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Alsace Riesling must be ‘dry’, says wine body proposal

Alsace winegrowers have voted to back a rule stipulating non-late harvest Riesling can only be ‘dry’, but not everyone agrees with the plan.

Starting with the 2021 vintage, non-late harvest Alsace Riesling must be ‘dry’, as defined by EU regulations, according to a proposed decree agreed by a two-thirds majority of the Alsace Winegrowers’ Association (AVA).

Winemakers backed the plan at a vote in Colmar last week, although it requires approval from France’s appellation body, INAO.

The move comes in addition to the introduction of a standardised way of communicating sweetness levels on Alsace AOC still wines.

As per EU rules, a dry wine can contain a maximum of four grams per litre (g/l) of residual sugar, but the limit rises to 9g/l if total acidity – measured in g/l of tartaric acid – is not less than 2g/l lower than the sugar content.

AVA representative Raymond Lassablière explained that, from the 2021 vintage, Alsace Riesling may have a maximum of 9g/l residual sugar, but total acidity must be 7g/l. For 8g/l of residual sugar, total acidity cannot be lower than 6g/l, and so on.

Lassablière said the new rule is ‘very likely’ to be approved by French appellation officials, ‘because the INAO has long requested greater clarity for Alsace wines’.

The decree furthermore stipulates displaying the terms ‘dry’ (sec), ‘medium-dry’ (demi-sec), ‘medium-sweet’ (moelleux) and ‘sweet’ (doux) for all other white grapes of Alsace, whether Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer or Sylvaner.

This conforms with the new mandatory sweetness guide for bottles of AOC still wines, also based on EU definitions and announced by regional body Wines of Alsace. It applies from the 2021 harvest, the group said.

Winemakers must print the correct term or point to one of them on a specific sliding scale. ‘The information can be either on the front or back label, but it must be easy for consumers to read,’ Lassablière told Decanter.

The standardised scale is intended to help consumers sometimes confounded by residual sugar levels in Alsace wines, which can result in some ‘dry’ wines tasting sweeter than others.

Yet some winemakers find the additional dry Riesling proposal too constraining.

‘This is being more royalist than the king,’ said Mélanie Pfister of the eponymous Alsace estate, which is well known for bone-dry wines. ‘What about vintners who prefer making sweeter Riesling?’ she asked.

One such vintner is Pierre Gassmann, of Domaine Rolly Gassmann, which has long championed medium-dry and sweet Rieslings. ‘Indicating levels of sweetness is fine for Alsace, but why be so strict with Riesling?’ he asked. ‘What will we end up doing with sweet Rieslings? Declassify them?,’ he said.

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