Alsace wine doesn’t immediately spring to mind when French wine is mentioned, but this idyllic part of France is a must-visit for anyone who enjoys a glass of vin blanc.
Not only are there 53 Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées waiting to be discovered in Alsace; all your senses will be rewarded, particularly your taste buds. Here are 9 facts about Alsace wine that your palate will thank you for.
Discovering Alsace wine takes you on a voyage providing a feast for all the senses. Visually, the scenery is stunning with Alsatian vineyards and wineries flank the River Rhine as it meanders northwards along France’s border with Germany. The 170km/106 mile Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route) is a land of rolling hills, scenic mountains and over 100 wine villages.
While your eyes take in the spectacular surroundings, you can treat your taste-buds to the wines themselves. Alsatian wines are almost all white (around 90 per cent of the harvest) and some 150 million bottles are produced a year. And to go with the fine wining, the Route des Vins d’Alsace takes in no less than 26 Michelin-starred restaurants.
One of the defining characteristics of Alsatian wines is their bouquet. These fruity whites offer delicious aromas, reminiscent of peaches and floral blends that give the wines their unique flavour. And along with the rich fragrances go the colours that cover all shades from light cream to golden yellow.
Alsace wine pairs wonderfully with a wide range of dishes and provide the perfect drink for every menu. For a match made in foodie heaven, here are our suggestions.
Aperitifs – For nibbles or starters go for an Alsatian wine that isn’t too sweet or too alcoholic. Try one made from Muscat or Gewurztraminer grapes.
Seafood – Whatever the seafood or fish on your menu there’s an Alsatian wine that goes perfectly. For example, if you’re feasting on oysters, drink Sylvaner and if salmon’s on the menu go for a Riesling, dry or medium, as you prefer.
Desserts – Sweet Alsatian wines come into their own with a dessert. Try wine made from over-ripe grapes known as Vendanges Tardives for that perfect taste combination.
Cheeses – Almost all cheeses have a perfect Alsatian wine partner. For instance, Pinot Blanc goes a treat with fresh and mild cheeses.
Spices – Sweeter Rieslings are the perfect match for spicy foods and match surprisingly well with Thai and Malaysian dishes.
For maximum bouquet and taste, try a famous late harvest Alsace wine. These sweet whites are made from grapes picked as late as possible and almost at the end of the autumn harvest. Known as Vendanges Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles, their sugar content is high and their fragrance and taste as good as they get. The latter of these two harvests selects only Gewurtztraminer grapes that show signs of botrytis fungus and they must be handpicked. If you like Bordeaux’s Barsac or know Hungary’s Tokaji, you’ll be in for a pleasant palate surprise.
The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Crémant d’Alsace makes the most popular sparkling wine in France and it’s the only one allowing the use of Chardonnay grapes. Produced using a similar method to champagne, this bubbly is reputedly just as good but with a smaller price tag. The rose bubbly is made, rather uniquely, from 100% Pinot Noir.
To ensure your Alsace wine hits the spot, serve it chilled but never ice-cold. Alsatian sommeliers recommend a temperature between 8 and 10 degrees for all whites and a slightly cooler range of 5 to 7 degrees for the sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.
Alsatian whites are best served in long-stemmed tulip glasses. They make the most of the wines’ bouquet and taste.
Weather conditions vary from year to year in any wine region and so do vintages. Alsace wine had an exceptional year in 2010 (classed as Année Exceptionelle and awarded 5 stars) and both 2009 and 2012 achieved Grande Année status (4 stars). Wine produced during these years are worth sourcing.
To find out how good a particular year has been for Alsatian wines, check out this official website, which also recommends specific wine labels from each year. http://www.vinsalsace.com/fr/gouts-et-couleurs/millesimes/
With so many AOCs and a good collection of Grand Crus it’s no surprise to discover that the wines of Alsace regularly win awards. The Sigille seal of quality, one of the most unusual prizes, rewards exceptional quality.
To decide which wines are worthy of the Sigille, the Brotherhood Saint-Etienne holds three blind tasting sessions a year. The vineyards that produce the winners must provide 12 bottles of the Sigille-seal wine to be kept in the Brotherhood’s wine cellar, home to over 60,000 award-winning wines that go back to the 1834 vintage year.