Starting with wines from the 2021 harvest, a standardized sweetness guide will be required on all Alsace wine labels. The change is not in production, but in communication, so that consumers can better understand the product by looking at the packaging.
While most French wines are labeled by origin, wines from Alsace are indicated by grape variety plus location information, including if the wine is from one of the 51 grand cru localities. Now wine buyers and members of the trade can also consult the bottle for a visual sweetness scale or one of the following appropriate terms.
How to Read the New Alsace Wine Sweetness Scale
The new scale is quite simple. Look for the following terms, in English and French (in parentheses).
- Dry (sec): sugar content of the wine does not exceed 4 g/l
- Medium-Dry (demi-sec): sugar content of the wine is between 4 g/l and 12 g/l
- Mellow (moelleux): sugar content of the wine is between 12 g/l and 45 g/l
- Sweet (doux): sugar content of the wine exceeds 45 g/l
New Wine Label Information Helps Meet Expectations
This change was prompted by the Alsace wine industry itself and centers on sweetness guidelines already in place in the European Union.* Some wineries are already using this system, which was has been in the works for years and is now obligatory. This example from Domaines Schlumberger provides clarity on what the information looks like in “real life” on the winery’s website.
“In Alsace, we produce many different styles of wine, from dry wines to sweet wines to sparkling wines,” says Foulques Aulagnon, export marketing manager, for CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) which is also known as the Alsace Wine Board. “This new standardized sweetness guide doesn’t affect how we produce our wines, but gives greater clarity on the style of what’s in the bottle.” Crémant d’Alsace, traditional method sparkling wine from the appellation, already has sweetness guide regulations and isn’t impacted by this new round of rules.
In addition to labels, the new system applies to advertising, marketing materials, invoices, and other containers. This is designed to be helpful to trade partners such as educators, retailers, and sommeliers, such as Jenni Wagoner, group wine director for Zuma and Oblix, Global. “Introducing wines from Alsace to guests has always been a pleasure of mine and I know that this standardized sweetness guide will not only assist wine professionals when creating food pairings, but will give the consumer confidence as they explore the breadth of what this region has to offer,” she says.
According to CIVA data, export sales of Alsace wines grew by 22.4% in 2021. With more buyers outside of France, this move provides further understanding to new customers that may not be as familiar with what Alsace has to offer.
In a cooler climate region such as Alsace, grapes can often maintain a strong level of acidity. The balance between residual sugar and acidity is the key to freshness. Aulagnon explains that the motivation was to make it easier for consumers to select Alsace wines that they will enjoy and to meet buyer expectations. “We understand that in the US, there is often an assumption that Riesling, in particular, is sweet,” he says. “We hope this new labeling will help show that most Alsace Riesling is made in a dry style.”
* According to EU regulations, “Dry” represents sugar content does not exceed 4 g/l (or 9 g/l if the total acidity in grams of tartaric acid per liter is not more than 2 g/l lower than the residual sugar content). “Medium-Dry” represents sugar content of the wine is above 4 g/l but does not exceed 12 g/l (or 18 g/l if the total acidity in grams of tartaric acid per liter is not more than 10 g/l lower than the residual sugar content).