Every second year the official organisation of Alsatian winegrowers also known as CIVA gather together for a wine fair beyond the ordinary. Like Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne and Grandi Langhe it features many of the most prominent and important producers of the area. Unlike these wine fairs it is not yet divided after villages and crus (maybe something for future contemplation) and only runs over a day, so to cover the entire fair is not only difficult – it’s impossible.
To my great delight there were droves of good producers at the fair that I hadn’t tried before. This is partly due to my general inexperience when it comes to wines from Alsace, but also to the fact that Alsatian wines are unjustly regarded as somewhat heavy, waxen and overly sweet.
And so why is this?
Difficulty in telling sweeter wines apart from dry can be one factor, the dominance of big companies and cooperatives when it comes to export can be another. I for one still have a hard time discerning the 51 grand crus from one another and the concept of soil and macro climate is another element difficult for outsiders to penetrate. Let’s not even start on the fact that more often than not auxerrois blanc is labeled as pinot blanc on wine labels, that many of the vineyards have multiple expositions and that most producers have plots in many different areas.
But aside from that, wines from Alsace are a breeze to understand.
A great help during the wine fair was a tasting area where visitors could try wines from all the participating producers arranged by soil. For a beginner it made a world of difference to be able to taste different grand crus with the same soil type up against another – thus perhaps gaining an inkling as to what elements of the crus were dependent on soil and what had other origins.
New vineyards that caught my attention this year were amongst others Eichberg, Kaefferkopf and Zotzenberg, but old favorites like Rangen, Hengst and Brand still stand strong amongst the competition and bear witness of my predominance towards the heavily structured, more masculine side of Alsace.
I must have half a book filled with tasting notes from different producers that are sure to make their appearance here in the coming week or weeks. One thing to remember however is that producers are invited to Millésimes Alsace, they are not automatically entitled to present their wines at the fair. Of the over 4000 winegrowers active in the area 99 producers were represented this year, and who knows what treasures (and to be honest what mounds of inferior hack jobs) are still to be discovered in the complex network of terroirs and villages that is Alsace?