Visitng Alsace has been on my bucket list for years. I have researched and written many articles on the region and the wines. From a book perspective I know Alsace. However, I have never been to Alsace – until now. I returned last night from a wonderful week in Alsace.
Ironically, because I had to write this article before my Alsace research trip, nothing in this article will be about my trip. I am once again relegated to sharing with you information from books. Have no fear, first hand articles will be forthcoming.
This month our French Winophiles group is digging into Alsace – literally. We are participating in a June campaign called #AlsaceRocks. Our group has been broken up into three categories: Pinot, Pinot, Pinot; Terroirs and Riesling; and Food Pairing Challenge. I strongly encourage you to read each of the articles below to get to Alsace.
I see Alsace as a mosaic of both soil and history. Lying on the border of France and Germany, it knows all too well the realities of war. Imagine living with your parents your entire life in the same village without sharing the same nationality. Since World War II, Alsace has been part of France, but between 1870 and 1945, Alsace changed hands between France and Germany four times.
Following WWI and revitalized after WWII, Alsace vignerons started a “quality first” policy, signaling a return to producing indigenous, high quality grapes. These efforts were officially recognized in 1962 by the AOC Alsace, followed by AOC Alsace Grand Cru in 1975, and AOC Crémant d’Alsace in 1976.
Each wine region is unique. Here are a few details that make Alsace unique:
- Alsace sits on the same latitude as Champagne but experiences a different climate.
- The Vosges Mountains shelter the vineyards from prevailing westerly, rain-bearing winds, the lack of clouds results in sunny summers and dry autumns.
- These conditions insure the grapes achieve high level of sugar ripeness.
Alsace has experienced a dramatic geological history, resulting in a mosaic of soil types. This geological complexity is a key factor, contributing to the style of wines produced here. There are 13 different soil types in Alsace, including: granite, limestone, gneiss, schist, sandstone, volcanic, and clay to name a few. These soils vary from vineyard to vineyard and even vary within a vineyard, creating wines with distinct flavors and aromas, influencing the seven main grape varieties produced in Alsace.
Many people have had wine epiphanies while drinking Riesling. It is one of the most long-lived white wine varieties. It is also one of my favorites. Riesling is capable of producing a variety of wine styles, but in Alsace it is typically dry. It is the most widely planted of the noble varieties in Alsace. In its best Alsatian expression it is medium to full-bodied, dry, medium alcohol, high acidity, and offers notes of citrus, stone fruit, and crushed stone. Because Riesling is a late-ripening grape, when left hanging on the vine it is capable of accumulating sugar without losing acidity. In Alsace, late-harvest Riesling can be crafted into Vendanges Tardives (VT), a delicious sweet wine; or with the occurrence of botrytis (noble rot) is crafted into Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN).
Today, I have to share with you four different Grand Cru Rieslings from four different producers, four different vineyards, and four different soil types.
2016 Domaine Schoffit Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St Theobald Alsace France ($60): This is a smoky, stony wine – loads of citrus (ripe and peel) and under-ripe stone fruit are wrapped in crushed stone and pencil shavings; off-dry with a kiss of mid-palate sweetness beautifully balanced with high acidity; refreshing finish; I could drink this wine for days.
This wine is made from special biodynamic vineyard. Known all over Europe at least since the 12th century, the Rangen vineyard was first exploited by the monks of the church of Saint-Théobald, an important place of pilgrimage at that time. Rangen is a mountain of volcanic schiste and the only Grand Cru with volcanic soils. Roots deeply penetrate the soils to obtain the wealth of minerals available, while the dark stones are ideal for heat retention. This southernmost Grand Cru has the highest elevation (culminating at 1,476 feet) and is the steepest (up to 55 degrees). Incredibly hard to work, it is a very demanding terroir but yields some of the top Rieslings in the world.
2015 François Baur Grand Cru Brand Clos de la Treille Riesling Alsace France ($32): Lemon all the way; zest, juice, bright and refreshing, add in crushed stone and minerality and you are in for a treat; not as complex but certainly delivers with bright acidity and a long, mineral driven finish. (I had to the opportunity to visit this producer and taste a vertical of this wine dating back to 2004 on Wednesday in Alsace.) Not only are the wines amazing but the aging potential is incredible. At $32 this wine is a steal!)
The Baur family has been producing top wines in Alsace for 9 generations. The house style marks intensity of fruit, pureness of terroir, balance and longevity. The Brand Grand Cru is known for its steep slopes (853 – 1,181 feet), south/southeast exposure and ample sunshine. The soils, though, are what truly distinguish it from other Grand Crus: largely granitic with a topsoil mix of sandstone, granite and marlstone, and in parts, two types of mica which contribute to the wines’ complexity and finesse. The site is comprised of Riesling (41%), Gewürztraminer (31%), Pinot Gris (25%) and Muscat (3%)
2014 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg Alsace France ($45): Opens with a unique nose driven by the schist soil, it quickly gives way to elegant floral and citrus notes; intensely dry with high acidity, super fresh and elegant, in fact the elegance is in tension with its power; this wine will age for decades, I would love to taste an older vintage, wow.
The Kastelberg Grand Cru vineyard is biodynamic. The schist soils of this Cru offer a strong acidic backbone, while the deep root systems allow the vines to find nourishment even in drought years. “Ageworthy” often describes wines from this unique site. Steep slopes allow for maximum sunshine but ocean winds from the Champ du Feu massif and north winds from the Crax mountain regulate temperatures. Riesling is exclusively grown in Kastelberg’s blue and purple soils.
2012 Joseph Cattin Pur de Roche Riesling Sec Alsace France ($38): Fruit driven and floral nose; notes of bright citrus, orchard fruit and acacia with a vein of chalky crushed stone running through the aromas and onto the palate; dry, bright mouth-coating acidity, elegant and refreshing, long crisp mineral-driven finish.
This Riesling is produced from a selected plot located in the southern part of Alsace, near the village of Voegtlinshoffen. Comprised of marl and lime stone soils, it exudes a pure expression of mineral terroir. The vineyard is sustainably farmed. This is not a grand cru Riesling but it is a beautiful wine I had the opportunity to visit Cattin on Thursday – walk through two of their organic grand cru vineyards and taste many of their wines It was a wonderful visit
To learn more about Alsace terroir, wines, and food pairings please read these articles:
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “A Palette of Pinots – The Hues of Alsace”
- Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “Pinot d’Alsace…Yes Please!”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “Rockin Alsace With Pinots”
- Julia at Julia Coney shares “Alsace – Where Pinot Rocks!“
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Alsace Rocks the Summer Grilling Scene”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Alsace Wines in the American Kitchen”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “Alsatian Temptation: Wine from the Vosges Mountains in France“
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Tips and Recipes for Alsace Pairings”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Alsace Pairing Challenge? Accepted!”
- Olivier at In Taste Buds We Trust shares “Taking gewürztraminer to a higher level”
- Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Alsace: A Geologist’s Dream”
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “A Riesling Experience: Nuanced Terroirs of Alsace”
- Liz at What’s in that Bottle shares “All in for Alsace Riesling”
- David at Cooking Chat shares “Pork and Cabbage Skillet with Riesling from Alsace”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares “Alsace Rocks 4 Riesling With Fondue!”
My Song Selection: Can you guess the two reasons why I selected this band and song?
Please join us this morning at 10CST on Twitter to either learn or share why #AlsaceRocks!
Get your own bottle of Alsace Riesling and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!