I confess that “arguably the most beautiful wine region in the world” is a phrase I’ve used to describe the Cape Winelands, Mendoza, Burgundy, the Douro Valley and the Wachau Valley, among others. Well, add Alsace to the list. Grapevines thrive on the slopes of the forested Vosges Mountains, often topped by crumbling castles built to protect the half-timbered towns below. Nowadays, the Route des Vins links these picturesque and mostly well-preserved towns, threading through the vineyards dividing them.
France’s easternmost wine appellation occupies something of a rain shadow between the Vosges and the Rhine River at the border with Germany. And at first glance, many Alsatian wines look more like German bottlings than French ones. Contrary to French custom, vintners in the Alsace often label their wines according to the grape variety, as they usually do in Germany. And many of the grapes themselves — Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, to name some of the most popular — are also easy to find in German vineyards.
Alsatian wines have their own distinctive character, however, separating them from their German siblings. Look for an additional measure of spiciness in the whites, which also often finish with a dash of bracing minerality. Riesling is the marquis variety, but Gewürztraminer arguably hits its highest highs in Alsace. Pinot Noir, the only local red, has increased in richness and depth over the years, but it remains light-bodied and delicate. I also recommend trying Alsace’s white blends, which can be just as delicious, and sometimes even more so, than its varietal wines.