Alsace is in the northeastern section of France, up against the German border. It is separated from the rest of France by the Vosges mountains. Because of its location, Alsacian wines have many German traits. One of the similarities is in the the way the wines are named. Alcase is one of the only French areas to name their wines after the grape used, for example Gewurztraminer or Riesling, instead of by a region.
Indeed, the main wines of Alsace are ones often found in German wineries - Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. The land tends to create a spicy wine, so even the Gewurztraimner in Alsace is spicier than in its native Germany. The land is also best for white wines, although a very few red are grown here.
Alsace produces some fine “Vendange Tardive,” or late harvest wines. These wines are sweeter than normal and are lovely for dessert.
The two main areas of Alsace are Bas Rhin, to the north, and Haut Rhin, to the south. The wineries themselves form a line down the very center of the area, at the eastern base of the Vosges moutains. There is an Alsace Grand Cru AOC as well as a lesser Alsace AOC.
An important influence in the history of Alsace wine has been the repeated changes of nationality of the Alsace region, which, over the centuries, has passed from France to Germany and vice-versa many times. In the early history of the Alsace wine industry, they were traded together with other German wines with the Rhine providing a means of transport. Post-World War II, the wine styles in Alsace and Germany diverged, Alsace wines remained fully fermented, that is dry, to a large extent because they were intended to be paired with food. At the same time, Alsace has also experienced a drive to higher quality, which led to AOC, (“controlled designation of origin”), status being awarded. In recent times, the difference between Alsace and German wines has increased, since German wines have become drier and more powerful, while many Alsace wines have become sweeter, late harvest, dessert style wines.
The Alsace region lies between the French border with Germany to the east marked by the Rhine river, and the Vosges mountain range to the west. It is 185km (115miles) long and 40km(25miles) wide. The key viticultural areas are all located on the lower hillsides of the Vosges, on slopes with east and south-easterly aspects. The spine of mountains is at its most dense in the southern half of Alsace, where it peaks at more than 1400m (4600ft). The presence of the mountains play a vital role in defining the region's climate,not only providing protection from the prevailing westerly winds, but also contributing to the it's low annual rainfall.
The traditional wine making method in Alsace was to ferment all of the grape sugar into alcohol, resulting in dry, full bodied wines. Today the region seems to be moving away from these methods and it is more common to find slight sweetness in wines from Alsace. By avoiding the use of new wood, and avoiding the second, softening, malolactic fermentation they are producing wines retaining the fruity aromas of each grape variety.