Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Alsace wine region (Updated)

I had previously written a post on Alsace to provide context for a subsequent post comparing Champagne to Cremant d'Alsace. While at WBC15, I sat in on a Wines of Alsace presentation on Riesling (delivered by Louise Jordan DWS) that yielded relevant data which I subsequently used to update my prior writings. This, then, is the updated post.

The Alsace wine growing region lies in the northwest corner of France, a long (185 km), thin (40 km) strip of land bordered to the east by the Rhine, to the west by the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, by Switzerland to the south, and Germany elsewhere. The region's climate is continental (hot summers, cold winters) with the Vosges acting as a barrier to the prevailing westerly winds as well as providing a rain shadow for the vineyards (Alsace is the second driest region in all of France.). The grape ripening period experiences warm days and cool nights and the resulting slow ripening of grapes and wines with complexity, aromatics, freshness, and good structure.

Alsace vineyards extend across the Vosges foothills -- on east and southeast-facing slopes at elevations ranging between 200 and 400 meters -- and on the alluvial plain below. A total of 14,000 ha (38,300 acres) of vines is tended is tended by 4,400 grape growers. Vines are trained Guyot simple or double and are planted at a minimum density of 4000 vines/ha. Fifteen percent of the vineyards are either organic or biodynamic.


A total of 13 soil types have been identified in Alsace and the diversity of its wine and styles have generally been attributed to the complex composition of the soils. One or more varieties have traditionally been linked with each of the soil types. The identified soil types, along with selected impacts, are presented in the table below.

Source: Wines of Alsace

Ninety percent of the wines produced in Alsace are white and represents 18% of the French AOC white wines. The distribution of the approved varieties are as folows: Riesling (22%), Pinot Blanc (21%), Gewurtztraminer (19%), Pinot Gris (15%), Pinot Noir (10%), Sylvaner (8%), Muscat (2%), and other (2%)..

There are 53 AOPs in Alsace. The figure and table below shows the distribution and characteristics of these AOPs.

All varieties allowed in broader Alsace AOC wines with the
exception of Savagnin Rosé

In addition to the AOC wines, Alsace producers also bring two late-harvested wines to the market: Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles. Both are made from botrytis-infected grapes with the SGT concentration resulting in attainment of higher levels of sugar, fruit, and flavors.

Even though the Conseil Interprofessional des Vins d'Alsace (CIVA) characterizes the Alsce wine styles as below, there is a wider dissatisfaction with the type of wine that is being presented on the market today.

Wine Style
Vivid and light
Fresh and crisp (with different levels of richness)
Pinot blanc
Pinot Noir
Intensity and power (richer styles)
Pinot Gris
 Source: Thiery Fritsch, CIVA, TONG #13, Autumn 2012

According to Frédéric Blanck (Winemaker, Domaine Paul Blanck; in Tong #13):
Alsace wine these days are very unpredictable in style, and this has led to a great image problem: will the wine be dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet? One cannot tell when looking at the label. The result is that many people think of Alsace being a sweet wine or a wine at least influenced by residual sugar.
Pierre Trimbach of Domaine Trimbach (in the same publication) accused some estates of going too far, turning a dry and food friendly style into semi-sweet dessert wines. Blanck attributes the problem to very hot vintages -- beginning in 1997 and peaking in 2003 -- which made it very difficult to make dry wines with high acidity. The CIVA has proposed a scale which can be used by producers to identify the sweetness level of the wine in the bottle. Use of the system is voluntary and the winemaker decides the sweetness level which he/she awards to the domaine's wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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