Tag Archives: history

Colmar and Alsatian Wine Country

On our first morning in Strasbourg, our hosts delivered breakfast in a giant market basket. Inside was a note tied up into a scroll detailing the contents of our traditional Alsatian breakfast: fresh-squeezed orange juice, a whole baguette, Quetsch jam made from a local variety of plum, fresh white cheese, granola and honey, Comté cheese and Black Forest bacon.

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A hearty Alsatian breakfast.

Fully stuffed and ready for the day ahead of us, we headed south about an hour to Colmar, a charming town in the heart of Alsatian wine country. Along the road, towering hop fields gradually gave way to neatly-ordered vineyards.

Colmar was a fairytale village, with colorful half-timbered houses leaning over shimmering canals and flowers trailing over every railing and windowsill.

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Outside the wine shop.

One of the most-decorated doorways was coincidentally a wine shop, so we went in o”just to look.” Once the shop owner realized that Drew was in the wine industry, he started pulling out bottle after bottle of local wines for us to try.

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A primer course in Alsatian wines.

Each wine was even better than the next, some dry and lean, others rich and sweet but with long, complex finishes. It was an excellent introduction to the range and quality of Alsatian wines, so different from the production of other French regions.

We found a winstub with a sunny patio for lunch, and ordered a salade alsatienne again, because why not, along with a flammekuche, a thin, savory tart with bacon and onions.

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Not the most photogenic of salads, it’s true.

After lunch, we had a tasting appointment at Domaine Marcel Deiss, a ground-breaking Alsatian producer. We met with winemaker Marie-Hélène Cristofaro, who explained the vineyard philosophy in lovely metaphor.

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Traditional oak fermentation barrels.

“The grape is like a pen that writes, but cannot decide what to write,” Marie-Hélène said to emphasize the importance of terroir in Marcel Deiss’ wines. To showcase the unique terroir of each individual vineyard, the grapes are hand-harvested and slowly gravity-pressed, with nothing filtered out or added in. All the elements needed to create an outstanding wine exist naturally in the grape; all they need is time.

What is most unusual in the approach at Marcel Deiss is that multiple grape varietals are co-planted in rows and then harvested and fermented together at the same time. This “field blend” approach was actually not permitted in the Alsatian appellation until just recently, with the greater emphasis traditionally being placed on the grape varietal rather than the vineyard. But to the current proprietor Jean-Michel Deiss, terroir is king.

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A geological sample showing the unique terroir of a Marcel Deiss vineyard.

As she poured each incredibly unique and rich wine, Marie-Hélène explained how the variations in soil type and history affected the wine each vineyard produced. A vineyard with Jurassic soil, rich in plant and animal fossils, might show a haunting petrol character along with exotic fruit varieties. Lighter limestone soils formed during glacial eras produce leaner, crisper wines with higher acidity and brightness. Volcanic soils result in rich, smoky wines, the memory of lava and fire. Terroir is geological history you can taste in a glass.

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Marcel Deiss tasting room.

Our master class in Alsatian wines completed, Marie-Hélène suggested that we visit Ribeauvillé, a nearby village famous for its 14th-century ramparts.

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Ramparts of Ribeauvillé.

As the hot summer sun started to dip below the nearby mountains, elderly ladies leaned out over their windowboxes to chat with the neighbors and to eye the wandering foreigners.

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Medieval home.

It was so picturesque, even Drew took a picture (not this one).

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The cuteness was off the charts.

Dinner (much later) that night was in yet another winstub. We ordered the marrow bones and a jarret de porc alsacien (pig knuckle in red wine sauce).

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We wondered…what kind of beast produced these giant bones?

Alsace was proving even more dangerous than Burgundy: singular wines, epic food, fairytale scenery, and an interesting nightlife were fast making Strasbourg our new favorite city. So much so that we decided to concentrate our whole last day in Alsace just to exploring Strasbourg. Read all about it in tomorrow’s post!