As summer is drawing to a close and the air is starting to cool, I reach less and less for my insubstantial Vinho Verdes and my summery Sauvignon Blancs, and look for something with a little more meat on it's bones! When I'm looking for a white wine, I reach for a bottle from Alsace.
Alsace is one of my favorite regions in the world, and one of the most unique and interesting in France, in my opinion. Sandwiched between France and Germany far to the North East, it has gone back and forth in ownership between these two countries. Because of that, it has a hybrid culture. Not quite German and not solely French.
The wines of the region reflect this cultural mish-mash, you will find classic German grapes like Riesling and Sylvaner grown and produced in a French style. For example, the Rieslings of Germany wrestle the line between fruit and acid. They will often leave their wines with residual sugar in your glass in order to balance out the searing acidity that is characteristic of the grape. The Alsatian Rieslings are made more like a good Sancerre; powerful, acidic, dry and with enough authority to stand up to fine French cuisine!
The climate in this area is very cool, it lies almost at the same latitude as Champagne! This encourages the grapes to develop high levels of natural acidity, a must have for a good food wine! The Vosges mountain range to the West creates a rain-shadow effect that keeps the region dry, making Alsace one of the coolest and driest wine growing areas in France. This causes the grapes to struggle and to reach their roots far down into the subsoil to find water, getting into the rich minerals that provide so much flavor to these wines.
When you are browsing the Alsatian section in your local wine shop, or perusing the wine list at a restaurant, don't be intimidated by the German names. Sylvaner makes terrific wine that can be light and tart, to somewhat rich and oily. Gewürztraminer is a bouquet of potpourri in a glass, full of orange blossom, rose petals, lychee and exotic spices. The Pinot Gris of Alsace are a far cry from the light Pinot Grigios of Northern Italy, these are full bodied and incredibly aromatic! But the real gem of the region is Riesling. This is not your cloyingly sweet Liebfraumilch from the grocery store, these are powerfully structured wines, full of minerality and bracing acidity, with a nose full of orange zest and honey. Have no fear if you dislike sweet wine, all of these wines are dry and frequently overlooked. It's time to give Riesling another chance!