Friday, January 1, 2010

In the World Class White Wine Region Alsace

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Oscar in the Vineyards of Alsace (near Riquewihr)

I spent a couple of days between Christmas and New Year in Alsace. It was - as always - great.

The Wines of Alsace

Alsace produces many good still and sparkling, red and white wines, but above all it is highly appreciated for its unoaked, dry and crisp world class white wines. They tend to be different from those in the other parts of France: Higher in acidity,sometimes really sour, but always a pleasant experience to have them in the glass. And they go very well with the Alsatian food, which is also unique in France. The famous choucroute you find only there in France. But of course, you find it also in neighboring Germany, for example in Frankfurt am Main. Compared with Germany, which also is famous for its world class dry wines, Alsace wines tend to be drier, more full-bodied and higher in alcohol. Finally, sweeter white wines and red wines play only a minor role in Alsace, but they have a very good sparkling wine, the Cremant d’Alsace.


Alsace sits in the northeast corner of France, sheltered by the Vosges mountains to the west and hard against the German border to the east. The vineyards reach from around Wissembourg in the north to Mulhouse, 70 miles south. Some 12 million cases are produced annually from 32,000 acres of vineyards.


Alsace is a fascinating amalgam of the German and French. The end of the 30 Years’ War in 1648 gave Alsace to France. In 1871, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace was taken by Germany. After World War I, it was once more part of France — until 1940, when Germany reclaimed it. With the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, Alsace became French yet again — and so it has remained. Wine production in Alsace traces its beginnings to the early centuries of the Roman Empire, when the Romans conquered Alsace and introduced wine.

Grape Varieties

One of the most intriguing characteristics of Alsace wines is that they are bottled under their varietal names, unlike virtually all other French wines. Four grape varieties are considered to be the best:(i) Riesling – like in Germany, the most celebrated grape; (ii) Muscat – often used to produce sweet wines in France, the Alsace version is bone-dry; (iii) Pinot Gris and (iv) Gewurztraminer –Alsace's signature grape. Three other white grape varieties are also grown: (i) Sylvaner – A high-yielding grape, producing a refreshing wine, often used for blends, (ii) Pinot Blanc and (iii) Chardonnay – used only for sparkling wine. In addition, Alsace does have a little red wine made from the Burgundy grape, Pinot Noir. The Alsatian red wines tend to be quite lightweight, but can be delicious and interesting.


Alsace produces wines under three different appellations: (i) Appellation d'Origine Contrôlées (AOCs) for ¾ of the white, rosé and red wines, (ii) Alsace Grand Cru AOC for white wines from certain classified vineyards and (iii) Crémant d'Alsace AOC for sparkling wines.


Edelzwicker is a traditional, blended wine of Alsace, typically sold in liter bottles. In the early parts of the 20th century, blending was the norm, and these blends were called "zwicker". Edelzwicker (noble-blend) is a "zwicker" made only from noble grapes. It is a fairly simple wine for day to day drinking, best in a wine brasserie to wash down a plate of chaucroute garni at lunch or dinner!

Noble-sweet Wines

Alsace produces noble-sweet wines, but does not have the same reputation as Germany or Austria for producing noble-sweet wines. There are two kinds. (i) Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) is used to indicate a wine produced from grapes that have benefitted from remaining on the vine for an extended period of time. Often this refers to sweet, dessert style wines, but like in Germany the Spaetlese and Auslese wines, vendages tardives wines can be fermented until dry, yielding wines of special concentration and power. (ii) Sélection de Grains Nobles, on the other hand, does refer to noble-sweet wines. A selection of grapes affected with botrytis (noble rot), these are wines that express their innate character in a luscious, unctuous, perfumed style that is the same as the German Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese.

Picture: Kevin Smith and Katharina Schiller in Strasbourg, Alsace

Cremant d’Alsace

Alsace also produces a sparkling wine similar to champagne, the Cremant d’Alsace. Crémant d’Alsace is made using the traditional method (bottle fermentation), mostly from Pinot Blanc grapes. Rosé Crémant d'Alsace is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes. Crémant d'Alsace is a significant part of the wine production in Alsace, with 18% of the region's vineyards used for this purpose.

At our dinner at the restaurant of Jean Luc Brendel in Riquewihr we had the Cremant d’Alsace Maison, which was a sparkler from Paul Blanck, Kientzheim. The Cremant had a fine, subtly fruity, fresh aroma and was well balanced. We ordered a second bottle.

Picture: Annette and Christian G.E.Schiller with Fabienne Brendel, Sommeliere and Maitresse d'Hotel at La Table du Gourmet in Riquewihr

Schiller Wine – Related Postings

In the glass: Edelzwicker

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