The Alsace Wine Guide 2004

xAfter years of being asked when I will revise my book ‘The Wines of Alsace’ (Faber & Faber, 1993), this is the first step along that road.

The Faber & Faber series was sold to publisher Mitchell Beazley in 2002, but whether I write a revise of the Alsace title for Mitchell Beazley, and when it will be, depends on various factors.

In the meantime, however, I shall be casting my tasting net far and wide, reporting back to wine-pages readers on the ups and downs along the way. This is the first such report

Notes to this edition of the Alsace guide

All the wines were tasted in November 2003 (apologies, but I’m behind on the revise of my Sotheby’s encyclopedia, not to mention the next edition of Wine Report), and most were tasted blind at the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA), although some were tasted at the Journées 2003 des Grands Crus d’Alsace in Château de Kientzheim, or on individual visits.

No apologies for minimal / non-existent descriptions of poor quality or faulty wines; life’s too short to waste writing on why a wine is no good.

Where provided by the producer, soil type is given.

A number of wines are VT or SGN but, as my notes reveal, other wines appeared to possess similar levels of sweetness, yet no claim was made in respect of these designations. Some of those bearing a recent vintage might be awaiting certification, but with some non-VT wines racking up higher residual sugars that legitimate VTs, sometimes higher even than some SGNs, it is impossible to distinguish. Next year I’ll ask producers to indicate those wines that are pending certification. It should be noted that as from the 2004 vintage all Alsace wines with a minimum of 12g/l (9g/l for Riesling) of residual sugar must be labelled moelleux. If a wine has a minimum of 6g/l of total acidity (expressed as sulphuric), the minimum sugar rises to 18g/l.

Prices are either RSP or cellar door TTC, where known.

To avoid confusion over what might seem incorrect descriptions or comments, it should be realised that Sylvaner is now allowed full grand cru status if grown on the Grand Cru Zotzenberg in Mittelbergheim, and an assemblage of different varieties has been granted grand cru status for the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim (although Jean-Michel Deiss had long been selling such wine in anticipation of it becoming legal). The latter has at long last enabled the growers of Ammerschwihr’s Kaefferkopf to press for grand cru status, providing they restrict the vineyards to be classified to a much smaller area than that delimited by tribunal in 1932.

My 100-point scoring system

When I score wines, I tend to use all 100 percentile points. Does this mean that on every occasion I could score the same wines, for example, 70 and 71 points? No, but what it does mean is that they would all conform to the “average” part of the definition below, and the 71 point wines would be those I marginally preferred.

  No wine can be accurately described as perfect
Excellent to superb
Good to very good
Acceptable to good
Average to acceptable
Very bad
Not scored, judgement reserved.

The 2002 vintage

(With thanks to Olivier Humbrecht for climatic input)

Each year, my tastings will concentrate – but not exclusively – on the latest vintage to go into bottle, which in this case is 2002. This allows me to review the year in the vineyard, and then to qualify this with initial views of wines in bottle. The year of 2002 was, for Alsace, wet, we, wet. After the snap of true but rare winter cold had put the vines into true dormancy, the buds started to emerge, the heavens opened up, and it rained virtually non-stop until the end of August. Whilst much of the area west of the Vosges was submerged right up to April the following year, the vineyards of Alsace were simply under a deluge, not a body, of water. This made work in the vineyards difficult, but not impossible, and unlike other, much more rain-affected, areas in France, the 2002 harvest in Alsace was far from a disaster. There were problems of mildew, but the flowering was strangely normal, completing during the first 10 days of June; temperatures in July were favourable; and although it was generally cold and wet from August to early September, there were enough good days to ripen the grapes.

Two surprising factors that affected the quality of the grapes in 2002 were the rain and the cold. The threat of dilution from continuous downpour was partly offset by the rain making it impossible to weed between the rows, creating competition from grass and weeds, resulting in the lowest yields since 1996! And the cooler temperatures produced extraordinarily high levels of acidity (ripe acidity, not – thankfully – the malic that was responsible for so many “stinkers” in 1996). Olivier Humbrecht commented “Never before have I seen grapes with such high ripeness and acidity combined together. The lengthy ripening season allowed the grapes to be perfectly physiologically ripe.”

The best 2002s have the weight of the 2000s, but with far more focus and finesse. In general terms, the Riesling fared best, and will benefit from several years bottle-age, but Gewurztraminer and Muscat also performed well. The Gewurztraminers are very aromatic, with broad spice notes, whereas the Muscats are exceptionally fresh and floral. Pinot Gris was less successful. Some extraordinary SGN have been produced.

Notes by grape variety

There are almost 400 wines tasted and assessed in this guide, so these have been split into sections according to grape variety. Click each title below for a dedicated file showing all notes and scores, plus an overview for the varieties.

Sylvaner, Assemblage, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Klevener (112 wines)

Riesling (162 wines)

Pinot, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (107 wines)