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Dec 11, 2012 07:59 PM

What criteria or regulations govern sweetness of 'ordinary' Alsace Gewurtztraminer??!! ian Gewurztraminer

Drank two different 'non VT' and 'non Grand Cru' 2010 Alsace Gewurtz., the other day. One, way sweeter than the other ( almost mistook for a Vendange Tardive). Nothing on label indicating such a 'sweet' finish. Unlike German, whence one can usually tell from 'Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese...etc, is it more 'trial and error' for Alsace ?!

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  1. Charles,

    It is to a large extent as there are no regulations governing the level of sweetness outside of the VT and SGN classifications.

    Some houses, including Zind-Humbrecht and Schlumberger, have a numerical sweetness scale on the label which will give you an idea of how sweet the contents are. For others, the only surefire way to avoid surprise / disappointment is if you are familiar with the house style. Hugel and Leon Beyer, for example, never make sweet non-VT/SGN gewurztraminers. Weinbach, on the other hand, deliberately favours a riper, rounder style for its gewurz, although it does make very fine dry wines from other grapes.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Julian Teoh

      Since you are talking about Zind's, i have several 2004-2005's I bought at the winery in 2007. They quoted the residual sugar as I was choosing, but there are no labels on the bottles indicating sweetness in any way.

      1. re: collioure1

        Collioure1, I presume you are referring to the dry wines, as opposed to the VT/SGNs?

        According to their Wikipedia entry, the "Indice" numbers have been on all Z-H labels (non-VT/SGN) since the 2001 vintage. On the bottles I have bought / drank, the Indice number invariably appears just below the alcohol percentage.

        1. re: Julian Teoh

          Oh, yeah, indice 2. Thank you.

          I never knew the in's and out's of Zind wines - just to order them in restos and buy them when possible. What's not to like. <g>

          1. re: collioure1

            Well . . . they're often too sweet for one thing -- to my palate, at least.

            There is NO denying the quality of Zind-Humbrecht's wines; they are excellent. But I prefer my "dry" wines to actually be dry. As I said to Julian, I don't think anyone can beat Z-H when it comes to SGN's -- the wines are IFC! But, for example, I'd much rather drink a bottle of Clos St.-Hune from Trimbach than an allegedly "dry" Z-H Riesling with residual sugar . . .


    2. I agree. Always found Schlumberger sweeter and I know Zind contains residual sugar. The percentage of alcohol is an indication if there is no label.

      4 Replies
      1. re: collioure1

        How is that?

        Your answer presumes the grapes are harvested at the same degree of Brix/Balling/potential degrees of alcohol, and I don't think you can safely make that presumption.

        Yes, if Winery A and Winery B *both* harvest their grapes at 12.5 degrees of potential, and one produces a wine labeled 12.5% abv and another 11.0% abv . . . the latter should contain rs while the former will not -- presuming the label is accurate (and it does not have to be). However, if you have two wines labeled 12.5% abv (and, again, presuming it's accurate), one can contain no rs while the other can contain 1, 2, 4+% rs . . . .

        1. re: zin1953

          True, but if you see wine with less than 10% ABV, you can be reasonably certain that the wine will not be completely dry.

          1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

            I'd have to agree. I don't know that I have had any 8-9% ABV dry wines.

            1. re: FrankJBN

              Vinho Verde? Seem to recall a pretty dry Picpoul Pinet in the past as well.

      2. There are no specific regulations per se. It varies -- as with Champagne -- by the "house style" of the producer.

        1. Yes, Jason, but absent any indications on the bottle and knowledge in the wine shop it's the best we have. I have had this problem with Albarinos over in Spain.

          10 Replies
          1. re: collioure1

            You've had Albarinos with high levels of rs?

            1. re: zin1953

              Yes, Jason. I think that's the way they used to make most of them in Galicia before the shift to export dry Albarino. First one I ordered there about 20 years ago was semisweet. Think I have seen some on the shelves in recent years too.

              Alcohol level about 10% as I recall. The Martin Codax I buy runs between 12% and 13%.

              1. re: collioure1

                Never had a Alvarihno/Albariño that had residual . . . never even seen one. Most Alvarihno/Albariño wines I have tried a) have all been dry, and b) run between approx. 11-13.5% abv.

                1. re: zin1953

                  I wasn't suggesting that Z-H or Schlumberger wines have more residual sugar across the board, but for Z-H, there is certainly an unpredictability. Z-H's 2008 Riesling Brand was Indice 1 (their driest), whereas the 2009 was Indice 5 (sweetest, almost VT). For them, it is a matter of letting the wild yeasts do their job and seeing where that takes you, but that is obviously not satisfactory for the consumer, hence the need for the numerical guide on how sweet an impression the wine gives to the palate.

                  Charles, back to your original post, some Alsace wineries also indicate the r/s level on the labels. However, as a standalone number, I find this unsatisfactory as a higher r/s wine with high acidity will obviously taste a lot drier and balanced than one with identical r/s and low acidity, and therefore influence your food pairing, progression, etc.

                  1. re: Julian Teoh

                    I'm presuming, Julian, that it's this f'd up new format that caused you to reply to me, rather than (clearly) to Charles . . .


