The Alsace wine region is located on the border of north-eastern France, not far from the German wine region Rheinhessen. It is home to a wide variety of different grape varieties and styles. None are so sought after as the Alsace Grand Cru wines. These are certainly the cream of the crop in the world of Alsace wine.
Simply put, Alsace Grand Cru wines are the ones grown on the most exceptional locations within the Alsace wine region. Currently, there are 51 areas which can claim to produce these rarified Alsace Grand Cru wines.
These terroirs represent a special blend of characteristics. The perfect blend of climate, soil types and other defining factors have been identified by winemakers and wine connoisseurs alike as being intrinsically linked to the production of beautiful wines. These wines are the ones which have gained their own specification – that being Alsace Grand Cru wine.
So, we will take a look through the world of Alsace wine. We will introduce you to the region as a whole. Not only this, but we will dive a bit deeper into the different elements that merge to form an Alsace Grand Cru wine. This includes factors such as soil types, grape varieties and the other requirements that help make Alsace Grand Cru wine the truly special product that it is.
Without further ado, let’s learn about Alsace Grand Cru wine.
The Alsace Wine Region
The history of the Alsace region is incredibly unique and helps play into some of the offerings that you can find in the way of Alsace Grand Cru wine, (and Alsatian wine in general).
The region has changed hands between Germany and France four times over a 75 year period in the 20th century. Clearly the various Presidents, Chancellors, Kaisers and concerned citizens wanted to get their hands on the good stuff! The prevalence of French Riesling in this European wine region is evidence for the clear Germanic influence in this part of the country.
Beyond just Riesling, white wine does certainly take pride of place in Alsace. Muscat, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner and Auxerrois are all also found throughout the region. This is alongside great value Pinot Noir and the always exciting Crémant D’Alsace.
The prevalence of white wine carries through into the Alsace Grand Cru wine appellations as well. In fact, Alsace Grand Cru wines can only come in the form of white wine.
If you’re looking for some more information regarding Alsace, alongside some top tips on where to stay and what to do, be sure to read our full guide here.
Alsace Grand Cru Wines – The Soil Types
Unless you’re well into your geography or your geology, the prospect of reviewing soil types may not sound the most interesting. However, soil types can impart such a huge influence on the wine in your glass. This is exactly the same for Alsace Grand Cru wine.
All Alsace Grand Cru wine appellations are found at high-altitude. The upper parts of the vineyard are where the most prestigious areas are found. These can be divided into either the rolling hills or the mountains side of the Vosges Mountains. The Vosges Mountains are a low mountain mountain range that separates the East of France from the Northern portion of Germany.
First up is granite. It’s not just for kitchen counters. These are well-draining soils without much water retention. They often instil deeply mineral characteristics in Alsace Grand Cru wines. Granite soils also possess an acidic component which helps to allow the Alsace Grand Cru wines which are grown here to be light and deeply expressive while they’re still young.
Then, next is Volcanic soil. Volcanic soil is particularly popular in Sicily. Volcanic soil, which is formed through lava cooling, is solid but disintegrates easily. The soil is dark and retains the heat from the sun well, often leading to smokey, well-structured wines.
Next, is sandstone. Sandstone is not dissimilar to granite. Therefore they also typically display acidic, mineral characteristics. However, sandstone soil is particularly desirable for Alsace Grand Cru wines which have a propensity to develop and grow over a number of years.
Limestone soil is frequent in this portion of the Alsace Grand Cru wine appellations. These relatively basic, stony soils produce deeply acidic structured wine. Limestone is often found alongside marl. Marl, (a form of clay), also helps to display complex acidity and minerality. Alsace Grand Cru wines which share both marl and limestone are often particularly rarified offerings.
Marl continues to crop up throughout this region, often as a contributing factor to a more prominent soil type. Marl-Sandstone soils for example. Marl strengthens flavours, while sandstone lightens the final product. This allows more complex aromas to develop above the defined minerality.
The next is the combination of the three we’ve just mentioned. Marl, limestone and sandstone. This varied mix allows for a particularly pronounced richness in the minerality that these Alsace Grand Cru wines display.
