Alsace Riesling: Wrong Time, Wrong Place

In Alsace, a wine may only bear the grape variety designation Riesling on the label if it consists of this variety and has also been vinified dry. Is this the right decision? A commentary by Vincent Messmer. 

Reading time: 1m 55s

Vincent Meßmer, WEINWIRTSCHAFT (Photo: AD Lumina/Ralf Ziegler)
Vincent Meßmer, WEINWIRTSCHAFT (Photo: AD Lumina/Ralf Ziegler)

At first glance, it seems absurd. After all, Alsace has long been known for semi-dry representatives of various grape varieties. Upon a second look, there might be a good reason for such a change. Sharpening the profile can help to strengthen an appellation in the market. And the days of the overripe, semi-dry whites also seem to be largely passé in Alsace, apart from the special case of Gewürztraminer.

Doesn't a legal sharpening of the profile for the benefit of the appellation justify a little more egalité to the detriment of the liberté of the individual producer? 

News Wine

In the new specifications of the AOC Alsace, it shall be stated that Riesling may only be vinified dry - below 4 grams of residual sugar/liter. At least, if the grape variety is to be mentioned on the label.

Reading time: 1m 20s

No taste indication on the label

For what seems like an eternity, French winegrowers have refused to accept the taste indications on the label that are so popular in other countries, such as Germany. The subliminal message is that anyone who wants to drink French wines must be familiar enough with them to know what kind of taste he or she can expect from which appellation and which type of wine... or ask the favorite specialist salesman, who might first reassure the customer ("the vast majority are dry"), before starting with the exceptions: Vendanges Tardives (late harvests) is actually always sweet, Rosé d'Anjou is always semi-dry. Gewurztraminer from Alsace? Never dry. And so on. 

The same could be said about the other Romance wine countries, until the phenomenon of the Primitivo-isation of the Occident set in. And suddenly there are semi-dry red wines from Rioja, from Languedoc, from Piedmont. The appellation flavour rules are suspended. So it can only be an advantage if legal requirements finally provide clarity again and help consumers find their way around. Or?

Alsatian characteristics

Yes and no. And in the specific case of Alsace Riesling, definitely not. For one thing, Alsace is the only region in France where Riesling is produced in market-relevant quantities. Even the wines of the more northerly AOCs Moselle and Côtes de Toul are hardly made from the grape; in the AOC Côtes de Toul, Riesling is not even among the permitted grape varieties for quality wine. So Alsace Riesling has a profile per se in France and doesn't really need to sharpen it.

But wouldn't it still be consumer-friendly if it were clear that an Alsace Riesling is dry? This argument would work in every French region. Except Alsace. Because here, since the 2021 vintage, every wine must bear a flavour statement on the label anyway. That's a sensible regulation. Good for the whole country, too. 

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Reading time: 6m 15s



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