The prerequisites for great wines often include cool climate, ample sunshine and unique soils. Add grape varieties that express those characteristics and winegrowers who aim for the highest quality, and greatness is within reach. All of those elements come together in Alsace.
The vineyards of Alsace lie within a narrow 75-mile strip of land that runs along the north-south spine of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France. The 51 best parcels are designated grand cru—choice spots that dot the headlands and foothills of the wooded peaks, never on the plain.
These plots face east, southeast and, due to numerous lateral valleys, also south, which provides optimal sun exposure. The region’s complex geology, a function of the Upper Rhine rift, means that each grand cru boasts its own unique soils.
France’s appellation authorities named the first Alsace grand cru in 1975, and they added more sites in 1983, 1992 and 2007. Despite those expansions, the grand crus represent just eight percent of the region’s vineyard surface, and they contribute a mere four percent of Alsace’s production. Although a relatively modern creation, the grand crus are historic, and their wines have been prized for centuries.
Some of the vineyard boundaries are controversial, like anywhere in the world where growers try to classify land. A legal change in 2011, however, allows each grand cru to have its own, specific set of regulations, which has encouraged growers to reassess each site.
Each of the 51 grand crus boasts a spirit and personality of its own, so it may seem unfair to highlight just seven of them. But these are truly la crème de la crème. Continue reading: Wine Enthusiast
photo: Jens Johnson