The Wines of Alsace

(gentle piano music)>>(narrator)
Located on France’s
eastern border, Alsace is one of Europe’s
great gastronomic treasures. Its unique local cuisine,
part German and part French, is perfectly complemented
by a rich selection of worldclass
white wines. (gentle piano music)>>(with French accent)
Now, Alsace is a
very narrow region that is sitting
between, on the left, the Vosges Mountains that
give it natural protection from the west weather. And on the right, you have
the Rhine River and Germany. And this narrow
region is actually the smallest wine
region in France.>>(with French accent)
We have over 650 millimeters
rain per year, average. So what it makes–
Alsace vineyards are the driest
in France.>>(with French accent)
That’s the reason we can produce fantastic, long-ripening
grape varieties, like Riesling, Gewürztraminer,
and Pinot Gris, which demand to
ripen slowly. (playful music)>>(narrator)
Alsace has been shaped by centuries of
competing empires, often clashing on
its own borders. The region was
French until 1871. Germany took control
of the region during the
Franco-Prussian War, but it was ceded
back to France at the end of
World War I. Germany occupied Alsace
again at the beginning of the Second
World War, until the Alsatians
rejoined France in 1945.>>(with French accent)
This is the meeting place between the French culture
and the German culture. To explain the
Alsace history, a good example would be
the three last generations. My grandfather
was born Prussian, and he studied
German. He didn’t speak
any French. My father was born just
before the second war, and he studied half French,
and then the war came, and he studied German. Results– he doesn’t speak German
and he doesn’t speak French. He speaks
Alsatian language. My generation–
I studied French, and I speak
fluently French. So three generations,
three languages.>>(with French accent)
The German history that we have here in Alsace
is everywhere, but we’ve been influenced
by France, too.>>(narrator)
This unique blend of German and French cultures has
influenced both winemaking and gastronomy
in the region.>>Alsace has the best of
Germany and the best of France.>>If you talk sausages,
if you talk bacon, if you talk charcuterie. We have some escargot,
we have some onion pie, we have
different things.>>Food is a very
important matter. You never
miss lunchtime. Alsace really somehow
ought to stand for itself, because we know
we go on and on between Germany
and France—- we kind of developed
our own identity of being first
Alsatian. And the gastronomy became
a really big part of that.>>(narrator)
Located in the foothills
of the Vosges range, Alsace is a geologist’s
dream and a mosaic of soil. From one vineyard
to the next, soil varies
dramatically. (playful music)>>We have sandstones,
we have volcanic stones, we have clay, we have
marl, we have granite. We have all examples
possible of soils. And each soil demands
a specific grape. Just a very quick
and simple example. Look on my
left side. Here is a soil based
on clay and marl. It’s a very
heavy soil, and this soil is very good for
giving something to grapes. This gives something
to grapes. When we go just on
the side of the road, with one, two meters, we change– absolutely
different soils. We have white sandstone
and quartz. And this is absolutely
fabulous for Riesling. That is,
Riesling grape. So Alsace is so diverse that
in such a small distance, you have two radically
different soils and two different
places for grapes. It’s why Alsace is
considered as confusing for people who have habits
to have just one concept. In Alsace, you have
not just one concept; you have a lot of
concepts together.>>(narrator)
Yet confusion extends
to the wine label. And winemakers struggle
to communicate the stylistic diversity of
their wines to customers.>>One of our challenges
in the coming years is to find a common
language to show which kind of wine
is in the bottle. We decided, with my
colleague from Hengst, to create an
expression index. From 1, dry,
to 5, sweet. To give an indication
to the final consumer so he can find which kind
of wine is in the bottle.>>We use the
European mention, so we write “Vin Sec”—-
“dry wine”—- on the back label.>>So we have a Vendanges
Tardives quality level, and a very top of the pyramid
