Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer – The Different Shades of White wines from Alsace

Today’s tasting focuses on wines produced from two typical varieties of Alsace, a wine region in the north-east of France that stretches along the course of the Rhine River on the border with Germany. Although it is located at high latitude (48 ºN), the region is characterised by a sunny, warm and dry climate.

This is a unique and prestigious wine region, where vine-growing dates back to Roman times; today, other than being renowned for its picturesque landscapes with hills covered with vineyards, it is especially known for its aromatic wines with floral and spicy notes, made almost entirely from white grape varieties. A distinctive feature of Alsace wines is the bottle, that gives them an identity image known as “flûte d’Alsace”.

The Growing Environment

The vineyards of Alsace, and in particular those located on the slopes of the Vosges Mountains, are characterised by a multitude of aspects and are located at different altitudes; these are essential elements to successfully cultivate the large number of varieties available in the region.

The best vineyards are typically between 200 and 250 metres above sea level, but some plots, typically vineyards classified as Grand Cru, are located on steep slopes and are at a higher altitude, up to 450 metres. The optimal exposure that maximises sunlight interception is to the south, southeast or southwest. Less prestigious vineyards are located between the slopes of the mountains and the river Rhine, in a mostly flat area.

Perhaps even more varied than the vineyards’ location is the composition of the soil in Alsace, so varied that it can be defined as a “mosaic of terroirs”. In general, the soil in the flatter area is deep and fertile, therefore used for the production of high-volume wines, while in the hillier areas the soil is less fertile with better drainage, both characteristics that promote a slower plant growth and grape ripeness, giving potential for a more quality orientated production.

The vineyards are usually trained to single or double Guyot. In addition, the plants are typically trained high at 1-1.2 metres from the ground to reduce the risk of frost and humidity, especially in the lowlands. The canopy is also trained higher than other regions (1.8-1.9 metres high); this maximizes exposure to sunlight interception but requires a wider intra-row space in the vineyard to avoid shade. The vine density is about 4,000-4,500 vines per hectare, with lower densities in the flatter area and higher on the hills.

Due to the large number of styles of wine produced, from sparkling wines to late harvest and botrytised, combined with the diversity of the vineyards, such as exposure and altitude, the harvest in Alsace lasts for a long time. Moreover, the specifications require that the Grand Cru vineyards have to be hand harvested, while those on more gentle slopes or in the plains are typically machine harvested.

The Vosges Mountains also act as a natural barrier to protect the vineyards, they limit the oceanic influence and reinforce the continental climate of the region, which is characterised by harsh winters and very hot summers.

The strong winds from the west, that are responsible for the high levels of rainfall on the western side of the mountain range, are blocked by the same, therefore, the region is sheltered from the rainfall and has dry weather with 500-600mm of rainfall spread throughout the year. The low level of rainfall reduces the risk of mildew and rot outbreak leading to a low number of treatments in the vineyard. In addition, thanks to the small-scale production, almost artisanal, of many producers, allows them to pay great attention to the continuous monitoring of plant health in the vineyards and to promptly act if necessary to tackle diseases or fungal outbreaks.

The high diurnal range, typical of a continental climate like the Alsace’s one, is particularly strong in autumn. The change in temperatures between day and night allows a slow and steady ripening of the grapes, giving them aromatic complexity and retains high levels of acidity which gives freshness to the wines.

Biodiversity & Sustainability

The extreme diversity in soil and the different micro-climates that can be found in the region have encouraged winegrowers to preserve a large number of different grape varieties. This has forced the winegrowers to look for the best terroir for each grape variety, where they can grow at their best, other than promote the biodiversity in the region.

It is a long time that the practice of stimulating and increasing the natural defences of the vine has been adopted; this has been achieved by promoting the development of the plant root system and, at the same time, limiting the use of chemicals. In Alsace, sustainable, organic and biodynamic viticulture is a reality.


Alsace is famous for the number of wineries that produce many, if not all, styles of wine: sparkling, dry, off-dry, as well as Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles. To make thing even more complex it should be kept in mind that these styles can be made from the four “Noble” varieties or from all the available ones and the wines can be made at different levels of quality and price. This means that on average each winery can have about 20-30 references in its portfolio.

The “Noble” varieties are Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer; these varieties are the only ones that can be used for the Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles styles. They can be used for the production of typical varietal wines from vineyards classified as Grand Cru, but there are a few exceptions to this rule.

Today, the selected wines have been made with two varieties considered “Noble”: Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.

Here is a summary of the characteristics of the grapes used to produce the wines tasted:  

Pinot Gris: this is an early budding and ripening white grape variety, that make it subject to spring frosts, that can be harvested before the autumn rains. The grapes can accumulate high levels of sugar, therefore, the wines obtained can have a high level of alcohol. Wines made from Pinot Gris form Alsace wines which typically have a medium aroma intensity of peach and apple and are full-bodied with medium acidity. The best examples have aging potential and over time develop notes of honey and delicate smoky hints.

Gewurztraminer: this is a white grape variety with skins that take on a pink colour. It is an early budding and ripening variety, that make it subject to spring frosts, that can be harvested before the autumn rains. This is a variety that accumulates sugar very quickly, but in Alsace it is harvested late to reach the full ripening of the skins and therefore an aromatic complexity, as well as avoiding a possible unripe tannin. The wines obtained show pronounced aromas of lychee, peach, apricot and rose with spicy notes on the finish; they have a high level of alcohol and a medium to high body, but show low acidity.

The Winery

Léon Beyer is a historic winery that has been operating since the sixteenth century, it is located in the heart of Alsace in Eguisheim, a village with a wine tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.

This is a family run business that is made of craftsmanship, quality and respect for the environment as its cornerstones. As per tradition, the production is made of a wide range of products, of all the styles of dry, sweet and sparkling wines, all able to show the identity of the region.

Pinot Gris – Reserve – Alsace A.O.C. – 2014

100% Pinot Gris

  • Look: medium lemon.
  • Smell: medium aroma intensity of blossom, gooseberry, apple, pear, quince, lime, lemon, lemon peel, nectarine.
  • Taste: dry, medium acidity, medium alcohol, medium body, medium flavour intensity, medium finish.
  • Pairing: tagliatelle with girolle mushrooms.

Comtes d’Eguisheim – Gewurztraminer – Alsace A.O.C. – 2008

100% Gewurztraminer

  • Look: medium gold.
  • Smell: pronounced aroma intensity of apple, pear, apricot, lychee, peach, preserved peach, dried apricot, melon, honey, almond, ginger, cinnamon.
  • Taste: dry, medium (-) acidity, medium alcohol, medium (+) body, pronounced flavour intensity, long finish.
  • Pairing: pork curry with mango.

Note: both wines were tasted at the peak of their maturity; further time spent in the bottle could not enhance their complexity anymore. In particular, the second sample tasted because the appearance showed the first signs of oxidation, a condition confirmed also on the nose and on the palate.

For more information on the wines tasted, here is the producer’s website: Léon Beyer

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White Wine

I live in a stunning and charming land, where wine culture is a pivotal element in everyday life and has been part of the culture for centuries.
I believe that wine tasting, although requiring a certain rigor, should be fun, and above all it has to be a sensory and enriching journey.

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