The Problem With Alsace Wines Is…



I have had experiences of similar nature. I actually ordered a whole case of Oregon Riesling for myself once to find it off-dry which by my sensitive palate is sweet without mistake. Taste is very subjective and whatever effort made to guide to its nature, surprises will not end.


There is one major problem with the wines from Alsace. It is not the old issue with bottle shape – the singular reason many retailers spout for the poor sales of Alsatian wine (they aint gonna abandon those Germanic flutes without a fight mate) – and it isn’t the top-heavy Grand Cru vineyard grading either. (There are 51 Grand Cru vineyards but no other rungs on the quality ladder, Premier Cru for example).
Step forward Miss Sweetness; the issue that I have with Alsatian wine (ignoring those washed out Pinot Noirs obviously).

A lunch in Mittelbergheim, Alsace recently is a case in point. Our charming, stylish and gracefully French host (although technically from Scandinavia) was enthusing over the delights of Slyvaner – in particular the one Grand Cru hillside where it is grown – and ordered a bottle to accompany a fish course (Rieffel Sylvaner Grand Cru Zotzenberg, 2007).

With no disrespect or embarrassment meant to our host the match was a disaster. The wine was far, far too sweet to accompany the food.

In addition to highlighting the sweetness problem it also reflected badly on the high-aiming restaurant too, for not indicating such a potential conflict from one of their wines.
Yet from the label there is no indication of how dry or otherwise the wine is.

Simple – let the producer add a designation of sweetness on the label. It would be ‘relatively’ simple to set a residual sugar level equalling a specific sweetness. But “a wine with 16g of residual sugar” is not terribly consumer friendly and frankly such vino-tech talk is off-putting even to many wine aficionados.

There is a further complication – relative sweetness. That Riesling may have 16g of residual but its high acidity and steely, mineral backbone gives the impression that it is much, much drier.

Some producers, Deiss I believe and, since 2003, Zind-Humbrecht have taken the initiative to implement their own sweetness grades and put them on their bottle labels.

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