A long history

Located in the North-East corner of France, between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine plain, Alsace is a stunningly beautiful region that produces some of the world best white wine, noticeably dry Rieslings, highly aromatic Gewürztraminers and Muscats, as well as powerful Pinot Gris.

The first traces of Vines in Alsace date back long before the Gallo-Roman era. Vines fossils have been found in the layers of the Quaternary which can lead us to say that it existed in the region before the advent of man, but viticulture as we know it, started with the Gallo-Roman era, around 50 BCE.

Gregory of Tours praised the vineyard of Marlenheim in 589. There were 108 wine-growing villages in 800 and 430 villages in 1400. At that time, Alsace wine, white and red, was one of the most famous in Europe and one of the most expensive. Many wars led to unfavourable economic circumstances until WWI.

Today, there are 4,700 winegrowers in Alsace: 20% independent wine growers, 39% cooperatives and 41% negociants. The size of the vineyard is 15 500 hectares, all classified as AOC (there is no IGP). The amount of wine produced is around 140 million bottles (which is even smaller than Burgundy). Production in the region is 65% of dry white wines and sweet white wines, 25% of sparkling wines and 10% of red (exclusively made from Pinot Noir).

Winter in Alsace

A bit of geography

Wine is produced in the departments of Bas-Rhin (67) and Haut-Rhin (68). The wine route stretches 170km from north (Strasbourg) to south (Mulhouse), along the Ill River, between the Vosges Mountains (west), and the Rhine River (east). The vineyards are concentrated in a narrow strip, running in a roughly north-south direction, on the lower eastern slopes of the Vosges, at altitudes of 175–420 m.

There are 3 Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC): Alsace (70%), Crémant d’Alsace (25%), Alsace Grand Cru (5%). The average yield varies from max. 55hl / ha for the Grands Crus to 80 hl / ha for Crémant. The first AOC was recognized by the INAO in November 1945.

Because of predominantly westerly winds, the Vosges Mountains tend to shelter Alsace from rain and maritime influence, and the region is therefore rather dry and sunny. The region climate is semi-continental, (average temperature 11°C, 500mm rainfall, 1600h sunshine). While the slope down the Vosges is generally east-facing, many of the best sites are south-west to south-east facing, and benefit from extra sun exposure.

The soil that make up the vineyard have an impressive diversity and richness. The top of the slopes is generally made up of ancient, plutonic and metamorphic rocks such as granite, gneiss, schist or slate. The bottom of the slopes is generally formed by layers of sandstone, limestone or marl covered by granite arenas or loess.

Schlossberg

A world class region for white and sparkling wines:

The main grape varieties are for white wine: Riesling (22%), Gewurztraminer (20%), Pinot Blanc (21%), Pinot Gris (15.5%), Sylvaner (7%), Muscat (2,5%). And Pinot noir for red wine (10%).

From less than 1 million bottles in 1979, the annual production of Crémant d'Alsace grew to 33 million bottles in 2009. It is the second largest sparkling wine appellation in France, after Champagne, before the Loire Valley (Cremant de Loire). The AOC Crémant d'Alsace is elaborated according to the methods used for Champagne elaboration (manual harvests, second fermentation in bottles, long ageing on lees). The allowed varieties are limited to Riesling, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois and Chardonnay. For rosé wines, only pinot noir is allowed.

The Grand Cru AOC decreed in 1975 combines the characteristics of each of these territories to the vines. Altogether they represent 850 hectares for a production of 5 million bottles. There are 51 Grands Crus, each one of them is a unique combination of soil type, grape varieties and topography, here they are, by alphabetical order:

