Alsace known in the world for the elegance and the finesse of its white wines, Alsace is also the only French region in which the name of the grape is a primary element of the label.
Alsace is probably the most renowned French wine region in the world for white wines. In this strip of territory - to the border of Germany and contended with it in the past for a long time - are almost exclusively cultivated white berried grapes with which are produced many and famous styles of wine.
The only representative of red grapes in Alsace - which also represents a marginal percentage in the viticulture of the region - is Pinot Noir.
In this region - maybe more than any other - the grapes and their aromas play the leading role in the cellar, hardly - if not rarely - wines are being aged in casks in order to preserve and enhance the fruity and floral character of grapes. It should also observed that in Alsace are being cultivated among the most aromatic grapes in the world - such as Gewürztraminer, Muscat Blanc and Riesling - to which is also added the indispensable and primary factor of the territory.
Alsace is - in the French enological scenario - a particular region according to many aspects. The region is practically oriented to the production of white wines only, the grapes cultivated in Alsace are rarely found in other French regions. Finally, the name of the grape is a primary and identifying element of wine and of label as opposed to other French regions in which it is absent in favor of the mention of the place of production.
Alsace is among the most northern wine areas of France and only Champagne is located at a higher latitude, it is at about 500 kilometers east from Paris (about 300 miles), near the border with Germany along the course of Rhine river.
The Alsatian region is shielded in the west side by Vosges mountains, therefore ensuring a less cold climate and shielded from cold winds. As opposed to other areas in the same latitude, the climate of Alsace is pretty warm and dry, and thanks to the protection offered by Vosges mountains, rains are less frequent than in other French regions.
Because of the vicinity of Alsace with Germany, it is often said that in this region are being produced German wines in French style. Many factors could make think this to be true - including latitude, the vicinity of Rheingau region and the use of Riesling grape - however the wine philosophy of Alsace is pretty different from German style.
In Alsace - as opposed to Germany - grape sugar is completely transformed into alcohol therefore producing drier and fuller body wines than German ones. A factor that could eventually join Alsace to Germany is that in both areas are not used casks - if not rarely - and malolactic fermentation is avoided in order to keep the fresh and fruity character of each grape variety. As opposed to what it is commonly believed, most of Alsatian wines are dry, whereas German wines always have a certain quantity of residual sugar.
Vineyards in Alsace are found - for most of the part - at an altitude from 160 and 420 meters (550-1380 feet) and the autumnal humidity favors the development of Botrytis Cinerea, essential for the production of the renowned Sélection de Grains Nobles.
The composition of Alsatian soil is pretty vast, it is composed by an average of twenty different types of soil. The most common soils in Alsace include granitic, sandy, schistose, volcanic, clay, marl and limestone sediments.
The origin of the plains at the feet of Vosges mountains is alluvial, very fertile, not very suited to the cultivation of vine. In soils rich in clay and marl, wines generally tend to have a fuller body, whereas the ones produced in limestone and sands are more delicate and elegant. In schistose soils rich in slate, wines tend to have a more mineral character, in particular the wines made with Riesling grape.
As already mentioned, Alsace is a land of white wines and therefore the viticulture is essentially oriented to white berried varieties. The only red berried grape found in Alsace - with a pretty marginal percentage - is Pinot Noir used for the production of Rouge d'Alsace and of Rosé d'Alsace, it is found in most of classic method sparkling wines Crémant d'Alsace.
In this region some varieties of white grapes are traditionally called noble and represent - as a matter of fact - the most renowned grapes of Alsace: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat Blanc.
It should be observed that in Alsace Gewürztraminer is generally written as Gewurztraminer (without umlaut) and Pinot Gris is traditionally called Tokay Pinot Gris or Tokay d'Alsace. Moreover, the varieties of Muscat found in the region are two: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Muscat Blanc with small berries) - also known as Muscat d'Alsace - and Muscat Ottonel.
In Alsace are also cultivated other white berried grapes -not belonging to the family of noble grapes but however interesting - such as Silvaner - here known as Sylvaner -Pinot Blanc, Chasselas, Klevner and Auxerrois.
In the region is also found Chardonnay - introduced in recent times - mainly used for the production of Crémant d'Alsace. The grapes Klevner, Auxerrois and Chasselas are rarely used for the production of monovarietal wines and the most frequent usage is to be added to other varieties - in particular Pinot Blanc - in order to give more character and body.
These grapes are also used - together with noble varieties - for the production of Edelzwicker - whose meaning is noble blend - a wine of pretty variable quality which certainly does not honor its literal meaning.