This region is unique. French and German influences play an equal role in sculpting Alsace’s language, traditions, and even its wines. Sandwiched between the Vosges mountain range to the west and the Rhine River and German border to the east, it is one of France’s northernmost areas, but its summers are hot and sunny and it is the driest region in the country. Winegrowing is a top priority here, and the region produces fine aromatic and heady white wines.
Alsace is the only French AOC that designates its wines by varietal. Wines must be 100% of that varietal to be labeled as such.
There is also an AOC for still blends: Alsace Edelzwicker AOC (aka Gentil, or Noble mixture). This is a blend of two or more approved grape varieties. It is usually a producer’s least expensive wine, but may sometimes be the finest and most expensive cuvée.
Historically, these different varietals came from the same parcel. Originally called “Zwicker” (blend), the prefix Edel (noble) was added to mark the presence of noble grape varieties chosen to replace mass-produced grape varieties. Edelzwicker is different from “Gentil”, which is subject to a charter put in place by the Interprofession (regional wine body) defining production techniques.
The denomination Gentil is thus reserved for AOC Alsace wines that fit within the standards of a superior quality blend. This blend must consist of a minimum of 50% Riesling, Muscat and/or Gewurztraminer, the rest made up of Sylvaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc. Before blending, each grape variety must be vinified separately and must officially qualify as AOC Alsace wine. Gentil may not be sold commercially until after quality control certification in bottle.
There are two sub-designations referring to the wine style of still wines: Vendange Tardive (translation: late harvest) and Selection des Grains Nobles, for Sauternes-style sweet wines affected by noble rot.
Cremant d’Alsace AOC is a separate designation for the regions sparkling wine, which is predominantly Pinot Blanc, but may also contain Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay.
There are currently 51 top-ranked vineyard sites with approved Alsace Grand Cru AOC status. Grand Cru vineyard follow strict requirements and lower yields to achieve this status and only Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat may be used in Grand Cru Wines. Grand Cru wines must list the vineyard location on the label.