There are about twelve types of white wine grapes grown in Alsace.
And thirteen white wines, if we count the Crémant d'Alsace or Alsatian sparkling wine, the Edelzwicker, the Late Harvest and the Noble Rot wines.
Most people have only heard of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and maybe Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir as some of the grapes allowed in Alsace wines. But we have much more.
Some people don't even know that we have rules about what grapes are allowed here in the Alsace wine region.
So, it's about time that we talk more about what are the "approved" grapes in Alsace that make white wine.
Let's start with the most popular and well known types of white wine in Alsace...
Alsace is known for its ability to produce great Riesling wine...
Basic Alsace Riesling tends to be a dry wine with some minerality that usually smells and tastes like citrus fruits.
Once you get into the more complex Rieslings, it can vary quite a bit. The micro climate, the bedrock and the soil can have a very important impact on the wine.
And let's not forget that grapes are the basic building blocks of wine, so how you farm your vines will determine just how much everything else will affect the finished product.
Riesling is used to make a number of the more famous Alsatian specialties...like Choucroute...
And Coq au Riesling
And Tourte au Riesling...
Traditional Riesling wine usually pairs well with fish dishes, but the bigger more complex versions can pair with a much wider variety of dishes.
But since Riesling has such a range of possible styles, check with your waiter or wine server to help you choose which Riesling to pick if you have a choice.
This is one of the types of white wine Alsace is famous for.
Gewurztraminer wine in Alsace is very bold and aromatic. Gewurz means spice in German, so that gives you a hint that you might smell or taste spices when you drink this type of white wine.
And Alsace makes excellent Gewurztraminer...
Basic versions of this wine are very easy to recognize. You usually will smell roses and taste tropical fruits More complex versions can have some very interesting spices and other very unusual fruits that you would never expect.
Gewurztraminer is not a shy wine. It's very expressive.
You won't have to try hard to notice what it smells and tastes like. And it's why it loves very bold dishes with lots of spices like Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian foods.
These dishes need a strong wine to stand up to their strong flavors and this wine was born to do it.
Some people complain that Gewurztraminer is too sweet. Which means that they haven't drunken it with the right foods (or with no foods), because this wine transforms into a dryer wine when paired with foods with strong spices.
And by spice, I mean spice, not heat. No peppers here please. I'm talking about Massala, Curry, Cumin and things of this nature. Not red peppers!
I like to call this type of white wine, the Swiss Army Knife of Alsace Wine.
Because Pinot Gris can work great when you have a lot of different dishes and you only want to open one bottle of wine (for some crazy reason haha).
Traditionally Pinot Gris usually smells and tastes of plums and other stone fruits, but it can be a very interesting and complex wine with hints of smoke, spices and much more.
This type of white wine loves foods that are typical of the end of the harvest season like squashes, mushrooms, game meat, duck and much more.
We often refer to it as the red wine of the white wines because it pairs with pretty much everything that Pinot Noir can pair with.
Muscat is one of my personal favorites for a hot summer day...
Very refreshing, somewhat fruity and dry. This type of white wine is a very agreeable, friendly wine that most everyone would enjoy.
In its simplest form, Muscat can taste grapey or fruity or an even dryer form with more subtle fruit flavors. It often smells very floral, so it's easy to recognize.
It's because we have a number of different Muscat grape varieties and we usually blend them together. So, you can end up with a number of different styles.
But don't think that Muscat wine can't be complex, because the more talented wine makers can make some outstanding wines with these grapes if you don't mind waiting 10+ years.
This wine pairs well with the hardest things in the world, green vegetables. So, it loves asparagus, artichokes and foods like this.
Pinot Blanc is one of the most agreeable types of white wine in Alsace.
It's one of the grape varieties most often used in our sparkling wine, Cremant. So, Pinot Blanc makes a great aperitif wine.
This type of white wine is very dry and refreshing on a hot day.
You'll often find Pinot Blanc blended with Auxerrois, although it may not say so on the label. Just know that it's rare to find 100% Pinot Blanc in Alsace.
In its simplest form, it is a light, refreshing wine and in the hands of more talented wine makers, you could mistake it for Chardonnay, like a simple White Burgundy without the oak.
