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Sylvaner becomes grand cru grape

The little-known Sylvaner grape can join the Pinot Gris and Riesling varietals as a grand cru, the French appellation authority INAO has ruled.

Though the designation only applies to one grand cru plot, the 14ha Zotzenberg vineyard, it is considered a major victory for winemakers in northern Alsace who have been fighting for some 15 years for the recognition of Sylvaner.

‘The Zotzenberg terroir best allows Sylvaner to express its exceptional complexity and finally enter the closed circle of grands crus,’ said Stéphane Wantz of the Domaine Alfred Wantz in Mittelbergheim.

Wantz predicts that the decision will lead to more plantings of the once-popular varietal. Thirty years ago, the grape accounted for a quarter of the region’s plantings. Now, Sylvaner vines cover around 10% of Alsatian vineyards.

Some winemakers, however, reacted with more caution to the ruling.

‘This Sylvaner grand cru is only possible in Zotzenberg, it is a recognition of the terroir, but we should stop there,’ Jean Trimbach of Maison Trimbach told decanter.com. ‘Sylvaner is always difficult to sell because of its name, even though the wine is often delicious. Unfortunately the varietal does not guarantee the future of Alsace.’

In 1975, when grand cru terroirs were first designated in Alsace, only four Alsatian varietals were authorised under the privileged appellation of grand cru: Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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