Friday, July 16, 2021

All About the Wines of Alsace

Very rarely do I get the opportunity to sample French wines and when I’m in a wine shop I always gravitate towards the Italian wine section.  When the #Winophiles group, that I’m more recently a part of to expand my horizons, told me they were writing about wines from Alsace this month it was the perfect opportunity to join in.  Riesling was really my first love and that is always what I associated Alsace with so I was interested to learn more about this region and its wines.   

The Region ~ Alsace

About a month or so ago I joined the 1st Millesimes Digital Alsace Wine Fair featured solely on the wines from Alsace, France.  There were over 100 exhibitors with over 400 wines.  It was astonishing to see that about 70% of the producers at the wine fair were either organic, biodynamic or in conversion to be one of the two.  The Alsace DOC was technically created in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1962 when it was officially established.  The territory represents over 70% of the wine production from this region with white wines dominating 90% of the portfolio.   

Wine region of Alsace
Copyright of Vins Alsace

In 2011, two geographical names focused on villages and localities were allowed to be listed on the labels for the Alsace DOC wines.    The villages, or communales, are defined by 14 areas with defined boundaries.  The localities, or lieux-dits, show more specific terroir.   In that same year of 2011, 51 Grand Crus were also officially established known as the AOC Alsace Grand Cru.  These defined plots had been years in the making so to have them officially recognized to exhibit the specific terroirs allows one to understand what each lends to the wine. The Grand Crus of Alsace represent 5% of their total production.   

The Alsace wines can be labelled as a sole grape and blends are allowed as well.  There are about 7 primary grapes from Alsace including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Noir.  For the Grand Cru wines there are 4 varietals allowed: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat with a few exceptions.  Each of the Grand Crus will show the locality along with the vintage on the label. 

The Wines

Luckily I was able to sample about 40 of the wines from the Alsace Wine Fair.  For me my favorite producer was Domaine Maurice Schoech.  Winemaking runs in this family’s heritage since 1650.  They are located in the hillsides with south-east facing slopes in the town of Ammerschwir.  It is managed by Sabastien and Jean Leon Schoech.  Their wines have been certified since the 2014 vintage. 

This was the only winery where I truly enjoyed all 4 samples, but my favorite was the 2019 Domaine Maurice Shoech Grand Cru Riesling Kaefferkopf.  These grapes grow on granitic clay and the wines are bottled after spending some time on the lees.  Straw colored with mostly citrus on the nose.  A wine with lovely balanced, freshness and elegance showing beautiful fruit, crispness and minerality.  ABV 13.5%.  I also very much enjoyed their 2017 Complantation Harmonie R, the 2018 Complantation Grand Cru Kaefferkopf and the 2018 Riesling Sonnenberg. 

wines of Alsace

Next were a couple wines from Arthur Metz that stood out.  This is one of the main producers in Alsace, especially for sparkling Cremant d’Alsace.  They have been around since 1904 and own about 69 acres in the northern part of Alsace with multiple sites for pressing, vinification and fermentation.  They also partner with 450 vineyard owners over 2,700 acres, which I can imagine must be quite the laborious endeavor.  Over 80% of their vineyards are planted on south or south-east facing slopes on a variety of soils allowing much diversity in their wines. 

The 2017 Arthur Metz Riesling Grand Cru Florimont was pale straw colored with petrol and peach notes on the nose.  A light, crisp and clean wine with citrus, peach and green apple with a mineral finish.  ABV 12%. The 2019 Arthur Metz Muscat Grand Cru Kircherg de Barr was another favorite.  Faint in color, almost clear in the glass with sweet aromatics.  Dry and delicate with notes of jasmine and rosewater.  The wine had an airiness about it that was satisfying on these warm days.  ABV 12.5% 

Although my last 2 picks were Grand Cru wines, I solely was judging the wines based on my personal preferences.  My next two selections are non-Grand Cru selections starting with one from Domaine Stentz Buecher.  Another organic certified winery since 2010 that is a family business since the establishment in 1975 in the town of Wettolsheim.  They grow all 7 grapes of Alsace on over 74 plots of land based on about 32 acres.  The 2016 Domaine Stentz Buecher Riesling Cuvee Flavien Tannenbuehl was pick from their selection.  Straw colored with a hint of petrol and ripe peach.  Beautiful tropical fruit, well-balanced with refinement and elegance.  There were qualities of it that reminded me of a Gewurztraminer, which I love. ABV 13% 