                    Then again, I've ALWAYS thought that -- since Olivier took over from his father -- that Zind-Humbrecht wines are sweeter. That said, IMHO, Olivier's strengths lie in sweet wines and I think his SGNs are outstanding. (But I preferred his father Léonard's drier wines.)

                    1. re: zin1953

                      New format, Jason? I must admit I didn't notice ;)

                      I haven't had much experience with Léonard's dry wines; the older vintages I can buy here in Singapore are usually the sweet ones. But I totally agree that Olivier's SGNs are the bomb.

                      1. re: zin1953


                        Is Tokay used in Alsace any longer? I haven't seen wine labeled Tokay d'Alsace in quite some time, but do have a Leon Beyer SGN wine labeled Tokay Pinot Gris. Has this term just gone out of fashion?

                        1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                          It isn't a function of "fashion." It's a function of ACCURACY. ;^)

                          Let's return to those thrilling days of "Yesteryear" -- prior to World War II, and certainly in the early 1800s and even earlier, one of the most fabled wines on the planet (i.e.: Europe) was the Hungarian wine Tokaji (aka "Tokay").

                          As a result, EVERYONE wanted to make Tokay. In Alsace, they produced Tokay d'Alsace ("Tokay of Alsace"); in Friuli, they produced Tocai Friuliano ("Tokay of Friuli"); in California, they make Tokay (semi-generic fortified wine, like California "Port," "Cream Sherry," and so on). These are but three examples, and there are several more.

                          The Hungarians complained, but it wasn't until the end of the Cold War and the Fall of the Iron Curtain that people began listening, and when Hungary joined the EU -- well, that put an end to it!

                          Tokay d'Alsace had previously evolved to Tokay Pinot Gris, and stories circulated that Crusaders brought the Tokay grape back from Hungary and Tokay Pinot Gris was really, originally, the same grape. That persuaded few, as Tokaji is produced from Furmint. However, there is literature showing that Pinot Gris went from the Burgundy region of France, where it can still be found today, TO Hungary (not the other way around), when Emperor Charlemagne had Cistercian monks plant Pinot Gris in what is now Hungary back in the late 1300s. (In Hungary, Pinot Gris is called "Szürkebarát"; in Germany, it's "Rulander"; and, of course, in Italy, it's "Pinot Grigio.")

                          There is a "use up" in place, whereby the name "Tokay d'Alsace" is banned immediately; "Tokay Pinot Gris" is to be eliminated over time*; and everything shall be labeled simply "Pinot Gris."

                          FWIW, the Italian variety "Tocai Friuliano" is now simply labeled "Friuliano."


                          * I'm in my office, not at home, and so I don't know when the "use up" is finished and "TPG" will also be banned. I can check it out later.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Thanks, that's really interesting grape history. Is Tokay (Tokaji) still a sought after Hungarian wine? Seems a familiar term, yet I don't know that I've ever had a real one.

                            ETA: Looked it up, and I've never tried an authentic Tokaji, but now I want to. Seems this noble rot vino might even pre-date Sauternes?

                            1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                              Hungary has been justifiably famous for its wines for centuries (as were the wines Tsarist Russia -- think of Massandra and Livadia, for example). The biggest setback to its wines was the Communist-era, when a) the finest wines were reserved for the Party- and political-elite; and b) investment in vineyards, winery equipment, and so on bordered on the non-existent.

                              There are, historically, many types of Tokaji wine, (IIRC) produced (mostly, if not exclusively -- depending upon the wine) from the Furmint grape variety. In that sense, don't think of Sauternes but rather the Botrytis-affected late harvest Rieslings of Germany. There are dry wines, and sweet wines of varying degrees . . .

                              During the 1960s and 1970s, the most commonly available wines in the US market were the wines of Tokaji Aszú -- sweet wines that were classified by the number of "buckets" (Puttonyos) of botrysized berries added to the must. The only ones I recall seeing were Tokaji Aszú bottlings of 3-, 4-, and 5 Puttonyos, in increasing order of sweetness. Think of a 3 Puttonyos wine as similar to a Spätlese and a 5 Puttonyos as an Auslese or Auslese Goldkapsel. I remember Michael Broadbent talking of a rare 6 Puttonyos bottling, but I've never seen one myself.

                              Tokaji Essencia (aka Tokaji Aszú Essencia) is produced ONLY from the individual botrytised berries that would fill the puttonyos -- in other words, those dried Thorough Botrytised Affected (TBA) berries. The first one I ever tasted was the 1964 vintage, and it was amazing. Even so, wines like a top-notch Sauternes or German Riesling from, say 1967 and 1971 respectively, blew it away . . . to MY taste. With time, I've come to realize that was due to the lack of "investment in infrastructure," if you will. In other words, part of my amazement was the wine itself, while part of it was (with hindsight) due to the enormous potential then unrealized.

                              With the fall of Communism, a number of Sauternes producers made heavy investments in Tokaji, as did others, to improve the vineyards and winery equipment -- and thus the wines -- dramatically. The result, Tokaji wines are once again world-class, and with price tags to match!

            2. As opposed to trial and error you can always inquire of the seller although they might not know.