First time I ever heard of Alsace was back in the history lessons on the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War. France were granted the areas of Alsace and Lorraine (presumably where the quiche comes from?) as the victors looked to cripple Germany after the war. But I’ve had a quick look on the trusty Wikipedia and had a gander at the timeline of Alsace. In the past 1000 years give or take it’s been French 5 times and “German” 4 times. Europe, eh?
Now I’m not saying that in order to turn this into a bit of history lesson here, I’m using it to point out that it’s not enough to just say it’s a French wine growing area. Strictly speaking it is, but obviously there’s big influences from both sides of the Rhine there.
Alsace is actually a fairly narrow strip of land stuck between the Vosges Mountains to the West and the River Rhine to the East. It’s got hilly, sometimes mountainous areas, and it’s also got plains. The mountains to the west act as a rain shield, and the river, its tributaries, and the hills act to cool down the area. It’s hot and it’s dry, so with the right spot and the right grape it’s absolutely perfect.
The best sites are up in the hills, with steep faces pointing east and south, effectively towards the sun. It’s here where grapes like Riesling, Pinot Gris, and our new wine this week, Gewurztraminer, can sit all day long in the sunshine, and enjoy long sunny growing seasons. This means that the flavours are usually pretty well developed, and the coolness of the slopes let the grapes keep their acidity, so they remain nice and refreshing to drink as wines.
It’s also a pretty popular area for the movement towards organic and biodynamic winemaking in France. The lack of rain reduces the risk of humid conditions for fungus and disease to take hold. The growers here pride themselves on the “less is more” approach. Even in the cellar they tend not to mess about too much with oak treatments or other funky techniques. They’re proud of the land, the soil, and the grapes they produce.
And they’re really proud of their Gewurztraminer.
Other posts in NWTW Week 7: