Alsace’s capitol city is Strasbourg. The region can be found in the very eastern side of France in a valley along the Rhine River – a river that separates France and Germany. On the other side of the river is Baden, a German wine region that produces wines in a similar style.
The region is broken up into two parts:
- The Bas-Rhin (to the North, by Strasbourg)
- Haut-Rhin (to the South in low slopes of the Vosges Mountains)
Contrary to logic, the Bas-Rhin is actually to the north and the Haut-Rhin is in the south, but the difference is all elevation. The best vineyards have long been associated with the Haut-Rhin. In the Haut-Rhin is where you will find many of the prestigious Alsace Grand Cru vineyards.
Varietals: There are seven main grape varieties—all white but one.
Pinot Blanc is soft and fruity, with apple and pear flavors. It is the entry-level wine, the most affordable and most accessible. Serve as an apéritif.
Sylvaner is light and floral in the apéritif style. It’s not widely available in the United States, so it’s worth tasting with the local, stinky Munster cheese.
Riesling is steely and minerally (on a German or Austrian level), yet with an extra layer of fruity richness that makes it delicious when young. But Riesling can age as well, sometimes for decades. Partner it with white fish and shellfish, creamy cheeses and pork or salami.
Muscat is aromatic and delicate. It uniquely smells and tastes like grapes. Muscat from Alsace is generally dry and makes a great partner with the most difficult wine foods like asparagus and artichokes.
Despite being made from the same grape variety, Pinot Gris from Alsace is completely different from Italian Pinot Grigio. It’s rich, full bodied, smoky and opulent. This wine is sometimes not quite dry, with peach and apricot notes. Serve with pork dishes, risotto, mushrooms, pâtés or even roasted red meat.
Gewürztraminer is an Alsace specialty. Roses and spices are part of the aroma profile along with passion fruit and mango. The signature lychee character is unmistakable. Gewürztraminers are often sweeter wines than Rieslings, making them fine partners for spicy Asian dishes.
The only red grape in the bunch, Pinot Noir is mostly used for red wine and as part of the blend of sparkling Crémant d’Alsace. As a red wine, it’s a lighter style than Burgundy.