A wine tasting excursion in charming Alsace
On the western side of the Rhine River where it forms the border between France and Germany is the French region of Alsace, an area that has a long and complex history particularly characterized by switches in rule from German to French and back over the centuries. In fact, it’s really only been since World War II that the region has been truly established as being part of France. This recurring change of national identity is the reason that there are such interesting blends of German and French influences seen in architecture, culture, food, wine and traditions.
During our Viking River Rhine Getaway cruise, we got a chance to experience some of the flavors and characteristics on both sides of the Rhine. A favorite activity for me was an Alsatian wine tasting excursion. It was our first visit to this area of France, and we were enthralled, even a little surprised, and even overcast weather did not darken the day or our enthusiasm.
The pretty villages of the Alsatian Wine Route
From our docking port at Kehl, Germany, we traveled by coach across the river to Strasbourg, France, and then into Alsace wine country. Our journey was just a short portion of the of the 106-mile Alsace Wine Route (Route des Vins d’Alsace) that runs through more than 100 traditional Alsatian villages showcasing their wineries. From Strasbourg, we drove along tree-lined two-lane roads through a countryside of picturesque villages and vineyards with a backdrop of the Vosges Mountains.
Take a stroll in Obernai
Before reaching our Alsatian wine tasting destination, we stopped in the lovely town of Obernai, about 18 miles from Strasbourg, for a walking tour. Like other Alsatian medieval villages, Obernai’s charm is found in its half-timbered buildings, sandstone churches with prominent steeples, and public squares surrounded by shops and cozy cafes.
From the town’s main public parking area, we walked through a serene wooded area with a babbling brook and past the remains of the Middle Ages fortress ramparts and tower to get to the town center.
Heading uphill from the town center, we visited the neo-Gothic church of St. Pierre and St. Paul and its adjacent cemetery with its flower-adorned tombs. I like spending a little time in old cemeteries and thinking about the stories that could be told.
The church was built in the latter part of the 19th century (on the site of the old church) using the pink sandstone of the Vosges Mountains, but inside are some important features from the original church such as its Holy Sepulchre altar built in 1504 and 15th-century stained glass windows.
It seems that there are a lot of babies to be delivered in Alsace! In Obernai (and earlier in Strasbourg) we spotted several storks in their nests like those on a chimney top shown below.
Barr, the capital of Alsatian wine
Bidding au revoir to Obernai, we were ready to enjoy a taste of Alsace in the village of Barr, a short 5 miles away. Barr is considered to be the wine capital of Alsace.
Tucked inside a series of medieval buildings on a narrow cobblestone street was the entrance to the Domaine Hering winery, a family owned and operated enterprise since 1858. Fabienne Hering (shown below) is the wife of the current (fourth) generation’s owner Jean-Daniel and was our guide for the winery and cellar tour. In the photo below, you can see Fabienne standing next to one of the large oak barrels in the cellar. Can you believe that Jean-Daniel has to climb through a small door in these casks to clean them from the inside? This is not a job for the claustrophobic!
Mr. TWS and I were very impressed that Domaine Hering has been practicing sustainable viticulture since 1999 and in 2011 began organic production practices. They are members of Tyflo, an Alsatian sustainable agricultural practices organization.
Wines of Alsace
There are seven primary types of wine produced in Alsace — Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner d’Alsace, and Pinot Noir (the only red wine). Consistent with the combination of French and German influences seen throughout Alsace are the typical German varietals of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, but made in French style of wine-making. crisp white wines. Of these, we tasted four Alsatian varietals at Domaine Hering.
We thoroughly enjoyed the picturesque setting and ambiance of the winery situated below the vineyards of the Kirchberg de Barr. The Kirchberg de Barr is given the distinction of being a Grand Cru listed hill signifying that it is one of the highest quality places to produce Alsace wines. Our small group sampled four wines in the tasting room.
I often think the tasting notes of the winemakers themselves can be like poetry — especially if read in French! I’m including a few quotes from Domaine Hering about the four wines we tried during our tasting — in French and in English (with the help of Google Translate). Alors …. (So…)
Riesling – Alsace Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr
A big surprise for me was to learn that the Rieslings of Alsace are not sweet like those of Germany where they are quite sweet. This crisp white wine was my favorite of those we tasted.
