Episode 144: Alsace Opulence With Cassidy Havens, DipWSET
What is the “red drinker’s white wine?” What’s unique about Alsace, the wine styles, and the labeling? Cassidy Havens of Teuwen Communications fills us in on why these wines are so sought after on wine lists. There are some juicy nuggets of information of which wine lovers will want to take note. Also, she shares the secret to “the best 15 minutes of your wine and cheese life.” Yes, we go there. We all should go there.
Wines of Alsace Interview with Cassidy Havens
Cassidy met up with Val back in November before the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa got into full swing. In fact, you may hear some bustling and glassware being shuffled about in the background as the room was preparing for the opening reception.
So while Steph is on her way to New Zealand, we decided to share this episode ahead of schedule. Yes, January will be packed with THREE regional episodes, because after New York wines last week, Alsace this week, we’re headed to Spain next week. Buckle up listeners – it’s going to be a busy 2018!
Cassidy Havens is a Senior Account Supervisor at Teuwen Communications, a public relations agency for food, wine and spirits, where she has worked with Wines of Alsace for nearly six years. After two and a half years of study, she completed her WSET Diploma in January 2017 at the International Wine Center in New York. In June 2017 she relocated to Teuwen’s West Coast Bureau to lead new business initiatives in addition to managing campaigns for clients such as Wines of Alsace, the Bureau Interprofessionnel du Cognac and Esporão Wines. A native of Alabama and a graduate of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Media, Culture and Communications, she resides in Oakland, California with her cats.
Where it is
Alsace is located on the German border in the far northeast part of France. In fact, it was actually part of the German Empire – many times. The back-and-forth between the kingdoms and empires dates back to the first century. Yet, the Kingdom of France had annexed the region since the late 1600s for the next 200 years.
However, during the Franco-Prussian War the German Empire took the region back in 1871.
The French took control after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
However, Nazi Germany conquered the region in 1940, seizing control of Alsace.
The happy ending, because all of this was taking its toll on the vines, region, and the people, was the French regaining control of the region in 1945 once again, thus ending the geographical tug-o-war.
The story of Alsace is fascinating, and so is the story of their wines.
There are 11 grapes authorized for use in Alsace Wines. All of them are white grapes, with the exception of Pinot Noir.
The seven “main” grapes are: Riesling, Pinot Blanc (Klevner), Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, and Muscat (à Petits Grains Blanc & Ottonel).
Also used, but not as much, are Chardonnay, Chasselas, Klevener (Savagnin Rose, not to be confused with Klevner), and Auxerrois Blanc.
Most of the wines produced in Alsace are single-varietal, and labeled as such. Therefore, a Riesling will be 100% Riesling, and will state as much on the bottle.
In addition to (mostly) dry, white wines, often seen in the tall, slim flute style bottles (Germanic influence), Alsace does produce red (Pinot Noir) and rosé style wines; these are only about 10% of production, however.
Some of the jewels that must be sought out include the sparkling wine known as Crémant d’Alsace (made in the méthode traditionnelle), and luscious dessert wines such as Vendanges Tardives (VT or late harvest) and Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN, botrytized). These latter two wines can only be made with what are considered “noble grapes:” Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat.
But Wait … There are Blends
Yes, even though we usually see the varietally labeled wines on the shelves, Alsace has special names for their blends: Edelzwicker and Gentil.
Cassidy tells us that the Gentil is more restrictive than Edelzwicker with respect to the use of the different grape varieties. For example, Edelzwicker can use any of the white grapes mentioned above.
Gentil, on the other hand, has to contain at least 50% of the noble grape varieties (Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and/or Muscat) and 50% of the secondary grapes.
Other differences have to do with grape varieties being separately vinified, as well as a stated vintage in the case of Gentil. Edelzwicker doesn’t require this, nor does it require a tasting panel approval process as does the former.
So the Pinot Blanc Val bought the other day? It may or may not be Pinot Blanc. But wait, didn’t we just say the wines are varietally labeled and are 100% of said grape on said bottle? Yes, yes we did. However, apparently there are exceptions. This is that crazy, fun thing we all love about the wine world, and it’s all fun and games until you’re being tested on it, of course.
To be or not to be Pinot Blanc? That is the question
This Pinot Blanc can be either a blend of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois or 100% of either grape. And what?
Cassidy explains that there was a time when it was difficult to determine the difference between the two varieties in the vineyard, so it just came to be this way.
For the record, this producer states that this wine is made with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois. And it’s freaking delicious.
But the Klevner! And what is Pinot d’Alsace?!
Let’s throw another alligator on the table and let it snap around for a minute. If Pinot d’Alsace is on the label or Klevner – does that mean that Pinot Blanc (aka Klevner) is in the bottle? Not necessarily (this is the part where most of you are probably throwing your phones).
True that Klevner is the that tricky synonym for Pinot Blanc – not to be confused with Klevener (Savagnin Rose). However, a bottle labled Pinot d’Alsace or Klevner can actually contain one or more of the following grapes, in any amount: Pinot Noir (vinified white, no skin contact or color), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and/or Auxerrois.
So there you go. Val’s Pinot Blanc (Klevner) is not actually all Pinot Blanc, but it’s not labeled Klevner, although it could be. However, if it were labeled Klevner or Pinot d’Alsace, it wouldn’t necessarily have to contain Klevner (Pinot Blanc) at all.
See? Fun! There is a lot more conversation about Klevener, Klevner, Clevner, and Klevener de Heiligenstein to be had, but that’s for another day, another podcast, and several more bottles of wine.
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