Alsace grape varieties and wine labelling

Here I list the grape varieties in Alsace, and describe how they relate to the names on Alsace wine labels. This is not nearly as easy as you might think when you get into the detail, especially when aiming for strict accuracy whilst still making the information easy to access. Let me start by giving the varieties allowed in the AOCs of Alsace and Crémant d’Alsace.

Grape Varieties
Auxerrois
Chardonnay
Chasselas
Gewurztraminer
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
Muscat Ottonel
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Noir
Riesling
Savagnin Rose
Sylvaner

In this list I use what I would call a commonly understood definition of grape variety. For example, although Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are clones of Pinot Noir, I treat all three as separate varieties, not least because the AOC regulations do so. Likewise, and for the same reason, I count Gewurztraminer and Savagnin Rose as separate varieties, even if they are both clones of Savagnin. I also list two varieties of Muscat, but here it is because they are in fact different varieties, however much that may sometimes be glossed over. But for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Chasselas I do not separate out their white and pink clones. The AOC regulations do refer to both colours, but each time one is allowed the other is too, so nothing is lost by lumping them together. Besides, I don’t think it is at all usual to separate out the pink clones for these varieties. For more detail, each of these grape varieties has a sizable section in Wine Grapes.  Internet searches will also give plenty of information about them.

Label Text Permitted Grape Varieties
Auxerrois Auxerrois
Chasselas
Gutedel
Chasselas
Gewurztraminer Gewurztraminer
Muscat Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
Muscat Ottonel
Muscat Ottonel Muscat Ottonel
Pinot Blanc Auxerrois
Pinot Blanc
Pinot
Klevner
Auxerrois
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Noir
Pinot Gris Pinot Gris
Riesling Riesling
Sylvaner Sylvaner
Pinot Noir, red or rosé Pinot Noir
Klevener de Heiligenstein Savagnin Rose
Edelzwicker Auxerrois
Chasselas
Gewurztraminer
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
Muscat Ottonel
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Noir
Riesling
Savagnin Rose, only from Heiligenstein area
Sylvaner
Crémant Auxerrois
Chardonnay
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Noir
Riesling
Crémant, rosé Pinot Noir

The right hand column in the above table is relatively straightforward as I have already explained what I mean by these varieties. Any variety in a list in the right hand column can be used in any proportion.

The left hand column is a bit of a mixed bag. From Auxerrois to Pinot Noir, it contains what the AOC regulations call the dénomination en usage, a sort-of varietal name for the wine. Gutedal is an alternative name for Chasselas, and Klevner for Pinot. More on Klevener de Heiligenstein below. Another denomination en usage is Edelzwicker, which means noble blend even if it is now not required to be particularly noble. Finally we have the two colours of Alsace crémant wines. Except where noted, you should assume that all wines are white.

The main areas of confusion surround the usage of the label terms Pinot Blanc, Pinot, Klevner and Klevener.

Let’s deal with Klevener first. Klevener de Heiligenstein is, as far as the Alsace AOC regulations are concerned, a geographical name that may appear on the label. And like other possible geographical names, in addition to specifying where the vines can be grown it restricts the grape varieties that are allowed in the wine. For Klevener de Heiligenstein it just so happens that only one variety is allowed: Savagnin Rose. And that variety cannot be used with any other additional name on the label apart from Edelzwicker, and in all cases, Savagnin Rose has to come from the area around Heiligenstein. However, to most people, Klevener de Heiligenstein reads like a grape variety: the Klevener variety of Heiligenstein. And indeed, in the book Wine Grapes, Klevener de Heiligenstein is listed as a synonym for Savagnin Rose. So when you see Klevener de Heiligenstein on a wine, feel free to think of it as a form of varietal labelling. Just be careful not to confuse it with Klevner, which has a different spelling, and its own set of complications.

According to the regulations, Klevner is simply an alternative label name for Pinot, and as such it includes a range of grape varieties. But you should also be aware that Clevner and Klävner (also Klevner according to some sources) are used in Alsace as synonyms for the variety Pinot Blanc. So if someone says something that sounds like Klevner, you will need some context to know if they are talking about Savagnin Rose, Pinot Blanc, or a wine that can contain any of several Alsace varieties. If your head is starting to hurt now, do push on – the worst is over.

Normally in the EU, if a wine has a variety mentioned on the label, it must contain at least 85% of that variety. However, according to the Alsace AOC regulations, wines labelled Pinot Blanc can contain large proportions of Auxerrois, and they often do. Apparently (reported by Jancis Robinson on her forum, quoting correspondence from CIVA) this is because in this context Pinot Blanc, contrary to appearance, is not a grape variety but a dénomination en usage, and usage has always been to confuse the varieties Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois. However, this does not work the other way round, so if the label says Auxerrois the wine must be 100% of that variety.

Another fudge, I understand, is that Chardonnay used to be tolerated in Pinot, even if strictly speaking it never was allowed. But no more. It is only permitted in white crémant. Which leads me on to another notable fact about Crémant d’Alsace: rosé crémant must be 100% Pinot Noir. It is not permitted to make rosé by mixing white and red grapes, as it is in Champagne and many other sparkling wine regions.

I am aware that some of what I have written here is in conflict with what I have seen in other places, both online and in print. Some errors my well have slipped into my post (and if they have please let me know) but my sources were the current official regulations. Specifically, the documents I used were:

CAHIER DES CHARGES DE L’APPELLATION D’ORIGINE CONTRÔLEE « ALSACE » ou « VIN D’ALSACE » homologue par le décret n° 2011-1373 du 25 octobre 2011, modifié par le décret n° 2014-1069 du 19 septembre 2014, publié au JORF du 21 septembre 2014

Cahier des charges de l’appellation d’origine contrôlée « Crémant d’Alsace » homologué par le décret n° 2011-1373 du 25 octobre 2011, JORF du 28 octobre 2011

About Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast
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5 Responses to Alsace grape varieties and wine labelling

  1. John Dickinson says:

    Whilst clearly not straightforward surely Alsace is one of the easier wine regions to find our way around?
    In reference to the Pinots, blanc, gris and noir, am I correct saying the are all allowed in red Burgundy?
    Go easy on me! 😉

  2. I’m not sure that Alsace is particularly easy, John. It’s got more varieties than most regions. It also has geographical areas and grand crus, each one with its allowable varieties and blends. Then there is VT and SGN.

    I think PG and PB (or it is another white clone of Pinot Noir?) are allowed in SOME villages of Burgundy, because there are old vineyards that contain them, and other weird stuff – but you cannot plant new vineyards with those varieties. So the details in Burgundy can get very complicated. But in practice there are a lot fewer varieties than in Alsace. I think Pinot Noir, Chard and Aligoté basically covers it. With Sauv Blanc in some villages, and Gamay if you include Beaujolais.

  3. John Dickinson says:

    Hmm I thought there were hundreds of mutations of pinot noir in Burgundy but perhaps I read it on Facebook. 😀

  4. Could be, but I think most of the mutations would still be called Pinot Noir.

  5. John Dickinson says:

    🙂

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