If any wine region could be said to contain multitudes, it’s Alsace. I’ve concentrated on Riesling, the most soulful and pure-spirited of Alsace’s varieties – but never forget that Alsace is deeply sensual, too. Its other great varieties are Pinot Gris, which acquires a depth of personality, a succulent orchard style and a fleshy, textured grandeur here which comprehensively eludes it elsewhere; and the ever-heady Gewurztraminer which, in the right hands, is not only entrancingly perfumed but dense, rich, creamy, stony and spicy – almost a foodstuff in itself.
Maybe you prefer something a little less demonstrative with dinner? In that case, look out for Pinot Blanc (which will contain a big dollop of Alsace’s most secretive variety, Auxerrois) or Sylvaner. Even better, hunt down one of the new generation of ‘Gentil’ blends (cunning compounds of at least 50% of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and/or Muscat, with the balance from Syvlaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois, each vinified separately) or ambitious informal field blends. There are increasingly impressive Pinot-based red wines, sparkling crémant and dessert wines galore, too. The dry Muscat wines are a huge contrast to their southern cousins – thanks to their freshening Muscat Ottonel component.
If you crave terroir, finally, Alsace is a wonderland of different soil types and wine expressions. Compare the same varieties grown on granite, on limestone, on sandstone and on volcanic soils with ease, simply by referring to the profiles of the grand cru top-quality sites in books or on the web; the new category (since 2011) of wines that can add a terroir-specific lieu-dit locality to their name is expanding this range further.
Good: Hugel, Classic Riesling 2019 – 91 points
Better: Domaine Weinbach, Cuvée Théo Riesling 2018 – 93 points
Best: Albert Boxler, Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg 2017 – 95 points