Alsace is quite unlike any other wine region in France, it is a amalgamation of both French and German cultures.
The vineyard area of Alsace is a narrow band of 140km long lying between the foothills of the Vosges Mountains and the River Rhine.
Alsace is a region of small vineyard holdings, average 3 hectares, because of this Alsace is dominated by negociant houses and cooperatives this accounts for 80% of wine produced in the region, remaining 20% is sold by independant producers/growers. Hugel and Trimbach and the 2 most popular negociants.
Alsace is my personal favourite wine region producing cool climate wine, with pure concentrated fruit flavours and lively acidity. Alsace plants several grape varieties, only 1 red being Pinot noir. To discover more about Alsace scroll down or click on a link above.
2AD - Domestication of the vine began after the arrival of the Romans
5th Century - Invading Germanic tribes disrupted organised viticulture
9th Century - Expanison of Christianity, tribes settled and viticulture rebounded by the end of the century there was 160 villages producing wine
16th Century - Peak of prospertiy, during the mid-Renaissance. At the time Alsace was apart of a eastern German principality
1618-1648 - 30 year religous war between Catholics and Protestants. The war lowered population and weakened the economy
1648 - Alsace was taken over by the French. King Louis XIV gave land grants to those who settle in the region and re-build it for France
1789 - The French Revolution, Disenfranchised the church of all its vineyard holdings, Alsace was caught in a tug-o-war with France and Germany
1871- Germany claimed Alsace, hybrid vines were developed as a possible solution to Phylloxera
WW1 - Alsace was returned to France, French goverment ordered vignerons to rip out hybrid vines. Suffering from the depression growers could not afford it and did not comply
WW2 - Germany had re-claimed Alsace, Hitler youth were sent to the vineyards to saw down hybrid vine. 75% of the land was ripped up. Vignerons had no choice but to plant with better vines
POST WW2 - Alsace was retunred to France once again after the world conflict. Since 1618 all Alsace had experienced was war.
THE GERMAN LEGACY
Alsace was originally owned by Germany for many centuries before the French first invaded in 1648. Several Germanic tradtions are still in place today.
Gallic and teutonic phonics
German grape: Riesling
LOCATION & CLIMATE
Location: North East France, along the border of Germany. Strip of land 75 miles long and on average 3miles wide.
Lies between the 47th - 49th parallel North
Climate: The driest wine growing region in France, Continental climate.
Considerable seasonal and diurnal temperature swings, Cool nights that help to preserve the grapes natural acidity keeping the wine both fresh and vibrant on the palate.
Vosges Mountains, protects Alsace from Atlantic influences, high enough to block rain laden clouds pushed by the west winds. The vineyards are planted effectively in the mountains rain shadow providing a sunny, hot, and dry growing environment.
Vosges Foothills, majority of vineyards are planted here, facing South and South-East to capture optimal sunlight and maximum warmth. Altitude ranges from 660-1320 ft. The grapes ripen slowly and produce more complex aromatics.
SPRING: mild, often accompanied by frosts which can severely reduce potential crops. Vines grown on the plans are trained high to mitigate frost damage.
SUMMER: warm, sunny and dry, sporadic thunderstorms and hail. Some years drought can pose a serious problem. Vines planted on the slope are trained lower to the ground in order to maximise heat and reflect sunlight.
AUTUMN: Humidity which often enables noble rot to develop, the grapes effected by noble rot will be used to create desert wine. There is also thunderstorms and hail
WINTER: Cold, places the vine into true dormancy, For some vines this is important e.g.. Riesling will begin to degenerate if it does not under go true dormancy.
GEOLOGY & TOPOGRAPHY
Alsace lies in the Rhine Graben, a Graben is a grave like trench whose vertical uplifts inlude the wine regions of Alsace and Baden in Germany. The Rhine river flows through this geological depression.
How the Graben was formed: 300 million years ago pressure caused a monumentous upthrust of Earth.
150 million years ago Alsace was covered by an inland sea, over 1000's of years sedimentary deposits covered the upthurst of primary rock.
50million years ago, mammals came and dominated the Earth. The afro-Abarbian and Euro Asian crustal plates collided and caused an unheaval of land.
In the end the faulting exposed many different soils types from many different geological eras.
