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Jane Anson: Alsace is finally getting its act together

Alsace should be a French heartland for terroir-driven white wines, and no other part of France can make Riesling as good. Thankfully, more producers are starting to realise, writes Jane Anson.

This column was originally published in the September 2016 issue of Decanter magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here to read the full column.

Alsace white wine has already been regarded as Burgundy’s little sister. Now, it is growing up…

The loss just a few months ago of Etienne Hugel served as a sombre reminder that spokespersons for this underappreciated region are all too few.

It can be easy to imagine that the ancient wine regions in France have all the kinks worked out in their systems.

But the beautiful hillsides of Alsace, despite all of their history, are still searching for an identity that finally sees them achieve the recognition they deserve within the world’s fine wine regions.

Partly it’s political – all that tug of warring between Germany and France over the centuries; partly it’s fashion, with the region’s sweet wines finding the same tough reception that is being accorded to Sauternes, Jurançon, Monbazillac and others.

But it’s hard to ignore that a significant factor is self-inflicted, with too many players favouring high yields that have damaged quality.

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There has been too little weight given to designating individual vineyard plots of particular quality – not to mention weird laws in the region that insist the status of grand cru can only be awarded to sites under multiple ownership, thereby locking out monopoles such as clos ste-hune (Trimbach) and clos Windsbuhl (Zind- humbrecht).

Unclear labelling doesn’t help matters either, with the dry styles that alsace traditionally favours taking a swing to the sweeter side over the past 20 years, but rarely with additional information on labels to alert drinkers to what they are going to get in the  bottle.

‘There have been moments when we have almost had to apologise for selling Alsace wine,’ says Séverine Beydon-schlumberger, of Domaine schlumberger.

A new beginning

In response to this, she and a small group of other estates joined forces in November 2015 to create Alsace Crus et Terroirs – or ‘ACT’. The aim is to focus attention on the strengths of Alsace.

And there are many. This is a region that grows 90% white grapes, and should be seen as France’s heartland for terroir-driven whites.

Nowhere in France can make Riesling like this

Besides the mosaic of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat, nowhere else in France can even begin to make Rieslings with this complexity and power.

‘We haven’t been successful enough at presenting the diversity of this region in a positive light,’ says Beydon-schlumberger.

‘We hope that by joining forces we can do this, and be proud of the distinctive history that has given this region its  identity.’

Read the full column in the latest issue of Decanter magazine. Buy the September Decanter issue here.

Jane Anson is away.

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