Alsace

Appellations

Perhaps the most important feature of Alsace is the looming presence of the Vosge mountains to the west of the region, a source of shelter from the wind and who's slopes provide the south, south-west and south-easterly facing vineyards which which to make most use of the suns rays. Due to the huge variety of soil types and terroirs to be found in the region Alsacian growers tend to produce a variety of different wines and cuvees from the dry and refreshing to some of the world's richest and most engaging late picked Vendage Tardive wines. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner are all highly successful and most can and are made to varying levels of sweetness.
Alsace Grand Cru is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée for wines made in the Alsace wine region of France. The Grand Cru AOC is the top quality categorisation of Alsace wine that was first recognized in 1975 by Appellation Contrôlée governing body with subsequent expansion in 1983, 1992 and 2007. The wines come from selected sites in the Alsace region, located at altitudes between 200m and 300m. Alsace Grand Cru wines must be produced from yields of 65hl/ha or less and the wine must come from a single named vineyard which will must be listed on the label. Currently 51 named vineyards are listed as Grand Cru, the latest addition being Kaefferkopf of Ammerschwihr in January 2007.
Côtes du Rhône is a huge appellation spanning over 40,000 ha of the Rhône valley, ranging from pockets of vineyard skirting the Northern Rhône appellations to the flat, arid plateaux of the Southern Rhône. Most of the production comes from the South from the Grenache grape, however the other Châteauneuf varieties are permitted too. This vast swathe of vine-growing land is as big as AC Bordeaux and makes huge quantities of low-priced wine consumed in brasseries up and down France. Alot of the lower priced wines are made in a similar method to Beaujolais, carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration, which gives light wines of soft tannins and aromatic, but often confected fruit. The quality of these inexpensive wines is usually bland at best, however there are a number of great wine estates from the more solubrious parts of the Rhône, particularly Châteauneuf-du-Pape, who make very good examples at a fraction of the price of their top wines. The vast majority of the production is Red, followed by rosé, very little white wine is produced. All but the wines from the greatest wine-producers are for drinking within 1-3 years after the vintage.
Côtes du Rhône Villages is a higher quality and much smaller appellation than that of Côtes du Rhône, covering more than 5000ha, producing mainly red wine. Yields are lower and the minimum alcoholic strength is 12.5%, the same for that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Whilst there are vineyards in the northern part of the Rhône, the vast majority are in the south. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties of Grenache Syrah and Mourvedre are the main grapes used and are blended with each other to varying proportions depending on the individual wine. There are some villages that are allowed to add their name to the Côtes du Rhône Villages title: Vinsobres, Rousset-les-Vignes, Rochegude, St-Maurice-sur-Eygues and St-Pantaléon-les-Vignes in the Drôme; Roaix, Séguret, Valréas, Visan, Sablet, Massif d'Uchaux, Plan de Dieu, Puymeras, Cairanne, and Rasteau in Vaucluse, and Laudun, St-Gervais, Chusclan, and Signargues in the Gard. It is possible for these to be elevated to their own Appellation Controlee status, Gigondas was the first to achieve this, followed by Vacqueyras, then in 2005 Beaumes-de-Venise and Vinsobres. Cairanne and Rasteau are thought to be the two next in with a chance. Overall quality is a clear level above that of Côtes du Rhône and is much more consistent. There are a large number of high-quality, artisanal and innovative wine-growing estates in this appellation, together with many fine estates from the grander Châteauneuf-du-Pape region who also have vineyard holdings here. The top wines are to be drunk from 2-4 years after the vintage, but there are several good examples capable of ageing a year or two more than this. The area is, perhaps, one of the greatest value for money sources of red wine in France.
At the southern tip of the North Island sits Martinborough, an area of great terroir diversity. Numerous small scale producers go to great lengths in the pursuit of quality investing much of their effort in vineyard management and achieving low yields. Palliser and Dry River demonstrate just how good the wines from the region can be.
The vineyards along the steep sided banks of the Mosel river, part of the region known as the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, are known for being some of the hardest vineyards in the world to work (due to their steepness) and home to some of the finest white wines in the world. Riesling is king in this cool region that follows the twists and turns of the River Mosel providing myriad different terroirs and vineyard aspects.
The region has one first growth, Château Haut-Brion, whilst other renowned Chateaux currently doing well are La Mission-Haut-Brion, Pape-Clément, Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Haut-Bailly. Soils are gravely and well-drained and the plantations are similar in proportion to those of the Médoc, consisting mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The region is also well known for its long-lived whites that can be varying blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon oaked or unoaked. The most lauded are Domaine de Chevalier, Haut-Brion, Pape-Clement, De Fieuzal, and Laville-Haut-Brion.
One of the most interesting wine regions in the world, Tokaj has a grand history of wine-making going back more than 500 years. The sweet wines produced here are these days considered to be some of the greatest and most distinctive in the world.