In any case, it pairs quite well with cold cuts, sausages and other delicatessen meats.
Crémant d'Alsace is sparkling wine made in Alsace.
Technically it isn't one of the types of white wine in Alsace because it has its own status "Crémant d'Alsace AOC"
Every winery has its own special blend (that can vary from year to year), but Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are the main ingredients in most sparkling Alsatian wines.
You'll also find Riesling and Pinot Gris mixed in occasionally.
And, for Crémant d'Alsace Rosé, Pinot Noir grapes are the main ingredient.
They use the same method to put the sparkle in the wine in Alsace as they do in the Champagne region.
In its most basic form, it's light, refreshing, and really not expensive. And we do have some wine makers doing more interesting versions of our Crémant
This wine is made to drink young regardless of who made it, which is quite unusual in Alsace as we have some producers making some very long aging wines.
But what is great about this wine is you don't need to save it for a special occasion, because it's quite affordable and creates a fun and festive mood.
It's not a wine that requires a lot of thought (and if you're a wine fanatic, you know what I'm talking about haha).
Sylvaner has a long history in Alsace.
It's one of the types of white wine in Alsace that is considered to be part of Alsace's cultural heritage and history.
This wine has been made in Alsace for a very long time, but now it's getting harder and harder to find anywhere in the world.
Not much of this grape is grown anymore, probably because it has developed a "bad" reputation.
The majority of the Sylvaner produced in the world is very light, refreshing, simple and very inexpensive. So, not everyone takes it seriously.
But in the right hands, this grape can produce very interesting and long living wines worthy of your time.
Just don't judge this one on the wine by the glass at any café or restaurant. That's not the one I'm talking about!
In fact, I love it with deli meats, fresh vegetables, or a nice summer salad, but the better examples can pair with a much larger variety of dishes.
Auxerrois is synonymous with Pinot Blanc.
In fact, you'll rarely find a bottle of Pinot Blanc that doesn't have Auxerrois in it (and it could be quite a lot too).
And if you love Crémant d'Alsace, you'll more than likely love Auxerrois, because it along with Pinot Blanc are the main ingredients of Alsatian sparkling wine.
Not many wine producers use the name Auxerrois on their labels, but it's a great way to start up a conversation in the tasting room...
There aren't many wine makers that make bottles of 100% Auxerrois wine.
But you can always ask how much of this grape variety is in the wine that you're drinking.
Edelzwicker is a wine blend.
Every winery has its own recipe, of course, so this type of white wine could be made using any of the grapes grown in Alsace.
It tends to be a very light and dry wine.
In fact, it's the only wine in Alsace that we usually sell by the liter, so just keep in mind that it's not our finest wine here!
But it is wine that has been produced in Alsace for a very long time and is a part of the cultural heritage and history of Alsace.
And it's very reasonably priced!
Klevener de Heiligenstein
Klevener de Heiligenstein as you might expect is only produced in the area around the village of Heiligenstein and only on about 10,000 meters or yards of land.
So, it's a wine you won't be able to find everywhere.
I like to think of it as somewhere between Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. It has lots of spice in it, but more stone fruit flavors than tropical ones. And it's not as bold as Gewurztraminer.
It's actually a nice little unusual wine from Alsace's past, so why not try it if you have the chance.
Chasselas is a grape variety with a long history in Alsace.
Over 300 years to be exact.
Like Edelzwicker and Klevener de Heiligenstein, it's a part of Alsace's cultural heritage and history. It's a wine that's been made and drunk in Alsace for hundreds of years.
And it's usually a very light, fresh and very dry white wine that not every wine maker does anymore.
Although you can still find it in Switzerland everywhere.
It's another wine that has a reputation for being really simple, light and refreshing and not as many people take it seriously anymore.
Although, there are some wine producers still making nice examples of it in Alsace.
So I know what you're probably thinking, Chardonnay? That's not a lesser known grape variety at all!
And you're right. It's one of the most heavily planted white wine grapes in the world.
But, not everyone knows that we can plant Chardonnay in Alsace.
Only for producing the sparkling wine, Crémant.
You will not find any still Chardonnay here in Alsace, as it's against the rules.