I've been busy and haven't really had the time to think about my monthly wine theme until about midway through the month when I decided that October would be wines from Alsace.
View Alsace: Here it is. in a larger map The Where
Well. It's in France and fairly far north - only Champagne is further north. Before I started paying attention to wine, I am not sure I knew where Alsace was and I suspect that I thought Strasbourg was located in Germany. This little region has been traded back and forth between the Germans and the French to the point that a co-worker described the area as "Not French. Not German. It's Alsace." It is also very pretty.
Grapes like it here
Now I can't tell you what grapes are thinking, but from a weather point of view, I bet that they like living in Alsace. The region is bordered on the west by the Vosges mountains. These mountains act as a rain block and keep some of the troublesome weather that brews in the interior of France away from Alsace and make it the driest region in France. These mountains also provide lots of slopes to grow the grapes on which provide the producers with various options to use all sorts of microclimates (due to altitude, the direction the slope faces, etc).
On the east border is the Rhine river which can help moderate some of the extremes of the climate and gives the region hot summers and long, dry autumns. You can also take a lovely river cruise with your parents if you so desire.
The primary grapes in Alsace include Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Muscat. Interestingly, many of these grapes are not grown in other parts of France - but you'll find them in Germany, Austria, and other neighbors to the east. Also compared to most of France, the producers put the actual grape name on the label. Crazy, eh?
Riesling: Alsace v. Germany
I heart Riesling. Compared to German examples, the Rieslings from Alsace seem to be much richer and fuller body with equally high alcohol levels. Personally, while I enjoy them quite a bit, I prefer the more austere, skinnier, and mineral-y German versions - naturally your results may differ.
Let's go shopping
With the warm and dry climate, the wines tend to be richer and fuller (and higher in alcohol) than their German counterparts across the Rhine. Handily, most of the wines you'll fine have the grape name in big clear letters on the label. Safe bets are always Riesling, but spicy Gewurztraminer is ridiculously great here (probably the best examples in the world) and go great with food: Thai, Thanksgiving, tacos, pork.
Pinot Gris is also pretty tasty especially if you have only drunk the Italian versions (aka Pinot Grigio).
What fascinates me are the white blends from Alsace. Last night we had a 'field blend' - meaning that the all the grapes are just grown together in a field all willy nilly - with Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat. Fascinating wine. Spicy. Honeyed. Crisp. Rich. A lot of contradicitions. These blends, from what I can tell, may not be in every wine shop but I have a gut feeling that they are good values and tasty wines. If you see one, buy it.
Oh, and red. They make some red wines here, but they don't seem to get a lot of attention especially in the US.
The price may be the only issue. For the single varietals, they can be a bit high. For example in the store I was in the other day, they had nothing under $20. The blends I found for a lot cheaper - that is, when I found them.