VineyardVillageDépartementSize (Hectares)Date granted Grand Cru status
Altenberg de Bergbieten Bergbieten[9] Bas-Rhin 29.07[9] 23 November 1983
Altenberg de Bergheim Bergheim[10] Haut-Rhin 35.06[10] 23 November 1983
Altenberg de Wolxheim Wolxheim[11] Bas-Rhin 31.20[11] 17 December 1992
Brand Turckheim[12] Haut-Rhin 57.95[12] 23 November 1983
Bruderthal Molsheim[13] Bas-Rhin 18.40[13] 17 December 1992
Eichberg Eguisheim[14] Haut-Rhin 57.62[14] 23 November 1983
Engelberg DahlenheimScharrachbergheim[15] Bas-Rhin 14.80[15] 17 December 1992
Florimont IngersheimKatzenthal[16] Haut-Rhin 21[16] 17 December 1992
Frankstein Dambach-la-Ville[17] Bas-Rhin 56.20[17] 17 December 1992
Froehn Zellenberg[18] Haut-Rhin 14.60[18] 17 December 1992
Furstentum KientzheimSigolsheim[19] Haut-Rhin 30.50[19] 17 December 1992
Geisberg Ribeauville[20] Haut-Rhin 8.53[20] 23 November 1983
Gloeckelberg RodernSaint-Hippolyte[21] Haut-Rhin 23.40[21] 23 November 1983
Goldert Gueberschwihr[22] Haut-Rhin 45.35[22] 23 November 1983
Hatschbourg HattstattVoegtlinshoffen[23] Haut-Rhin 47.36[23] 23 November 1983
Hengst Wintzenheim[24] Haut-Rhin 75.78[24] 23 November 1983
Kaefferkopf Ammerschwihr[25] Haut-Rhin 71.65[25] 12 January 2007
Kanzlerberg Bergheim[26] Haut-Rhin 3.23[26] 23 November 1983
Kastelberg Andlau[27] Bas-Rhin 5.82[27] 23 November 1983
Kessler Guebwiller[28] Haut-Rhin 28.53[28] 23 November 1983
Kirchberg de Barr Barr[29] Bas-Rhin 40.63[29] 23 November 1983
Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé Ribeauville[30] Haut-Rhin 11.40[30] 23 November 1983
Kitterlé Guebwiller[31] Haut-Rhin 25.79[31] 23 November 1983
Mambourg Sigolsheim[32] Haut-Rhin 61.85[32] 17 December 1992
Mandelberg MittelwihrBeblenheim[33] Haut-Rhin 22[33] 17 December 1992
Marckrain BennwihrSigolsheim[34] Haut-Rhin 53.35[34] 17 December 1992
Moenchberg AndlauEichhoffen[35] Bas-Rhin 11.83[35] 23 November 1983
Muenchberg Nothalten[36] Bas-Rhin 17.70[36] 17 December 1992
Ollwiller Wuenheim[37] Haut-Rhin 35.86[37] 23 November 1983
Osterberg Ribeauvillé[38] Haut-Rhin 24.60[38] 17 December 1992
Pfersigberg EguisheimWettolsheim[39] Haut-Rhin 74.55[39] 17 December 1992
Pfingstberg Orschwihr[40] Haut-Rhin 28.15[40] 17 December 1992
Praelatenberg Kintzheim[41] Bas-Rhin 18.70[41] 17 December 1992
Rangen ThannVieux-Thann[42] Haut-Rhin 22.13[42] 23 November 1983
Rosacker Hunawihr[43] Haut-Rhin 26.18[43] 23 November 1983
Saering Guebwiller[44] Haut-Rhin 26.75[44] 23 November 1983
Schlossberg Kientzheim[45] Haut-Rhin 80.28[45] 20 November 1975
Schoenenbourg RiquewihrZellenberg[46] Haut-Rhin 53.40[46] 17 December 1992
Sommerberg NiedermorschwihrKatzenthal[47] Haut-Rhin 28.36[47] 23 November 1983
Sonnenglanz Beblenheim[48] Haut-Rhin 32.80[48] 23 November 1983
Spiegel BergholtzGuebwiller[49] Haut-Rhin 18.26[49] 23 November 1983
Sporen Riquewihr[50] Haut-Rhin 23.70[50] 17 December 1992
Steinert PfaffenheimWesthalten[51] Haut-Rhin 38.90[51] 17 December 1992
Steingrubler Wettolsheim[52] Haut-Rhin 22.95[52] 17 December 1992
Steinklotz Marlenheim[53] Bas-Rhin 40.60[53] 17 December 1992
Vorbourg RouffachWesthalten[54] Haut-Rhin 73.61[54] 17 December 1992
Wiebelsberg Andlau[55] Bas-Rhin 12.52[55] 23 November 1983
Wineck-Schlossberg KatzenthalAmmerschwihr[56] Haut-Rhin 27.40[56] 17 December 1992
Winzenberg Blienschwiller[57] Bas-Rhin 19.20[57] 17 December 1992
Zinnkoepflé SoultzmattWesthalten[58] Haut-Rhin 71.03[58] 17 December 1992
Zotzenberg Mittelbergheim[59]

