Wine style and regional identity

Terroir is only one factor that influences the wine style in Alsace. As important as that and especially in Alsace is what kind of philosophy and personality the wine grower has. In Alsace the names of the growers are well-known and the fame is not necessarily connected with the region. You drink Riesling Clos St. Hune from Trimbach but are you thinking about Alsace as you sip from your glass? The reason is that Alsace is characterised by very strong personalities and full of extremes. Biodynamic wines and the “natural wine” movement had their cradle in Alsace while on the other hand illustrious producers using conventional methods like Hugel and Trimbach don’t want to take part in the Grand Cru classification because they have their own idea about terroir. Yet others are convinced about this system: Marcel Deiss makes only varietal blends creating a completely new wine style and has no problem with residual sugar in his wines. Others swear by bone-dry wines and people like Madame Fallert from Domaine Weinbach follow their own ideas about “tradition”. These are growers who bring true dynamics into the region and are up-front. They are proud and sometimes quite stubborn people, going their own way. However, when you compare those liberal extremes, it is confusing to read the very strict appellation rules which try to preserve arcane traditions. It is, for example, forbidden by the “Bottle Committee” (can you believe that something like that exists?) to use Burgundy bottles for AOC Pinot Noir. Or as Frédéric Blanck told me, a friend of him wanted to have a batch of wines with higher acidity to blend in later, and started to pick earlier than was sanctioned by the appellation, resulting in police prosecution. Furthermore, Blanck thinks the only reason why he was allowed to use screwcaps for his bottles was that the appellation rulebook simply made no provision for them. They probably never thought that somebody would even dare to think about using something other than cork.

My explanation for such infighting is that strict bureaucracy always creates ambition and desire to undermine it. While this may sound cynical, I really believe that this fosters creativity. In the end it is this mix of terroir, climate, strong personalities, contradictions, French logic and stubbornness that makes Alsace what it is – an unique, diverse and very exiting region where some of the greatest examples of several grape varieties are produced. If you have ever tasted a really profound, dry Pinot Gris from Alsace you are probably wondering if the watery, meaningless Italian Pinot Grigios are made from the same variety. Alsace Muscat can achieve depth and seriousness you won’t find anywhere else. If you find a really good Gewurztraminer, it will be a true varietal expression with a delicate, oily texture, floral flavours and this magnificent spiciness reminiscent of an oriental bazaar. Last but certainly not least Alsace also provides its own contribution to the world of Riesling with its richer, full-bodied and powerful styles.

Four of the numerous outstanding personalities in Alsace: Olivier Humbrecht (Zind-Humbrecht),

Pierre Trimbach with his daughter Anne and the biodynamic pioneer Jean-Pierre Frick

Wine style and regional identity
Wine style and regional identity
Wine style and regional identity