Regions &Styles Of Alsace
While Alsace's 16,000ha may account for less than 2% of France's vineyards and although just over half of the production is still made by cooperatives, paradoxically the region remains the source of some of the world's finest white wines.
There are several reasons for this:
- the region's 47.5 degrees North latitude ensures high sunshine levels; it has a deep continental climate and superb meso-climate created by the sheltering presence of the Vosges Mountains, whose foothills have in turn provided excellent aspects & elevation (up to 360m), notably along the southern, east-facing Haut-Rhin region;
- the diverse array of soil types, thirteen in all;
- the cultural meticulousness of the local French/Swiss/German people;
- and finally, the choice of noble varieties Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Ottonel and Muscat d'Alsace, Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc.
Alsace is also famed for being the birthplace of biodynamic viticulture in France, dating back in 1924; it has the country's highest proportion of biodynamic producers.
Alsace differs stylistically from its German cousins up the Rhine in that the wines are typically fermented dry in large old oak 'foudres' at ambient temperatures to give a fuller-bodied wine that is a natural accompaniment to the finest fare.
Alsace is unique for a French wine region for many reasons but perhaps most significantly in its labelling laws that stipulate that producers must stipulate the grape variety used on the label. - Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and a little Muscat are the noble names, along with some Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner for thirst quenching purposes, and Pinot Noir for those who wish for red wine.
There are three superior categories of wine to look out for: The best vineyards have been designated grand cru (25 designated in 1983, 25 in 1985, 1 in 2008), while late picked wines achieving specified sugar levels may be labelled Vendanges Tardives or, for exceptional items, Selection des Grains Nobles. Apart from these two categories there is no indication as to whether the wine will be fully dry or may contain residual sugar.
In Alsace, the wines generally take their name from the grape variety from which they are made, and not from their terroir.
AOC Alsace wines must be made from one of the 8 permitted grape varieties in the appellation (Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Chasselas and Sylvaner). The wine label may also display the terms «Edelzwicker» or «Gentil» (for a blend of several white wine varietals) or a geographical indication (such as the name of the village or vineyard).
Alsace Grand Crus
The Grand Cru system in Alsace was introduced in 1983, with the first 25 vineyards classified at that time. It denotes a wine from a single named vineyard site, from a single vintage, and from one of the four permitted varieties; Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, or Pinot Gris.
The system currently recognises 50 Grand Cru sites. Certain vineyards have always enjoyed an undeniable reputation for the high quality of their wines, thanks to the unique combination of soil, topography, and aspect of their site. The Grand Cru system encompasses the following sites:
Altenberg de Bergbieten, Bruderthal, Engelberg Frankstein, Kastelberg, Kirchberg de Barr , Moenchberg, Muenchberg (fantastic Riesling and Pinot Gris from André Ostertag.), Praelatenberg, Steinklotz, Winzenberg.
- Brand (Turckheim, 57.95 ha) One of the most acclaimed Grands Crus. Top wines, particularly Gewurztraminer, from Zind Humbrecht)
- Goldert (Zind Humbrecht is amongst the top growers showcasing superb Muscats)
- Hengst (featuring classy wines from Zind Humbrecht)
- Rangen ( Zind Humbrecht coaxes suberb wines from this well-known Grand Cru site)
as well as Altenberg de Bergheim, Altenberg de Wolxheim, Eichberg, Florimont, Froehn , Furstentum , Geisberg, Gloeckelberg, Hatschbourg, Kanzlerberg, Kessler (excellent Gewurztraminer), Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé, Kitterlé, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Marckrain , Ollwiller, Osterberg , Pfersigberg Pfingstberg, Rosacker (on wine labels appears as lieux-dit Clos Ste-Hune, owned by Trimbach ), Saering (famed for its Rieslings), Schlossberg, Schoenenberg, Sommerberg, Sonnenglanz, Spiegel , Sporen, Steinert, Steingrubler, Vorbourg, Wiebelsberg, Wineck-Schlossberg, Zinnkoepflé, Zotzenberg.
"Vendange Tardive" (VT) is a particular classification for Alsace wines and it signifies a late harvest wine with greater-than-usal concentration of natural sugars which is the result of the grapes having achieved minimum required ripeness levels (the top producers consistently exceed these).
Vendange Tardive translates as Late Harvest. Vendange Tardive wines can vary from almost dry (but exceptionally concentrated) to very sweet, although, typically no information on the sweetness level is given on labels. The best of Vendage Tardive wines have great potential for ageing.
Selection des Grains Nobles
Selection des Grains Nobles (SGN) wines are rarer due to a bunch by bunch harvest, with minimum sugar levels stipulated at 256 g/litres for Riesling and 279 g/litres for Gewurztraminer & Pinot Gris. Sélection des Grains Nobles is a further step up from Vendange Tardive, where the grapes have reached even higher sugar levels. The harvest may contain a proportion of grapes affected by botrytis, or noble rot. SGN wines are sweet, yet the concentration and the degree of sweetness varies from producer to producer.