Humbrecht: Alsace needs sweetness code

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  • Monday 31 January 2011

Alsace 'absolutely' needs a system to help consumers navigate the wildly varying levels of sweetness found in its wines, according to Olivier Humbrecht MW.

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Interviewed by Andrew Jefford in the March issue of Decanter magazine, the head of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht nonetheless warns against trying to over-simplify the region’s notoriously complex range of wine styles.

‘Maybe it would be easier to say to Alsace producers – okay, nothing but dry wines,’ Humbrecht tells Decanter.

‘But it would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater… Simplifying to that degree means depriving ourselves of some of our greatest wines.’

Zind-Humbrecht, which allows its wines to ferment to the level of natural sweetness allowed by its indigenous yeasts, uses a one-to-five scale to indicate the level of sweetness on all its labels.

‘If Alsace as a whole adopts a system, I will happily use that either with ours or as a replacement for it,’ says Humbrecht. ‘But we absolutely need a system.’

Asked about Alsace’s equally controversial grand cru designation – opposed by rival producers Trimbach and Hugel – Humbrecht says the company uses the classification, ‘provided the sites correspond to my idea of what a grand cru should be – if they are found near the heart of the grand cru, for example’.

Meanwhile, Andrew Jefford staunchly defends the system in his monthly column, also in the March issue of Decanter, arguing that grands crus have created extra layers of complexity and character among the region’s best wines.

And he contrasts the rules in Alsace with the much looser definition of ‘grand cru’ in St-Emilion, which he describes as ‘an embarrassment and a joke’.

The full interview with Olivier Humbrecht MW, and Andrew Jefford’s column, both appear in the March issue of Decanter magazine.

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