Ahh! The taste of a crispy Alsace (al-ZASS) in the Springtime.
These dry wines are total “gateway-whites” – that is, they’ve been known to convert even the most stubborn red-exclusive drinkers to the “light-side.” I’ll give you a basic overview of the beautiful Alsace whites so you can learn the subtle differences between them, identify the best bottles just from a peak at their label, and develop some favorites of your own.
A Little German, A Little French
The Alsace region has historically jumped between French and German “ownership,” meaning that the wines will often look a bit German: elongated bottles, labels with wineries called, “Trimbach,” or “Hugel,” and grapes called Riesling or even Gewürztraminer. But the wines themselves are very French: bone dry with subtle complexity.
Pick An Alsatian Grape, Any Grape
Unlike all other regions in France, the Alsatian wines are labeled the way most Americans are used to seeing wine – according to their grape varietal (e.g. chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, etc) instead of their regional appellation (e.g. Champagne, Bordeaux Saint-Émilion, etc).
Here are the big four varietals in Alsace:
-clean apple and lemon scent
-dry taste, acidic, and apple/lemon earthiness
Gewürztraminer (guh-rootz-trah-mee-NER or guh-rootz-trah-mee-NAY for French prononciation)
-lychee, apricot, ginger, and pineapple taste
Pinot Gris (pee-NOH GREE)
-richer scent than riesling (more like marmalade)
-fattier taste than the riesling, lots of aftertaste
-bone dry (not sweet) taste, but still fruity (apricot, marmalade)
The Alsace OGs (Original Grape-sters)
French wine labels may be harder to decipher than most, but they still have their own little “codes” for excellence. Keep an eye out for one of these phrases on your label for an indicator that there’s a special taste inside:
Alsace Grand Cru (grahn CROO) – “top-class vineyard.” There are about 50 Alsace Grand Cru vineyards, based on having the best location and soil for grapes.
Vendange Tardive (vahn-DAHGE tahr-DEEV) – “late harvest.” This means the grapes were picked later than usual to let them get super ripe. This results in a rich, full-bodied, and sweeter than usual wine.
Selection de Grains Nobles (sell-ek-SHON duh GRUH noh-BLUH) – “noble berry selection.” This means only the grapes that were fully rotten were selected so as to maximize sweetness.
The Cheap Alsace
If you’re looking for something inexpensive, try the Alsace Pinot Blanc. It’s yummy, cheap, and refreshing for when you just want to go low-key.
Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson‘s favorites include: Schlumberger, Lucien Albrecht, and Hugel.
This is the fourth part in a six-part series on the big six wine regions in France.
Part one: Taking the ‘Pain’ out of Champagne
Part two: Get to Know Your Bordeaux
Part three: Dive Into the Loire Valley
Part five: Burgundy is More Than a Color
Part six: There’s No Place Like Rhône