Pinot Noir resurgence in Alsace with two AOC’s

Pinot Noir can now be included as part of the AOC Alsace Grand Crus in two territories which has been a long-awaited move for a grape variety that has perhaps been overlooked in the region.

France’s appellation body, the National Institute of origin and quality (INAO) had formally approved the addition of Pinot Noir to the list of varieties that are permitted in Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr (Barr, Bas-Rhin) and Grand Cru Hengst (Wintzenheim, Haut-Rhin). The move officially ratifies Pinot Noir Grand Crus from these two prestigious terroirs for the 2022 vintage.

The amendment noted that vines intended for the production of red wines in Alsace grand cru Hengst should have a density minimum plantation of 5,500 vines per hectare, with vines in Alsace grand cru Kirchberg de Barr having a minimum planting density of 5,000 vines per hectare and an average maximum yield of 7,000 kg per hectare.

Twenty years ago, Pinot Noir represented 8.5% of Alsace’s total vineyard area. Today, that figure has risen to 11%. The changes mean that Hengst and Kirchberg de Barr are now currently the only AOC Alsace Grand Cru reserved for white wines and still reds, with the first to be released from the 2022 vintage.

According to some producers, getting to this point has been a twenty-year journey, and marks the renaissance of the variety in the region – which has grown from around 8% of hectarage under vine to 11% now – as well as recognition of the work carried out by existing producers of these wines.

The new rules means that these two AOCs can produce both white wines and still reds, the CIVA hopes that this will be expanded to include other AOC Grand Crus in the region over the next few years. Currently, there are 51 AOC Alsace Grand Crus, 49 of which can make Grand Cru wines from just five grape varieties (Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Riesling, and Sylvaner, which was also added by the INAO in May).

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New Sweetness Scale for Alsace wine labels

A standardized sweetness guide will be required on all Alsace wine labels starting with wines produced from the 2021 harvest.

While most French wines are labeled by origin, wines from Alsace are indicated by grape variety and location information, including if the wine is from one of the 51 grand crus. Now wine buyers and trade can also consult the bottle for a visual sweetness scale or one of the following appropriate terms.

The New Alsace Wine Sweetness Scale

The new sweetness scale is straightforward.  The scale is in both English and French. Dry (sec) sugar content of the wine does not exceed 4 g/l

  1. Medium-Dry/demi-sec: sugar content of the wine is between 4 g/l and 12 g/l
  2. Mellow/moelleux: sugar content of the wine is between 12 g/l and 45 g/l
  3. Sweet/doux: sugar content of the wine exceeds 45 g/l

This change was prompted by the Alsace wine industry and centers on sweetness guidelines already in place in the European Union.

“In Alsace, we produce many different styles of wine, from dry wines to sweet wines to sparkling wines,” says Foulques Aulagnon, export marketing manager, for CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) which is also known as the Alsace Wine Board. “This new standardized sweetness guide doesn’t affect how we produce our wines, but gives greater clarity on the style of what’s in the bottle.” Crémant d’Alsace, traditional method sparkling wine from the appellation, already has sweetness guide regulations and isn’t impacted by this new round of rules.

In addition to labels, the new system applies to advertising, marketing materials, invoices, and other containers. This is designed to be helpful to trade partners such as educators, retailers, and sommeliers.

According to CIVA data, export sales of Alsace wines grew by 22.4% in 2021. With more buyers outside of France, this move provides further understanding to new customers that may not be as familiar with what Alsace has to offer.

* According to EU regulations, “Dry” represents sugar content does not exceed 4 g/l (or 9 g/l if the total acidity in grams of tartaric acid per liter is not more than 2 g/l lower than the residual sugar content). “Medium-Dry” represents sugar content of the wine is above 4 g/l but does not exceed 12 g/l (or 18 g/l if the total acidity in grams of tartaric acid per liter is not more than 10 g/l lower than the residual sugar content).

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