Vintages of Alsace: 1999 to 2007

Vintage 2017

The growing season 2017 was extremely irregular. The cultivars went into the year with low water reservoirs, and warmth in March boosted the growths. However, in early May, icy winds swept down into the valleys with severe frost damage as a result, especially on Gewurztraminer. To make things worse, hail came soon afterwards. Fortunately, the flowering was very good, even though it was unusually early. The summer was not extremely hot, but dry. Terroroirs on granite with predominantly Riesling lacked water, but all Pinot grapes are very promising.

The harvest has started with stable but cool weather. The wines will be as full as the 2015 but with significantly better acidity. The producers are very optimistic, despite the loss of volume.

Vintage 2016

Early summer, 2016 was heading for disaster. The first six months brough more than an average year's ranfall. Mildew was spreading, and the growers were spraying. Many projected yet another vintage with low volumes. The last thing the reagion would need after small crops in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

To add to the worries, August was very dry and warm and especially Riesling started to suffer from hydrological stree, delaying the ripening. But in September some rain came and the weather became more stable. Cloudy, cool but good. There was no gray rot, nor any botrytis.

The harvest lasted for a good month and ended by 1 November. The grapes were perfect with moderate sugar level and great complexity. No selection was needed. The volume was up by a third as compared to 2015. We will get especially good Pinots.

Vintage 2009

Following an early spring, early summer was cool and the flowering was uneven and long-lasting. The summer became increasingly hot, which caused concern with respect to decreasing levels of acidity. In addition, some soils, notably on the Plaine d'Alsace, became so dry that the maturation was blocked due to hydrological stress.

Harvest dates were set to:

The harvest period was beautiful with warm days and cool nights which preserved enough acidity in the grapes. The sanitary state of the grapes was perfect, as there were no trace of rot. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris were particulary successful, while Riesling should be expected to mature relatively rapidly. Gewurztraminer turned out very spicy. In many villages, notably Ribeauvillé and Andlau, wild boars have eaten lots of mature grapes, causing heavy losses as they have partied all night long in the vineyards.

In total, 2007, 2008 and 2009 has brought a fantastic string of vintages in Alsace!

Vintage 2008

2008 is a very, very good vintage that already is a classic. Unfortunately, Muscat was wiped out due to coulure, which means that the flowers fall off the bunches if the day-time temperature is less than 20 degrees. The summer was nice without severe heat spells, and the pre-harvest was ideal with clear and sunny days and fresh nights.

Harvest dates were set to:

Some rain on 13 September caused concern, but not even Pinot GRis was struck by rot, mainly because a stable high pressure was installed thereafter. The Rieslings are exceptional with splendid minerality and a great, almost eternal future in sight, but all varieties did well and show remarkable finesse. The long harvest period brought large volumes of Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles of high class.

The hallmark of the vintage is the structure of the wine, created by high levels of tartaric acid. In fact, it is almost impossible to find a mediocre 2008 from Alsace!

Vintage 2007

bild The spring of 2007 was warm, leading to early but successful flowing. During the first summer months, the development was up to a month ahead of schedule. But the process slowed down, much because of depressions and low temperatures in August. However, the heat in June had created hail and thunderstorms. Hail had a disastrous impact on Mittelwihr, Bennwihr, Sigolsheim, Ammerschwihr and Katzenthal where some growers saw a huge proportion vintage disappear (see photo to the right). But the the miracle came to Alsace. September and October offered clear skies with sunny days and cool nights with morning temperatures as low as 5 C. The harvest extended for almost two months, bringing no worries or problems at all. What a relief after 2006!

Due to the extraordinary harvesting condition, all Alsace wines from 2007 are good. The wines have perfect balance between acidity, fruit and (potential) alcohol to which should be added the finesse and complexity brought by the extended maturation process. Already in early October, superb VT and SGN could be brought in without a sign of grey rot.

Vintage 2006

The spring of 2006 was late in Alsace, just as in Northern Europe. The pruning had to be carried out in snow! But the flowering was successful, and in August, which was very warm but humid, expectations were high. Growers that had reason to harvest some plots during early September were lucky as warm, heavy rains dominated late September. The effect was catastrophic. Grey rot, that had been favoured all summer, spread like a plague in a few days, all across Alsace. The situation became desperate. For example, in Niedermorschwihr, the elementary school closed to allow the children to help to rescue the harvest. In the vineyard, extremely careful selection was necessary, and pressing and vinification was a nightmare due to the bad sanitary state of the grapes. The harvest is small and uneven. Growers that work with modern/biodynamic methods (low vigour, deep roots, moisture-absorbing ground cover) have been more successful than others.

Alsace wines from 2006 must be selected on a wine-by-wine basis. Varieties that are harvested early, e.g. Sylvaner and Auxerrois have turned out very well. Gewurztraminer is a success to to their protective, tough skins. Most Rieslings feel heavy and dull, lacking the typical freshness of the variety. The sensitive Pinot Gris, which burst open in the rains and was attacked by rot, typically carries a taste and smell of mushrooms, i.e. grey rot. The mushroom notes can, however be found in wines of any variety, even from the very, very most renowned producers (no exceptions!). Many wines have high levels of volatile acidity, arguably due to late harvest of grapes attacked by insects.

