Alsace: Wine Travel


The Alsace wine region in France is on the border of Germany, and the food, language, and architecture reflect the tug-of-war over ownership, which has gone back and forth for centuries.

A magical place to visit where you will find small little hamlets with cobblestone pedestrian-only streets; buildings that will range in colors from vibrant to pastel all frozen in medieval time; churches with spires, conical roofs, and unique clock towers. Look to the sky, and you'll discover huge nests in treetops or rooftops with storks that will amaze as they fly overhead.  You can unearth Michelin-starred cuisine, and vineyards can easily be explored on foot or by bike. We used the town of Colmar as our home base, rated one of the most beautiful in all of France and for a good reason. You can stroll along the river, which is lined with flowers, and settle into one of the many picture-perfect squares for a glass of wine.

As for wine tasting, it is a really approachable region with wineries located in or surrounding the quaint villages.  If you have been to Napa Valley, you've had a taste of the geography, and similarly, from a wine tasting perspective, you can drop into some wineries and co-ops for a sampling. The compact vineyard area stretches 110 miles long and is sheltered by the Vosges mountains providing plenty of sunshine and temperate weather conditions.

The region is well renowned for white wines made to age, and their aromatic bouquets will bring your senses to life.  You will fall in love with Rieslings that are dry, not sweet.  Although nearly all the wines you find here are white, there is a growing number of wineries making Pinot Noir.  Another one to try is Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne method, using either 100% Pinot Noir for a Rosé style or a blend of Pinot and a white varietal.  

The terroir plays a key role in wine-making here; the soil, sun exposure and slope of the vineyards are all considered and distinguished with 51 grand cru plots.  There are as many as 800 different soil combinations of granite, slate, sand, chalk, and clay.  Vineyards are typically planted with four “noble” grapes; Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gurztermeiner, and Muscat.  

Most wineries are family-run and have been making wine for generations creating an innate knowledge of the land. You will find them focused on the growing process with a preponderance of organic agriculture and still continue handpicking their grapes. They typically utilize 100-year-old wooden casks for aging to maintain the authentic taste of the grape and its unique soil characteristics.  There is a focus on controlling the natural acidity of the wine while ensuring the continued balance and complexity through aging.

If you plan a visit, here are some winery suggestions:

Domaine Josmeyer was high on my tasting list with Isabelle Meyer the 5th generation winemaker using biodynamic practices.  She uses biodynamic practices, and the moon is denoted with the zodiac signs on the wine casks to know when the grapes were harvested.  The belief is man working in harmony with the sky, earth, and vines, gives birth to deep, balanced wines with a unique personality - her wines definitely represent this!

To discover all the women in wine in the region, check out an association bringing together all motivated women who wish to make a commitment to help the promotion and the success of Alsace wines. 

Zind-Humbrecht was a great learning and tasting experience where we tried the four noble grapes from four of their different Grand Crus. The family has been making wine since 1620, making the Humbrecht family the archetype of Alsatian vineyards. They use biodynamic practices and have an overriding sense of terroir; stating the taste of the vineyard is always clear and unmistakable.  Some standouts were the Riesling from Clos-Saint-Urban Cru with volcanic soils and the Pinot Gris from Rotenberg vineyards 

One of our favorite winery visits was to Domain Marcel Deiss. We found his experimental blends to be extremely impressive, going against Alsatian tradition of single varieties, their focus is on a blend of different grapes to bring a specific aspect of the terroir.  In their tasting, they'll have you guessing which grape variety dominates, but often everyone turned out to be wrong.  We departed with some words of wisdom to take with us; "it's not the instrument, it's the melody" and "it's not the process, it's the place!"

I don’t think a trip to this region would be complete without a stop at Trimbach.  You are welcomed with a sign that states, "say no to oak, help put the fruit back in wine." This was where we honestly tasted the complexity and differences in the aging of white wines; tasting their Riesling from the Clos Sainte Hune vineyards starting with 2011 and covering 2009, 2008 and 2007.  Such high-quality dry wines where minerality is the dominating sensation - it was a remarkable experience, to say the least!