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Alsace

Despite being quite far north, Alsace is the driest part of France, and enjoys plentiful sunshine and beautiful autumns thanks to the Vosges Mountains that protect the area from the maritime influence of the Atlantic Ocean. In some years, this climate allows growers to leave the grapes on the vines until mid-November to make fantastic "vendanges tardives" (late-harvest) wines.

Alsace enjoys a unique micro-climate situated between two parallel ranges of mountains: the Vosges on the French side and the Schwartzbald on the German side. It also has one of France's lowest rainfalls and most sustained sunshine although it is the northernmost wine growing region of France. The wine producing region stretches over a thin strip of land about 70 miles long and 12 miles wide. The total growing area covers over 33,000 acres divided in very small lots (average size is 3.5 acres). This wholes area comprises the "Alsace Appellation Controlée."

Another characteristic of this AC is that it is the only one in France which requires the name of the varietal on the label. Only eight grape varieties are permitted and most of them are of German origin. The minimum natural degree of alcohol is 8.5% but the freshly made wines usually reach a higher level; when they do not, due to lack of sun, chaptalization is permitted. The five major grapes in order of importance are: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Tokay. The best wines are still made by independent producers, but the Alsace cooperatives also produce top quality wines.

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