Simon McGookin’s thoughts on the recent tour to the wonderful wine region of Alsace.
In Alsace we span the 400 year old grand winemakers and the innovative new producers, it’s France with a German accent. Stunning landscapes, unique architecture and food and wines to match make this region one you should really think about visiting.
Alsace is a wonderful wine region in many ways. It is a place apart; in France but not totally French such has been the German influence over the centuries. Neither is it overly German, but rather has its own unique culture. Its people are warm and welcoming and the experience of visiting is one to be savoured.
Neatly situated in a corridor between the Vosges Mountains in the West and the River Rhine in the east, Alsace is a delight for the senses. The micro climate caused by this geographical location makes it one the driest regions of France, and this combined with the vastly varying soil types leads to a terroir that can produce wines of huge complexity.
The grapes here are different, with four noble varietals predominant. Riesling is king but Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat are important, with Sylvaner also growing in significance too. Pinot Blanc is used to make the sometimes excellent Cremant d’Alsace, a sparkling made in the traditional method. Pinot Auxerrois is another white varietal that is widely grown while Pinot Noir is the main red grape which in the right hands can make elegant wines. The best sites are on the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains where many of the Grand Cru vineyards are located.
Strasbourg is the major city in Alsace, right on the German border and home to the European Parliament. The main town in the wine region however, is Colmar, and we based ourselves in charming old town, architectural inspiration for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It is a delightful place with plenty of shops and restaurants serving up tasting Alsatian fare, including iconic dishes Tartes Flambées (which is a local version of a thin based pizza) and Choucroute (sour cabbage served usually with pork)
This great cuisine is another feature of Alsace. The region boasts a huge number of Michelin star restaurants, many with more than 1 star. These are fantastic but there are also really high quality local eateries that deserve a visit. In Colmar we visited one such place, L’Un des Sens, and were treated to a fine regional menu including one of the best pork pies (Tourte de Couchon) that any of us had ever eaten, paired with a pleasing Pinot noir d’Alsace.
Gastronomically the highlight of the Alsace trip was the last night dinner at the wonderful La Nouvelle Auberge. Family run with Dad in the kitchen, Mum front of house and daughter the sommelier the whole experience from start to finish was a delight. Service with a smile whilst wine pairings and food was of a very high standard.
Cremant as an aperitif followed by 2014 Grand Cru Riesling with the prawn ceviche, 2012 Grand Cru Pinot Gris with the scallops, magnum of 2015 Pinot Noir with the chicken and a 2006 Grand Cru Vendage Tardive Gewurz with the devine chocolate dessert. What a way to finish!
Domaine Marcel Deiss is a winery that like to do things differently. Forget the single varietals that Alsace is renowned for – they tear up the rule book and make wonderful blends and field blends. The result is a series of really enjoyable wines produced biodynamically. In the tasting the emphasis was on how the wine felt in the mouth and the sensation it left rather than on flavours. Unique.
The chocolate box village of Niedermorschwihr is home to a number of old family wineries, including the understated Justin Boxler (founded 1672). We tasted a fine range of their Rielsing, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat, all good especially the Grand Cru Sommerberg.
It was great to get out into the vineyards and walk through them on the path above the village.
A visit to the well-respected Zind-Humbrecht winery, home to some of the region’s best known wines was a delightful experience. Located in Turckheim it is another family that dates back many years, to 1620. Their range including Grand Cru Riesling, Gewurz and Pinot Gris was wonderful and included an excellent sweet wine Selection de Grains Nobles, Pinot Gris from 2009.
Domaine Weinbach is one of the stellar names of Alsace and didn’t fail to live up to high expectations. Set under the Schlossberg, the first designated Grand Cru vineyard, and its biggest producer, the winery is nestled in the perfect location.
Vines have been grown here for over 1000 years. It has been in the family for several generations and son Eddy, the winemaker, introduced us to a large selection of different wines. The quality was extraordinary and many interesting stories were shared by the very personable owner.
A lovely contrast was the Domaine Cattin which despite also being family owned for many generations is set in the village in a spanking new winery (not far from the original old buildings) with a tasting room offering views all the way to the German border.
Looking back on the few days we spent in Alsace the conclusion was that this is a fantastic region with high quality food and wine experiences. The landscape is very picturesque and the series of villages with centuries old architecture is something to behold. As always it is the people who leave a lasting effect and the characters we met along the way were charming and pleasant, with a passion for Alsace. Looking forward to the return in 2023!