Alsace Grand Cru
Alsace Grand Cru designation signifies that a wine is from a special, single vineyard in the Alsace region of France.

Alsace produces some of the most opulent, rich, and luscious wines in the
world. These wines are often misunderstood, overlooked, and underpriced.
The vineyards of Alsace are nestled into a unique valley between France’s Vosges Mountains and Germany’s Rhine River. While unquestionably French, many of the wines of Alsace reflect the German influence created by years of struggle over the border - more than once the area was a part of Germany, with France beginning at the natural border provided by the impressive Vosges range.

Alsace may be France's premier wine region, and is almost certainly its most consistent. This may seem a heretical statement to those legions of collectors with cellars full of fearfully expensive wine from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Indeed, American wine drinkers have not yet been persuaded of the relative merits of the great white wines of Alsace, despite the relatively good value that the region offers. Could those Belgians and Swiss be onto something good?

The greatness of any region is ultimately a reflection of the climactic potential and aspect of vineyards. So many harvests in France's classic wine regions are compromised by the arrival of rain before the grapes are optimally ripe. This is less of a problem in Alsace thanks to the location of vineyards along a narrow strip stretching 60 miles north to south along the eastern foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The Vosges Mountains act as rain shelter from the moist Atlantic air, allowing for a long, balmy ripening season with harvest in late September to early October. Washout harvests are rarer in Alsace than Bordeaux or Burgundy and this is directly reflected in the quality of the wines produced in this corner of France.

In a wine store buying an Alsatian wine could not be simpler as bottles from the region all carry a varietal name, a producer name and, if applicable a Grand Cru designation. The labeling regulations in Alsace represent an ideal combination of the French and German approach. However, the currency of Grand Cru is not quite as valuable in Alsace as in other French regions: critics have rightly pointed out that 54 Grand Cru vineyards is an excessive number.

The Wines
All wines fit neatly into one of five classifications: Alsace AC, a blanket appellation covering the whole region, Cremant d’Alsace AC for sparkling wine, Alsace Grand Cru AC for special vineyard designated wines, Vendanges Tardives for late harvested wines, and Selection de Grains Nobles, sweet wines produced from super-ripe grapes affected with Noble Rot or Botrytis Cinerea.

Similar to Burgundy, many of the wine producers in Alsace are families that have been around for generations. The wines they produce reflect their personalities very closely. Some are very traditional (Trimbach) while others are more modern, or new wave in style (Zind Humbrecht). The traditional style is understated, and ranges from austere and crisp to opulent and sweet. The new wavers produce generally richer, showier styles, with more obvious residual sugar even in the “dry” wine category.

Unlike many New World Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, and Chardonnays, Alsatian wines are fruit straight up, without a chaser of new French or American oak. Remember that the rain shadow allows for some serious ripening here, so the wines achieve incredible richness on their own. At the same time their cool climate origin instills a heady, exotic perfume into the blend that would be lost with overt oak influence.

Key Varietals & Styles
The noble varieties of Alsace are (Tokay) Pinot Gris, Muscat, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. Other grape varieties grown include Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc (you might encounter Klevner and Pinot Auxerrois: These are cousins of Pinot Blanc and often show more finesse), and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Gris can come in a dry or off-dry form. At its best it is highly aromatic, intense and powerful with a notably thick mouthfeel. Alsace produces the most intense, rich versions of this grape that often stand in stark contrast to the Pinot Grigio of Veneto or Northern Italy. Alsace Pinot Gris will often be softer and richer than Riesling, though Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) examples can cellar very well.

Riesling is vinified mostly in a dry style. When mature, it shares the distinctive petrol aromas of its German counterparts, but has more body, and earthy character, and is generally much drier. Grand Cru Alsace Rieslings can be long-lived; indeed they only develop their true character after a period of cellaring. Riesling in a Vendanges Tardives style will have residual sweetness, though it will often be countered by bright acidity.

Gewürztraminer is the most characterful and pugnacious of varieties in Alsace. It displays inimitable "lychee-like" varietal character that is rarely matched anywhere else in the world. Non-late harvest Gewürztraminer can be made in a bone dry or off-dry style while Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) wines are generally appreciably sweet.

Muscat wines are generally bone dry and characterized by floral aromas and tropical fruit flavors. Muscat is not widely planted in Alsace though the finest examples can be among the best dry Muscats in the world.

Pinot Blanc is not a noble variety in Alsace and will never carry a Grand Cru designation. Generally, it is clean and fresh and medium to full bodied. It can produce very good results from lesser vineyards, but rarely will it produce great wine.

Sylvaner is an acidic varietal, that can make pleasant varietally labeled wine and is often used for blending in Edelzwicker (rarely seen outside France, or Alsace), the local wine made from a melange of varieties.

Pinot Noir makes the only red wine of Alsace. Mostly, it is not a wine of note and quenches the local thirst for a light red wine, though some producers try to fashion something more serious.

Alsace is a region of predominantly dry white wines. Sweetness only becomes a serious factor with Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) wines, which can vary from off dry to markedly sweet depending on the vintage character. In exceptional years nectarous Selection de Grains Nobles are fashioned from individually selected, Botrytis-affected berries. SGNs are dessert wine rarities and can be extraordinarily expensive.

Consumer confusion can arise in discerning whether a Gewürztraminer (and occasionally a Pinot Gris) not labeled as late-harvest is dry or off dry, a factor that will be influenced by the winemaker's preference and the vintage character. Unfortunately, there is no helpful indication on the label to help in this instance, though dry styles are becoming more prevalent in Alsace.

Alsace with Food
Wines from Alsace transcend French regional chauvinism in that they will be found on most restaurant lists throughout the Gallic nation. This is an acknowledgment that Alsatian wines compliment a wide variety of foods. To look at the table possibilities one need look no further than the gastronomy of the region. Pork based dishes are a central theme in a region that gave the world choucroute: an unpromising sounding but outstanding combination of cabbage and pork sausage. Alsatian wines are not limited to Pork and Alsatian Riesling; anywhere where a white wine might work Alsace will come up with a convincing alternative. An alternative to Grand Cru white Burgundy? Try Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris. Looking for a seafood partner? How about a crisp, clean Alsace Pinot Blanc. A foie gras starter? Dust down an off dry Alsace Gewürztraminer. Using Alsace wines at the table is often an intuitive task as they are not marked by the use of oak maturation (extremely rare in Alsace) and retain fresh malic acids unlike too many Chardonnays whose malic acidity has been rendered soft and buttery by conversion to lactic acid. (Wine/Appellations)