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Understanding Auxerrois Wine

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Auxerrois (awk-ser-WAH) may not be one of Alsace’s best known grapes, but it’s undeniably important and a little bit enigmatic. Called Pinot Auxerrois in the region, it is often mistaken for Pinot Blanc—another prominent Alsace white grape that isn’t included in any grand crus. These two white grapes look similar, share some parentage in Pinot Noir and complement each other well—but there was not always a formal distinction between the two.

Genetic testing suggests that Auxerrois is a sibling of Chardonnay. Both are hybrids of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, and in the Moselle region of France, Chardonnay is often called Auxerrois Blanc. Auxerrois most likely takes its name from Auxois, a town in Burgundy, although it probably developed in Lorraine.

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Still, this confusion hasn’t turned Alsace winemakers off. Because it ripens early with low acidity, Auxerrois is great for blending with those more acidic varieties, including Pinot Blanc and the region’s multi-varietal white blend, Edelzwicker. And as the climate becomes more unreliable, a grape that can be picked early without being overly tart is a good, safe bet.

In Alsace, it is also common for a wine labeled Pinot Blanc to have a high quantity of Auxerrois. This is something the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée permits, and it’s probably for the best, given how well these two varieties work together: Pinot Blanc tends to be straightforward and high in acidity, while Auxerrois is generally low in acidity and round and juicy in flavor.

“What we love about Auxerrois is that it shows delicious notes of orchard fruits, [acidic] crispness and delicacy,” says Etienne Godard, export director for Wolfberger. “For us, a good Auxerrois is a wine that is fruity, delicate and tart.”

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It is also a favorite for sparkling wine. “Auxerrois is the identity of our Crémants d’Alsace; this is what distinguishes us from other French sparkling AOPs,” explains Godard.

While most Alsace winemakers either blend Auxerrois with Pinot Blanc or use it in crémant, a few are taking different approaches to explore the wine’s potential. Laurent Bannwarth describes its Alsace Auxerrois Qvevri as “Velvety, smooth, rich and everchanging between dry fruit, citrus rind and stony flavor notes.”

Despite some confusion around its identity, Auxerrois is a lovable workhorse.

Auxerrois to Try

Wolfberger NV Brut Auxerrois (Crémant d’Alsace)

Notions of apple, yeast and lemon still come with a little reduction on this wine’s nose. Citrus freshness, an almost creamy mousse and a touch of white pepper make this very nimble and easy to like. The light body has depth and a frothy, dry and lemony finish. 89 Points  — Anne Krebiehl MW

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Bel Lago 2019 Brut Auxerrois Auxerrois (Leelanau Peninsula)

Mandarin and Meyer lemon aromas meet white blossom and honey on the nose. The palate balances ripe fruit with a hint of savory tones, combining Bartlett pear and baked apple with notes of pie crust, biscotti and lemon juice. Cloud-like bubbles and bouncy acidity persist while a touch of pithy bitter-citrus oil emerges on the finish. 90 Points  — Fiona Adams

$17 Bel Lago

Raptor Ridge 2019 Zenith Vineyard Auxerrois (Eola-Amity Hills)

What a lovely, straightforward white wine that aims to please. Its aromas center around a beeswax and lemon oil combination that will take you straight to church. There’s also this lightly sweet note in the background that is similar to carrot cake. Nice acidity here, with tangy lemon-verbena and toasty filbert flavors. 90 Points  — Michael Alberty

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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