Schoenenbourg Grand Cru vineyard

There are 7 grape varieties admitted for the Alsace Grand Crus AOCs, while the Alsace appellation admits 13, counting all the varieties. These are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat blanc à petits grains, Muscat rose à petits grains, Muscat ottonel and Sylvaner, the latter admitted since the 2005 harvest only on Zotzenberg from Mittelbergheim. The first 6 grape varieties are considered noble grape varieties, of which Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are the most widely used.

Riesling gives better results on granite soils. It is a variety with late budding and ripening, requiring hillsides well exposed to the Sun, and whose harvest can take place around mid-October. On the other hand, it is resistant to winter frosts.

Gewurztraminer (means “aromatic traminer” in German) is a pink variety, with orange berries or tending towards purple. This close relative of Savagnin (called in Alsace klevener of Heiligenstein) is rather vigorous, produces high yields and gives better results on marly or limestone soils than on granite or schist soils.

Pinot gris (formerly called “tokay d'Alsace” locally and still called Grauburgunder (“bourguignon gris”) in Germany, “malvoisie” in Valais or pinot grigio in Italy) is a fragile grape with fairly early maturity. It comes from a mutation of Pinot Noir and is therefore of Burgundy origin. It gives better results on soils composed of limestone gravel, provided that they are well drained.

Muscats are rarely cultivated. The "Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains", also called “Muscat d'Alsace”, originates from Greece; it has been cultivated in Alsace since at least the beginning of the 16th century. It is rather precocious. Muscat Ottonel is more recent, discovered in the 19th century in the Loire Valley before arriving in Alsace in the middle of the century. Ottonel is a hybrid of Chasselas, so it ripens even earlier than the other Muscat.

Sylvaner is probably originary from Eastern Europe, its generous yields make it possible to produce big volume of inexpensive wine, but also, if the soil allows it, fruity, velvety and round wines. It is mostly cultivated in Germany, Alsace, Switzerland, Austria and Hungaria.

Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir

If you are lucky, you will find sometimes, 2 special denominations on the bottles:

“Vendanges Tardives” (late harvest) refers to wines made from grapes whose harvest has been delayed to obtain overripe grapes high in sugar (>220g/L), resulting in mellow wines with particularly rich aromas.

“Selection de Grains Nobles” (Selection of noble grains), is a wine made from grapes harvested by successive selective sorting of grains affected by “noble rot” (the fungus Botrytis Cinerea), which gives sweeter grapes must (>256g/L), and after alcoholic fermentation, wines with even more concentrated flavors, similar to Sauternes wines.

In Conclusion

Underrated and undervalued, Alsace is one of the world's best place to look for high quality white wines. The Regional Nature Park of the Northern Vosges boasts a tremendously rich natural, historical, cultural and culinary heritage and has been classified as a “World Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO. You should definitely go there and explore the region on a mountain bike, while you can. The Crémant d’Alsace are a good alternative to Champagne, while the dry whites are excellent with all seafood based dishes, and the sweet wines would pair well with Asian cuisine and spicy dishes or simply be enjoyed for aperitif, with a dessert or instead of a dessert.

We hope that you enjoyed this blog article and will browse our Alsace wine selection: https://eiffelmarkets.com/32-alsace

Cheers!

G.