Vintage 2005

Vintage In 2005, the summer came to Alsace with Tour de France, the 2nd leg of which started in Germany and took the roads from Marckolsheim, via Ribeauvillé and Turckheim to Col de Schlucht. The summer was nice with no extremes, and the good but mixed conditions prevailed into the autumn. The ripening was quite rapid, and grapes picked to late may be just a little to heavy. Thanks to the warm conditions, morning mists were formed. Hence, Alsace producers managed to bring in good volumes of VT and SGN.

The wines of 2005 are very sound, across all varieties. In comparison with 2004, the wines are typically a little bit more fruity and full-bodied, but on the other hand, the quality appears to be somewhat more uneven. Generic wines are extremely pleasant reliable and offer plenty of body and fruity varietal character.

Vintage 2004

Due to the growing conditions of 2003, the vines took off early in 2004. Muscat, which is extremely sensitive to cold and damp weathering during flowering, got a very good start. The summer offered quite mixed weather conditions. The harvest took place in cool but clear weather, leading to very good acidity levels. The sanitary state of the grapes was very good.

2004 has created classic and fresh wine of high and even quality. The Rieslings have a lo of citrus notes, need a lot of time to develop and will have excellent cellaring potential. The Muscat is simply stunning. Pinot Gris is firm and fresh, while many Gewurztraminer are brilliant with superb balance. The key words are purity and elegance.

Vintage 2003

The word in French for heat-wave is 'canicule', and 2003 brought a canicule without comparison to France (and the rest of continental Europe for that matter). The harvest started a record-breaking early in late August. The harvest work was painstaking labour under a burning sun, baking the crew in 35+ degrees. The trick was to harvest from 5 in the morning to 11 a.m. Then cool grapes could be brought to presses, making it possible to carry out the settling at correct conditions. However, the temperatures triggered to vines to burn not on only the malic acid, but also the crucial tartaric acid. Consequently, producers were allowed to brush up the structure of the wines with addition of tartaric acid at the pressing stage.

After all, 2003 is a vintage that has brought some nice surprises. All Rieslings have a round, juicy aroma but almost all wines lack typicité and backbone. Nevertheless, some producers (e.g. Guy Wach and Bruno Sorg) have created extraordinary wines with profound minerality and complexity. Also, a few Pinot Gris make the mark, while most Gewurztraminers have fallen into pieces. For Pinot Noir, claiming vintage-of-the-century would be no exaggeration. Those that kept maceration at moderate levels and fought the temptations of excessive new oak made Burgundy style wines.

Vintage 2002

This is certainly the most under-rated recent vintage, sadly over-shadowed by the hyped 2001. The longevity is undeniable, and still 2008 a lot of 2002 was on sale in Alsace, one stunning example being the 2002 Pinot Blanc Rosenberg of Barmes-Buecher.

The Rieslings of 2002 possess classic elegance with racy fruit and acidity and immaculate balance. Botrytis is not present, instead minerality and citrus note tend to dominate. The Gewurztraminer is fresh and lively, while the Pinot Gris has maturity and acidity which ensure almost eternal life, provided that we can keep our hands off.

Vintage 2001

The 2001 has always been seen as great vintage. After very mixed weather conditions, October brought an Indian Summer without a drop of rain. The grapes were brought at good maturity, which relies on ripening under warm conditions rather than on botrytis. The character of the fruit leans to the exotic style, but the minerality is also there. The pH-levels of the must was on the high side, allowing malo-lactic transformation of many wines.

The Riesling wines carry the hallmarks of the vintage; complexity, honey, some dried fruits and good balance. The grape material was very sound so that, maybe due to some malo, the character goes a little bit beyond the typical style of the region. What worked so well for Riesling has not been as great for Pinot Gris, nor for Gewurztraminer. Both these varieties often lack 'it'. But of course, exceptions can be found, especially in wines from colder terroirs.

Vintage 2000

After a nice June, July and August were quite cool and rainy. Rot was a concern during the summer, so was excessive yields. The final result: a large harvest of good but not exceptional quality. Restricting the yield was apparently particularly important in 2000. However, the conditions favoured botrytis and 2000 will be remembered as a year for many stunning VT and SGN. In comparison with 2001 and 2002, 2000 will rank as the least memorable for dry wines.

Riesling from 2000 are pleasant, fruity and well balanced. However, even if some dry wines have a trace o botrytis, most wines lack complexity, concentration and personality. The most stunning wines wines are Riesling VT and Riesling SGN (and also some Pinot Gris VT/SGN), relative rare wines that should be ranked among the best sweet wines in the World.

Vintage 1999

While many wines from the 'great' years 1997 and 1998 have started to mellow after some 10 years in bottle, the wines of 1999 are still going strong. The first reports were not very optimistic, and the perception was that the wines would lack grip. Today, we see the opposite!

This is certainly a year for particularly elegant and long-lived Gewurztraminer, in 2008 still offered by Jean Sipp, Louis Sipp and Sylvie Spielmann. As clear from Wine of the Week, Riesling from 1999 has a silky texture and elegant fruit that has developed very well. In 2008, the following great 1999 Riesling were still at sale: Schlumbergers' Grand Cru Kitterlé, Heckmanns' Grand Cru Engelberg, Grand Cru Kirchberg from Louis Sipp as well as Altenberg de Bergheim from Gustave Lorentz and Charles Koehly. All these examples illustrate the greatness of 1999 but most of all the incomparable potential of Alsace Riesling in general!