“Le vin est brillant, cristallin avec une robe jaune aux reflets dorés. Le nez est fin et très expressif avec des notes très intenses et riches…. On y retrouve mêlées une minéralité tendue avec des parfums d’ananas rôti, d’agrumes, de zeste d’orange et une touche minérale rajoutant de la complexité. En bouche, le vin présente une très belle matière, sans agressivité et tout en finesse. Le palais est envahi par des senteurs d’agrumes et garde une fraîcheur et une sapidité qui subliment les mets les plus raffinés.”
“The wine is brilliant, crystalline with a yellow robe with golden highlights. The nose is fine and very expressive with very intense and rich notes …. It has a mixed minerality with flavors of roasted pineapple, citrus, orange zest and a mineral touch adding complexity. In the mouth, the wine presents a very beautiful material, without aggressiveness and all in finesse. The palate is invaded by scents of citrus and keeps a freshness and a palatability that sublimate the most refined dishes.”
Les Authentiques Muscat
Once again, we were surprised to find the fruity Alsatian Muscat wine to be dry. When I think of wines made from Muscat grapes, I usually think of the sweet Moscatel we had on our trip to Portugal.
“Caractérisé par des arômes de raisin frais et de fleur d’oranger, ce muscat vous séduira par son côté fruité et sec. Il est léger et gouleyant et accompagne parfaitement les apéritifs printaniers ou estivaux et les asperges.”
“Characterized by aromas of fresh grapes and orange blossom, this muscat will seduce you with its fruity and dry side. It is light and easy to drink and goes well with springtime or summer aperitifs and asparagus.”
Gewürztraminer – Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr
Although I’m not typically a fan of sweet wines, this Gewürztraminer would be quite enjoyable as a dessert wine. Like the Riesling, it has the “Grand Cru” designation of the highest quality vines of the Kirchberg de Barr.
“Ce vin vous étonnera par son élégant pouvoir de séduction. D’une approche plutôt réservée, vous apprécierez ces arômes fins de roses et de pamplemousse qui se prolongent crescendo. La bouche est parfaitement ciselée et la matière du vin s’harmonise parfaitement avec la minéralité du terroir. En finale, on retrouve la marque du Kirchberg qui se reconnait par des parfums d’épices et de réglisse.”
“This wine will surprise you with its elegant power of seduction. With a rather reserved approach, you will appreciate these fine aromas of roses and grapefruit that extend crescendo. The mouth is perfectly chiselled and the wine’s material harmonises perfectly with the minerality of the terroir. Finally, we find the brand of Kirchberg which is recognized by scents of spices and licorice.”
Pinot Noir Rouge – Cuvée des Hospices de Strasbourg
Pinot Noir grapes are used to make two varieties of wine in Alsace — Pinot Noir Rouge and Pinot Noir Rosé. We tasted Domaine Hering’s Pinot Noir Rouge which I found to be pleasantly comparable to other Pinot Noirs that I enjoy (such as some California and Hungarian wines), but lighter.
“Belle robe rouge clair aux reflets orangés et brillants. Le nez exprime le petit fruits rouges (framboise, groseille) et est très flatteur. En bouche, le vin est léger, gouleyant et sec. On retrouve en bouche les mêmes parfums de fruits rouges. Parfait avec la viande froide, les salades composées et la viande blanche.”
“Beautiful light red dress with orange and shiny reflections. The nose expresses the small red fruits (raspberry, currant) and is very flattering. On the palate, the wine is light, easy to drink and dry. We find in the mouth the same flavors of red fruits. Perfect with cold meat, mixed salads and white meat.”
Following the tasting, we strolled the garden adjacent to the tasting room. that admiring the vistas of the hillside vineyards of Kirchberg de Barr.
Due to the wet weather that day, we weren’t able to take a walk in the vineyards, but took a leisurely walk along the lane behind the winery past the church in the photo below and the streets of Barr back to our coach.
Mr. TWS and I give two thumbs up to the Alsatian Wine Tasting excursion when you take a Viking Rhine Getaway cruise. It’s a wonderful introduction to Alsatian wine and there’s lovely scenery along the way.
Visit the Domaine Hering site for more information about their wines and tours. (Alas, they don’t ship to the US!)