The first four editions of the Salon Vins d’Alsace had seen great successes but with the global pandemic in 2020, the organization of the fifth edition had posed a significant challenge. With the tenacity of keeping the wheels turning, the wine fair was reinvented to a digital one, in conformity to the current situation where the physical presence of attendants can constitute as a problem. Thus, the first virtual tasting of the wines of 100 producers of the Alsace region made an outstanding global reach as 3 cl. bottles were sent all over the world to people of the wine sector for a unified wine tasting between the 7th to the 9th of June 2021. Conferences with the producers were scheduled for three whole days from morning until evening accommodating the individual tasters with 15 to 30-minute singular virtual chats and tastings.
Alsace is a French region with brightly-colored half-timbered houses that date back from the 14th to the 16th centuries. It doesn’t only present a fairytale picture of the distinctive French area that has unique amalgamation of two diverse yet akin cultures of German and French but it also adopted a unique identity of its rich culture and cuisine. Being positioned at the border of Germany, the area had been forced to change allegiances between the two countries so often during its history that in the end, it became a synthesis that proudly reflects the characteristics of both societies. Even the wine labels depict this individualistic combination of French and German nomenclature. Traditional to Germany, the long tapered flute wine bottle called locally as vin du rhin is also in use in Alsace, as well as the label following the Germanic tradition which is after the grape variety rather than after the place that is in practice in France.
It is a region known for its vigorous and intese terroir-strong wines obtained from their primary grapes: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Muscat à Petit Grains Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, and it’s only red variety, Pinot Noir. Secondary to these are Chardonnay which is only used in the production of the cremants, Chasselas, Auxerrois Blanc and Klevener de Heiligenstein. Majority of the production is 100% varietal and white but in some cases, they can be blends which are indicated as Edelzwicker, a blend of any of the white varieties approved for Alsace AOC vinified together or separately, Gentil, a blend of white grapes which contain at least 50% of the primary varieties while the rest can be comprised of lesser grapes vinified separately.
Alsace is a region that receives one of the lowest amount of rainfall in France. This is because it lies at the rainshadow of the Vosges Mountains which are high enough to block rain-laden clouds that come from the west side. For this reason, the region is very sunny and dry. With a continental climate of hot summers and cold winters, diurnal temperature variation is one of its important features. The northerly cold climate bathed in sunlight makes the grapes ripen slowly and the resulting wines have marked acidity that keep them vibrant and fresh and complexities in the aromatic profile.
There is a complex network of soils in Alsace which were created from more than 300 million years of change of geological formations created from the Paleozoic Era to the more current Cenozoic Era. In this epoch, the different soil types from various geological periods and situations were exposed by the faults which eventually formed the foothills of the Vosges. Most of the best soils of the region are found on the slopes of these foothills. There’s a presence of volcanic elements, granite, gneiss, sandstone, marl, sand, schist, loam and loess.
Historically, Alsace wines are vinified dry attaining excellent fruity, rich and aromatic wines which usually lacked residual sugar but in recent years, with the big changes to the climate brought about by global warming, the grapes ripen with higher sugar levels. As a result, some of the wines have a noticeable sweetness in the palate. As for the Pinot Noir which had always been known as almost red in Alsace has developed a deeper color with the changing climate. Stylistically, fermentation and aging of the white wines are done in stainless steel, large oak casks or sometimes with sur lie ageing for the ones with the ageing potential. Whereas for the sparkling wines, Cremants d’Alsace, only the traditional method is used with 100% of each of these grapes: Riesling, Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. However a lot of the cremants are blends of whites except for Gewurztraminer which is forbidden. For the rosè, 100% Pinot Noir is used.
There are 51 Alsace Grand Cru AOCs, designations recognized for their exceptional quality due the extraordinary terroirs the grapes were cultivated in. These AOCs are specific to white wines only with the cultivation of only four grapes: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat while Sylvaner is only allowed in one Grand Cru, Zotzenberg, which also allows the four other varieties. While all Grand Crus are single varietal wines, there are two that are exceptions to this rule: Alsace Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim and Alsace Grand Cru Kaefferkopf.