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Pinot Noir of Alsace

Pinot Noir is, with Cabernet Sauvignon, the Worlds' most important grapes for red wines. But while Cabernet Sauvignon builds its' reputation on a unique ability to give great wines under many conditions in several regions, Pinot Noir is extremely picky and elusive.

Indeed, Pinot Noir is primarily associated with Bourgogne, in particular Côte de Nuits but also Côte de Beaune. Great wines from Côte de Nuits is higher prices than any other wines; the good wines start €20-50 while the "Mystery Wines" from the likes of Romanée Conti, Clos de Tart and Perrot-Minot easily top €150.

In addition to Bourgogne, fine Pinot could be found in New Zealand, USA and not the least Pfalz (the Palatinate) in Germany, where producers such as Philipp Kuhn have the gift and skill to express the greatness of Pinot Noir on a regular basis.

It may be easy to forget that Côte de Nuits builds its' reputation on vineyards located along a narrow strip of perfectly exposed and perfectly drained, unique terroir of limestone and marl from Jurassic times. These strata have been exposed by "accident", some 30 million years ago. Furthermore, the landscape is concave, trapping all the sunshine and creating a unique micro climate that relies on the fact that the hills to the west moderates the rainfall.

Nowhere on Earth can we find anything similar. Except in Alsace.

Pinot Noir in Alsace

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In Alsace, Pinot Noir is grown on 9.6% of the area. The fraction tends to increase as the quality and the temperature increases. Pinot Noir is used extensively for Crémant but also for white wines, where it may be used for Pinot Blanc. Even ”Blanc de Noir” can be found but should normally be avoided. Furthermore, Pinot Noir is used for light rosé wines that do will at the BBQ on warm summer evenings.

Even if good Pinot Noir can appear unexpectedly in any village and at any producer at any time, there are two sectors with a solid reputation for Pinot Noir. The northern one includes the villages Rodern and St Hippolyte. Here, the Grand Cru Gloeckelberg, with its' warm, dark and relatively heavy soil on a granitic bedrock is top terroir for Pinot Noir. The second, southern sector includes Pfaffenheim, Rouffach and Westhalten with the Grands Crus Vorburg and Steinert.

Ferment first – press later

Vinification of red wines does, as we all know, differ between red and white wines. While grapes destined for white wines are taken directly from the vine to the press, grapes for red wines ferment with peels, seeds and some of the stems. Pressing is done after some days. This phase is called maceration and lasts for 5-15 days in Alsace. The alcohol produced extracts flavors, tannins and color from the peels. The time for maceration is determined to give the right balance between the fruit (from the must) and the structure (from the skins etc.).