Lieux-dits | A Sense of Place
By Louise Wilson MW, Opimian Senior Manager of Procurement
It is thrilling to determine a wine’s provenance without seeing the label, strictly through evidence in the glass. We know this concept as terroir: the inputs of land, climate and maker that give a wine its sense of place. The more defined an area, the more the nuances of the location can shine through in the wine.
In the world’s most revered locations, long histories of vinification have allowed winegrowers to identify parcels of land that produce wines that are distinguished from those of the surrounding regions. Within the Alsace AOC, these delimited areas are referred to as Communales (villages) and Lieux-dits (single vineyards). The Alsace Grands Crus AOC are positioned at the pinnacle of the quality hierarchy. Within these designations, increasingly heightened production standards magnify the grape’s ability to express the unique aspects of the location.
Two outstanding Lieux-dits are those of Muehlforst, located in Hunawihr, and Silberberg, found in Rorschwihr. Due to extended daylight exposures, the south-facing slope of Muehlforst has the warmest micro-climate in Hunawihr. Fortunately, water retained in the region’s deep marl and limestone soil protects the vines from summer drought. As a result, the wines of this Lieu-dit are known for their lively fruit intensity. Ten kilometres away, on the mineral rich soils of Silberberg, statuesque wines with mouth-watering acidity are produced. These refreshing examples are a chef’s dream for food matching, each sip cleansing the palate and amplifying the flavour of the dish. North of Riquewihr, is the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg, where vines cling to steep slopes at altitudes up to 380 meters. Here the ancient soils deliver concentrated wines with the capacity to age. Across these locations, the noble variety, Riesling is a particularly well-suited vector, echoing the subtleties of the land.
The wines of Alsace hold a special place in my passport of tasting experiences. The bottle that initially sparked my enthusiasm for wine was a curvy Alsatian Gewurztraminer, keenly selected by my more knowledgeable dinner companion. The wine’s lychee and stone fruit perfume instantly transported me to the sunny foothills of the Vosges Mountains. That sip illustrated the ability of a well-crafted wine to take us to the place it was made, and in doing so piqued an interest in me that would evolve into a lifelong passion.