When we hear the name Alsace France we immediately think Riesling right!? That is a good place to start, but what makes this location one of the prime locations for Riesling in the world? Let’s take a quick look at their climate, topography and terroir that all impact that beautiful Riesling you love so dearly.
Climate, Topography and Terroir – Alsace France
The climate in Alsace France is cool to moderate continental, which means there is a range of temperatures depending on what time of the year you visit. The winters are naturally very cold and the summers are hot and dry right into Autumn, which allows the grapes to have a higher sugar content. This location is protected from the dangers of winds and rains by the Vosges mountains. It also has a variety of soil types, which allow for the terrior to help shape the natural characteristics of the wine! The best vineyards are found on steep slopes with aspects facing the east or south east to give it the most exposure to the sun. On these steep slopes the vines are trained low to benefit from the heat radiation from the soil and maximize sun exposure. The vineyards on the plains are more susceptible to frost, so the vines are trained high in this case to help prevent that natural danger to the grape.
Grapes of Alsace France
Now what about the Riesling? Not so fast! Did you know Alsace is actually known for 4 white grapes? Yes, Riesling being the first and foremost, but they also grow Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat! Most of these grapes are aromatic grapes that are matured in old oak or steel so they retain their delicate natural fruit flavors without the overpowering oak flavor you would see if they used new oak. Being these are meant to retain their fruitiness, they are bottled generally in the spring following harvest.
Alsace Wines and Their Characteristics
Let’s talk about the wine now! First your favorite, the Riesling.
Alsace Riesling is normally medium to full bodied and dry with medium alcohol and high acidity. This high acidity comes into play because it allows the Rieslings to age nicely and develop notes of petrol and honey. Now the primary notes of an Alsace Riesling generally are citrus and stone fruits with a mineral or steel like character on the finish. When most people think about Rieslings, they think of floral notes, but the Alsace Rieslings have fewer floral notes than say a German Riesling.
Gewurztraminer from Alsace is golden in color and full bodied with an oily texture. It has low to medium acidity and is generally high in alcohol. This wine generally has a pronounced intensity on the nose and shows spicy notes. Flavors of lychee, roses, and baking spice all fill the nose and palate in these wines.
Pinot Gris is full with high alcohol and higher acidity than the Gewürztraminer. This is not an aromatic grape, but does generally have a pronounced flavor profile. That profile is distinguished to Alsace through the dry fruits and honey notes.
Lastly the Muscat! There are two varieties here in Alsace. The first being Muscat Blanc a Petite Grains. This is light to medium body with low acidity. Notes of orange, rose and grape are the predominant flavors in the profile. This wine is highly subject to noble rot, which is why the second variety is used due to its reliability. This second variety is called Muscat Ottonel.
Check out an Alsace Riesling HERE!