STAFF TRAINING MODULEAlsaceAlsace is the northernmost region in France specializing in still wines,and it has developed a worldwide reputation for the quality of its whites.Unlike most cool climate, northern European white wines, Alsatian winesare neither light nor delicate; rather, the wines are more often full,fragrant, spicy and rich. The weight and power of Alsatian wines affordsthem space at the table amidst the region’s hearty cuisine.1
The RegionThe small, colorful region of Alsace lies in the northeastern corner of France,geographically separated from the rest of the country by the Vosges Moun-tains. The Rhine River marks its boundary with neighboring Germany, andgovernance of Alsace has changed hands more than once in the two nations’turbulent history. Germany’s last command over the region ended with theNazis’ defeat in World War II. After its reclamation by France, Alsace becamethe last major winemaking region in the country to attain AOC status, in 1962.Alsace is divided into two regions:Bas-Rhin: The Bas-Rhin is the northern sector of Alsace. The capital of Alsace,Strasbourg, is located within this area.Haut-Rhin: This southern sector of Alsace is home to many of the region’spremier vineyards. Colmar is the regional capital.Geology and Climate2The secret to the power and body of Alsatian white wines lies in its sunny and dry climate: the Vosges Moun-tains create a “rain shadow” effect, causing rain clouds to precipitate and disperse on the western side of therange, leaving the region’s vineyards drenched only in sun. Alsace’s northerly location equates to added hoursof sunshine during the summer, and grapes ripen easily. Alsatian soils are a geological mosaic, containing layersof granite, sandstone, schist, clay, loess, and other forms of sediment and rock. The best sites in the region lieon the lower slopes of the Vosges. Better vineyards feature a southern or southeastern exposure to takeoptimum advantage of the sun, and growers take care to match grape varieties with appropriate soil types.Appellations inAlsaceAlsaceAOCWhite varietal wines, red androsé Pinot Noir, and white blendsare released under the regionalAOC. Blends may be labeled as“Edelzwicker” or “Gentil”.Alsace Grand CruAOCAlsace and Burgundy are theonly French regions to grant“Grand Cru” status to vineyardsites. In Alsace, 51 vineyardsqualify for production of GrandCru white wines. Most arelabeled by variety.Crémant d’AlsaceAOCSparkling wines produced in thetraditional method of Cham-pagne may be released asCrémant d’Alsace.
Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru wines are usually labeled by variety, a rarity for French AOC wines. While basic AOCwines may be produced from a number of grape varieties, Alsace Grand Cru wines are generally limited to thefollowing “noble varieties”.The “Noble Grapes” ofAlsaceOther Varieties inAlsacePinot BlancSylvanerAuxerroisChasselasPinot NoirThis variety produces forward, fruity wines of medium acidity. Wines labeled“Pinot Blanc” may be blends of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, and wines labeled“Pinot” may be blends of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Auxerrois.Inexpensive examples of Sylvaner can be light and simple, but the grapeproduces a full-bodied, rich, and mineral wine in the right hands. It is the onlyvariety apart from the “noble grapes” that can be produced as a Grand Cru wine,in Zotzenberg.While Auxerrois is not usually bottled as a pure varietal wine, its fatter texture andhoneyed aromas add voluptuousness to Pinot Blanc in blends.Also known as Gutedel, Chasselas likely originated in Switzerland, where the whitewine is considered an ideal pairing for fondue. In Alsace, it is usually encounteredas an anonymous component of Edelzwicker blends.Pinot Noir is the only red grape grown in Alsace. Characterized by lightness andleanness in the past, Alsatian Pinot Noir can be surprisingly dense and extracted,particularly as producers aim to compete with Burgundy.3Riesling is the mostplanted grape in Alsace,and the source of some ofits ﬁnest wines. AlsatianRiesling is classicallyfermented dry, and is morepowerful than its Germancounterparts. Freshacidity, minerality, andyouthful austeritycharacterize the grape.Muscat wines areproduced from twoseparate varieties, MuscatBlanc à Petits Grains andMuscat Ottonel. DespiteMuscat’s suggestivelysweet nose--orange,ﬂowers, peach andgrape--Alsatian examplesare often dry on the palate.Lighter