Alsace rocks, New Zealand rolls

That was the snappy title given to this online tasting that compared wines of similar composition from Alsace and New Zealand: Riesling against Riesling, Pinot Noir against Pinot Noir, etc.

Alsace and New Zealand have several things in common. Each is dominated by white wine production, 88% in the case of Alsace, 87% in the case of New Zealand. Both countries favour aromatic white varieties strongly. Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris take Alsace’s top four positions, and although Sauvignon Blanc completely dominates New Zealand’s plantings, the same four varieties occupy positions two to five in the Kiwi list.

Though rainfall figures are broadly similar across Alsace and New Zealand, the latter’s different regions certainly have more diversity. It also generally hotter than Alsace with more sunshine hours, though the rain shadow of the Vosges mountains affords Alsace a dry, mild and long growing season – one reason that so many domaines can farm organically.

Another common factor in this tasting was that none of the white wines were aged in new oak, or small barrels. There were, however, stark differences between the pairs in some cases. The Gewurztrmaniner pair for example, came from 2021 and 2015. There were some big differences in price too, in one case comparing a £16 Riesling from New Zealand with a £70 Grand Cru from Alsace. In that way, comparing the pairs directly was impossible. It was an uneven playing field, and for that reason the organisers stressed it was not a competition, just an opportunity to compare.

The Wines

(2023) This very pale and youthful wine has a modest 5.5g/l of residual sugar, coming from loam, gravel and clay soils with vines planted between 1979 and 2004. The vineyard is a mixed planting of aromatic varieties, dominated by Gewurztraminer, all co-fermented. It sits at only 60 metres altitude. The nose is very attractive with some sweet bon-bon notes, exotic fruit, peach down, and a touch of citrus peel. The palate has a rounded, sweet-edged and very approachable medium weight, creamy-rich but juicy into the finish with a fresh grapey crunch to the acidity.
(2023) Thirteen grape varieties grow together in this wine from limestone soils and a 15-year-old vineyard at 300 metres. It has 12.8g/l of residual sugar. Dramatically darker in colour than the Te Whare Ra, but four years older too of course. Much less aromatic, with a natural, lightly yeasty and buttery character. The palate's noticeable sweetness and rich texture give this lots of presence, buttery again, an almost blonde chocolate touch, but then the acidity races through. Quite intense, perhaps lacking a little length.
(2023) With 11g/l of residual sugar this off-dry wine comes from vineyards around 20 years old planted at 225 - 400 mtres. There is schist soil here with some quartz, over clay. Creamy and buttery here, lots of ripe, peach pie character with a cut of apple zestiness. In the mouth it is rich rather than out and out sweet, with a full texture and so much peach and apricot succulence and sweet fruit. Lovely acidity, a light spice, and such a lovely full-bodied off-dry white.
(2023) Again, age has developed the colour here, the wine having just 5g/l of sugar and coming from vineyards that are 25 to 40 years old, planted between 240 and 270 metres on limestone. Heimbourg is a single vineyard, though not rated Grand Cru. Slightly less aromatic than the Prophet's Rock, but otherwise very similar aromatics, the buttery and peachy character delightful. The palate is opulent and rich, full-textured and mouth-filling. There's a glycerine richness to this along with that touch of sugar, but it has an almost Botrytis character in the finish with the dry, toasty undertow to the finish.
(2023) From a 19-year-old vineyard on clay at 100 metres, this is distinctly off-dry with 22.8g/l of residual sugar but noticeably a pH of just 2.95 so acidity is key. Very appealing, lightly honeyed nose. The palate has a silkiness and fine balancing acidity. It is limey, as is the fruit, with delicate floral and glacé fruit notes. Stockist and price quoted is for the previous vintage at time of review.
(2023) From one of the most iconic Grand Crus of Alsace, Schlossberg which sits on pure granite at 230 - 350 metres, and in this case vines that are 60 years old. It has 5g/l of residual sugar. Buttercup yellow, the nose has a serious, quiet reserve, stony and mineral. Such a contrast to the Greystone. In the mouth it feels bone dry and has riveting acidity and precision. Compared to the Greystone it is almost austere, but there is subtle richness and weight, and though the fruit stays in a firm citrus and apple/pear spectrum, texture and precision drink so beautifully.
(2023) Once again there's some sugar here, with 5.9g/l, on soils of schist, gravel and clay. The vineyard is 17 years old, and sits at some altitude - 288 to 313 metres. Moderately aromatic, the typical Gewurz aromatics there but restrained and subtle. In the mouth this tastes pretty dry, with some phenolics picked up from skins and some time in older barrels. 50% was also wild yeast fermented which adds some textural and aromatic complexity, but perhaps at the expense of Gewurz exuberance. The touch of sweetness in the finish offsets a slightly bitter citric element nicely, and the subtle perfume of lychee does translate into a little juiciness. No UK retail stockists at time of review.
(2023) Another Grand Cru, this from Sonnenglanz, a south-east slope of limestone at 220 to 270 mtres. This comes from 30- to 50-year-old vines and has 55g/l of residual sugar so a sweet wine. The age of this obvious in the golden colour. Hugely different aromatically to the Misha's version of course, with honey and lime, a hint of butterscotch and plenty of lifted spice and rose petal notes. In the mouth fully sweet, viscous, with a mouth-coating layer of luxurious candied fruit and honey again. Nice, bright zesty lemon verbena to the finish.
(2023) The first of three Pinots comes from pebble-strewn limestone soils at 300 metres, the vineyard 20 years old. It was matured in older barrels. Though rules have changed since, in 2020 Pinot Noir could be planted in Grand Cru vineyards but could not be labelled as Grand Cru, so many producers use the initial letter as a code to reveal the source of the grapes (in this case Vorbourg). Medium density in colour, the aromatics are elegant, floral over red-fruit, cherry and herbs to the fore, a little high-toned nuance. In the mouth it is dry and has a fairly tannic, spicy backbone, but hints of bittersweetness, something almost minty too, give plenty of interest. The finish is bone dry, fresh and quite long.
(2023) At the southern end of the North island, Martinborough is New Zealand's original Pinot Noir stronghold. This comes from 20-year-old vines planted on gravels with just 60 metres or so altitude. It spent 11 months in French oak barriques, 22% new. Darker and denser than the Alsace wine, a much meatier aromatic profile, still red fruit here, but more spiced plum, a warm earthiness. In the mouth the wine is more dense, but it has real agility thanks to taut tannins and plenty of cherry and plum skin acidity and dryness offsetting a creamy mouthfeel. A baritone to the Muré's tenor.