The fault blocks eroded and formed the Vosges foothills, Earth movement and erosion is responsible for the large number of soils found in Alsace.
Best soils are found on the slopes of the Vosges foothills.
13 MAJOR SOIL TYPES OF ALSACE
MARLY - LIMY SOILS
Most common and best soil type in Alsace
Calcium and Magnesium rich
Soils are deep and water retentive
Suitable to grape varieties: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Structure, richness and noticeable spice
Does not retain water well, challenged in Drought years
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, elegant, delicate and floral
Oldest soil type
Clay soil type, clay soils produce wine that usually needs time in
bottle to show their true colours.
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, built to age
VOLCANIC SEDIMENTARY SOILS
Rich in iron, calcium, potassium, sulphates and magnesium
Hard and compact
Stony and warm up quickly, retain heat well
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, Pinot Gris, fruity, expressive bouquet and meant to age
Heats quickly and retains warmth well
Does not retain water unless clay is present
Suitable grape varieties: Riesling, Pinot Gris, delicate fruit, good aging potential
Stony, does not retain water well, undesirable in drought years
Suitable to grape varieties: Gweruztraminer = Rose
Pinot Noir = full and rich
SANDY- MARLY - LIMY SOILS
Mixed soil - marl, sand and limestone
Mineral wealth, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese
Deep soils, water retentive
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, pronounced minerality
Loose and pebbly,
Good water retention
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, Gewurtraminer complex wines with bright acidity, fruit, body and layered aromatics
CALCAREOUS - SANDSTONE
Rare soil type for Alsace
Poor soil, little organic material or mineral content
Warms quickly and retains heat well
Not water retentive
Suitable to grape varieties: Sylvaner = raciness
Gewürztraminer = body, floral and exotic fruit
CLAYEY - MARLY SOILS
Soft soil, mineral wealth
Very water retentive
Cold soil, needs good sun exposure
Soils produces powerful structured wines, a minerality that develops layers of complexity over time, these wines will mature slowly.
Suitable to grape varieties: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gweurztraminer
VALLEY FLOOR, ALLUVIAL SOILS
Comprised of sand, clay and pebbles
Rich in organic material
Produces very fruity, light bodied wines
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling Gewürztraminer meant to be consumed in their youth
LOW LAND, TALUS SLOPE,,SCREE SOILS
Slope wash, very fine grained
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc
LOESS & LOAM SOILS
Loose soil, good water retention
Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris
GRAPES OF ALSACE
4 NOBLE GRAPE VARIETIES
2 types Muscat a Petits Grains Blanc cultivated in 15th c
Muscat Ottonel cultivated 19th c
7 TRADITIONAL GRAPE VARIETIES
4 Noble varieties +
PINOT BLANC (used mainly in Cremant production, also known as Pinot Vrai or Klevner)
4 SECONDARY GRAPE VARIETIES
Chardonnay (Cremant production, never sold as Alsace only Vin de France
Chasselas (native to lake Geneva
Klevener de Heiligenstein (also known as Savagin Rose, the aromatic version of this grape is known as Gewurztraminer.
Auxerrois Blanc (cross between Gouais Blanc + member from the Pinot family.
PINOT BLANC also known as KLEVNER
WINE LABELED PINOT BLANC can be 100& AUXERROIS BLANC
KLEVENER de HEILIGENSTEIN - non aromatic version of SAVAGIN ROSE,
GEWURZTRAMINER - Is the aromatic version of KLEVENER de HELIGIENSTEIN
WINE STYLES OF ALSACE
90% of wine production in Alsace is white wine.
Whites, mostly fermented in stainless steel or in large neutral oak casks
Cellars in Alsace are already cool, fermentation takes place at an optimal temperature
Most wines in Alsace are free from Oak and Malo lactic fermentation
Historically wines in Alsace are fermented to dryness.
Due to global warming the grapes have become riper with higher sugar
levels leaving little need to Chaptalise the grapes. Higher sugar levels can result in stuck fermentation
(fermentation stops before all the sugar has been able to convert into alcohol) Some producers intentionally leave a little residual sugar.
LAWS REGARDING RESIDUAL SUGAR
Riesling is the only grape that has a legal maxium level of 0.9% residual sugar.
This law does not apply to Grand Cru wines, Lieu-dit and dessert wines.
