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France, Alsace

Wine is being produced throughout France and has been done for over 2,500 years with certain Châteaux dating their history back to Roman times, around 6th Century BC. Ranking second in the world in per-capita consumption and first in total production quantity. More-so than the overall quantity of wine is the quantity of truly great wines coming out of France makes the nation the envy of wine-making nations worldwide.

Two concepts pivotal to the higher end French wines, in particular, are the idea of 'terroir' and the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Terroir refers to the way the geography, geology and climate find their way into the glass, telling a story of the origin of the wine. The AOC was set up in 1935 and has the primary goal of protecting the authenticity of the wines and the livelihoods of the producers. Appellation rules strictly define which varieties of grapes and winemaking practices are approved for classification in each of France's several hundred geographically defined appellations, which can cover entire regions, individual villages or in some cases, like in Burgundy even specific vineyards.

Classic wine regions in France include Champagne (home of Champagne), Burgundy (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot), Alsace (Aromatic varietals), Loire Valley (Chenin Blanc, Crémant) and the Rhône Valley (Syrah, Grenache Mourvedre)

The Bordeaux classification of 1855 is still in use, as is the Sauternes and Barsac Classification of the same year. Wines from certain regions can be bought En Primeur, which is when the wine is sold prior to it being bottled.
The Alsace wine region is in the north-east of France and borders Germany. Although the region only accounts for 2% of France's vineyards it is responsible for producing some of the worlds finest white wines. Perhaps because of its Germanic influence, it is the only Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée region in France to produce mostly varietally labelled wines. In other words it is the only region in France where you're likely to see Pinot Gris, or Riesling denoted on the wine label. Another interesting note is that the region is the birthplace of biodynamic viticulture and the region still has the country's highest proportion of biodynamic producers.

Alsace gets plenty of sunshine hours, with a deep continental climate and superb meso-climate created by the sheltering presence of the Vosges Mountains. This allows the full spectrum of aromatic flavours to show in the grapes. The soils are quite diverse, with 13 different soil types in all.

The noble grapes of Alsace are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat Ottonel and Muscat d'Alsace in the whites, and Pinot Noir in the reds. Recent decades have seen an increase in Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir plantings, while the classical Sylvaner grape is on the decline.

Wines are produced under three different appelations or AOCs:
  • - Alsace AOC: must be made from one of the 8 permitted grape varieties in the appellation (white, rosé and red wines)
  • - Alsace Grand Cru: Introduced in 1983, currently recognising 50 Grand Cru sites. It is the pinnacle of Alsace, where topography, aspect and soil type must be in harmony along with a track record of producing excellent wines.
  • - Crémant d'Alsace: Appelation for sparkling wines, that can be both dry or sweet.

High quality liquers and spirits are also made in Alsace by producers such as Bertrand and Vedrenne.
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