Alsace wine region
There are two obvious natural borders between northeast France and southwest Germany. One is the north-south spine of the Vosges mountains; the other, running parallel 25 km to the east, is the River Rhine. Between the two sits Alsace.
The rain shadow of the mountains make this one of the dryest and sunniest places in France, although its northern latitude keeps temperatures down. The Alsace vineyard is long and thin, stretching for 120 km along the eastern slope of the Vosges, yet rarely more than a kilometre wide.
The placenames and surnames here are Germanic, and until fairly recently most locals spoke the Alsatian dialect of German as their first language. The grape varieties are largely German too; this is the only part of France that grows Riesling, alongside Gewurztraminer and Sylvaner. Even the varieties with French origins, the Pinots Noir, Gris and Blanc, are also common in Germany.
Yet its soul is French. The surnames may be Germanic but the first names are all French, and apart from brief military occupations it has been politically French for the last 400 years. The wine, too, was French in style: strong and dry, in contrast to the much lighter and sweeter wines from across the Rhine. Even late harvest wines, called Vendange Tardive, were dry until about 30 years ago; the only sweet wines were the rare Sélection de Grains Nobles made from botrytised grapes.
But advances in viticulture and changes in climate mean that sugar levels are now often too high to ferment out to dryness. Vendange Tardive wines are now all sweet, and a sizeable proportion of straight AOC Alsace wine is substantially off-dry. Critics complain that their marvellous ability to pair with food has been compromised, especially as it is often impossible to tell from the label whether the wine is dry or not.
Ninety percent of Alsace wine is white, with Pinot Noir the only significant black grape. The key white grapes are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat, and these five are generally the only ones permitted in Alsace Grand Cru, the highest appellation. Although not a Grand Cru grape, Pinot Blanc is also hugely important both as a dependably dry and food-friendly still wine and as the base for sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.
Decanting Club wines from: Alsace
Dopff au Moulin, Gewürztraminer
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