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Alsace

Alsace occupies a special position in the French wine landscape. First, it produces mainly white wines. Also, it sells wine bottles of a different shape called "flute of Alsace”. Finally, even the laws governing the production and trade of wine is slightly different. It is therefore not surprising that writers often describe the French Alsace with a hint of exoticism. This is obviously related to the particular history of this region and has greatly influenced the present form of its wine industry.

History of wine in Alsace

-The production of wine in Alsace started at the arrival of the Romans. The wine arrived on the Rhin with the commerce of wine. It is followed by the culture of the vine that grows gradually at the foot of the Vosges from the 1st century AD.

- After the fall of Rome, the Church and various monastic orders settled in the region contributing to the development and perpetuation of winemaking.  

- In the Middle Ages, the villages of Alsace specialize in wine production. These villages within the northern edge of the area suitable for growing the vine, regions further north are markets and are easily accessible by boat on the Rhin. In the 12th century, England and the Scandinavian countries are an important market for the wines of Alsace and ensure the prosperity of merchants in the city of Cologne.

- In the 14th century, production and local wine activities are important enough and require the supervision of an elected officer in each municipality. They guarantee the quality of wines and they are responsible for collecting taxes on wine. However, it is forbidden to be personally involved as a seller in this business.

- During the French Revolution in 1789, the dismantlement of aristocracy and church properties leads to fragmentation of land ownership. This fragmentation increases over the next generations and the equal division of assets inherited. This partly explains today's lack of major wineries in Alsace and the preponderance of small land ownership.

- As elsewhere in Europe, the vineyards of Alsace are affected by the phylloxera crisis from 1876.

- In the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace and Lorraine were annexed to Germany in 1871. Alsatians producers then find themselves cut off from their old markets and networks. But more importantly, they are blocking access to the German market: the authorities want to protect German winemakers form the overproduction of Alsace wines. It suddenly represents 40% of all wine produced in Germany. The German government then encouraged the Alsatian wine (suddenly become a southern wine region) to produce large quantities of cheap wine.

- During the German interlude, the development of industry and trade of wine continues nevertheless.Scientifi Institute of enology appears, among others in Colmar, and contributse to the improvement of production methods. The first Alsace wine cooperatives also open at that time. Finally, the first exhibition of Alsace wines is held in 1906 in Barr.

- Alsace becomes French again in 1918 after the First World War. Again, this passage undermines the wines of Alsace which now produced large quantity of cheap wine.  It cuts off the access to the German market and Alsace winemakers must struggle to keep their position in the market with this overproduction crisis.

- The Alsatian winemakers react and then turn to quality production. In 1925, the Oenological Research Station and Wine Institute of Colmar encourage winemakers to favor planting "noble" varietals. In this context, we start from 1832 to prohibit some very productive hybrid varieties.

- Members of the old Alsatian refugee diasporas in Paris and elsewhere since the annexation of 1870, have opened several Alsatian breweries, serving wine from Alsace and contributing in part to its recognition in France.

- In 1945, a regional committee of experts of the wines from Alsace is set up to ensure the protection of quality wines. Beginning in 1951, Alsace obtained the exclusivity in France for the use of high and thin bottles that characterize today's Alsace wines.

- In 1962 Alsace region receives the appellation of controlled origin. In 1975, INAO assigns  the classification of grand cru to some of the most respected vineyard parcels.

-Today (production and market).



Grape varieties of Alsace vineyards
Red wines Alasace

The only red wines of Alsace are produced from the following varietals:

Pinot Noir - producing red wines that are very clear when they are well made.


White wines of Alsace

The white wines of Alsace are produced from following varietals:


-Gerwurztraminer -Riesling
-Sylvaner
-Pinot gris (or Tokay d'Alsace)
-Pinot blanc-Muscat

Wine charateristics

Alsace is located in north-eastern France, bordering Germany. The vineyards stretches 125 km from north to south, a thin strip of land between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhin to the east. Despite the northern position of this area, the climate is dry and quite favorable to growing vines: in spring, the weather is hot, in summer the weather is dry and sunny and fall is long and warm. Only the continental winter is really cold.

The region has around 10 000 hectares of vineyards divided into 120 000 parcels owned by 11 000 winemakers. This means that each winemaker has averaged 0.9 hectare divided into several scattered parcels. The small size of the properties explains why many winemakers do not have the necessary facilities for winemaking and marketing and why nearly 9 000 producers deliver their grapes to cooperatives or sell to dealers. A majority of winemakers took another job.

The production is characterized by the presence of a number of producers/traders. These houses have often been in the wine trade for nearly 300 years -such as Hugel- which produce wine with their own vines but also buy grapes from small vineyards. Also, some small wine producers make and market their own production. Finally, many small owners winemaker are members of cooperatives who are responsible for winemaking and marketing of wine. The Alsace wine cooperatives have also been recognized for a long time for the quality of their wines.

The region is divided into two main regions: Bas-Rhin in the north, between Colmar and Strasbourg and the Upper Rhin south, between Colmar and Mulhousse. In the Upper Rhin, south, we find the vineyards that produce the different Alsatian spirits, as kirsch. If Alsace is known for its wines, it is also recognized for its spirits, beer, its sparkling wine and its late harvest wines.

The wines of Alsace are mostly white wines, although it produces some red wines from Pinot Noir. Everywhere in France, the first indication that must indicated on a wine label is its place of origin except in Alsace where it is the grape varietal. More importantly, the varietal determine the quality of a wine. Since 1992, the name "Alsace Grand Cru is recognized for 47 localities: distributed in the Upper Rhin and Lower Rhin. But to qualify for this indication, the wine must be produced from following grape varieties: Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris (Tokay d'Alsace). The wines of Alsace are normally dry, aromatic and bear the mark of their grape varieties, including Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sylvaner.

 

Evaluations - Alsace

Hugel Riesling 2013, $18.75
Willm Réserve Riesling, $18.65
Pfaff Riesling Cuvée Jupiter, $18.95
Pfaff Black Tie 2013, $19.95
© 2017 Sommelier Virtuel, Montréal, Québec