The Rhine basically separates France and Germany, and also a giant wine making region. Alsace was always on the cards for a visit, primarily for it’s wine. If you’re (and we very much are!) into Asian flavours, you’ll likely know that Alsace is the way to go when you want to pair a wine to an aromatic and spicy Asian dish.
The wine region is long and narrow (about 3km wide and 30km long), nestled in the foothills it has the Vosges Mountains to its west and the Rhein as its eastern border, it is perhaps the driest region of France.
An absolutely stunning area with many tracks and trails for the keen hiker. It was that time of year where the leaves are all different shades of red and gold, tumbling and fluttering to form a blanket on the ground.
But it was also beginning to get cold now and often we would wake to fog and mists and the occasional frost. In the summer, on the really hot days, we would seek higher ground in an attempt to find cooler air. Now it was the opposite. Although being in the mountains was incredibly beautiful and generally speaking the higher you are the better the view, we just couldn’t cope with the colder temperatures and so began to stay lower, where those few extra degrees meant a whole pile!
As we travelled North to South, watching the vine leaves waft around in the chilly autumn breeze and the sun push through the clouds to lay its warm golden hue over the hillside, we were reminded how beautiful autumn is.
As we went we discovered what hugely varied geography Alsace has; it’s soil, bedrock formations and climate (or ‘terroir’ as it’s often called). Some parts are very high in marl and limestone content such as Beblenheim, Mandelberg and Mambourg, helping to produce wonderful high-end white wines.
The growing season is long and cool. The autumn humidity allows the season to stretch all through October, allowing some grapes to stay on the vines until they reach the ‘noble rot’ stage, called Vendange Tardive.
The perfectly South facing Mambourg slopes provide sunlight that allows perfect, long maturation for the famous riesling grapes.
Pinot gris wines coming from this area are also fantastic. We stopped for a tasting in Beblenheim at the very first wine shop we came upon. Included was a 2015 Pierre Sparr Grand Cru pinot gris from Mambourg – wow!
Our next unplanned stop was at Bernand Haas and Fils’ gorgeous cellar; riesling and pinot gris from the famous vineyards of Schlossberg and gewurztraminer from Kaysersberg. The less-known sylvaner grape is also an important one in their repertoir. It makes a perfect aperitif – on its own or with a plate of charcuterie. We became very fond of this variety throughout our Alsace trip.
The end of October treated us with some grey clouds, cool air, occasional down pours and also beautiful sunsets and crisp nights. We enjoyed staying cosy inside the van; cooking, reading and resting. Woolen garments were essential though, day and night.
To stay warm and to match the Kaysersberg gewürztraminer we had, one evening we made a spicy pumpkin curry with coconut and ginger. These wines really are made to hold up nicely to spicy food.
The following day, from the leftover pumpkin, we made a creamy soup, spiced with turmeric, chilli and Thai basil, finished with olive oil.
On our way out from the highlands of the Vosges, the first day after many, we saw the sun again, we stopped to make lunch. Traditionally from this area is the well known veal escalope. As the day was nice and the surroundings encouraged it, we transferred our gas bottle and camping stove out from the van to enjoy the views this gorgeous land offered. The meal turned out to be pretty delicious – topped off with a kimchi mayo, which nicely balanced out the richness of the breaded veal.
Off to Basel now, to catch up with some old friends of Paul’s parents. Wonderful people, with a wonderful house, a hot shower and a warm bed…