Alsace

Grape Types

Chardonnay is one of the most widely-grown and versatile of all white grape varieties. As a relatively neutral grape, it offers a near transparent map of winemaking style, climate and terroir. It is the ideal grape variety for Burgundy, where it serves to mirror the complex nuances of the myriad of terroirs found in this hallowed land. Chardonnay produces a variety of wines from the minerally and unoaked styles found in Chablis, the fatter nuttier examples in Meursault, to the tropical fruit-driven versions found in the New World. It is also the major grape variety in Champagne, where it produces lively floral wines, namely in the Côte de Blancs. It can be found throughout Europe and the New World thanks to its versatility. As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American.
One of the most distinctively perfumed grapes in the world, Gewurztraminer is the Alsace grape which smells of fragrant rose petals, jasmine and lychees. It produces spicy wines that have a tendency to be on the heavy side, though made correctly by good producers such as Domaine Weinbach, it has a fresh uplifting finish. In its late-harvest form, it makes deliciously rich, opulent, exotic whites. It partners particularly well with strong cheeses such as Munster. Growers in New Zealand and Oregon are also experimenting with the variety.
There are four main varieties of Muscat, the finest being Muscat à Petits Grains, followed by Muscat of Alexandria, then Muscat Hamburg and the lesser Muscat Ottonel. Renowned for its grapey aromatic character, Muscat is the great Mediterranean vine of antiquity, producing a variety of white wine styles, from the full-bodied dry whites of Alsace, to the sweet, fortified Muscats of Beaumes de Venise, Rivesaltes and Frontignan, to the lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti wines of Piedmont that make for enthralling, refreshing aperitif or after dinner drinking.
Palomino is a white grape widely grown in Spain and South Africa, and best known for its inclusion in the blending of sherries. In Spain, the grape is split into three sub-varieties - Palomino Fino, Palomino Basto, and Palomino de Jerez, of which Palomino Fino is by far the most important, being the principal grape used in the manufacture of sherry.
Pinot Blanc is most commonly associated with the full-bodied dry white wines of Alsace which can offer top everyday drinking with its apple, peach and pear-like character and acts as a very good aperitif, or with plain fish and shellfish. It is also grown in Burgundy, forming the base of some white Marsannays such as Bruno Clair’s delightful example. Outside of France, it is popular in Italy as Pinot Bianco, Austria as Weissburgunder and grown in parts of Eastern Europe as well as Oregon and California, where Chalone make a speciality of it.
Pinot Gris is also known as Tokay Pinot Gris in Alsace though the prefix Tokay was dropped to appease the Tokaji Wine governing body in Hungary. This is a slightly spicier and more expressive version of its stablemate, Pinot Blanc, and actually a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is one of the chief dry white varieties in Alsace, but also produces some deliciously sweet, age worthy, late-harvest styles. It is the same grape as northern Italy's Pinot Grigio, Germany's Grauburgunder or Ruländer and Hungary's Szürkebarát and is starting to become fashionable in New Zealand.
Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing clay/limestone hills of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. A notoriously temperamental variety, Pinot Noir has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils and will not tolerate over-cropping. The best examples have wonderfully expressive aromas and thrillingly pure bitter sweet red forest fruit and cherry flavours, developing truffle and game overtones with age. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has had great success in New Zealand, California’s Carneros, Oregon and the more marginal, cooler districts in Australia. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is also one of the major components of Champagne.
One of the world’s noblest grape varieties, Riesling produces scented, refreshing, mineral wines from dry to lusciously sweet. Its bad reputation, tarnished by the cloying and completely unrelated Liebfraumilch, is one of the wine world’s great injustices. Its heartland is the steep Mosel and Rheingau valleys of Germany, where it produces floral spritzy off-dry to medium wines packed with lime and apple fruit or, when affected by botrytis, honeyed apricot characteristics. In Alsace, Austria’s Wachau and Germany’s Franken there are some exhilarating, complex dry versions that work very well with Oriental fusion foods, as well as some stunning sweet versions. Some superb lively fruit-forward styles are cropping up in New Zealand, Constantia in South Africa and the cooler parts of Australia and California.
A variety that produces in Alsace good easy drinking wines of freshness and energy, while some serious dry and late harvest versions can also be found in its homeland Franken in Germany where it is grown on limestone slopes.