Alsace 2022 Reds: Continuing Their Trajectory


It turns out that wild boars have a predilection for Grenache. They devoured all of Eddy Leiber-Faller’s fruit in 2022. And yes, you are reading an Alsace report, where the chief red grape is Pinot Noir, of course. The Grenache was grafted over on a small parcel of Riesling vines in the granitic soils of the Schlossberg Grand Cru. This would have been the first fruit from these new grafts had it not been for those picky marauders (who will never eat Riesling, which is far too tart for their liking). Apparently, they have quite a weakness for Gewurztraminer, too. Who can blame them? Leiber-Faller intends to put up an electrified fence.

Stormy spring clouds paint a moody yet vibrant light across Grand Cru Hengst - one of the first grands crus approved for Pinot Noir in Alsace.

The Rise and Rise of Pinot Noir

The latest figures from the CIVA, the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins d'Alsace, state that Pinot Noir now accounts for 13% of total Alsace plantings—2,011 hectares. In 2021, that figure was 1,745 hectares—11% of plantings. There is market demand for the variety; all of the region’s growers echo this. Séverine Schlumberger reports planting four further hectares of Pinot Noir in Grand Cru Saering, also deciding to grub up Riesling and Gewurztraminer in the Bollenberg. Now, the only two varieties Schlumberger grows on this limestone site are Pinot Noir and Muscat. Frédéric Hugel says: “In the past five years, we have doubled our sales of the Classic Pinot Noir.” Christian Beyer of Domaine Emile Beyer is planting more Pinot Noir in the Sundel parcel of Grand Cru Pfersigberg in Eguisheim. Antoine Sorg (of Domaine Bruno Sorg, also in Eguisheim) notes: “Each time we take out a parcel of Riesling or Gewurztraminer on the plain, we replant with Pinot Noir.” Pinot Noir ripens early and is better suited to the site than Riesling and more in demand than Gewurztraminer. Charles Sparr of Domaine Amélie & Charles Sparr in Wettolsheim believes that by the end of this decade, Pinot Noir will account for 30-40% of Alsace production.

Since Gewurztraminer also prefers richer soils compared to Riesling, it is not surprising to find Pinot Noir on such richer sites of marl, clay and limestone with more topsoil cover – but it must be noted that Pinot Noir does work on granite, too. When vinified carefully, granite-grown Pinot Noirs can have a translucent, stony, red-fruited tenderness and a more austere character than limestone- or marl-grown Pinot Noirs, which might easily blend into a line-up of Burgundies. Lovers of Pinot Noir will know that Pinot can shine on various soils – while acknowledging that heavenly marriage between this grape variety and limestone – which in Alsace can be both from the Jurassic period, as in Burgundy, or Triassic.

Brothers Thomas (left) and Jean-Daniel (right) Boeckel in their tasting room in Mittelbergheim.

Changing Paradigms

Many of the 2022 Pinot Noirs are uncharacteristically dark in color and show sumptuous flavors, often of black cherry. Both Melanie Pfister in Dahlenheim and Paul Fuchs in Riquewihr note that determining the harvest date was crucial to retaining freshness in Pinot Noir in 2022. I am pleased to say that, while the fruit flavors are plush and tannins ripe, I did not taste a single jammy 2022 Pinot Noir at the domaines I visited.

Given the varying release rhythms of the estates, other producers presented the 2021 vintage. Pinot Noir, with its inherent susceptibility to rot, was a challenge in this damp year plagued by mildew, and yields took a hit. Marine Claude at Kirrenbourg noted that, while she usually produces 4,000 bottles of Cuvée Mathieu, in 2021, that figure was just 1,800. The 2021s lack the opulence of the 2020s. As a function of that, Jacky Barthelmé of Domaine Albert Mann included less whole-bunch fruit in his ferments and decided not to use any new oak for his elegant and fine-boned 2021 Pinot Noirs. At Domaine Weinbach, they did not produce a 2021 Pinot Noir Jardin aux Oiseaux, but the 2021 Pinot Noir from the Furstentum Grand Cru (the first ever from the domaine) is a graceful marvel.

Two thousand twenty-one and 2022 represent polar opposites that played into the hands of some styles more than others. What is telling, though, is that most of the Pinot Noir producers I visited are in active pursuit of a new paradigm. Jean-Frédéric Hugel says, “It seems like we spent the last 30 years striving for power in Pinot Noir, and now that we have it, we crave lightness.” Mathieu Deiss believes that red wines have evolved the most at Domaine Marcel Deiss. He notes that, for many years, his father wanted to prove that Alsace was capable of making “real red wine,” meaning wines with color and extraction. “This is no longer the case, and now there is a place for elegance.” The wines prove his point.

The Clos de la Faille vineyard was planted by Domaine Albert Mann above the Grand Cru Hengst where limestone meets Triassic sandstone.

Grand Cru Vorbourg: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Veronique and Thomas Muré in Rouffach excitedly report that the INAO has provisionally approved Grand Cru status for Pinot Noir in Grand Cru Vorbourg. Provisional approval means that anyone can still object to this but would have to have done so by the 1st of March 2024. No objections have been received, but the news of this third grand cru approved for Pinot Noir can only be made public once the notice appears in the French government’s Journal officiel. When I note that this process, which started in 2011, took long enough, Muré says: “Yes, about 45 years. Veronique and I have battled for this because of the work our father did.” The Murés will be able to label their Pinot Noirs from Vorbourg and their Clos Saint Landelin as Grand Cru from the 2024 vintage onwards—a cause for celebration. This follows the Grand Crus of Hengst in Wintzenheim on marly, Triassic limestone and Kirchberg de Barr in Barr, on Jurassic limestone, which were the first to achieve this status for Pinot Noir with the 2023 vintage. The Kirchberg is still emblematic of Gewurztraminer, but 10% of its surface is now planted to Pinot Noir. Vorbourg is also on Jurassic limestone. I expect further Grand Crus will follow, but do not hold your breath. This will take decades. In the meantime, however, we will have Grand Cru-level wines in our glasses, even if the labels cannot say so.

Pierre Gassmann in his grand showroom filled with every geological formation to be found at his estate.

I tasted the wines for this report during estate visits in January 2024.

© 2024, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

You Might Also Enjoy

Alsace 2022 Whites – A Lucky Escape, Anne Krebiehl MW, April 2024

Alsace 2020s and 2021s: Just like Janus, Anne Krebiehl MW, April 2023