A Taste of Alsace in California

Separated from the rest of France by the Vosges mountains, the Alsace region suffers from a bit of an identity crisis — no doubt because control of the area has been French at various times through history, and German at other times.

But it’s worth seeking out the wines of Alsace — primarily Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir — because they are among the most food-friendly of all wines. That makes them an excellent choice to include on the wine bar adjacent to the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner table.

No wonder a number of American wineries have embraced the varieties of Alsace, and are making excellent renditions of their own. In fact, each year, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association in California’s Mendocino County stages the International Alsace Varietals Festival. The 7th annual edition is scheduled for next February 18-19.

More on that in a moment. But first, a little bit about the Alsace region…

The wines of AOC Alsace, for which the grape variety typically appears on the label, are comprised of 100% of that varietal. Where not indicated, the wine usually is a blend of several grape varieties, sometimes called “Edelzwicker” or “Gentil,” or bearing a brand name. Corresponding geographical information (vineyard site, commune, etc.) may also be included on the label.

The Alsace Grand Cru appellation recognizes the 51 most exceptional terroirs, which impart to the wines an expressive character and a unique authenticity. The designation is attributed to wines satisfying a number of quality-related criteria: strict limitations on terroir, highly restricted yields, specific rules of conduct regarding the vines, minimal natural ripeness levels, and flavor. The label must indicate the vintage and one of the 51 terroirs, and may indicate the grape variety. The Grands Crus of Alsace represent an average annual production of about 500,000 cases — just 4% of the total wine production of the region.

AOC Crémant d’Alsace is the jewel in the crown of the sparkling wines produced in Alsace. Fresh and elegant, Crémant d’Alsace is developed by secondary fermentation, and made mainly from Pinot Blanc grapes, but also from Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling or Chardonnay. The grapes are picked at the very beginning of the harvest, an auspicious moment when they offer the best balance and harmony for vinification. Because of its unique personality and outstanding quality, Crémant d’Alsace is currently the top AOC sparkling wine consumed in homes across France, according to the website Vins d’Alsace (http://www.vinsalsace.com/?lang=en).

But if you can’t get to Alsace, opt for the aforementioned International Alsace Varietals Festival, which offers a technical conference, a grand tasting and a winemakers’ dinner. Events are ticketed separately, and complete information is available here (http://www.avwines.com/alsace-festival/).

And you can turn it into a full weekend getaway by attending the winery open houses around the Anderson Valley.

If you like Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc or Muscat, you won’t want to miss this celebration of Alsace-style wines.

It’s the next-best thing to being in Alsace.

Posted in Wine Region Profiles
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