Originating with the Roman empire, and submitted to Germanic influence along history, Alsace wine district has become a very notable part of France wines.
This area produces wine since the 4th century. By the end of the first millennium it was over 160 villages producing wine.
During the Middle Age, the wines from Alsace rised up to glory and were among the high prized wines all over Europe. Known a popularity pick in the 16th century.
All this was hurt and broken for many years in the 17th century, when the War of Thirty years run, along with phylloxera. The Alsatian vineyards were devastated. Ravage, disease and war are the main key words for this period of time.
The relieve occurred after the first World War only, when the producers aimed to better quality, and started to be more focused on the grape selections.
After the 2nd World War, the delimitation of the Alsatian vineyard started, and the replantation with “noble” grapes took place.
From the 1970s, many producers started to get more involved into organic farming in the vineyard, and also biodynamically.
In 1962, Alsace acquired the AOC status, and in 1975 the Grand Cru. Crémant d’Alsace got is official status in 1976.
Climate, Geography and Soil
The climate in Alsace is the driest of France, even if situated in the North part of France. The area where the vineyards extend are protected by the Vosges mountain. It’s mainly a continental dry climate due to remoteness from the coasts, contributing to low rainfall. There is warm springs, sunny, dry and warm summers, long and smooth fall and cold winters. Affecting a lot the vines to ripe good, producing high aromatic and sugar levels in the wines. The wines will tend to get light spiciness and a developed bouquet.
The Alsatian vineyard extends from about Strasbourg to Mulhouse along about 170 km. Spreading along the Vosges mountain and close to the German border. It’s divided mainly in two parts Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin
The soil type, there, is a giant paint board of different soil types. Among them granite, volcanic, gneiss, marl, limestone, sandstone, clay, loess, schist, chalk,… Giving to the same variety to express itself in so many different styles.
Grapes & Appellations
Wines are made in more traditional methods, so less fining and filtration compared to German neighbor style. Most of the wines produced are white wines even if a bit of sparkling, red and rosé wines can be found. They will also be higher in alcohol and residual sugar level, especially for the “dry” style.
Most of the wines are produced and sold under Village appellation or grape varietie name – in this case the wine will be produced 100 % of the same grape – except for Pinot Blanc, where Auxerrois grape can be used for blend.
For the white wines chaptalization is allowed except for VT ( Vendanges Tardives – Late Harvest) and for SGN ( Selection de Grains Nobles).
The bottles style used is “flute”, so German style green bottles.
The sparkling wines are produced with a second fermentation occurring in the bottle, same procedure as for Champagne wines.
A famous grape very well implanted locally, with his personal character and own expression in Alsace AOP. The wines produced from this grapes will tend to develop a strong aromatic bouquet with his classic tones based on honey notes, lemon, grapefruit, minerilty according to the soil type, and develop petroleum notes with age. It’s the most planted grape in Alsace AOP and thrives best on granite type soil.
Classical and traditionally produced in “dry” style it will acquire an oily or creamy texture, and be more full-bodied than a German Riesling.
Well known grape in the North part of Europe, it’s name means spiced Traminer.
As for the Riesling grape, it will be even higher aromatic developed, producing expressive wines. Those rich wines will for sure aim the classical Gewurztraminer aromatic panel such as lychee, rose, spicy notes, white fruits and exotic notes, with a nice florality and intense grapefruit thing.
The wines produced with this grape variety in Alsace AOP will be low in acid and higher in alcohol percentage compared to German or Austrian style. The style for those wines will be from dry to half dry.
Gewurztraminer is very used and popular to produce VT ( Vendanges Tardives – Late Harvest) and for SGN ( Selection de Grains Nobles) wines. They are more expensive in those styles.
Popular grape in Alsace, it will produced wines that are between the aromatic and body of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Often forgotten by drinkers, wines made with this grape type are a good compromise.
The wines will be rich and complex, fruity aromas such as citrus, round with a nice structure, light spicy notes, with good residual sugar levels, dry and direct. Good quality wines like the Riesling and Gewurztraminer that will age well.
This grape was, before 2006, called Tokay d’Alsace. But not anymore allowed.
Two varieties are used in Alsace AOP, Muscat Ottonel and Muscat a Petits Grains.
Wines produced with this grape will express a lot of fresh grapes, with an intense nose.
The wines will tend to be dry and low in acid. Quite juicy and grapes aimed, they have a nice bouquet.
A special variety to work with since it’s not much planted and you need to have a good vintage to produce good wines.
A bit less popular to many classic drinkers, it will produced more easy wines. Very soft characters compared to Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
This grape is very pleasant and fresh, with a light profile. Will focus on discreet fruity notes, minerality, and sometimes acacia notes.
The wines like the Pinot Gris will be dry in style. And, in addition you need to drink them young.
Emerging more and more since many years now, it became quite popular.
The wines produced with this grape variety will have a lighter profile than most of the wines produced in Alsace AOP. And will often be blended with Auxerrois, it will be anyway labeled Pinot Blanc.
They will tend to be more fresh, soft with a nice aromatic aimed on fruitiness and florality. Well balanced and gentle.
This grape variety is used as based for many Crémant d’Alsace.
