Exploring the region of Alsatian wines

The Alsace wine region is one of the oldest wine routes in France; it celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013. This route takes you on a remarkable and, at times, breathtaking journey along 170 kilometers of wine-growing villages, fortified medieval towns with cobbled streets and geraniums hanging from balconies, and awe-inspiring valleys. 

As you take the route from north to south, along the foothills of the Vosges mountains, you will have the chance to encounter over 1,000 producers and taste the most wonderful and diverse Alsatian wines right where they are produced. The Alsace wine region offers visitors a wide range of activities related to wine and the vineyard all year round, including harvest festivals and wine tastings.

Discovering the Alsace wine region 

The Alsace wine region produces mostly white wines, including some of the world’s most celebrated dry Rieslings. Besides Riesling, the wines of Alsace are also made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The local, increasingly popular sparkling wine is called Crémant d’Alsace.

The Alsace wine region is located on the eastern side of France in a valley along the Rhine River, which separates France and Germany. On the German side of the river, we find the region of Baden, that also produces wine.

There are five regions on the Alsace wine route certified by the Vignobles & Découvertes (Vineyards and Discoveries) quality marker: 

  • Pays de Wissembourg: the northernmost region on the Alsace wine route. The traditional and picturesque village of Cleebourg is well worth a visit to marvel at its Middle Ages origins.
  • Vignoble de Strasbourg: a few kilometers from the region’s capital, this stop on the Alsace wine route has a wealthy architectural, medieval and religious heritage. Some famous places of interest are the Carthusian Monastery of Molsheim and Mont Saint-Odile, a 760-metre peak in the Vosges Mountains with a convent on its top (the Hohenburg Abbey) and stone fortifications called "the Pagan Wall”. The Mont is a mythical site of pilgrimage.
  • Cœur d'Alsace: halfway between Strasbourg and Colmar, the “Heart of Alsace” is a combination of vineyard and forest landscapes.
  • Terre et Vins au Pays de Colmar: protected in part by the Ballons des Vosges Regional Natural Park, the natural environment of this Alsace wine region is stunning. Take the opportunity to visit the medieval town of Eguisheim, classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France; discover Riquewihr and its Grands Crus Wine Path or spend an afternoon in famous and charming Colmar, the capital of Alsace Wines. Make sure you take a break in the valley of Munster to taste the renowned French cheese in the farmhouse inns or at its dedicated museum.
  •  La Route des Vins Sud-Alsace: the terrain around Thann and Guebwille is so steep that vines often require grape harvesters to rope up. In Thann -often referred to as the beginning of the Alsace wine route- the Tour des Sorcières (“Witches' Tower”), a tower from the ancient town fortifications, is now home to a museum dedicated to the different local vineyards and wine-production techniques as well as the geological diversity of the terroirs in the Alsace wine region.

The Wines of Alsace  

Along the 170 kilometers of the Alsace wine route, you will meet local producers proud to share their wines and knowledge with visitors. You will have plenty of opportunities to taste Alsatian wines so read on for a short overview to help you understand the local classification and distinctive styles of the wines of Alsace. 

As in every other French wine region, the AOCs (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée: "Controlled Designation of Origin") laws define the approved grape varieties, production methods and vineyard management among other things. In the case of the wines of Alsace, they can only be made from seven main grape varieties: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. They are sold in the traditional tall “Rhine wine” bottle (the flute d’Alsace) and they must be bottled in the region of production.

There are three AOC that regulate Alsatian wines:

  • Alsace AOC (75% of total production): varietal wines made with 100% of one grape variety, which is mentioned on the label. They can be white, rosé, red or Late Harvest dessert wines (Vendanges Tardives or Sélection de Grains Nobles). In some cases, a blend of white grape varieties is allowed: this is indicated by the words “Edelzwicker” or “Gentil” on the label.
  • Crémant d’Alsace AOC: traditional method sparkling wines made mainly from Pinot Blanc but also from Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay (only AOC that allows these grape variety in Alsace) or Pinot Noir, used in rosé sparkling wines. They represent a 23% of the production of Alsatian wines and they are the leading crémants in France.
  • Alsace Grand Cru AOC: only 51 plots in the Alsace wine region are entitled to the Grand Cru designation. Their label must mention the vintage and the locality; it usually also indicates the grape variety (Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris or Muscat with a few exceptions).

Land of imposing mountains, green valleys, rich and aromatic white wines and some of the best Christmas markets in France, the Alsace wine route is worth discovering for all of this and much, much more!

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