Finally, the soils which are strictly composed of clay and marl. These soils are particularly rich and greasy, thanks to retaining a good deal of water. They also retain real discernible power and structure in the wine, meaning these Alsace Grand Cru wines are particularly well suited to long time ageing. The structure here is really something to behold. It even leads to some noting the perception of tannins within these white wines.
Alsace Grand Cru Wine Grape Varieties
As we touched upon, only white wine is available in the world of Alsace Grand Cru wines. More specifically, four grape types. These are Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer. Although you can also find Sylvaner being used in production within the Zotzenberg appellation.
Riesling is typically fresh. Gewurztraminer is intoxicatingly aromatic. Pinot Gris possesses a real intensity of flavour. Then, Muscat shows a fruity, yet refined kick. Now, Alsace Grand Cru wines still exhibit these usual characteristics of the grape variety. However, Alsace Grand Cru wines also take it that one step further.
The soil types we’ve touched on serve to build greater complexity and expression of flavours. Minerality, salinity and acidity are generally more powerful and refined in Alsace Grand Cru wines. Uniqueness is also key. The reason these terroirs are so desirable is not simply so they can reflect idolised versions of these grape varieties, but that they can also impart something completely distinct. A new taste experience which sets itself apart from your everyday drinking wines.
Alsace Grand Cru Wine REgulations
With so much skill, focus and knowledge going into these special wines, it is understandable that the wine-making requirements are also more stringent than usual vineyards. However, the set guidelines aren’t as strict as other key wine-making regions such as Bordeaux.
It is clear that the terroir that produces Alsace Grand Cru wines is exceptional. Therefore, certain regulations are put in place to help retain their standard. However, it is not a rigid unchanging thing. High-plant density and low yields are typical across the region. Yet, the frameworks evolve over time to help the winemakers in each specialised Alsace Grand Cru wine appellation truly harness the terroir and produce the best wines possible.
That serves as an introduction to the world of Alsace Grand Cru wine. Alsace wine on the whole frequently provides excellent offerings. Delicious in taste and generally of great value.
However, the world of Alsace wine runs even deeper. Alsace Grand Cru wine, the cream of the crop, is not to be missed out on. If you’re looking to try some be sure to check out our online store. We’ve got a number of great options to get your started in the world of Alsace Grand Cru wine. You won’t regret it! Browse our collection here.
You can even take a deeper look into the wine-makers behind these Alsace Grand Cru wines. We’re proud to partner with small, family-owned winemakers who look to produce expressive wines, while holding both the quality and the health of the planet in mind.
Our Alsace Grand Cru Winemakers include:
- Domaine AimeStentz – A small, 14 hectare, certified organic vineyard located in the heart of Alsace.
- Domaine Baumann-Zirgel – They cultivate 11 hectares of high-quality wine, with a respect for the land, its terroir, its vines and the health of all of us.
- Maison Charles Frey – They were trailblazers in the world of Alsace organic viticulture. Since 1997, these third generation family winemakers, were committed to organic production.
- Domaine Haegi – The Haegi Family have been in Alsace since the 18th century. Today, 3rd Generation winemaker Daniel Haegi, produces organic wine with a dedication to native, traditional practices.
If you’re interested in the world of French wine we’ve got a number of articles which dive into a specific region. You’ll get to learn the terroir, the grape varieties and the nuances that make each French wine region what it is.
Take a look at some of our region overviews below:
- Rhône Valley Wine – King of the Café
- The Loire Valley – The Garden of France
- Bordeaux Wine – Dive into these world-famous vineyards
- Alsace – A Riesling & Pinot Blanc Paradise
If you’d simply just like to learn more about wine from the comfort of your own home, be sure to check out our online blog and sign up to our mailing list. We’re always looking to teach people about different regions, grape varieties and producers. Beyond that, you can expect to find a whole host of playlists, cocktail cards and recipe cards packed full of wine pairing ideas. There might even be some special offers along the way so make sure that you don’t miss out!
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