Located in the North-East corner of France, Alsace is a stunningly beautiful region that produces some of the world best white wine, noticeably dry Rieslings, as well as highly aromatic Gewürztraminers, Muscat and Pinot Gris.
The first traces of Vines in Alsace date back long before the Gallo-Roman era. Vines fossils have been found in the layers of the Quaternary which can lead us to say that it existed in the region before the advent of man, but viticulture as we know it, started with the Gallo-Roman era, around 50 BCE.
Today, there are 4,700 winegrowers in Alsace: 20% independent wine growers, 39% cooperatives and 41% negociants. The size of the vineyard is 15 600 hectares, all classified as AOC (there is no IGP). The amount of wine produced was 907,000 hectolitres in 2017 (equivalent to 113 million bottles, smaller than Burgundy). Production in the region is 70% of dry white wines and sweet white wines, 20% of sparkling wines and 10% of red (exclusively made from Pinot Noir).
Wine is produced in the departments of Bas-Rhin (67) and Haut-Rhin (68). The wine route stretches 170km from north (Strasbourg) to south (Mulhouse), along the Ill River, between the Vosges Mountains (west), and the Rhine River (east). The vineyards are concentrated in a narrow strip, running in a roughly north-south direction, on the lower eastern slopes of the Vosges, at altitudes of 175–420 m.
There are 3 Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC): Alsace (70%), Crémant d’Alsace (24%), Alsace Grand Cru (6%). The average yield varies from max. 55hl / ha for the Grands Crus to 80 hl / ha for Crémant. The first AOC was recognized by the INAO in November 1945.
Because of predominantly westerly winds, the Vosges Mountains tend to shelter Alsace from rain and maritime influence, and the region is therefore rather dry and sunny. The region climate is semi-continental, (average temperature 11°C, 500mm rainfall, 1600h sunshine). While the slope down the Vosges is generally east-facing, many of the best sites are south-west to south-east facing, and benefit from extra sun exposure.
The soil that make up the vineyard have an impressive diversity and richness. The vineyard is planted on calcareous soils, granite, schist, gneiss and sandstone. The main grape varieties are for white wine: Riesling (22%), Gewurztraminer (20%), Pinot Blanc (21%), Pinot Gris (15.5%), Sylvaner (7%), Muscat (2,5%). And Pinot noir for red wine (10%). The Grand Cru decreed in 1975 combines the characteristics of each of these territories to the vines. There are 51 Grands Crus, each one of them is a unique combination of soil type, grape varieties and topography.
Alsace is known for being the only French wine-growing region with a long practice in varietal labelling, which was a German tradition. There is a legal requirement for bottling Alsace wine in tall bottles commonly called "flûtes d'Alsace" or "Rhine wine bottle“ which is also traditional in many German regions.
The Crémant d’Alsace are a good alternative to Champagne, while the dry whites are excellent with all seafood based dishes, and the sweet wines would pair well with Asian cuisine and spicy dishes or be enjoyed for aperitif, with a dessert or instead of a dessert.