Alsace: a treat of picturesque towns and wines.

Coordinates 48°30N 7°30′E

Most websites talk about its romantic and picturesque medieval towns.  When you add that the region is the best known in France for its wines, it is not surprising that we decided to discover it, leaving our child with his grandparents.

With routes that facilitate vineyard exploration, with a bike, horse, car or walking, the whole of Alsace can be toured, at leisure, in about a week and a half.  We chose the area known as The Heart of Alsace to make the most of this weekend getaway.

The Sentier Viticole  (Wine Route in French) signs inform visitors about types of grapes and the production process. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The Sentier Viticole  (Wine Route in French) signs inform visitors about types of grapes and the production process. Photo: Bruny Nieves

In vino veritas (In wine there is the truth in Latin)

The Heart of Alsace comprises the towns between Strasbourg and Colmar, and it is where we discovered the beautiful cities of Riquewihr, Katzenthal, Kaisersberg and Turckheim.  While their names suggest a shared history with Germany, also present in their gastronomy, the air you breath there is unique, impregnated by the wine culture.

A trip like this is not complete without a walk thru the vineyards. It does not matter that you already know the Napa Valley (California), have previously visited Mendoza (Argentina) or other wine regions. They might look similar as the cultivation process is the same. But the soil is not.  Thus before tasting, you should touch and get to know the grape in its original state. 

The production of a good wine starts with the right climate and soil.  This is known as Terroir. Alsace is blessed with a special micro-climate thanks to the natural barrier created by the Vosges Mountains. This protection allows its vineyards a slow maturation process that translates into extremely aromatic grapes, like the Riesling, which brings fame to the region.

Walking through the vineyards we found signs that taught us something new: the Riesling grape used for white wine represents only 22% of the region’s production. For me, Alsace was equivalent to Riesling!  So, as good students, we decided to visit small wine producers and get to know the grapes that represent the remaining 78%.    

In Alsace there are about 1,000 wine producers who work with seven different grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer (these make up the Red offering), Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Muscat (white).   Photo: Bruny Nieves

In Alsace there are about 1,000 wine producers who work with seven different grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer (these make up the Red offering), Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Muscat (white).   Photo: Bruny Nieves

Wine & Harvest Time

Visiting producers is an enchanting part of any “wine trip”. We walked into beautiful castles with restaurants and spacious tasting rooms as well as into hidden cellars, that might as well be selling contraband wine. We tasted, asked and learned about the defining characteristics of the region, such as the long flute bottle used by all. A style selected not for aesthetics reasons, but for maximizing packaging space, a practice dating from when trading was mostly done by water.

Our visit took place during Harvest time, when grapes are recollected to start the formal production of wine.  The precise date is determined by the grape’s maturation (and it varies according to type), but normally takes place between mid-September and the last days of October.  This is a celebratory period, as we witnessed in the town of Turckheim and its Fête du Vin Nouveau: a town celebration where everybody drinks the new (Vin Nouveau in French) or freshly recollected wine. As it is not aged, you basically drink grape juice combined with the illusion of the wine it will become.

The Cave Affinage of Riquewihr is a space where artisanal cheeses and sausages are kept, refined and cured until they achieve the desired taste complexity. Photo by Bruny Nieves

The Cave Affinage of Riquewihr is a space where artisanal cheeses and sausages are kept, refined and cured until they achieve the desired taste complexity. Photo by Bruny Nieves

Surprises on the road.

Alsace is a feast for all the senses. Architecture enthusiasts find impressive castles and enchanting houses with balconies full of flowers and built in the traditional style that combines wood and concrete. The taste buds of every Gourmet will have a party with the Muenster cheese, Spice breads, Choucroute (local variety of Sauerkraut or sour cabbage) and sausages.  By the way, they make all type of meat sausages including wild boar that, in October starts its hunting season and according to the owner of our hotel, is visible in the surrounding woods.

Something we were not expecting to see but that is typical as well: vineyard car races! There were many detours when we arrived which we thought were due to the high season. To our surprise they were celebrating the Rallye de France, an international racing event for autos especially prepared for rustic roads. 

We arrived without an agenda, thinking of strolling thru the towns that captured our interest and take it from there. And Alsace rewarded us with a getaway full of new experiences.  


Places of Interest:

  • Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
  • Albert Schweitzer Museum (Nobel Peace Prize winner 1952), Kaysersberg
  • Bartholdi Museum (sculptor and creator of the Statue of Liberty), Colmar