when it comes to sweet wines. These wines are called
Sélection de Grains Noble– “selection of
noble berries.” But if you see on the label
Vendanges Tardives, which means
“late harvest,” you will expect
some sweetness.>>Well, in Alsace,
yes, it is confusing. Yes, anybody can lose
his way in Alsace, but basically, a
consumer who wants to find his way around Alsace
goes by grape variety.>>(narrator)
In Alsace, the top vineyards are designated
as grand cru, but this is not always
stated on the label.>>When it comes
to the grand cru, the grand cru is
the same reflection as they have done
in Burgundy. But the grand cru in Burgundy
started much earlier. Our first grand cru
only came out in 1975, and today, we are up
to 51 grand cru. (light playful music)>>(narrator)
Only certain grape varieties qualify for
grand cru status.>>The grand cru grapes
are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer,
and Muscat. These are the four major
grand cru grapes. (light playful music) Riesling is definitely
the most interesting white wine grape
in Alsace. Riesling is interesting
because it has a huge ability to show the unique
sense of a place. (light playful music)>>I absolutely
adore the challenge that Pinot Gris
represents. It’s a very difficult
grape to grow, because you can get out of
Pinot Gris a very dry wine or an extremely
sweet wine.>>Pinot Gris in Alsace
has this fruity character, compared to any
other region.>>The most flexible wine
when it comes to food– I call the regular
Pinot Gris of Alsace “the wine for a
table of four.” You’re in a restaurant,
you have four guests, they are four eating
different food, they want only
one bottle of wine. What do you do? In Alsace, you go with
the regular Pinot Gris.>>Muscat is the
oldest grape here. Muscat is from the beginning
of the Roman people. Muscat is a beautiful
grape variety. It’s just what I call a
“glou-glou-glou” wine. Easy, fresh, fruity,
refreshing. Perfect as an aperitif,
perfect with grilled fish, perfect with salad,
perfect with vegetables. It’s a fantastic, fantastic wine. (light playful music)>>Gewürztraminer
is a small grape with pink color, giving this
huge diversity of flavors. More on the
rose flavors, on the lychee–
it’s very diversified. You see, Gewürztraminer
is probably the grape where you have to
reach the best balance in the trilogy–
sugar, acid, alcohol.>>(narrator)
Like most of the wine world, there are always
exceptions, and a fifth grape,
Sylvaner, is allowed in one grand cru
vineyard, Zotzenberg. (wistful piano music)>>Pinot Noir–
it represents 10% of the total
created in Alsace. We see that the future for
Pinot Noir in Alsace is good. The last 5, 10 years
were amazing in quality
of Pinot Noir.>>(narrator)
In the early 1900s, some Champagne producers
relocated to Alsace, then part
of Germany, to avoid the legal
hassles of exporting to the German market. This early emphasis on
sparkling winemaking allowed Alsace to become one
of France’s best producers of Crémant wines. (wistful piano music)>>The grapes that we
can put in a Crémant are very diverse. Actually, the only grapes that
we can’t put in a Crémant are Sylvaner and
In Alsace’s relatively
dry climate, winemakers are often
attracted to organic, and even biodynamic,
viticulture.>>Biodynamic is
big in Alsace because Steiner
was close to Alsace. He was– the Steiner Center
was close to Basel, and so Alsace has
always been influenced by Steiner’s idea.>>If you are organic, you
avoid the use of chemicals, which is very positive,
of course. But I would say biodynamic
is a step further. So you use the plants,
like willow, like horsetail, like stinging nettles, and
just in using these plants, in working with the natural
rhythms of, of course, the weather but also
the moon rhythms, we can have healthy grapes,
tasteful grapes, who express the
terroir expression at a very
high level. (light music)>>(narrator)
A respect for the vineyards, a deep gastronomic
tradition, and a blend of German
and French cultures culminates in a range
of classic white wines that provide the sommelier with
a diverse palette of options for surprising
their guest.>>Be curious,
be adventurous. In Alsace, we’ll
not disappoint you. (smooth orchestral music)>>(narrator)
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