Sadly, in the 2016 global political landscape nationality is a hot topic. But what if your nationality had changed multiple times in your lifetime? What if you lived with your parents in the same village your entire life without sharing their nationality, only the nationality of your grandparents? There are a handful of locations on our planet that have been victims of political tug-of-war resulting from wars and alliances, with the residences of these regions collateral damage. One such place just happens to be one of the world’s greatest wine producing regions: Alsace.
Alsace is located on the eastern border of France and Germany. “Since WWII it has been part of France, but that has not always been the case. “The disputed provinces, on France’s eastern border with Germany, became French territory in the late seventeenth century. Between 1870 and 1945, however, they changed hands four times, passing from France to Germany, to France, to Germany and back to France.” Following WWI and revitalized after WWII, Alsace viticulturalist started a “quality first” policy moving back to producing indigenous, high quality grapes. These efforts were officially recognized in 1962 by the AOC Alsace, followed by AOC Alsace Grand Cru in 1975, and AOC Crémant d’Alsace in 1976. Today Alsace is recognized globally as one of the finest white wine producing regions in the world.
While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, I had the pleasure to sit in on a session entitled “Au Natural Alsace: Organic and Biodynamic Wines,” presented by the Wines of Alsace and lead by Wine Educator May Matta-Aliah. It was an informative and delicious session.
Alsace is a unique wine region. It sits on almost the same latitude as Champagne but has an entirely different climate. Because of the Vosges Mountains to the west, Alsace is sheltered from oceanic influences, resulting in being one of the lowest rainfall regions in all of France. Its semi-continental climate offers a long growing season with sunny, hot, dry days; furthermore, its location is at an altitude of 200 to 400 meters, allowing the vineyards to take full advantage of the sun. These factors combine to create wines that are both elegant and very aromatic.
Another unique feature of Alsace is the 15,000 hectares of vineyards grow in 13 distinct soil types. The soil mosaic includes granite, limestone, gneiss, schist, sandstone, volcanic, and clay to name a few. These soils vary from vineyard to vineyard and even vary within a vineyard, creating wines with distinct flavors and aromas. There are seven main grape varieties growing in these soils: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Noir, and Sylvaner.
We tasted three AOC Alsace Grand Cru wines of exceptional quality all from the Hengst vineyard during the seminar. It is one of the largest Alsatian vineyards, home to 80 growers with 28 wine estates crafting wine the label “Hengst. The vineyard dates back to the 9th century and contains calcareous marl soil with limestone boulders and sandstone pebbles. Hengst (meaning stallion) produces youthful wines that are wild in character but with age become elegant and refined. These are cellar worthy wines.
Domaine Saint-Remy Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2013: golden yellow in the glass; aromas of fresh citrus, peaches, and floral notes dazzle the nose while mouth-watering acidity coats the palate in a creamy texture with persistent minerality; delicious wine; RS 9 g/l so it was very dry; 13.3% ABV, SRP $28.
Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013: soft yellow in the glass; stone fruit, citrus zest, crushed stone, floral notes, orange blossoms, and melon leapt from the glass and exploded on the palate; rich in texture and round in acidity, long finish with a tickle of sweetness up front met well-balanced acidity as it cascaded down the back of the throat; great wine; RS 18 g/l; 13.5% ABV; SRP $38.
Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Hengst 2013: deep yellow in the glass; aromas dazzle with stone fruit, passion fruit, lychee, white floral notes, and honeycomb; these aromas coated the palate in layers of complex flavors but beautifully balanced with minerality and long acidity; lively on the palate, long elegant off-dry finish; perfect tension between sweetness and acidity; truly a great wine; RS 45 g/l; 13.5% ABV, SRP $75
It is important to note that most Alsace producers are family owned winery with the winemaker/owner living with right on the property. Furthermore, Alsace has been dedicated to organic, and even biodynamic growing practices long before it was vogue. When buying Alsace you are buying multi-generational family owned wineries that take their stewardship seriously.
My Song Selection: Nothing says layers of crisp flavors and bright acidity like a little racy jazz.
Have you had wines from Alsace? What are your favorite varietals, producers? Have you been to Alsace? Please share your experience.
Get your own bottles of AOC Alsace Grand Cru and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!
 Don and Peite Kladstrup, Wine and War: The French, The Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure, (New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2002), 27.