Alright, as promised, I am going to consistently ask myself this question with every region I study.
Explain how wine law and regulation influence the style, quality, and price of wines in Alsace.
When it comes to Alsace, it’s really all about the Grand Crus. But let’s not overlook Alsace AOC, the basic regional designate. As you can imagine, rules and regulations are bit more chill at this stage. Chapitlization is allowed, maximum yields are actually quite high (it ranges from 80 hL/ha all the way up to 100 hL/ha, for the curious)—so that chapitlization helps with both the northerly, cool climactic conditions which hinder sugar accumulation, as well as the lack of concentration due to high yield farming.
At this level, wine quality is most likely acceptable or good with price ranges to match. I imagine it is in this category that we find the “everyday drinkers” that are more, economically considerate, shall we say.
Interestingly, it is possible for an Alsace AOC wine to add the name of one of the thirteen communes (actually, fourteen, according to vinalsace.com) or a lieu-dit—the later of which indicates the wine is from a smaller plot or vineyard within the appellation. In these cases, max yields are reduced to 72 (commune-named) and 68 (lieu-dit-named) hl/ha respectively. NOTE: Lieu-dits also have more strict qualifications than communal wines, including specifications like the varieties allowed, vine density, harvest requirements, and yields.
This point is summarized in my text, but vinalsace.com does a great job of explaining:
Communes: This name meets the stringent production standards which are more restrictive than for regional appellations: varietals planted, vine density, pruning, trellising, grape maturity, yields. The 14 communes, or inter-communal entities, were also given defined boundaries and can be indicated on labels in addition to the AOC Alsace.
Lieu-dit: This allows to distinguish quality production by highlighting the terroir-specific characteristics, and applying production standards even more stringent that for the Communal appellations. Wines from these localities express several nuances: the fruitiness of grape varieties blends with the distinct terroir minerality.
I also found the following chart helpful as well:
So, while still at the affordable level, these wines will command a higher price in the market.
While the Alsace AOC wines are free to make wines from multiple varieties that grow throughout the region, the 51 Grand Crus are limited to producing single variety wines from the four noble varieties. (Pop Quiz! Name them now!)
There’s a note in my text that states there are three vineyards allowed to produce either blends OR Sylvaner as Grand Cru, but doesn’t name them. BONUS POINTS to whoever can leave the name those three vineyards in the comments below. (And PS, yes I do know the correct answer 😉 )
Grand Cru wines have much smaller yields, most are limited to 55hL/ha others are even lower, around 50 hL/ha.
Each of the 51 Grand Cru vineyards (see a full list of them here if you’re super curious and/or a detailed note taker) are individual Grand Cru, meaning there’s not one set of Grand Cru rules to rule them all. In fact, the individual Grand Crus are allowed to alter their rules—lower maximum yields, or even introduce a new “non-noble variety.” My book specifically mentions Grand Crus pleading the case for Pinot Noir, but apparently the INAO is still out to lunch on that one.
FUN FACT: The region is currently discussing introducing a Premier Cru classification for single vineyards
In reference to the question above, these wines, these Grand Crus wines, with their stricter rules and regulations—not to mention that these vineyards are in the best location (read: steep, uneasy to farm or harvest slopes that most likely require manual management and hand harvesting) means that these wines are of the highest quality in the region and will have prices to match.
A Note about Vendage Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles
Both Alsace AOC and Grand Crus can produce Vendage tardive or Selection de grains nobles and label their wines as such. However, there are some rules about this: These wines can ONLY be made from the four noble grapes. There is a high minimum sugar levels at harvest for each—which means selective, hand-harvesting and slow fermentation in the cellar.
What differentiates the two? There is no botrytis requirement for Vendage tardive and the wine can be made in a dry style, reaching about 14 to 15% ABV. However, Selection de grains nobles will always have botrytis and will always be sweet. This definitely means selective hand-harvesting, lower yields, and slow fermentation process—all adding to the cost of production and, thus the cost of the wines in the market.
RANDOM WINE BIZ FACTS
These are just some random facts from my reading that I thought were interesting…
- Over 40% of Alsace wine sales is conducted by cooperatives that have a reputation for high-quality wines.
- Alsace has a strong reputation in France for wines suitable for gastronomy (nom nom nom).
- About 75% of Alsatian wines are sold in France.
- All Alsace AOC wine have to be sold in the tall thin ‘flute’ bottle AND NO BAG IN BOX ALLOWED (THEMS THE RULES!)
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Rangen, Geisberg and Schoenenbourg I think… I claim my bonus points…
And of course I misread my own notes, so I’m wrong. Altenberg de Bergheim is one though!