The Wines of Alsace

These notes are mainly from the "Guide to the Fine Wines of Alsace" by Hugel & Fils, "The World Atlas of Wine" by Hugh Johnson (3rd Edition), and Parker's "The Wine Buyer's Guide", together with some personal prejudice.

"Alsace makes Germanic wine in the French way. The tone is set by the climate, the soil and the choice of grape varieties: all comparable with the vineyards of slightly farther north, down the Rhine valley, which are in Germany. What differs is the interpretation put on these things - because today German and Alsatian winegrowers hold opposite points of view of what they want their wines to be. In a nutshell, the Germans look for sweetness, the Alsatians for strength. German wine at its best is not for the table but for the drawing-room or the garden. Alsace wine is the great adjunct to one of France's most splendid cuisines. Alsace gives the flowery-scented grapes of Germany the body and authority of such table wines as white Burgundy - proper accompaniments to strong and savoury food."
Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine

"True connoisseurs of wine must find it appalling that so many importers trip over each other trying to find yet another excessively priced, overcropped, generally insipid Italian Chardonnay or French red Burgundy, while ignoring the treasures of this fairy-tale viticultural area in the most beautiful wine-producing region of France."
Robert Parker, The Wine Buyers Guide

Alsatian wines are in the main, unlike most French wines, named after the grape variety. They come in tall green bottles, the "flute d'Alsace".

Cuvee means blend.

Grand Vin is wine over 11% alcohol

Reserve Exceptionelle, Grand Reserve (ditto)

Grand Cru The new appellation for wines of the best varieties from the best, designated, vineyards

Mise d'Origine All Alsace wine is now bottled in Alsace

Vendange Tardive Late-picked wine, implying more strength and/or sweetness

Selection des Grains Nobles Wine of hand sorted over ripe grapes equivalent to a German Beerenauslese. Botrytised (noble rot).

Cremant d'Alsace is a sparkling wine made from the Pinots, Riesling and Chardonnay. The Rose version is made from Pinot Noir only.

Grape types

Frank and easy to appreciate, with a distinct character. Sylvaner is best enjoyed young. Remarkably fresh, with pronounced varietal taste, it is delicately fruity. Sylvaner is the maid-of-all-work of the German vineyards. Can and a bit coarse and vegetal.

Recommended with tarte flambee, onion tart, cutlets in white wine, choucroute and baeckaoffa.

Pinot Blanc
Crisp, dry, flavourful, complex and relatively inexpensive. Finest examples have bouquet of honeyed, stony, apple- and orange-scented fruit, as well as elegant apple-like flavours.

An all-purpose white, it goes well with white meat, fish, frog's legs.

Remarkably different from the Muscats of other regions, it keeps its characteristic grapey scent but makes a clean, dry wine.

Perfect as an aperitif, inspired with asparagus. Parker recommends it with Oriental cuisine.

Tokay-Pinot Gris
A powerful, full-bodied wine of great nobility, capable of producing wines as compelling as the greatest Chardonnays. Rich and rounded yet always dry, it has great ageing potential (4-10 years or 5-20 years for Vendange Tardive wines). A huge perfume of buttery, creamy, smoky fruit, unctuous intense flavours and considerable power.

Serve with terrines, meat pies, pâté en croûte, fish in sauce. The Vendange Tardive wines go well with foie-gras, raw or smoked fish and dishes "au gratin".

The noblest white wine of all, Riesling is dry in Alsace (unlike German Rieslings) and with considerable body. It has less of a floral component than its German counterpart but also a deep gout de petrol with an earthy, mineral, flinty taste and hints of pineapple, honey and orange-peel. Can age 3-15 years or 5-25 years for Vendange Tardive wines.

Serve with grilled or poached fish, with white meat, and with lobster, crayfish and crab.

The great speciality of Alsace, this pink grape (supposed to originate in the village of Trameno, in the Italian Tyrol) makes one of the greatest white wines. With a deep golden colour, Gewurtztraminer is intensely perfumed with aromas of rose petals, turkish delight, lychees and super-ripe pineapples. I find it's like china tea. It has low to medium acidity but is clean and dry.

Best drunk by itself as an aperitif or with pungent pork and fish dishes, lobster thermidor or a l'Americaine, or with foie gras or a rich cheese such as Muenster. Try it with lightly seasoned oriental dishes as well. Usually alcoholic (13.5-14%). Ages 5-15 years or8-25 for Vendange Tardive.

Pinot Noir
The great grape of Burgundy does not seem to do so well in Alsace. ("Yes, Alsace does make red wine, but I have never been able to understand why." Robert Parker)

A blend of Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat.

A blend of several varieties. Usually lots of Pinot Blanc.

Alsace Tasting Notes Browning Quote Back
Home Tasting Resource Tasting Notes Quotes Links