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A trip to the wineries of the Loire Valley

Yesterday, I was looking over my pictures from my trip to the Loire valley. We went there for a few days in July to visit some wineries and do wine tastings. The Loire Valley is a great destination because not only is the scenery absolutely gorgeous but it has some amazing and refreshing wines, that often times do not get exported out of France. At the time, I didn’t have time to write up a blog entry on the trip but now I think that it would be a shame to not share it. So even though this entry is a couple of months late, here it is!

The Loire Valley is a vast region that can be split into three sub-regions: 1) the Upper Loire, known for its mineral driven whites made from the sauvignon blanc grape, namely Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé; 2) the Middle Loire, a diverse wine area where the cabernet franc and chenin blanc grapes thrive; 3) the Lower Loire, known mostly for the Muscadet made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape (which pairs wonderfully with oysters).

We chose to go to the Middle Loire because I really wanted to explore the wines of Bourgueil, Saumur, and especially Savennières. The Middle Loire is only a two-hour drive away from Paris so we rented a car. We left in time to stop at le Bon Laboureur in Chenonceaux for lunch. I had the brill with seaweed tartar sauce and artichokes.

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We then continued on to Bourgueil. We visited two wineries: Yannick Amirault and P-J Druet. Amirault produces wines under both the Bourgueil and the St. Nicholas de Bourgueil appellations and I bought a nice selection of both. When I returned to Paris, I paired one of the wines – La Petite Cave – with a homemade seared free-range chicken breast that I served with jus, chives, and red currants. The red currants really brought out the fruity and berry qualities of the Bourgueil. Great pairing!

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P-J Druet spent a long time with us, talking about how he got started in the wine making business, explaining his wines, and opening a variety of different vintages (even very old ones). I bought three of his wines, pictured below. The 2009 Grand Mont was just exquisite!

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Our hotel for the first night was in Huismes and the views from my room were just spectacular!

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That evening we had dinner at La Cave Voltaire in Chinon, where we tried different wines from that area with cheese and pork platters.

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This place had very interesting wines and I bought a bottle of La Diablesse (meaning she-devil) that still needs a couple of years of aging before it is ready to be drunk.

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Next day, we moved on to Saumur. The only winery visited in Saumur was Chateau Filliatreau. On the premises, they had lots of informative displays, including on where cork comes from, which I found really interesting.

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We tasted many bottles and I really loved their 2003 old vine red. Delicious! Of course, I bought a few bottles of this (among others).

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While in Saumur, I really wanted to visit the frères Foucault, two brothers who are 8th generation wine makers at Clos Rougeard. They make reds that are considered to be the best expression of the cabernet franc grape. So much so that they have acquired a cult following of their wines. But apparently nobody gets a visit at Clos Rougeard. So I had to make do with a bottle of their wine we ordered at a lovely gastronomic restaurant in Angers – Une Île. I highly recommend this restaurant!

The wine that we ordered at dinner was a bottle of Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux from 2009 – an excellent vintage for Saumur Champigny.

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This was truly an amazing bottle of wine! I was surprised that such a complex and rich wine can come from cabernet franc grown in a cool climate. Clos Rougeard also makes a wine called Le Bourg, which is supposed to be even better. Next time I’m in France, I will definitely try to score a bottle of each of these wines.

Our next wine region was Savennières. Made from the chenin blanc grape, this, in my opinion, is the most complex white wine produced in the Loire Valley. On our way to Savennieres, we stopped by Domaine Saint Pierre in Chaudefonds-sur-Layon for lunch. The views were unbeatable!

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In Savennieres we went first to Nicolas Joly. Joly has whole ownership of the famous Coulée de Serant plot, which produces the most complex wines from savennières. Savennières is not easy to drink – it requires a lot of time to age and a lot of time to breathe once you open a bottle. And more importantly, this is a food wine and not to be enjoyed as an aperitif. We tasted a number of wines at Joly:

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Our last winery visit was at Damien Laureau. During this visit, we learned a lot about the wine-making process. Unfortunately, he was sold out of many of his more complex bottles so I got a few of his simpler ones, namely Les Genets and Le Bel Ouvrage. Savennières pairs well with boudin blanc and when I got home to Paris, I paired a bottle of les Genets with it. I also had some herb roasted potatoes and celery rémoulade, which all went superbly with the wine.

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Overall, I brought back 24 bottles of wine from our visit to the Loire Valley!  It’s time to create meals and dishes that pair well with these wines. Can’t wait 🙂

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For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

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Wine Tasting in Veneto

I just came back from a trip to Italy with my family, where we spent a week exploring the Veneto region. Having the advantage of a car, were able to explore many picturesque towns and villages. The highlight of the trip was – of course – the wine tastings that we did.

The first winery we visited is Le Croibe in Negrar, which is in the Valpolicella wine region. Le Croibe is located on top of a hill with beautiful views. It is also an agriturismo so you can book a room there as well. We only stayed one night but it was so peaceful and beautiful that if I get a chance to go back to the region, I’ll definitely spend at least a few nights here. It’s the perfect place to relax, enjoy some wine and take in the views.

