ALSACE

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.

HISTORY


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 

 

  •  Variety labelled 

 

  • German grape: Riesling 

 

  • Flute bottle 

 
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.

Seasonal change

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

 

  • GRANITE, GENISS

Does not retain water well, challenged in Drought years

Suitable to grape varieties: Riesling, elegant, delicate and floral

 

  • SCHISTOSE 

Oldest soil type

Clay soil type, clay soils produce wine that usually needs time in

bottle to show their true colours.

Mineral rich

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

 

  • SANDSTONE SOILS 

Heats quickly and retains warmth well

Nutritionally poor

Does not retain water unless clay is present

Suitable grape varieties: Riesling, Pinot Gris, delicate fruit, good aging potential

 

  • LIMESTONE SOILS 

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

 

  • MARLY-SANDSTONE 

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 

 

  • RIESLING

  • PINOT GRIS

  • GEWURZTRAMINER

  • MUSCAT

   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)

  • SYLVANER

  • PINOT NOIR

 

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.

 

CREMANT D'ALSACE 

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

 

BLENDS

Possible blended wines in Alsace can come from wines labelled: 

  • Cremant

  • Gentil

  • Edelzwicker

  • Field Blends (wines of terrior)

  • Pinot Blanc

  • Pinot d'Alsace 

  • 2 Grand Crus - Altenberg de Berghiem & Kaefferkopf 

 

GENTIL 

  • 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 

 

EDELZWICKER 

  • Blend of any white grapes in their approved Alsace AOC

  • Vinified together or separately 

  • No vintage on label

 

FIELD BLANDS 

Producer Jean-Michel Deiss co-plants grape varieties, harvests, ferments

the grapes at the same time and labels the wine after the vineyard.

 

POTENTIAL BLENDS 

 

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 

  • Auxerrios Blanc

  • Pinot Blanc 

  • Pinot Gris 

  • 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.

 

SWEET WINES 

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

  • Hand picked 

 

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

 

APPELLATIONS 

51

GRAND CRUS

ALSACE AOC

CREMANT d'ALSACE

AOC

2

SUB CATEGORIES

COMMUNAL

LIEU-DIT

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 = 

53

AOC'S

51 GRAND CRU'S

 

4% of production

White wine only

Noble varieties only 

Grape variety is no longer mandatory on label

NO blends

May be dry or sweet

 

EXPECTIONS 

2 Grand Crus:

Altenberg de Berghiem

&

Kaefferkopf

Can be a blend of varieties 

 

Zotzenberg

Only Grand Cru permitted to use the Slyvaner grape

CREMANT d'ALSACE

 

23% of production 

 

Produced using

the exact same method as Champagne, Methode Traditionelle 

 

Primarily vinified from:

Pinot Blanc

Riesling

Pinot Gris 

Chardonnay 

Auxerrois

Pinot Noir 

 

 

 

 

Most cremant is a blended product

Rose Cremant - only Pinot Noir

  ALSACE AOC

 

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 

13 communals 

stricter standards 

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

Restrictive yield 

 

 

WINE INDUSTRY OVERVIEW 

5,000 GROWERS 

 

1,200 PRODUCERS

175 of these are responsible

for 80% of production

 

900 ESTATES 

 

19 CO-OPS 

 

73 NEGOCIANTS

 

 

LARGE COMPANIES 

 

Mostly are family run and operated 

 

Hugel and Trimbach are by far the largest

 

Trimach represents 30% of the Alsace wine market

75% 

CONSUMED IN

FRANCE

GROWERS 

 

They are spoilt for choice with 7 different grape varieties.

 

Usually producing 

6-8 wines each year

 

Larger producers are able to produce atleast twice as many.

ENJOY 

 

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

90%

WHITE WINE

  • Black Instagram Icon
Follow Me