The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
Alsace has for many years been an example of the very best of French and German gastronomy and wines, having been occupied by both nations at various times in history. Now firmly under French rule there are constant reminders of the past in village and family names. With some 15,000 hectares under production on the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains, all who have attended any of the education classes at Berrys will know that the rainfall is one of the lowest in France! There are about 2000 individual growers who bottle and sell their own wines, often with several plots (many as low as ½ hectare) scattered all over the region.
My partner and I had planned to return to the area and stay in Eguisheim, 6 km south west of Colmar over the May Bank holiday week. With some degree of cheek I approached Katie and asked to be introduced to a couple of growers who I could visit. This led to an e-mail trail with David Berry-Green who very kindly procured two invitations for us to visit Caves near Colmar.
The first was to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Close to Turckheim and founded by Olivier Humbrecht’s ancestors in 1620 and united to the Zind family in 1959 The Domaine was one of the first in Alsace to produce wines using biologic techniques. There are now many more who follow in his footsteps and it is easy to find a biodynamic producer in most villages. Frédérique Baltzinger at Zind-Humbrecht kindly introduced us to 10 wines from the grand cru vineyards of Brand, Goldert and Rangen and AC vineyards of Clos Windsbuhl and the very steep slopes of the Heimbourg. The wines shown varied from a Chardonnay/Auxerrois blend (Zind 2011) through a lovely dry Riesling (Clos Windsbuhl 2011) a honey sweet Gewurztraminer (Goldert grand Cru 2011) and ended with a truly delicious Pinot Gris ‘Heimbourg’ 2005 SGN which came in at 219 g/l of residual sugar and only 10* ABV. After an hour and a half of excellent explanations and a thorough talk through Alsace wines we were ready to depart for a strong coffee.
The second was to Rolly Gassmann in the small village of Rorschwihr. The family has produced wines since 1611. We met Marie-Therese Gassmann and over the next two and one half hours our schoolboy/girl French lessons were fully tested. As the tastings progressed our French became more “fluid” and we were all more aware of what we were trying to describe, although some of the finer nuances of production, body, flavour and residual sugar levels may have been lost or misinterpreted! David B-G did advise us to have a substantial lunch prior to the visit and when we were shown the list of available wines which Marie-Therese then proceeded to give us, starting with a couple of very light Sylvaners, moving next to an Edelzwicker and then to Pinot Blanc and four Auxerrois it dawned on us that we were in for a serious session! All Rolly Gassmann wines are produced from the surrounding lands of the village, which demonstrate 21 differing ‘terroirs’ which allow the family to produce the four wines already mentioned – through Riesling, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Pinot Gris and onto Gewurztraminer. All these varietals come in differing styles resulting in some 52 wines for sale. I have to say that a strong resolve and a lot of spitting did mean that I was able to sample 37 of the wines offered and came away a very contented visitor. I am glad it is not my responsibility to buy from them on a grand scale as it was just too hard to pick a winner. The last two wines tasted were though memorable, both were Gewurztraminers Selection de Grains Noble, one from 1994 and the latter from 1989.
Only 5 to 6 hours drive from Calais, I can highly recommend Alsace as a wine region to ‘do’ in search of those iconic wines and fine foods combined with the most beautiful “Chocolate Box” scenery. In Eguisheim alone, there are 32 Caves. Our thanks must go to Katie for making this happen and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Rolly Gassmann for their kindness and time.
Christopher John Ford, Wine Club Member