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The garden with the fantastic views.

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There’s even a hammock! (an equally fabulous amenity though not pictured is a swimming pool). We did our wine tasting just behind the trees.

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A close up of the main building where our rooms were located.

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We tasted quite a few wines at Le Croibe. The first one was a light red – 2013 Doline. This is quite a fruity wine with intense cherry aromas (as I found out over the course of my week in Italy, the reds from this region characteristically have a cherry aroma). The Doline also has a bit of earthiness and hints of spice. It is lightly tannic and has a gorgeously bright ruby red color. This red is light enough to drink by itself and it is delightful!

The next wine we had was a more complex red – 2012 Ripasso. This wine is still fruity with dominant cherry flavors as well as some vanilla. In appearance, it is almost as brightly ruby red as the Doline. At the same time, it has some more complex savage aromas like leather and animal. It is more tannic than the Doline. I would definitely pair this wine with some sort of a red meat dish.

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Next, we moved on to the amarones, which is made with a variety of partially dried grapes, such as Corvina and Rondinella. The drying process creates a much more intensely flavored wine as well as a quite tannic one. Amarone actually means the “great bitter” and this name was given to distinguish it from the famous sweet wine of the region – recioto. While a dry wine, there are nevertheless hints of sweetness in the amarone (the level of which varies from wine the wine). However, it is far short of being a dessert wine and the sweet tones are always nicely balanced by acidity and high level of tannins. Amarone can be enjoyed with a variety of savory dishes. However, in order to complement the sweetness of this wine, I might add sweet elements (such as barbeque sauce) to the dish. Examples of great pairings might be barbeque ribs, burgers with caramelized onions, a strong cheese served with honey or a fruit preserve, etc.

We tasted three amarones. First one was their brown label, which is their special production. It is from 2010.

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When you smell the brown label, you can immediately notice the sweet aromas. There is clove and vanilla – the spices are much stronger than the fruit aromas, of which there is the typical cherry. In contrast to the other two reds, the cherry here is more like stewed cherries, rather than fresh. And once you aerate the wine, it smells almost like a cherry tart.

The next two amarones we tasted were from their regular production. The 2011 is more fruity and less sweet than the brown label. It is also more tannic. The 2009 is fruity like the 2011 but definitely a lot sweeter in taste and aroma. It is the sweetest of all three. The spiciness of this wine is a lot less pronounced than the other two.

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Of the three amarones that we tasted, I liked the brown label the best! I thought it was very nicely balanced and tasted delicious!

Here’s me and my brother during our wine tasting – which was outdoors in the garden of the property. Beautiful!

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After our wine tasting, we went to a restaurant in Negrar for dinner – Trattoria Caprini. All local diners and amazing food! I definitely recommend it!

The next day, we moved on to the Soave region. In the heart of Soave village is Pieropan, which has been making wines since 1880. We started our visit with a tour of the winery and the cellars.

The views from the terrace of the winery is just amazing!  You can see the village of Soave as well as the hills where the grapes are grown in the background.

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Behind me is the castle of Soave and the hills where the grapes for Pieropan’s La Rocca wine are grown.

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In the cellars, they have kept many bottles of wine from their earlier vintages – even dating back to the 19th century! There are also  bottles from other wine makers in the collection.

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Some of the wines (notably La Rocca) begins fermentation in the large barrels before being transferred to the smaller oak barrels for months.

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We then moved to their tasting room. We tasted five wines (sadly they had sold out of their amarone so that’s not one of them).

We tasted three dry white wines: Soave Classico, Calvarino, and La Robba. In front of the bottles is a rock that shows the type of soil that the grapes are grown in. La Rocco is grown in chalky, clay soil while the other two are in volcanic soil.

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We started out with their Soave Classico from 2013. It is made fro 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano. This is a very young and fresh wine with a subtle flavor and nice acidity. It has aromas of sweet fruits, citrus (especially grapefruit) and some white floral tones as well. This would be great on its own or with some pre-dinner snacks or with a caprese salad or even a light fish dish.

The next wine was the Calvarino from 2012. This is made from 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano. This wine has more texture than the Soave Classico. It is rounder and fattier and there is also hints of saltiness (from the volcanic soil). It is more complex and has a good level of minerality. The aromas are fruity – especially white fruits like apple. This wine is definitely more elegant than the Soave Classico. I would probably serve this with a lean fish or may be a risotto with vegetables.

The last one was my favorite! La Rocca from 2012. It is made from 100% Garganega. This wine is made from a late harvest grapes so there are slightly hints of sweetness in comparison to the other two. It is also quite minerally (chalky dust), adding lots of nice acidity. The aromas are of exotic fruits like mango, papaya and also apricot. This is the most complex and stronger of the three and I would pair this wine with equally complex dishes. Instead of vegetables, I might put porcini mushrooms or truffles to the risotto. I would also love to see how this wine does with stronger fish like cod (Veneto region’s dried cod, or baccala, would probably work well) or shellfish.

We then tasted a dry red and a sweet white wine.

