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Alsace - Land of Kugelhof and Riesling

Alsace - Land of Kugelhof and Riesling

Richard Esling - Friday, November 23, 2018

Head to the far east of France, just before you hit the German border, and you’ll discover a land of pretty towns and villages, with an array of half-timbered houses, each with their window boxes cascading with flowers. This is the Alsace, one of the driest and sunniest regions of France, sheltering in the lee of the wild mountains and forests of the Vosges. Its an area that could be ‘The Shire’, full of hobbits, before our imagination was influenced by the film.

The region borders both Switzerland and Germany and there are many influences from the latter, since in recent centuries control has changed between France and Germany several times.  Strasbourg is the region’s capital, but the main centre for the wine region is around the beautiful town of Colmar, with its brightly coloured houses and canals in the town centre. The Alsace is one of France’s top white wine producing regions, though little understood in this country, where they are often confused with sweet, German wines of the old days.

Many different grape varieties are grown here, partly reflecting the great variety in soils, micro-climates and terroir, with the majority of wines being dry and full-bodied, amongst the best food wines that money can buy. Riesling and Gewurztraminer dominate the varietal offerings for still wines and additionally there is a very large production of sparkling Crémant d’Alsace – the second most popular sparkling wine in France after champagne.
The majority of the vineyards are squeezed into the strip of land along the foothills of the Vosges and the top wines designated ‘Grand Cru’ are grown on steep, stony slopes, often at heights above 1000 feet. The dozens of wineries are tucked away in every pretty and characterful village, most offering tastings of their wines. The walled town of Turckheim, Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr are villages which are paradise for wine-lovers and gourmets.

 
In Colmar, there is only one restaurant to go to – well, perhaps two. Restaurant Bartholdi on Rue des Boulangers has been run by the family Foit for over 40 years and with its fine, authentic, Alsatian cuisine, together with an extensive wine list of the best wines from the region, it is a place not to be missed. The iced Kugelhopf with raisins soaked in Gewurztraminer brandy is heaven on a plate. The other great place is Wistub Brenner on Rue Turenne, serving traditional Alsatian dishes such as Choucroute, Tarte à l’oignon, or dishes made with the super-smelly Munster cheese.

Kugelhopf – a brioche-like cake, with connotations of Marie Antoinette (let them eat cake!), is just one of the many specialities, and Riesling just one of the wonderful wines to discover. A few days pottering around the wine villages of this historic region, visiting a few wineries as you go, is a truly relaxing experience. Domaine Muré in Rouffach, owners of the famed Clos Saint Landelin, dates back to 1650 and is now run by the 12th generation of the Muré family. Whilst in the tiny village of Hunawihr, with its fortified church, Domaine Sipp-Mack welcomes visitors to experience a taste of top-quality wines such as Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker, or their superb, dry sparkler.

Whilst there are many hotels to choose from, an ideal location for visiting the whole region is the village of Itterswiller, and its chalet-style Hotel Arnold overlooking the vineyards, has 30 rooms, a Spa and a Wistub. Sit back and relax, with a glass of Riesling.

                                                   

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