Alsace was the first wine region I ever fell in love with. In fact, my feelings about it were so strong, it took me more than 12 years to go back. I knew the perils of attempting to replay perfection, the disappointments that come to those who try to relive the past. (I've read The Great Gatsby five times, after all.) Yet over the years, I heard reports from colleagues and friends: Alsace was unaltered, unchanged. The houses were still half-timbered, the winemakers friendly, the villages small. No outlet stores or "hospitality centers" had been built nor acres of Chardonnay planted. In Alsace, Gewürztraminer and Riesling still reigned supreme.
Of course, Alsace has hardly gone unaltered by history; there's no winegrowing region in France or possibly the world that's changed more than Alsace, at least in terms of nationality. Located on the far eastern side of France, bordering Germany, Alsace has been invaded by the latter and repossessed by the former many times in the past 150 years. (Before that, it was battled over by Romans and Celts.) The last exchange took place at the end of World War II, when France reclaimed Alsace, bombed-out and battered, from Germany.
Further evidence of this two-country tumult can be found in the wines themselves. Though French in name, style and classification, Alsace wines also look and taste somewhat German. The bottles are thin and flute-shaped, like those of Germany's Mosel region, and Alsace's star grape, Riesling, is the star of Germany too. Like Germany, the emphasis in Alsace is white wine, although unlike Germany, Alsace produces several other world-class wines besides Riesling.