France: Alsace

Around Strasbourg

The Alsace wines of the Bas-Rhin
By Sue Style

This Guide was last updated on 12 March 2011
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Main grape varieties

Red

Pinot Noir
The only permitted red grape variety accounting for about 10% of the total production, mostly used for making light red wines. Oak ageing is often used to improve quality. A little may be used in the blend for Crémant d’Alsace.


White

Gewurztraminer
A pink-skinned variety that produces white wines. Gewürz means spice in German (though note that in French, Gewurztraminer has no umlaut) and the flavours of the wines produced seem to reflect this, along with an exotic floral character. This variety is known for high sugar levels (hence alcohol in the wines), but relatively low acidity and also gives some superb Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines. One of the four permitted grape varieties for Grands Crus, it accounts for 18% of production.

Riesling
One of the world’s finest grape varieties producing 22% of the total in Alsace, predominantly of dry wines though also used to make Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines. It is one of the four permitted grape varieties for Grands Crus. Riesling is amongst the most long-lived of Alsace wines, partly due to its naturally high acidity levels.

Pinot Gris
Until recently Pinot Gris was often called Tokay-Pinot Gris in Alsace. Now, even though the term has been outlawed, many producers still refer to it familiarly as Tokay. More full-bodied and flavourful than Pinot Gris grown elsewhere, it is responsible for 14% of production. It can also be used to make Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines and is one of the four permitted grape varieties for Grands Crus.

Muscat
Very aromatic and grapey, Muscat as made in Alsace produces – unusually - mainly dry wines. Both Muscat à Petits Grains, known here as Muscat d’Alsace (elsewhere sometimes as Muscat de Frontignan) and Muscat Ottonel are grown and most wines are a blend of the two. Although it accounts for only 2% of production it can also be used to make Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines and it is one of the four permitted grape varieties for Grands Crus.

Pinot Blanc
A less intense grape variety that accounts for about 21% of the total production and is widely used for the sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.

Sylvaner
A prolific white grape variety which used to be extensively planted in Alsace, but now only produces 11% of the total. It is currently enjoying something of a renaissance in the hands of certain growers (notably Seltz, see 'Wine producers'), who believe that planted in the right soils, treated with respect and above all with fiercely reduced yields, Sylvaner can produce wines of considerable merit.

Auxerrois
Part of the Pinot family and widely grown in Alsace, but not mentioned on many labels. The grapes are mainly subsumed into Pinot Blanc wines.

Chardonnay
A very little Chardonnay is planted and it can only be used in Crémant d’Alsace.


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