Vins de France 101: Alsace, France’s Little Wine Treasure

Take a deep breath. While exhaling, say “Ahhhl zas.” It resonates like a yoga mantra with the emphasis on “Ahhh.” The phonetic version of Alsace reveals the beauty of this little border province and the prominence of one of France’s smallest wine regions. It harbors a medieval landscape from a bygone era. Half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, and Romanesque churches have you anticipating someone heavily cloaked in costume to walk by you munching on a giant turkey leg. Or you’d expect the likes of Hansel and Gretel to run through the streets greeting you with “bonjour” or “guten tag,” or a dialect unique to Alsace.

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Along the Vosges Mountains -- separating Alsace from France to the west -- are ruins of castles that fell to past conquests. The meandering River Rhine to the east separates Alsace from Germany. And the Black Forest in the distance, well, just brings cake to mind. Many mistakenly think Alsace is part of Germany. While this region has been militarily occupied by Germany during times of war, it has remained soulfully French. As Alsace has held onto its medieval history, winemaking here is anything but. In fact, some of the finest white wines in the world are produced here.

THE WINE REGION


North to South, the narrow strip of vineyards (about 33,000 acres) extends 50 km wide and 190 km long. Approximately 6,000 wine growers live here and produce 20% (about 165 million bottles) of France’s wine. Dig in the dirt. You’ll find a variety of soil types -- granitic, chalky, marl, sandstone, loam, alluvial and even volcanic. Thanks to the Vosges Mountains that provide a “rainshadow” effect that minimizes moist west winds, the climate is perfect for growing grapes. Summer is hot, winter is cold and autumn is long and dry. As a result, a plethora of grapes thrive in Alsace but the noblest varieties steal the headlines: Riesling, Gerwurtztraminer, Muscat, and Pinot Gris.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.