‘Routes des Vins’ is the local name for the route that meanders through the entire length of Alsace wine country; outlining some of the prettiest wine towns in the world. The region is sandwiched between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. Riquewihr, home to the Schoenenbourg and Sporen Grand Cru vineyards, is known for being the most stunning of all the villages. And Colmar, the capital city, boasts an amazing collection of timber-framed houses that date back to the 15th century.
Alsace has a cold continental climate due to its northerly location and is also a relatively dry region—it enjoys one of the lowest rates of rainfall in all of France. Additionally, it is the only AC in France that is allowed to designate its wines by varietal. The appellation rules allow eight grape varieties: Auxerrois, Chasselas, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sylvaner and Riesling. Each varietal will make up 100% of a bottle so labeled. There is also an Alsace Edelzwicker AC, a white wine that is a blend of any two or more of the grape varieties listed above.
Of the eight grape varieties permitted in Alsace, only four of them have been deemed “noble” enough to achieve Grand Cru status—Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewürztraminer. The designation of Grand Cru appellations was launched in 1983, as a means of changing the way Alsace wines are perceived around the world. These vineyards are required to restrict yields and increase levels of ripeness, hence, providing a higher quality level of wine.
Other sub-designations of the Alsace AC refer to winemaking style. Vendage Tardive, for example, refers to late-harvested grapes that may or may not be affected by noble rot. Section de Grains Nobles refers to sweet, Sauternes-style wines that have been affected by noble rot. And Crémant d’Alsace is a separate AC for sparkling wine.
The majority of Alsace wine is made without oak. If oak is used at all it is generally in the form of old, neutral barrels that are incapable of imparting any flavor; with the ultimate goal being to coax the true expression of both the fruit and the terroir.