Alsace in northeastern France is so close to Germany that the wines of Alsace and Germany are often confused. Both are typically sold in distinctive, slim, long-necked bottles, and are made from the same grapes. Alsace has never officially been a part of Germany, though it was occupied by the German military in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wine writer Hugh Johnson has noted that despite German influences, Alsace’s “soul is entirely French. Alsace makes Germanic wines in the French way.” In contrast to German wines, Alsace wines generally are very dry, with a higher alcohol content and riper, more scented fruit. Alsace has 33,000 acres of vineyards, many of them in the picturesque foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The grapes of the region are Sylvaner, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Pinot Noir is also grown, though it is mainly used for Rosé wines. Alsace’s most admired wines are its Rieslings, which since 1985 may be designated as Grand Crus. Some 50 vineyards in the region have been classified as Grand Crus, and are allowed to use the appellation on their labels. Unlike all other French winemaking regions, Alsace labels are varietal, meaning that a wine made of Riesling, for example, is called Riesling. Official Alsace appellations include Cremant d’Alsace for sparkling wines.
This grape grows in cooler climates and reaches its finest expression in Alsace, where it is the second most commonly planted variety. It is boldly aromatic and has a distinct bouquet of lychees. The grape be used to make dry, off dry and sweet wines, including ice wine.