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Alsace & Tradition - Why their wine-makers are traditionalists

Wine Making Areas

Wine and wine-making has a long history and for me, one of the attractions of the industry is that you can find the old and the new, and just about any combination of the two that you like. I have friends and relatives in my Italian village who make their wines in exactly the same way that it's been made for millennia and I have a cousin who makes his wine in a state-of-the-art winery that has more in common with a chemist's laboratory than it does with a traditional cantina.

Wine and wine-making has a long history and for me, one of the attractions of the industry is that you can find the old and the new, and just about any combination of the two that you like. I have friends and relatives in my Italian village who make their wines in exactly the same way that it's been made for millennia and I have a cousin who makes his wine in a state-of-the-art winery that has more in common with a chemist's laboratory than it does with a traditional cantina.

Perhaps it's something in the process of making wine that tends to make wine-makers traditionalists. There's a sense that you're doing what all your forbears did before you, that you're treading the same footsteps, that you're confronting the elements and nature in the same way as those before you did. That's a powerful link with your own ancestry and your history.

It's that very link with history and that unbroken chain of tradition that makes wine-growing regions the way they are. In Alsace you'll find those values. The region has had a turbulent time of it politically over the centuries, alternating between the hegemony of Germany and France, but no matter who was levying the taxes, the wine-makers continued to ply their trade in the time-honoured way. There are wine companies in Alsace that were founded 400 years ago, and there aren't many businesses that can claim that kind of longevity.

It has always been one of great wine-producing areas of Europe, its vineyards stretching for seventy miles or so along the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains, near the Franco-German border. You could say that here German wines are made in the French style, but that's only a part of the picture. Whereas German wine-makers tend to be obsessed with sweetness, the Alsatians tend to look for alcoholic strength.

Maybe it's the fact that Alsace wines always come in the traditional long, slim bottle and tend to have German sounding names that has led many consumers to assume that are in fact German wines. In truth they're very different, from the dry Pinot Blanc to the archetypal Gewurztraminer, to stunningly elegant Rieslings, Alsace is very much its own man. Before the rest of the world had decided to sell their wines by grape varieties, the wines of Alsace were sold like that and still are today. Seven grape varieties are allowed in the various appellations, but for me their finest wines are the Rieslings and the Gewurtztraminers.

Suggested wine

Riesling 2000, Dopff & Irion

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