Get to Know the Alsatian Auxerrois Grape

It’s not an easy task to find an Auxerrois table wine (or Crémant) in Alsace, even though the variety’s origin is—almost always—Alsace-Lorraine. On the other hand, it’s not any easier to find an Alsace Pinot Blanc that does not contain a more or less prominent amount of Auxerrois. In fact, for Alsatian wine producers, both varieties are not the same, even though “the name Auxerrois has been given to several distinct varieties of Northeastern France“ (Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, 2012). 
For example: Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, which in the vineyard look pretty much like Auxerrois, were all mixed up for a long time. However, in the bottle, Auxerrois rarely exists without Pinot Blanc or vice versa. Many Alsatian producers find that the acidity and straight character of Pinot Blanc wines need the lush and round fruit, as well as the low and charming acidity of Auxerrois, which otherwise would be too broad and fat without the acidic kick and straightforwardness of Pinot Blanc. So to most Alsatian wine producers, the assemblage of both varieties tastes better and more harmonious than each component individually. 
However, there are some prominent Auxerrois partisans: the Meyer sisters (Josmeyer, where Auxerrois is cultivated in the heart of the Grand Cru Hengst); the Barthelmé families (Albert Mann); Bernard Schoffit (Domaine Schoffit); the Kientzler family (they source their old-vine Auxerrois K in the Grand Cru Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé); and Pierre Gassmann (who handcrafts impressive sweet Auxerrois wines in the Rotleibel and the Moenchberg lieux-dits in Rorschwihr for Rolly Gassmann). These and other producers demonstrate the talents of Auxerrois impressively if the yields are kept low or the vines are old enough and root in top terroirs. However, like Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois is not permitted for Grands Cru nor Vendange Tardives or Séléctons de Grains Nobles. In my upcoming Alsace Part Two report in Issue 231 (as well as in Part One already published in Issue 229), you will find stunningly rich and complex pure Auxerrois wines. 
Auxerrois, or Pinot d’Auxerrois as it’s often called in Alsace, is an early-ripening progeny of Pinot and Gouais Blanc. And again, like Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, it expresses itself best when planted on limestone terroirs. Its bunches and berries are small, but the variety is susceptible to downy and powdery mildew, as well as botrytis bunch rot. Auxerrois is still Alsace’s second-most planted grape variety after Riesling, as it is often blended with Pinot Blanc and virtually part of every Edelzwicker blend. The variety is also used in sparkling wines like Crémant d’Alsace. For example, Valentin Zusslin’s Clos Liebenberg—probably Alsace’s finest and most expensive sparkling wine—is an assemblage of 90% Auxerrois and 10% Riesling. For the coolish sandstone and marl terroir of the southeast-exposed clos, Auxerrois is perfect because of its gentle acidity. Thanks to biodynamic farming, it ripens with lower pH levels, and combined with Riesling and a long aging on the lees, gives the Zéro Brut sparkling wine its roundness and unrivaled balance and complexity.

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