Wednesday, May 16, 2012

En passant par l'Alsace

On a recent trip to Germany, I convinced my husband to return to Naples by way of Alsace.  It is described by Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible as ""a wine region so charming it may as well have emerged straight out of a fairy tale.  The vineyards are sun dappled, the half-timbered houses are cheerfully adorned with flower boxes, the 118 villages - centuries old - are immaculate.  All are set against the grand backdrop of the Vosges Mountains." Her descriptions of the white wines with their bracing acidity was equally compelling.  
Alsace is an area that is situated close to the German border whose ownership has flip-flopped at various times between Germany and France.  It has been part of France again since 1945.  The region has retained the language customs, foods and winemaking techniques of both areas...kind of the best of both worlds.
The jaunt was going to take us out of our way, and we knew that an 11 hour, one-day journey home awaited us, nevertheless we were determined to see and taste.
We crossed over into Germany at Strasbourg and spent the night there before heading to the Routes des Vins.  With only hours to discover, to taste, to tour and to be enchanted by Alsace,  we headed down the E25, which ribbons its way from north to south over hills and valleys for about 170 kilometres .
 We joined the route in Bergheim and these were some of the first fairy tale homes that we set our eyes on.  I had to keep convincing myself that this was not Disneyland...this was real. The figures that came out of the doors and windows were not mechanical, but real people.
With so little time I had to carefully plan our winery visits all the while clicking my camera and smiling at the charm that is part of the daily life of Alsatian wine land.
I chose 3 of the biggest names in the area:  Deiss, Trimbach and Hugel, and we would visit them in that order based on their geographical placement on the map.  We arrived in Bergheim  early afternoon at the Domaine Marcel Deiss where a tasting was already in session.  When the sommelier came to our table the first question he asked is, "Do you know about our wines?"  That is because Deiss is unconventional and somewhat controversial in the area.  He runs biodynamic vineyards, blends wine in an area mostly known for single varietals (the allowance of his blended wines in the Grands Crus classification has not won him any favour amongst his contemporaries), and he is unconventional in his labelling of his wines in that he labels some of them by the name of the vineyard and not the varietal.
Jean-Michel Deiss, the current heir, oversees 14 Premiers Crus vineyards and 2 Grands Crus vineyards.  We only had time to stay for one tasting I'm embarrassed to say, because it was late Saturday afternoon, and we would not otherwise be able to purchase the wines on Sunday.  We were offered the 2010 Riesling you see pictured to your right.  It sells for 20€ locally.  The wine was bright lemon yellow with typical unadulterated Riesling flavours:  bright acidity, heavy and oily on the tongue, aromas and flavours of lemon, flower, yellow peach and pineapple, with a definite minerally aftertaste typical to the area.  We also bought, but haven't tasted yet the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim. It is 100% Alsace Riesling.
What makes Alsace Rieslings different from their German counterpart is that they are mostly dry, full-bodied, high alcohol wines, that speak for themselves and the terroir of the area.  Alsace wine growers and wine makers adhere to the philosophy of non-interference...the wines are very rarely oaked, they don't use commercial yeasts, they avoid malolactic fermentation used to soften the acidity of the wines.  The Grands Crus of this area manage to balance their high acidity and long mineral length and an abundance of  flowers and fruit aromas, offering the consumer pure elegance and complexity in the glass.
  We made our  purchases and continued our way to the  Trimbach Winery in Ribeauvillé.  The winery was closed but as I neared to snap a photo I noticed this sign:  a fine food grocery store that sells their wines.  We were able to purchase two of their signature wines and one of the greatest Rieslings in Alsace and maybe the world:  Clos Ste-Hune.  This is a wine that has accolades anywhere the words Alsace and Riesling appear together.  Serge Dubs, world's best Sommelier winner of 1989 had this to say about it:  "If there is one Riesling in the world which every wine lover dreams of tasting and savoring it is Clos Sainte-Hune."  These are limited quantity wines and we were able to purchase the 2006 vintage--a special occasion wine and we just happen to have two of them coming up this summer. We also bought their Cuvée Frédéric Emile, once again another 100% Riesling which is quickly becoming my favourite white wine.
It was by then getting rather late in the day and I had one more stop to make:  the winery of Hugel et Fils in Riquewihr which also just happened to be in the town where we would spend the night.  While my husband went to get us checked into our hotel, I rushed to the center of town to the Hugel tasting room.  Once again I arrived in the middle of a tasting and was offered Gerwurztraminer (written without the umlaut in Alsace) Sélection de Grains Nobles.  This is a sweet dessert wine, whereby the berries are a affected

by Noble Rot, a fungus, that draws the water from berry, leaving behind a highly concentrated, high sugar grape.  Only the berries that are affected are picked at the time of harvest so it is a time-consuming and therefore expensive process.  The result is intense fragrance and sweetness, balanced by the ever present acidity, so that it is not the least bit cloying.  Because you can't go backwards in a tasting (I came in at the end and was given the most concentrated wine), I bought two of the wines that I had missed:  Riesling Jubilee 2007, and Gewurztraminer Hugel 2010.  The tasting rooms at both the Deiss winery and Hugel are not the least bit intimidating and the staff was happy to instruct and guide.  The tasting at Deiss carries a 13 € charge per person, but because we had to leave, we didn't have to pay.  The tasting at Hugel is free.
We stayed at the Best Western in Riquewihr and our bedroom and balcony looked over the Grand Cru Schoenenberg with walking paths and benches.  Another option we learned about when we bumped into some compatriots from Thunder Bay, is to stay at gites.  These are charming apartments that reflect the style of the area and very affordable. Ed and Brenda met us for breakfast before we left and we were able to have a look at their "gite".  It was the attic floor of a typical Alsatian house in Riquewihr complete with the post and beam roof, cosy lace curtains, fireplace a loft and comfy down comforters. We vowed that the next time we would stay in gites, and we vowed that we would be going back.

I'll leave you with a few more photos of the area.  Really, really worth a visit whether you are interested in wine or not.

1 comment:

Deep Red Cellar said...

you make me want to go on a riesling rampage! sounds so enticing.