My other favorite non-Grand Cru Riesling was from Jean-Baptiste Adam.  This winery has over 400 years of winemaking and growing grapes in their blood.  Located in Ammerschwir they are one of the leaders of certified biodynamic wines in Alsace.  The son of Jean-Marie, Jean-Baptiste V, graduated with a degree in enology in 1982 and has been working at the winery every since.  He now is accompanied by his daughter serving as the 15th generation member of the family to live on the family’s legacy.  The 2018 Jean-Baptiste Adam Riesling Letzenberg was grown from vines planted in 1984 on clay and limestone soils.  The wine was pale straw in color with aromas of white flower, peach and stone fruit.  Such freshness on the palate combined with a nice texture and structure with pleasant apple, peach and lemon notes lingering on the palette.  Medium in body with lively acidity.  13%  

plots of land in Alsace wine region
Variety of plots of land in Alsace wine region ~ Copyright of Vins Alsace

Even though I’m only featuring one Pinot Gris I was pleasantly surprised by this grape and enjoyed a number of them from these producers including the ones from Domaine Fernand Engel.  This winery covers much territory with over 180 plots spread out on 158 acres covering 9 villages in 25 miles.  Quite the diversity of land and soils I must say.  The winery is operated by the 3rd generation since 1998 and they also have been certified organic since 2001.  I love the focus of organic and biodynamics in the Alsace wine region.  They are located in the small village of Rorschwihr north of Colmar near the known Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle.  They are one of the largest producers of biodynamic wines and are known for their sweet and Cremant wines.  I enjoyed the Domaine Fernand Engel 2019 Pinot Gris Renaissance.  Straw colored in the glass with aromatics of citrus, tropical fruits and pears.  A crisp, fresh wine with good acidity and notes of apple and lemon with a round texture on the palate.  ABV 14%. 

Although whites dominate the wine region of Alsace I did save my favorite red based on the Pinot Noir grape from Domain Moltes Stephane & Mickael.  Located on the slopes of the Vosges hills in Pfaffenheim, known for its microclimate and is one of the driest regions.  It was founded in 1930 by the grandfather, Antoine Moltes, and in 1995 his grandchildren, Stephane and Mickael, took the estate over.  Another applaud for another certified organic winery.  The 2018 Domaine Moltes Stephane & Mickael Pinot Noir Sonnenglaenzle was deep ruby in color with ripe red fruits of raspberry, cherry and strawberry with a hint of spice on the nose.  Medium in body with moderate tannin balanced with good acidity and some vanilla toasty notes on the finish.  Good structure for a Pinot Noir and with an ABV of 15% I didn’t sense the alcohol.     

I’d love to say I paired these wines with food, but with little samples I didn’t have the opportunity.  It was a great deep dive into the region covering a large variety of terroirs and grape varietals and I hope it's not my last. 

Join my fellow Alsace food and wine lovers with their exploration through the wines of Alsace and chat with us live on Twitter this Saturday at 11am EST #Winophiles.  See you there!

*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.  Information sourced by Vins Alsace.


  1. Alsace is such a fascinating region and I'm still struggling to wrap my head around all the different soils, villages and Grand Crus! It sounds like you had a busy tasting! I attended the Digitasting too (wasn't that set up amazingly well?!), but only had the opportunity to speak with 4 of the Domaines. Thank you for sharing your favorites. I did not meet with any of those producers, so you have given me a whole new list to search for!

  2. Such a fascinating area. I hope to go there one day! I loved your reviews on the Digitasting. I wasn’t sure how to proceed since I wasn’t able to secure any appointments.

  3. That digitasting was SO well organized and formatted. I was sad that the samples were so tiny; I barely got a sip if I wanted to share with Jake. And, then, to discover that many weren't available - to purchase - here was even more disappointing. But I loved learning more about the area and the winemakers.

  4. Great article. You did a great job of sharing the fundamentals of Alsace - thanks!

  5. Interesting that you liked all four samples of only one winery. Like Cam, I found it really difficult to get a good taste of the 2-ounce samples in each box. But I was grateful to receive them!

  6. Wow, what a sampling opportunity! I haven't heard of many of these, including the Domaine Maurice Schoech which you mention as your favorite.

  7. Very cool! Wish I'd participated! Event with the tiny bottles!