A tasting tour of Alsace: the land of Riesling and Gewurztraminer!
I just came back from a trip to Alsace – one of my most favorite wine regions in France! It’s the land of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Two fantastic grapes!
Wines in Alsace can range from bone dry to sweet, though most tend to be on the dry or off-dry side. The cooler climate of Alsace produces wines that are quite acidic. In good Alsatian wines, this acidity makes dry wines very refreshing. As for sweet wines, acidity plays a key role in balancing them and making them much more enjoyable to drink. Sweet wines can be really great if they are well-balanced!
Another benefit of the Alsatian climate is the sunshine. The slopes on which the vines are planted face southeast, giving them maximum sun exposure. This access to sunshine allows the grapes to ripen fully, which in turn produces very rich, generous wines.
In this post, I will be focusing on my two favorite Alsatian wines: the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer (or the “Gewurz”), which are both highly aromatic. The Riesling is characterized by sweet, fruity and flowery aromas as well as some lime flavors. The Riesling grape is very terroir expressive, which means grapes that grow in different areas will reflect different characteristics. And there is so much variety in the type of soil and minerals that exist throughout Alsace, making the Riesling a very versatile and complex wine.
The Gewurz has very distinct and rich profile. The most obvious aroma is that of lychees. There are also some flowery notes such as roses. People often liken the smell of the Gewurz to Turkish delight. It often has stone fruit flavors with bits of gingery or cinnamonny spices (Gewurztraminer actually means spicy traminer, where traminer refers to a grape variety).
I have three days in Alsace and I am so excited to taste all the wines! Our base in the wine country is Tuckheim, a medieval village famous for its storks. In the picture below, you can see the nest and a stork or two on the roof of the entry gate.
Turckheim is strategically located in the middle of the wine country, making it easy to visit different wine makers. It is also home to one of my favorite wine makers: Zind Humbrecht, which unfortunately was closed for their annual August vacation so I could not visit on this trip. But on the bright side, this gives me an excuse to go back to Alsace 🙂
I am visiting three wineries on this trip: Domaine Weinbach, Domaine Hugel et Fils, and Domaine Barmès Buecher.
Domaine Weinbach is a biodynamic winery that sits right outside of the village of Kaysersberg. The estate is owned by the Faller family, which is headed by three women: Collette Faller and her two daughters Laurence and Catherine. Laurence Faller was Weinbach’s winemaker for more than 20 years and had the reputation of a great and precise wine maker. Unfortunately, she passed away in May of this year of a suspected heart attack. I met her sister, Catherine Faller, who guided me through the tasting. I tasted six wines:
The Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013
Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2013
Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2013
Pinot Gris Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2013
Gewurztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011
Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum 2011
Such delicious wines! I really enjoyed my tasting at Domaine Weinbach. The picture below is taken in the Weinbach home.
I bought two bottles to take back with me. The first is the Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine. It is a dry wine made from grapes that are picked later, giving it more richness and more flesh. You can really smell the earthiness of this wine. I will age it for quite a few years before I drink it. Another great characteristic about Rieslings is their aging potential!
The second bottle is the Gewurz Cuvée Laurence. This definitely has the sweet aromatic profile of a Gewurz. It has medium sweetness that is very nicely balanced by acidity. As per Catherine’s recommendation, I will serve this with some smoked salmon.
After the tasting, we walked through the vineyards of the Domaine Weinbach to the village of Kaysersberg.
Kaysersberg is really picturesque and looks like it came straight out of a Christmas card.
Next stop was Domaine Hugel et Fils in Riquewihr, another biodynamic winemaker. I tried about seven wines there:
Classic Riesling 2012
Classic Gewurz 2012
Tradition Pinot Gris 2011
Tradition Riesling 2010
Riesling Jubilee 2008
Grains Nobles Gewurz 1998 and 2005
I really loved the Jubilee Riesling 2008. It is from the grand cru Schoenenbourg vineyard. (Grand Crus in Alsace refer to the best still white wines that are made with grapes from particular vineyards. Schoenenbourg is one of 51 grand cru vineyards in Alsace.) It has very nice and pronounced acidity, yet is also very round and generous. I bought a bottle of this Riesling and plan on serving it with a seafood dish.
My favorite from Hugel was the Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN) Gewurz 2005. This grand cru wine is produced from over-ripened and shriveled grapes in the Sporen wineyard. Each grape is selected and picked by hand – they don’t take the entire bunch but select each grape from the bunch individually. What makes this wine stand out is that the grapes have been subjected to the botrytis fungus (or noble rot). This adds so much more complexity to this wine. Grapes that have been affected by botrytis have a delightful bitter orange rind aroma. Botrytis also gives them a super long aging potential. Here is what botrytized grapes looks like:
This is a sweet wine but an incredibly complex one that has layers of flavor from over-ripening and botrytis. And of course, this being Alsace, it is not overwhelmingly sweet as the acidity does a great job of creating a perfectly balanced wine. I am generally not a huge fan of sweet wines but this wine blew me out of the water! It is such an amazing wine!!! I will definitely be saving this for a special occasion.
Yes, I’m definitely a happy customer.
We hung out and explored Riquewihr in the afternoon before returning to Turckheim. Riquewihr looks even more like the quintessential Christmas village.
The next day we visited the biodynamic Domaine Barmès-Buecher in the village of Wettolsheim. Wettolsheim is only about 4 km from Turckheim so I decided to walk there and enjoy the scenery. It was a great walk!
My visit to the winery was very enjoyable. I talked to Geneviève Buecher, who along with her late husband François Barmès started this winery in the 1980s. She was very nice and super friendly. I tasted six of their wines, four of which were in the grand terroir category, or their non-grand crus:
Riesling Herrenweg 2011
Riesling Rosenberg 2011
Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2011
Gewurztraminer Rosenberg 2011.
I really loved the Rosenberg Riesling. It has so much roundness and intensity as well as minerality to it. I bought a bottle of this.
The other two wines that I tried were grand crus:
Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2009
Riesling Grand Cru Steingrubler 2009
I really enjoyed both of these wines. I know that 2010 was a better year than the 2009 so I asked whether they still had the 2010 in stock. They only had it for the Hengst so I bought a bottle of that. But not wanting to miss out on the delicious Steingrubler, I also got a bottle of that in 2009.
This concluded my wine tasting tour in Alsace. Seven great wines to take back with me! I really love my selection of Rieslings and Gewurz and I can’t wait to start pairing them with food.
Even though I’m back in Paris now, this was just a taste of Alsace! When I go back for another wine tasting tour, I will be visiting more wineries, such as:
And to end things on a yummy note, I want to share photos of some of the amazing food in Alsace!
The spice bread that is in halfway between bread and cake, in terms of consistency and sweetness. It is apparently served with foie gras and fig preserves around here (instead of brioche). I bought a few loafs to take back home with me.
The delicious mirabelles, which are most famously grown in Alsace.
The sweet and tart red currants.
Tarte Flambée, a very thin pizza-like concoction made with crème fraiche, and a variety of toppings – in this case, summer vegetables, roquette, and cured ham.
And of course, a trip to Alsace wouldn’t be complete without eating Choucroute (paired with an Alsace wine, which are always served in the region’s traditional wine glass).