Alsace, home to superb wine, is located in the North-Eastern corner of France, separated from Germany by the Rhine River to the East and protected by the Vosges Mountains to the West.
Enticing whites, and lovely pale reds, sparkling wine and dessert specialties, Alsace has it all, but the highest quality comes from the Grand Cru Vineyards. The wines sourced from these selected plots, labelled with the name of each esteemed vineyard, are amongst the most exclusive and enjoyable white wines in the world.
The geology, sun exposure and history behind each of the 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace make them unique. The vineyards were elevated to their current status from 1975 to 2007, and they vary in size, from 3 to 80 hectares — these are single vineyard wines made with a hand-picked set of grape varieties. Here’s all you need to know about Alsace Grand Cru wine.
History of Alsace Grand Cru AOC
Alsace is the last major French wine region to be recognised with its own AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) in 1962. The region had changed hands between Germany and France several times throughout history, being the last one during World War II.
The finest sites have always been well known. Still, it wasn’t until 1975 that a special designation called “Grand Cru” was established to distinguish these prestigious plots of land, and in 2001 individual AOCs were created for each Grand Cru vineyard to regulate the category better.
Today there are 51 Grand Crus, each with its own quality-oriented rules and authorised varieties. From the 3.2-hectare Kanzlerberg to the massive 80.3-hectare Schlossberg, each site offers a unique experience.
Alsace Grand Cru Wines must come from any of the 51 identified sites. Like a pearl necklace within the Vosges foothills from North to South, they're located within 47 communes both in the Bass Rhin and the Haut Rhin Departments. From the small southern village of Thann to the northern Steinklotz, near Strasbourg.
Grand Cru wines represent only 4% of Alsace production, and despite being all made with Alsace’s selected noble grape varieties, these are terroir-driven wines.
The region has one of the most varied geologies on the planet with soils comprising granite, limestone, schist, clay, gravel, chalk, loess and the grés de Vosges, a local pink sandstone. Wine can vary widely from site to site thanks to the different drainage, composition and water and heat retention in each soil type.
Climate plays a huge role in the wine’s quality. Grand Cru vineyards have an Eastern or South-Eastern slope orientation, guaranteeing excellent sun exposure.
Despite the northern latitude, Alsace is one of the country's warmest regions. The Vosges Mountains create a ‘rain shadow’ effect that prevents the cold winds and grey clouds from reaching Alsace’s vineyards. This is the driest region in France.
Grape Varieties and Blends
Alsace Grand Cru wine must be made with the region’s noble varieties: Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer without any blending. There are some exceptions, though.
Grand Cru Zotzenberg can be made with Sylvaner and the Grand Crus Altenberg de Bergheim and Kaefferkopf can be crafted with a blend of grape varieties.
All other Alsatian grapes, including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are not authorised for the Grand Cru category.
Although most Grand Cru wines are dry, you can find the distinctions "Vendanges Tardives" and "Sélection de Grains Nobles" for late harvests and grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea.
Buy Alsace Grand Cru from Hourlier Wines
If you want to dig deeper into the prestigious Alsace Grand Cru wines, explore our fine wine selection at Pierre Hourlier Wines.
Try the 6 Bottle Mixed Case: Alsace Grand Cru Selection, including the floral and mineral Joseph Cattin Riesling Grand Cru Hatschbourg, the fragrant Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Hatschbourg and the well-rounded Pinot Gris Grand Cru Godert.
Maison Joseph Cattin is a family-owned estate with 300 years of history. With 65 hectares of vines, the Cattin family is one of the largest estates in Alsace. Cattin brings us the region's traditions with the finest expression of Alsace's terroir.
How many Alsace Grands Crus are there?
There are currently 51 Grand Cru Vineyards in Alsace, including the most recently added Kaefferkopf, Ammerschwihr, in 2006.
Every Grand Cru is unique: The southernmost Rangen vineyard, in Thann, is known for its volcanic soils, Schlossberg, in Kaysersberg, is the largest vineyard of them all, Zotzenberg, in Mittelbergheim, allows Sylvaner grapes, and Kanzlerberg, in Bergheim, is the smallest with just 3.2 hectares. Altenberg de Bergheim is known for its Gewurztraminer and Riesling blends, and the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard is home to the acclaimed lieu-dit Clos Sainte Hune. These are only some of the most esteemed Grand Crus.
Each of the 51 Grand Cru’s has something special to offer, and they’re all tended by the most passionate and dedicated winemaking families in Alsace.
What does Alsace Grand Cru taste like?
Alsace Grand Cru wines offer a myriad of tasting experiences. Riesling is mineral, flowery and often provides an addictive petrol aroma, always over a tight palate held together by an acidic backbone. Gewurztraminer is all about rose petals and warm spices. Muscat has an underlying sweetness and a fruit-forward character, and Pinot Gris is round and mild, very versatile at the table.
What makes Alsace Grand Cru unique?
Alsace Grand Cru wines are amongst the most cherished white wines in the world. They’re terroir-driven, meaning they offer a wide range of sensations and flavour profiles. They’re relatively scarce, still very well priced, and have an enormous versatility when paired with food.
Which food groups pair well with Alsace Grand Cru? Alsace Grand Cru wines pair best with Alsatian specialties: quiche, tarte flambée, egg dishes, potatoes, choucroute, sausages, coq au vin, and white meat, including pork, poultry and veal.
Texturally pleasing and aromatically complex, Alsatian Grand Cru wines complement food without being overpowering, making them well suited for the finest tables.