Nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the German border, Alsace is France's most north-easterly wine region, its capital Strasbourg and its wine centre Colmar. One of the driest areas in France due to the influence of the Vosges; annual rainfall is as low as 500mm. The mountains also shelter the vines which are grown on both the plains and slopes. The steep slopes are also home to Grand Cru vineyards, the soils vary from alluvial to granite and schist.
Alsace is a French wine region, it has at various times in its past belonged to Germany, resulting in many of the white grapes grown are the same as those in Germany. By law, all wines must be bottled in the recognizable tall, tapered bottles called Flutes d'Alsace. Alsace was one of the first regions in the world to label its wines according to grape variety, rather than by where the grapes are grown, as done in other parts of France.
Wines of Alsace are primarily varietal; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Over 90% of the wines are white; Alsace also produces an excellent semi-bubbly known as Cremant d'Alsace from Pinot Blanc. Most wines are fermented dry as distinct from their German counterparts which are often sweet or off-dry. For this reason many wines achieve high alcohol especially Gewürztraminer which can reach 14%.
Alsace also produces speciality wines and some excellent Grand Crus. Grand Cru wines must come from one of four permitted grapes; Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. They must be from a single vineyard in the best location, a single vintage, have lower yields and pass a stringent quality test. Vendange Tardive wines are made from late picked grapes with much higher sugar levels from the same varieties as the Grand Crus in exceptional vintages.
Possibly the most expensive wines are the Selection des Grains Nobles which are made in the same way as the Vendange Tardive but with the effect of botrytis giving wines of enormous richness and complexity.