanc a full, slightly minerally dry wine. The Muscat is extremely ‘grapey’ as to bouquet and full in character – people either like it very much or not at all. The Sylvaner makes a light, fresh wine. The Pinot Noir is used to make deep pinky-red wines.
The wines vary, both from year to year and from winery to winery, the name of the grape and the producer being given on labels and each establishment making a range of wines of individual style. In general, most Alsace wines are at their best up to about 5 years from their making, but exceptional vintages can make long-lived wines and the special wines of great years can live for 20 or more. There are few specific vineyards, but some that do feature on labels include: Sporen. Kaefferkopf. Mamberg. Zahnacker, Rangen. Kanzlerberg, Wannen and Brand. It should be appreciated that different grapes may be planted in these, according to the aim of the owner of a particular plot within the overall site. Sometimes a proud grower will make a ‘late picked’ (vendange tardive) wine or even one from specially selected grapes, (selection du grains nobles); these are expensive, not necessarily sweet.
The wines are bottled in the fluted’Alsace, the tall, tapered green bottle that is either 24 fl. oz (72 cl). containing 23 fl. oz (70 cl). or a slightly larger size, containing 26 fl. oz (75 cl) of wine, produced because of a recent law for the U.S., Canada and certain other markets.
The whole Alsace wine region is beautiful: the route du vin is literally garlanded with flowers, the picturesque houses and ancient buildings complementing the solid cellars and wine houses. The local food is rich and superb.