than Pinot Gris orGewurztraminer, Muscatmakes a splendid aperitif.Once known as Tokayd’Alsace, Pinot Gris maybe genetically identical toItaly’s Pinot Grigio, but thatis where the similaritiesend. The Alsatian versionis more robust; revealinghoney, dried apricots,mushroom, and ginger.Fuller in body than Rieslingor Muscat, Alsatian PinotGris often retains residualsugar.Gewurztraminer has asignature personality:full-bodied, fat, spicy, andintensely aromatic, the“Spicy Traminer” grapeinevitably producesAlsace’s biggest and mostinstantly recognizablewine. Tasters often ﬁndlychee, fruit cocktail, androse aromas arising fromthis viscous, golden wine.Riesling Muscat Pinot Gris Gewurztraminer
Late Harvest WinesIn Alsace, two late harvest indications may be added to wines produced from the noblevarieties:Vendanges Tardives: To produce these concentrated wines, grapes are picked by hand late in theseason. VT wines are produced from a single variety, and they may be sweeter or drier in style.VT wines may display the character of botrytis (”noble rot”).Sélection de Grains Nobles: SGN wines are intensely sweet, botrytis-affected, honeyed winesmost suitable for service at the conclusion of a meal. Better examples stand alongside Sauternesand the great sweet wines of the Loire Valley as France’s ﬁnest dessert wines.4Alsatian Wine: Dry or Sweet?The degree of sweetness in Alsatian wines can be unpredictable: for some producers, residualsugar may vary from vintage to vintage in the same bottling.Classically, Riesling and Muscat are generally dry, whereas Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer aregenerally off-dry. Today, however, many wines from the region are veering toward opulent sweet-ness, with no indication of residual sugar on the label. Customers have, understandably, becomefrustrated with the inconsistency.Knowledge is key: in order to successfully sell Alsatian wines, servers must have an understand-ing of the wines’ relative dryness or sweetness. Some producers, like Trimbach, remain classic intheir approach, whereas others, like Zind Humbrecht, now provide a sweetness scale on the label.In addition, Alsatian wine law now requires all basic Alsace AOC Riesling wines to be dry. Overall,both drier and sweeter styles can be exceptional, but they have different applications at the table.
SellingAlsatian WinesBeyond a recognition of a wine’s level of sweetness, take a moment to discover somethingabout its character: some Alsatian wines are fruity, lush and modern, while others are wildand earthy. Some are a little lighter; others are bigger and more concentrated than manyred wines. In a pinch, check out the alcohol level: an Alsatian wine with 15% alcohol mightbe best reserved for the main course, whereas a bottle at 12% may be a better starter.Remember, not all Riesling is sweet! Your guest may not realize this, and an introduction todry Alsatian Riesling might open a new door.White wine from Alsace is not limited to the ﬁsh course: the spicy, denser styles of Pinot Grisand Gewurztraminer produced in the region often pair best with poultry, sausages,mushroom tarts, foie gras, veal, and other rich cuisine. Riesling can frame pork or scallopsequally well. And asparagus is a problem food for wine? Tell that to the Alsatians, who loveto wash it down with the local Muscat during the spring season!Gewurztraminer and Muscat can provide an “a-ha!” moment for guests who are just startingto get the hang of wine tasting. The aromas are so forward, intense, and recognizable thatthe wines may serve to boost an inexperienced taster’s conﬁdence. In fact, the hardest partabout selling Gewurztraminer to a neophyte wine drinker isn’t in the glass, its in the name.Biodynamic and organic grape-growing are big trends in Alsace. If you have producers onyour list who abide by one or the other of these viticultural principles--JosMeyer, Ostertag,Zind Humbrecht, René Muré, Albert Mann, Albert Seltz, and many more--you have apowerful sales pitch for guests interested in sustainable farming practices.Crémant d’Alsace makes an inexpensive alternative to Champagne for a budget-consciousguest.Review questions1. What are the four noble grapes of Alsace?2. What does “Sélection de Grains Nobles” indicate?3. What red varietal wine is produced as Alsace AOC?4. What mountain range separates Alsace from the rest ofFrance?5. What AOC in Alsace authorizes the production ofsparkling wines?6. What is the capital of Alsace?5