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France

Alsace

  • Alsace is located in eastern France, east of the Vosges Mountains and west of the Rhine River, which separates France from Germany. The best vineyards lie on the foothills of the Vosges, which provide a special micro-climate, shielding the vineyards from the rain traveling from the west, or the "rain shadow" of the mountain. The warm wind found in the region called the Fohn helps advance the growth of the vine in the spring.

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  • Soil
    The geology of Alsace is highly varied thanks to the upheaval from the formation of the Vosges. Granite, gneiss, schist, quartz, clay, sandstone, and volcanic rock are all found in the region. Soil in the lower slopes tends to have the highest proportion of calcium from limestone and drains well due to the high percentage of rocks.


    Climate
    Alsace is one of the sunniest regions in France. Despite the fact that the region is located very close to Germany and the wine styles show a strong Germanic influence, the climate is warmer and sunnier than that of Germany. As a result, the wines are riper and more full-bodied.

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  • The varieties of grapes grown in Alsace are mostly the same as those grown in Germany. The four grapes authorized for planting in Grand Cru sites and as Vendange Tardive (Late Harvest) or Sélection des Grains Nobles (Selection of Noble Grapes) are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat.


    Riesling from Alsace is relatively full-bodied and high in alcohol, with pronounced steely and mineral notes. Pinot Gris tends to produce a much more full-bodied wine in Alsace than in other areas, such as Italy or Oregon. Pinot Gris often accompanies meat dishes in Alsatian cooking. Gewürztraminer is usually full-bodied with low acidity and an incredibly expressive nose with notes of rosewater and lychee. Muscat is not very widely planted and when fermented dry the grape produces a steely wine with a fresh grapey aroma and crisp acidity that is the antithesis of Muscat produced in warmer climates.

    Other grapes planted in Alsace include Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, which tend to give light-bodied wines that are crisp; Sylvaner, which despite its low status can produce crisp and refreshing wines with good extract and a leafy green aroma. Pinot Noir is growing in popularity in Alsace and has a range of characteristics from light and tart almost like a rose to more full-bodied and Burgundian.

    Many of the non-noble grape varieties are blended together, either as Edelzwicker or as sparkling Crémant de Alsace, which represents a significant proportion of the area's production.

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  • The classic wine style in Alsace is crisp, clean whites with mostly stainless steel fermentation and little or no malolactic fermentation. Sugar levels seem to be climbing up in recent years, but there is no standard indication of sweetness on the labels.

    Late harvest wines called Vendange Tardive (VT) are mostly made in a sweet style, although there are dry styles produced as well. A richer style, called Sélection des Grains Nobles (SGN), often contains some botrytis-affected grapes. SGN are almost always very sweet dessert wines. These categories of wine were traditionally only produced in vintages when conditions were optimal, though the recent trend is to produce them every year. Vin de paille, for which grapes are dried on straw mats prior to fermentation, is a traditional Alsatian style of sweet wine that lacks official recognition in France.

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  • The Grands Crus of Alsace were delimited in a process that began in the early 1960s and continues to this day. The first official delimitation was in 1983 (25 crus) with another 23 recognized in 1985, and another three in 1990. The most recent modifications to Alsatian Grand Crus were released in 2001.

    Although these crus are defined by the INAO, this designation is not universally used, even when authorized, by all producers. Many producers do not agree with these divisions because they think that too many Grand Crus have been designated which has diluted the quality normally associated with the term Grand Cru.

    Others producers rely on proprietary names that are more well-known in the market than the recently created Alsace Grands Crus. This is the case with the Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune, for example, which is technically part of the Rosacker Grand Cru.

    The Bas Rhin is the northernmost section of Alsace. Notable sites include Kirchberg de Barr, Kastelberg and Wiebelsberg. Many of the finest vineyards are located in the center of the region, outside of Bergheim. The Altenberg vineyard produces concentrated Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Osterberg Grand Cru, near Ribeauville, is another top site, as are Rosacker and Windsbuhl, which are near Hunawihr. Outside of Riquewihr, the Schoenenbourg vineyard is known for its Riesling. South of Colmar, the top sites include Hengst near Wintzenheim, Eguisheim, Pfaffenheim, and Rangen near Thann.

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