My favorite wines to try are wines from little-known or unusual locations. Especially areas that have a tradition of growing certain grapes in a certain way and that are known for a unique flavor.
Alsace is one such region. A little bit France, a little bit Germany, Alsace has changed hands between the two a few times until coming to rest as part of France after World War I!. The wines of Alsace reflect this duality. Some grapes are the same as grown in Germany (Riesling, Gewurtztraminer), while others are the same as grown in France (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris).
When Alsace fell into French hands after the Thirty Years' War, and royal edicts issued offering free land to anyone willing to restore it to productivity. People from many countries and regions took them up on the offer - Germans, Swiss, Tyroleans and Lorrainers. After the Franco-Prussian war, Alsace came under German Control until passing back to France after WWI. At that point, Alsace began to arrange its vineyards following the French AOC system, but were won back by Germany before completing that task. Only after WWII, when France reclaimed Alsace, did it finally complete the process of switching to the AOC system.
Alsace wines also have their own characteristics. The Germanic wines are dryer and more full-bodied than German wines. The bottle carries the grape name, as well as the region of Alsace; and the wines come in a long-necked bottle called a flute.
Alsace is suitable for grape growing because it has a temperate climate, thanks to the Vosges Mountains, which provide a protective barrier.
Most of the wine produced in Alsace is white (90%!) and what you might call the terroir lends the wine a certain spiciness that tells you it is Alsatian. There are four main varieties of Alsace wine:
Riesling: Riesling is the most well known of the Alsace wines. Alsatian riesling is dry, as opposed to the sweeter German rieslings, but also has a fruit aroma. Riesling wines in general have enjoyed greater popularity in recent years, and although Germany is the big Riesling champion, Alsace has also benefited from the boom.
Although the riesling of Alsace is traditionally bone-dry, the new trend is for vintners to create off dry wines. This means that they keep enough sugar for the wine to be slightly sweet. Because you can no longer count on Alsace rieslings to be a particular style, it may be wise to ask your friendly wine retailer about the wine before you buy it. I do!
One thing that you can look for is a label that says "moelleux." This is a "sweet" designation and means the wine is sweet. The only problem is that a wine that doesn't have enough residual sugar may not necessarily be dry, so you can't count on the missing "moelleux" to tell you if your wine is dry or sweet.
Pinot Blanc: This is the lightest of the Alsace wines. Alsatian Pinot Blancs range from medium-dry to dry.
Pinot Gris: Alsatian Pinot Gris is intense. It is rich, full-bodied and has spice to it.
Gewurtztraminer: This mouthful of a grape is the most intense. It's got an exotic, spicy flavor that will either make you a fan or an enemy. It's a low acid, high alcohol wine.
|Friday, August 10, 2007|