John Szabo’s Free Run – Alsace Part II

Alsace: At the Crossroads Part
By John Szabo MS

Note: news broke on May 13th of the untimely death by suspected heart attack of Laurence Faller, winegrower of Domaine Weinbach, pictured here in November 2013. She was just 47 years old, and a mother of two. I had the privilege of meeting her on several occasions. She was truly an extraordinary person and exceptional winemaker, and will be missed by all in the wine community and beyond. Her outstanding wines, however, live on. My sincere condolences to her family.

Laurence Faller_Domaine Weinbach

Laurence Faller – Domaine Weinbach

The following is a special report on Alsace, written after a week-long visit in November of 2013 organized by the Interprofessional Committee of the Wines of Alsace (CIVA), and their Canadian representative, Sopexa.

Part I (posted here) looks at the cultural and geological factors that have shaped the region’s wines, including political, philosophical and religious influences. Alsace’s strengths, as well as some of the challenges the region faces today, are also explored.

Part II below offers a list of recommended producers, top terroirs and their characteristics, and wine recommendations for each. For a full list of top-rated Alsatian wines, set the WineAlign Country/Region search field to “Alsace”, and be sure to check off “show wines with zero inventory”, or put in your favorite store to see what’s available near you. Over 150 new full reviews have been added.

Part Two:  Terroirs, Top Wines & Producers

Following is a round-up of some of the top producers in Alsace, by no means an exhaustive list, but all are worth a visit, or a taste. All farm organically and/or biodynamically. I’ve also listed the main terroirs/soils found in Alsace (but again, not all), the most representative grand cru vineyards for each type, and a few of the best wines I’ve tasted from each. Click on each wine for tasting notes and availability – all producers are represented in Canada.

For a full list of top-rated Alsatian wines, set the WineAlign Country/Region search field to “Alsace”, and be sure to check off “show wines with zero inventory”, or put in your favorite store to see what’s available near you. Over 150 new full reviews have been added.

Exceptional Producers

Albert Mann
André Ostertag
Marc Kreydenweiss
Marcel Deiss
Rolly Gassmann

Christophe Erhard, JosMeyer 1 Kreydenweiss Labels 1

Very Good Producers

Barmès – Buecher
Bernard Schoffit
J.M. Sohler
Pierre Frick
René Muré
Valentin Zusslin

Geneviève Barmès Buecher 1 Hervé Sohler in his Cellar 1

Main Terroirs & Top Wines

(For more about Alsace Grand Crus and the details of each terroir visit the official Wines of Alsace website)


Granite soils yield wines that are fresh and floral, generally dry, and immediately open and appealing from the start even if capable of long ageing. Finesse and delicacy are common descriptors. Riesling performs very well in granite soils, as does pinot gris. Top Grand Cru vineyards on granite: Brand, Schlossberg, Sommerberg, Winzenberg.

2012 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine

2011 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Grand Cru Brand

2008 Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg

2009 JosMeyer Riesling Grand Cru Brand

2011 Marcel Deiss Langenberg “La Longue Colline”

2012 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Blanc La Fontaine aux Enfants



Perhaps the most distinctive in Alsace, wines born of the rare sedimentary-volcanic soils are invariably deeper in colour, extremely rich in mineral extract and structured for long ageing. The aroma and flavour profiles are marked by a unique stony-sulphurous minerality and notable salinity that’s not necessarily immediately appealing. These are wines for attuned oenophiles seeking something distinct and original. The Rangen de Thann is Alsace’s only truly volcanic terroir, a heart-stoppingly steep, 60%, south-facing site at the very southern tip of the region featuring friable volcanic rocks overlying a thin layer of soil anchored on greywacke beneath. Alsace’s highest elevation makes this a windy, slow ripening site. Rangen wines stand out for their amplitude, weight and salinity, as well as gun flint, stony, smoky, wet stones aromatics. Riesling and pinot gris are the ultimate expressions of Rangen.

The excellent Muenchberg grand cru in Nothalten also contains some volcanic sands that lend its wines a uniqueness saltiness of their own.

2010 Domaine Bernard Schoffit Riesling Clos St. Théobald Grand Cru Rangen De Thann

2010 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Grand Cru Rangen De Thann

2010 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Clos Saint Urbain Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Rangen De Thann

2012 Domaine Ostertag A360P Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg

2010 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Muenchberg Grand Cru

Grand Cru Muenchberg

Grand Cru Muenchberg


Marly-limy soils consist of thick deposits of compacted limestone and clay, called marl, with calcareous pebbles cemented within. This type of terroir is especially rich in assimilable calcium and magnesium, while the amount of clay in the mix determines the amount of other minerals and fertilizing elements – the more clay, the more minerals are available to the vine. Marl-limestone is one of the most frequent soil types and also one of the most sought-after by winegrowers given its suitability to the full range of Alsatian grapes, especially pinot gris, gewurztraminer and riesling. Top marl-limestone grand crus include the Altenberg de Bergheim, Goldert, Hengst, Mambourg, Pfingstberg, and Sonnenglanz.

2010 Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru

2010 Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Mambourg Vendange Tardives

2010 JosMeyer Riesling Grand Cru Hengst

2011 Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Schœnenbourg

2008 Bott Geyl Pinot Gris Grand Cru Sonnenglanz

2008 Valentin Zusslin Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg

2010 Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Moenchreben de Rorschwihr

Jean-Christophe Bott-Geyl

Jean-Christophe Bott-Geyl

Limestone (with more or less clay, sandstone, marl, muschelkalk)

Limestone comes in many variations in Alsace, including what’s known locally as muschelkalk – a grey limestone with layers of marl, dolomitic limestone, and the whitish oolitic (Jurassic) limestone, each with slight variations in their percentages of soluble (active) limestone, and thus potential for assimilation by the vine and expression in wine. In general, wines born of limestone are slow to open and evolve, but make for structured, highly ageworthy bottles. Some producers such as Pierre Gassmann believe that limestone terroirs are more prone to botrytis and that grapes must be harvested fully ripe (virtually at vendanges tardives levels of ripeness) in order to reach full potential. Gewurztraminer and muscat are usually best suited to limestone, where they achieve their full, expressive aromatics in grand crus like Furstentum and Steinert, while riesling performs magic in the Dolomitic limestone of the Rosacker grand cru.

2010 Trimbach Riesling Réserve

2007 Trimbach  Cuvée Frédéric Émile

2007 Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune

2011 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Clos Windsbuhl

2010 René Muré Riesling Clos Saint Landelin

2007 René Muré Pinot Gris Clos Saint Landelin Sélection de Grains Nobles

2010 Valentin Zusslin Pinot Noir Bollenberg ‘Harmonie’

2009 Rolly Gassmann Riesling Sibelberg de Rorschwihr

2000 Rolly Gassmann Riesling Pflanzerreben de Rorschwihr

2010 Rolly Gassmann Riesling de Rorschwihr Selections de Grain Nobles

2008 Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris Réserve Rolly Gassmann

2009 Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins des Brebis”

Véronique Muré, of Domaine René Muré 1 Pierre Gassmann and His Father 1

Additional Fine Wines from Various Terroirs

2012 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Fronholz

2008 Domaine Mark Kreydenweiss Pinot Gris Clos Rebberg

2010 Domaine Mark Kreydenweiss Riesling Kastelberg Granc Cru


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Part I: Calling All Wine Lovers (and Geologists)

Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!