When in France, drink wine. When in Alsace, drink white wine. A lot of it.
Alsace is an incredibly beautiful place full of medieval villages, half-timbered houses and vineyards. It practically created the word “quaint” with its charming, fairytale-like appearance.
It is also fortunate to find itself smack dab between two large mountain ranges, resulting in ultra rich soil that happens to be ideal for wine making. So make wine, they do!
One of my last stops on my trip this summer was Strasbourg, the most widely known Alsatian city. I decided to book a wine tour with a company called Ophorus. It was a full day tour visiting four vineyards and driving through a large part of the Alsatian wine road. I was psyched.
The tour was perfect! As it turned out, it ended up just being me and a newlywed Swiss couple. Our tour guide, Florence, was so sweet and knowledgeable.
I learned a lot about wine that isn’t normally touched upon during typical wine tastings; including terroir or how the soil affects the wine, older versus modern wine making techniques as well as how and why the wines pair with certain food.
In Alsace, there are seven grapes grown – with small exceptions such as a grape grown only because the mayor in a particular town once adored it. The seven are: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Muscat and Pinot Noir. There are also wines made up of a few of the “big 7”, indentical to champagne, called crémants.
Alsatians happen to be purists when it comes to their wines; certified Alsatian wines will always be made of one single grape, no blends. Blends exist for fun of course, but a true Alsatian wine will be completely one grape.
Two of the vineyards we visited were small, family run places. Mothers, fathers and kids all pitch in and wine making is a way of life.
The first place we stopped was in a town called Barr. Le Domaine Bachert is a small family-run winery that uses traditional methods for producing wine. Bachert was started and spearheaded by Noëlle, a female Alsatian wine maker, which is a unique occurrence for Alsace. Noëlle was out when we arrived, so we were greeted by her hyperactive puppy and very sweet mother. In the backyard, we tasted a number of wines, all white, as per Alsatian custom.
The next of the smaller vineyards was Schaeffer-Woerly in Dambach-La-Ville. The family of winemakers are Lucie & Vincent and their son, Maxime. Here we toured the cellars, checking out some of the largest wine barrels I’ve ever seen in my life and learning about the nitty gritty of maintenance that goes on behind the scenes of a successful winery.
We then tried some Rieslings, some Auxerrois (another white outside of the main 6!) and some blends created out of Maxime’s curiosity and a love of wine making. We also got to taste the difference between a Riesling harvested from grapes that grew uphill versus one whose grapes were grown downhill, or in stone versus sand. I had no idea how profoundly different such a seemingly small detail could make a wine!
In Ribeauvillé, we visited Louis Sipp, a larger winery with international recognition. Around a large wooden table, we discussed each wine and the foods it best accompanies or which holiday or event it would compliment perfectly. We tasted a few Grand Cru wines, which are held to very specific standards for everything from vines to bottling. The results produce fabulously tasty wines. One of my favorite wines of the day was a Grand Cru Riesling from Louis Sipp. It was my idea of a perfect Riesling, not too sweet and simultaneously crisp and smooth.
The last stop on our tour was Dopff au Moulin in Riquewihr. By this time, we’d had a decent amount to drink and the colors along the wine route somehow seemed more vibrant than they had earlier in the day.
Dopff was a very inviting place with a more casual tasting; we stood around a bar and tasted wine after wine until the three of us were filled to the gills with Alsatian wine. We toasted the end of our wine tour with dry Rieslings and sweet Gewürztraminers, just as Alsace intended. I also managed to sneak in a taste of pinot noir too, since I’m a red wine lover at heart!
Of all the wines we tried, and we tried quite a few, my favorites were the crémants and dry Rieslings. Also as a table wine with Alsatian food, I really enjoyed Sylvaner.
Ophorus runs wine tours in the Bordeaux, Provence and Alsace regions of France. If my tour was any indication of how this company handles tours, I’d absolutely go for one if you find yourself in France!
*Ophorus, has not contacted me to write any of this or offered any incentives; these opinions are my own