French Wine Regions: Alsace
The Alsace wine region is France's odd man out.
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Alsace's top grapes are Germanic (Riesling, Gewürztraminer); almost all the wine is white (90 percent or so); it's separated from the rest of France by the Vosges mountains; and it's been tossed back and forth through the centuries between Germany and France. Claiming that its wines combine a sort of Germanic austerity with a distinctively French joie de vivre might sound simplistic—but it wouldn't be inaccurate.
Alsace Wine: Main Varietals
Almost 25 percent of Alsace wine production is a sparkling wine called Cremant d'Alsace. It's made in the same manner as Champagne and is similar in character, but uses different grapes: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Try the citrusy NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace ($20).
His new Alsace wines aren't in the US yet, but outspoken Rhône Valley winemaker Michel Chapoutier is already getting attention. Recently, he said the "petrol" note often found in Riesling is just bad winemaking, which some people took as a dig at his new neighbors. But he's doing better than French prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who inadvertently stated that he was in Germany while giving a speech in Alsace.
Alsace Wine: Value Rieslings to Try
© Theo Morrison
2010 Joseph Cattin Riesling ($14) Aromatic lime notes define this pretty white from a family-owned winery near Alsace's capital, Colmar.
2009 Hugel et Fils Riesling ($17) A tangy white wine with apricot and spice notes, this comes from one of Alsace's most renowned producers.
2009 Mittnacht Frères Les Fossiles Riesling ($17) Mittnacht Frères was founded only 40 or so years ago, but it's received lots of acclaim for wines like this quince-inflected white (left).
2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling ($19) Zind-Humbrecht is known for extraordinary single-vineyard bottlings; this stony, full-bodied white gives a good sense of the domaine's style.