Not much used nowadays and people stopped to plant it, the wines produced with this grape variety are often only drunk in the district. It’s rare to be sold and not exported, the wine tend to be of an average quality. It’s more in the line of a table wine.
It is actually the only red grape used in Alsace AOP. The wines are produced in rosé style or red. They tend to be light and soft, with a rich fruity character often aimed on cherries and raspberries. During elaboration it is often aged in barrel. With age it can evolve greatly. As most of Pinot Noir wines there are low in tannins, but they will be lighter than Burgundy. The Alsatian Pinor Noirs use to be produce on the same methods so they will left with skin maceration for a few days, the stalk left also to increase the tannins content. It’s the only Alsatian wine bottled in Burgundy style bottle.
Klevner de Heiligenstein:
Basicly it’s a Savagnin Rosé, it’s produces in 5 villages in the Bas Rhin. It produces original wines with a very nice structure, the wines will be aromatic aimed on exotic notes and spicy tons, but less expressive than a Gewurztraminer.
Alsace AOP: AOP established in 1945, officially designated AOP in 1962.
It is the most important Alsace AOP, producing mostly white wine about 90%.
The wines produced in this appellation will be labeled by variety, if not indicated then it will be a blend so it will be named Edelzwicker or Gentil. In this appellation VT & SGN are also produced, usually it’s high quality wines, developing exceptional aromas and with a very long aging potential.
Grapes Varieties: Riesling, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Pinot Noir.
Soil types: Limestone, marl, schist, volcanic.
Minimum of 9,5% alcohol is required.
Chaptalization is not allowed for VT & SGN.
Edelzwicker: Blend of 2 grapes or more.
Gentil: Blend of 2 or more, but a minimum of 50% of Riesling or Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris or Muscat is required.
Crémant d’Alsace AOP: AOP established in 1976.
Veru popular sparkling wine produced with a second fermentation in bottle the same as Champagne wines.
Very good value for money most of the time.
Grapes: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling. So all grapes except Gewurztraminer and Chasselas. Either blend or mono grape. Pinot Blanc will be often the main wine base. Riesling will be used for the wine strengths,Pinot Noir will be used to produce Rosé style. It will be bottled in Champagne bottle style.
Soil types: Chalk, sandstone, marl, granit.
This wine will tend to have a soft character, and age quite well. Bubbles profile is really gentle and offers great pleasure.
Alsace Grand Cru AOP: AOP established in 1975, officially designated AOP in 1983.
For those types of wines the terroir is going to prevail and express more in the wine than the fruit.
51 terroirs are Grand Cru in Alsace AOP (in 2007), and will all be different according to climate and geologic composition.
This AOP is respecting strict rules, with restricted yields, alcohol levels, and winemaking processes
The wines will be labeled according to their terroir so the Villages names will be written or appellation or grape ( if made of 100%) or blend style.
Grapes: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat. Sylvaner will be the exception for Alsace Grand Cru Zotzenberg and also blend of Altenberg de Bergbieten.
Soil types: Limestone, marl, sandstone, schist, volcanic, granit.
The style of the wines will depend of the soil type the vine is grown on.
More distinguished wines, with more structure, power, and well for good aging.
Minimum alcohol content must be of 11% for Riesling and Sylvaner and 12,5% for Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
Before released on market those wines will be tasted and under strict regulations.
It must contain a minimum of 12g/L of residual sugar.
Other than Riesling must be a minimum of 9g/L.
If the acid is more than 6g/L the residual sugar level must be of a minimum of 18g/L.
Vendanges Tardives – VT (Late Harvest):
Classic method as other appellations producing late harvest wines. The grapes will be left on the vine plant to over mature on good years, to excel grape concentration and aromas.
Produced in dry to sweet style with high quality profile.
Gewurztraminer is used most of the time, resulting in higher alcohol volume. A very nice honey bouquet will develop, also it is a good value for money.
Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat Ottonel are allowed to produce this wine style.
The sugar level in the grape must, may be between 95 to 105 Oechsle degrees according to variety type.
Selection de Grains Nobles – SGN:
A more evolve step than VT close to German style Beerenauslese.
Grape varieties allowed are the same as VT.
The grapes may be touched by botrytis cinerea (Noble Rot).
The sugar level in the grape must, may be between 110 to 120 Oechsle degrees according to variety type.
As for the VT, those wines are under strict regulations.
The Vendanges Tardives – VT & Selection de Grains Nobles – SGN acquired their official status in 1984. They are wine styles and not appellations. Part of the Alsace AOP and Alsace Grand Cru AOP. There are sweet wines, exceptional profile for long aging.
You might find some in Alsace, some producers try to elaborate. Harvested in December to January, by -7 to -10. But there are ignored by the French legislation. Quite rare they will be of a high price.
More on Alsace wines:
Often people think they know well Alsace AOPs and wines, but it’s very complicate area according to the soils diversity and complexity.
The wines are very all different according to villages names, lieu dits, Grand Cru, grape varieties, blends, and soil types.
As most of wine areas in the world the best way to learn is to go on site. Since the same grape variety will express itself in really different ways in so many Alsace places.
All the pictures were kindly shared by Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace and are all under a Copyright !