July 9, 2021

The Magic of Alsace’s Grand Crus

The Magic of Alsace’s Grand Crus

When it comes to French wines, the term Grand Cru has a magical connotation. But just how magical the name of a particular Grand Cru vineyard and the wines named after it really are depends enormously on the region. Both in terms of reputation and to your pocketbook, it makes a huge difference if a Grand Cru white wine is from Burgundy or Alsace. Let me give a few concrete examples.

The world’s most expensive dry white wine is the Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy, which Wine Searcher prices at $12,750 for the 2015 vintage (the latest available) and $19,590 for the 2014. In contrast, even the most expensive Grand Cru wines from Alsace are those from the Rangen Grand Cru site in the commune of Thann, produced by Domaine Zind Humbrecht, and they lie at just under $100 for the 2019 vintage. That’s a more than a hundred-fold price difference!

The question is whether that price difference is reflected in the wine quality, and for us the answer is … not necessarily. Sure, the best Grand Cru dry whites from Burgundy are amazing wines, and for sommeliers and collectors around Planet Wine they remain the benchmark for the chardonnay grape. The Montrachet Grand Cru is an example of how enormous global demand for a very limited production combined with high quality results in stratospheric prices for certain Burgundian Grand Cru wines.

For Alsace, demand is almost never as great, but what about quality? Recently, we tasted the 2018 and 2019 vintages of the Rangen Grand Cru wines from Zind Humbrecht (each year they make a trio of Grand Cru whites from the Rangen: a riesling, a pinot gris and a gewurztraminer) and rated them every bit as highly as the best Grand Cru whites of Burgundy. This situation creates a golden opportunity for savvy consumers, and our Top 10 is designed to help you make the most of it.

There’s another important reason to take these wines very seriously. Many consumers wonder what the “mineral character” that sommeliers and wine critics often talk about actually tastes like. Alsace Grand Cru are an ideal way to find out.

97 pts: Mélanie Pfister 2018 Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg

Melanie Pfister is one of the most talented young winemakers in Alsace and since she took over the cellar from her father, Andre, in 2006 she has steadily improved the quality of the estate’s wines. This is the best wine she has ever made, and it has a stunning freshness and finesse for this extremely warm vintage. It comes from one of the most northerly Grand Cru in Alsace, the 14.8-hectare Engelberg of Dahlenheim, which lies just a short drive west of the city of Strasbourg. It’s clay-limestone soil type is quite common for the region, but the Engelberg enjoys an ideal combination of generous sunshine and cooling wind for the new climatic situation. Watch this space!

–Stuart Pigott, Senior Editor, Jamessuckling.com, July 2021