Sparkling wine made in Alsace is labelled Cremant d'Alsace and is made using the
traditional method. There are currently 500 producers.
The laws around producing sparkling are:
Hand picked, whole clusters
9 months sur lie aging
Additional 3 months aging in the cellar before release
Sweetness Desingations for Cremant d'Alsace
Extra Brut - NO DOSAGE
Brut - 1.2 % residual sugar
Extra Sec (extra dry) - 1.2 - 1.7% residual sugar
Sec (dry) 1.7 - 3.2% residual sugar
Demi Sec 3.2 - 5% residual sugar
DOSAGE: immediately after disgorging and before final corking the liquid level is topped up with Liqueur d'Expedition (mixture of base wine and sucrose plus 0.02-0.03grams of sulphur dioxide as a preservative) Depending on how sweet of a Sparkling you would like to produce you can alter the sucrose levels
In Alsace 80% of wine is varietally labelled
If a wine is labelled varietally, the wine must be 100% the grape variety
Possible blended wines in Alsace can come from wines labelled:
Field Blends (wines of terrior)
2 Grand Crus - Altenberg de Berghiem & Kaefferkopf
At least 50% of the wine must be made from Noble varieties
50% can be made up using, Sylvaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc
Each variety must be vinified separately
Must undergo a tasting pannel
Vintage must appear on the bottle
Blend of any white grapes in their approved Alsace AOC
Vinified together or separately
No vintage on label
Producer Jean-Michel Deiss co-plants grape varieties, harvests, ferments
the grapes at the same time and labels the wine after the vineyard.
CREMANT, most cremant is a blended product but it does not have to be
PINOT BLANC, can be 100% Pinot Blanc or 100% Auxerrois Blanc
or a blend of both
PINOT d'ALSACE or "KLEVENER" can contain
Pinot Noir (vinified as a white wine)
no minimums or maximums, can be a 100% of any of the varieties listed above, usually is a blend of several.
In Alsace there are 2 categories for sweet wine production
V.T - Vendanges Tardives
Late harvest wine containing considerable amount of residual sugar. Fermentation terminatres naturally leaving un-fermented sugar present. Laws that apply to the production of the wine are:
Noble variety grapes
S.G.N - Selection de Grains Nobles
This sweet wine must be produced from grapes that have been affected by Noble rot. Laws that apply to the production of the wine are:
Hand picked, berry by berry
Noble variety grapes
Depending where the grapes come from V.T and S.G.N wines can be catergorsied as:
Alsace AOC (including Lieu-Dit and communal desingations
Alsace Grand Cru
YEAR THE APPELLATIONS WERE CREATED
1962 ALSACE AOC
1976 CREMANT D'ALSACE AOC
1983 ALSACEGRAND AUC AOC
2011 ALSACE AOC COMMUNAL & LIEU DIT
2011 ALSACE GRAND CRUS WERE GIVEN THEIR OWN INDIVIDUAL AOC
51 GRAND CRUS +
ALSACE AOC +
CREMANT d'ALSACE =
51 GRAND CRU'S
4% of production
White wine only
Noble varieties only
Grape variety is no longer mandatory on label
May be dry or sweet
2 Grand Crus:
Altenberg de Berghiem
Can be a blend of varieties
Only Grand Cru permitted to use the Slyvaner grape
23% of production
the exact same method as Champagne, Methode Traditionelle
Primarily vinified from:
Most cremant is a blended product
Rose Cremant - only Pinot Noir
73% of production
White, Red, Rose, Dry and Sweet wines
Blend or single varietal
May boast a single vineyard
designation on label
2 Sub Categories
Alsace AOC Communal
Name of the communal on label
Alsace AOC Lieu-Dit
Stricter standards than communal
Name given to a plot of land/vineyard
Limited grape varieties
Specified vine density, pruning methods and trellising
Higher grape maturity levels at harvest
WINE INDUSTRY OVERVIEW
175 of these are responsible
for 80% of production
Mostly are family run and operated
Hugel and Trimbach are by far the largest
Trimach represents 30% of the Alsace wine market
They are spoilt for choice with 7 different grape varieties.
6-8 wines each year
Larger producers are able to produce atleast twice as many.
Alsace wines are mostly made to be enjoyed 6months to 5 years after release
RIESLING is the most long lived and can last for decades if cellared properly