The final two wines were ‘free choice’ to show something distinctive about each region, so were not tasted as a pair.

(2023) The 'P' is code for the Grand Cru Pfersigberg, where 45-year-old Pinot vines grow on limestone soils at 280 - to 320 metres. It was fermented with 50% whole clusters and maturated in oak barrels, 60% new. Similar medium ruby-crimson to the Muré, and a delightfully elegant cherry and raspberry fruit that is clear and fine. There's a gravelly, taut character to this and the oak adds just a touch of creaminess - no high toast here at all. In the mouth it has lovely texture, medium-bodied but silky. It stays composed, savoury and balanced, moving from sweet, fleshy red fruit to liquorice and endive, the whole palate picture very harmonious and long. Tannins here are ultra refined and the acid etches the finish.
(2023) Muscat makes up only a tiny percentage of the New Zealand vineyard, but was chosen partly to show that there is more to the twin islands than Sauvignon Blanc. This one has 14g/l of sugar and comes from gravels at 60 metres and vines that are more than 30 years old. Pale to medium lemon colour, Geranium-like floral and leafy, musky aromatics. In the mouth the sweetness is very noticeable making this potentially more of a wine for matching to summer fruit tarts and lighter desserts. The crunch of the acidity is very good, and this has real concentration. There's a bit of phenolic grip and substantial alcohol that also helps anchor this wine. A Muscat with real character. The wines of Pegasus Bay are imported into the UK, but there are no retail stockists listed at time of tasting, possibly because of the 15.4% alcohol which makes UK pricing prohibitive.


  1. Interesting comparison and probably the best two regions to use to make the comparisons. Shame there were no corresponding Gewurztraminers, Rieslings or Muscats though. Does sounds like a very good idea for an offline.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Paul. Actually, an admin error meant two wines were missing when this was first published, and only added back in after your comment. So there is now a corresponding Gewurztraminer and Riesling to compare – my apologies for missing those off originaly. There isn’t a second Muscat though, as that was a ‘free choice’ extra entry.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *