Ultimate Guide to the Alsace Wine Region

The route des vines in Alsace, France. See our collection of wine pictures
iStockphoto/Katarzyna Mazurowska

­If you've ever entertained fantasies of bicycling through the French countryside, you may want to plan a trip to Alsace. Bike paths crisscross the vineyards and interconnect the villages. Pack up a picnic basket with some of the stell­ar local cuisine -- foie gras, sauerkraut and Muenster are regional specialties; m­ore restaurants are Michelin-ranked here than in any other region of Europe [source: Franz]. Just don't forget a good bottle of French wine. The small region of Alsace produces some of the most renowned whites in the world.

Alsace uses the AOC (Appelation d'Origine Controlée) system to designate grapes grown in certain areas under controlled conditions. AOC has two stricter designations, Alsace Grand Cru (applicable only to four varietals) and Crémant d'Alsace (for the popular Alsatian sparkling wine).

­Although the AOC designation provides that Alsatian wines should be sec, or dry, Alsace produces several sweet wines, too. The naming and designation of these wines is a continuing source of controversy [sources: Franz, Warfvinge].

One thing to be aware of as y­ou sample Alsatian wine: In many other regions, wines are named by their terroirs (the lands that produce them). In Alsace, wine nomenclature is based solely on the grapes [source: CIVA]. The Conseil Interprofessional des Vins d'Alsace, or CIVA, oversees Alsatian wine production.

This article explores the turbulent history of Alsace, how grapes have come to grow there, and the wines those grapes produce.