The wines of Alsace -- some named in French, some in German -- reflect the region's mixed history. The famous whites are both dry and fragrant. Typically, they become dryer as they age. Alsace produces only one red grape, the Pinot Noir, but only four Alsatian grapes -- Riesling, Muscat d'Alsace, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer -- are allowed the AOC Grand Cru designation [source: Wernstrom].
Pinot Blanc from Alsace is sometimes considered the world's best. Rounded out by Auxerrois grapes, it typically has notes of apple or baked apple and pear. The best Alsace Pinot Blancs are balanced, occasionally smoky, and acidic but not harsh [source: Franz].
Sylvaner is full-bodied, slightly bitter, strongly mineral -- some say metallic or "steely" -- and dry. It tends to be less aromatic than many other wines of Alsace. Try a Sylvaner from the south of Alsace, such as Agathe Bursin, René Muré or Pierre Frick [source: Warvfinge].
Muscat is one of the world's oldest varieties of grape. It's highly prone to mutations, which means the wines can have some variation in color. The wine is light, fresh, peppery and fruity, with notes of mint and roses. Try it with asparagus [source: Warfvinge].
Riesling tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it wine, partly because German and Austrian Rieslings are significantly sweeter than French varieties. Traditional Alsace Riesling is quite dry, however, with about the same amount of residual sugar as the Pinot Blanc [source: Wernstrom].
Pinot Gris, also known as Tokay, is a relative of the better known Pinot Grigio grapes of Italy, but Alsatians bristle at the thought of using the word Grigio on the bottle [sources: Warfvinge, Wernstrom]. Alsatian Pinot Gris has a great deal of body, with aromas of fruit, caramelized sugar and traces of the musty, mushroomy forest-undergrowth smell the French call sous-forêt [source: Warfvinge].
Gewurztraminer (spelled without the umlaut in Alsace) is the most famous wine of Alsace [source: Wernstrom]. The German "Gewurz" means "spice," and the wine reflects that. It also has floral notes and a whiff of the perfume of fruits such as mango and lychee [source: CIVA].
The sparkling AOC Crémant wines are made by the same in-bottle fermentation method used for Champagne. Crémant d'Alsace is a blend of whites including Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay; the rare Crémant Rosé is 100 percent Pinot Noir [source: CIVA].
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Alsace." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2008. (Accessed 2/8/09)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/17396/Alsace
- "Alsace-Lorraine." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2009. (Accessed 2/8/09)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/17404/Alsace-Lorraine
- Bursen, Howard. "Alsace: Viticulture on the Edge." Wines & Vines. February 1, 1998. (Accessed 2/8/09 through All Business)http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/food-beverage-stores-beer-wine-liquor/665399-1.html
- Franz, Michael. "Reconnecting with Alsace." August 8, 2006. Wine Review Online. (Accessed 2/8/09)http://www.winereviewonline.com/franz_alsace_pb_06.cfm
- "Seven Grapes and One Thousand Aromas." CIVA: Official Website of Alsatian Wine. (Accessed 2/5/09)http://www.language.vinsalsace.com/pdf/uk/d12uk_cepages.pdf
- Warfvinge, Per. "Wines, villages, and terroirs of Alsace." Alsace-Wine.net. (Accessed 2/8/09)http://www.alsace-wine.net/
- Wernstrom, Todd. "Alsace Awakening." The Wine News magazine. (Accessed 2/8/09)http://www.thewinenews.com/mam07/cover.asp