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The red is Ruberpan from 2011. It is made from 60% Corvina, 35% Rondinella-Corvinone- Croatina (5% other varieties). As all the other reds I’ve seen in this region, the Ruberpan is brightly ruby red (the name of this wine is inspired by the color). The nose is typically cherry. It also has a nice peppery spiciness to it. This comes from the Corvinone grape. Chiara, who was guiding our tour, recommended asiago cheese to pair with this wine.

The last wine is their Recioto from 2009. This is Pieropan’s most special wine and back in the 19th century, the winery started out by making only this. It is made 100% from Garganega. The grapes are hand picked and then they are laid on top of bamboo cane mats to go though a 5-6 month drying process in the open air (Pieropan is one of the very few wineries that has kept the tradition of slow air drying – most others have switched to technology what dries the grapes in a few hours. I definitely prefer old and traditional methods!). Below are some drying grapes.

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The Recioto is made from grapes that have botrytis. This is a fungus that the grapes get in the drying process. I really love wines made from botrytized grapes because it gives wines such a delightful and distinctive aroma and taste. Other aromas in this Recioto are tropical fruits with honey. It is a sweet wine but it is perfectly balanced by acidity.

We were served a dry almond cake – sbrisolona – to eat with this wine. It was a great match!

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Another sweet dish to pair would be pandoro – the Italian Christmas cake. And of course, as with most sweet wines, I could also serve this with blue cheeses like gorgonzola.

After Pieropan, we moved to another great wine maker in the region: Anselmi. Instead of visiting the winery, we did our tasting while having lunch at the winery’s enoteca – Enoteca Realda, which is right outside the city walls of Soave. Anselmi has been making wine for the last twenty years. About 15 years ago, instead of limiting himself by subscribing to the requirements of the DOC classification, he simply opted out. He believed that he could make much better wine without the strict restrictions imposed by these classification systems in Italy. He was right and Alselmi is one of the most well-regarded wine makers in the region.

We tasted three dry white wines at the enoteca.

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The first one was the San Vicenzo from 2013. It is made from 70% Garganega and 30% Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This has very subtle aromas of fruit. There is predominantly citrus as well as white fruits like apples and pears. This is not a very acidic wine and there is quite a bit of roundness.

Next, we had the Foscarino from 2012. The Foscarino is made from 90% Garganega and 10% Chardonnay. This wine smells delightfully peachy with honey tones. The aroma profile is sweeter than the San Vicenzo. It is a dry wine with more acidity than the San Vicenzo but there is a slight hints of sweetness in the taste. Both the San Vicenzo and the Foscarino are less acidic than the average Italian white.

The last dry white as the Capital Croce, which spends 8 months in oak barrels with a sur lie method of bottling (where the yeast sediments are not filtered). This method creates wines with a distinctively yeasty as well as toasty and nutty aromas. In addition, this wine has sweeter fruit aromas, such as pear, peach and melon. There’s a little bit of citrus too. In comparison to the other two, this wine has the sweetest aroma and is the most acidic.It also makes wines that have more depth and are more complex. I think this is the most complex of the three wines.

I had two dishes for lunch at Enoteca Realda. The first one was baccala with polenta. Baccala is prepared with dried cod that is rehydrated in milk. This dish is quite salty and there’s a considerable strength of flavors.

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Then I had the grilled local fish, served with potatoes. The grilled fish was much lighter than the baccala, not only in terms of texture but also flavor.

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I think the Foscarino worked perfectly with the grilled fish while the Capital Croce was a much better choice for the baccala.  Capital Croce is a more complex wine than the Foscarino and the more complex the wine, the more complex the flavors in the dish should be. Generally when it comes to pairings, it is a good idea to match the textures and the intensity of flavors of the wine and the food. In this case, the Capital Croce had the most texture and the flavor to be able to keep up with the baccala. In addition, the higher level of acidity in this wine was a great palate cleanser (as the baccala‘s taste can be quite strong).

At the end we were served the sweet wine – I Capitelli from 2011. Even before I arrived in Italy, I was very curious about this wine.

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The I Capitelli is made 100% from Garganega. It is a deep amber color. It is a sweet wine with beautiful aroma profile. There’s white peach, apricot and honey. There are also hints of citrus. The taste is sweet but it is nicely balanced.

This was the end of our wine tasting tour in Veneto. At the end of our meal, I was definitely a happy and well-wined diner!

me

Note: my mom was my own personal paparazzo on this trip. Hence the numerous pictures of myself in this post 🙂

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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After the tasting, we walked through the vineyards of the Domaine Weinbach to the village of Kaysersberg.

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Kaysersberg is really picturesque and looks like it came straight out of a Christmas card.

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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

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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:

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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.

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Yes, I’m definitely a happy customer.

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We hung out and explored Riquewihr in the afternoon before returning to Turckheim. Riquewihr looks even more like the quintessential Christmas village.

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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!

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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.

 

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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:

Albert Boxler

Albert Mann

Zind-Humbrecht

Bott Geyl

Trimbach

Kuentz Bas

Seppi Landmann

Vignoble Klur

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.

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The delicious mirabelles, which are most famously grown in Alsace.

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The sweet and tart red currants.

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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.

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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).

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