Discovering Alsatian Wine

France, Alsace, wine

Starting with a sparkling Cremant wine, one of the six white wines of the Alsace region where France borders the Rhine River.

The first hint for enjoying Alsatian wines is to forget what you think you know and like about white wines. Riesling wines are not necessarily sweet, for one. And there’s a range of wines on the sweetish side that have their place at the table with any and all courses of a meal.

A visit to the Robert Blanck Winery in Obernai, Alsace, informed us and warmed us up to the wines of this region. Defined by its own Alsace Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées (AOC) is appropriate: this distinct area in the foothills of the Volges Mountains running along the Rhine River’s west bank places the vineyards in this precarious region that has been punted back and forth between Germany and France over centuries.

Now firmly French, but with a twist (including its own dialect and wine regulations), Alsace produces seven varieties all together. Six are white. The only red that can handle the cold weather here is a fairly delicate pinot noir.

France, Alsace, Wine

Detail of a cask at Robert Blanck Winery, Alsace, France. Behind the carving is a small trap door that allows the vintner to crawl in for cleaning.

We sampled three of the six whites: Crémant, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. The sparkling Crémant uses the traditional Champagne process, introducing yeasts with bottling. Though its harder to come by and therefore a bit more pricey, this might replace my dependence on Spanish Cava when the occasion calls.

Depending on who you ask, the king of the region is either Riesling or Gewurztraminer. The Robert Blanck Riesling Coteaux D’Obernai 2015 offers a colorful and rounded version of Riesling, great with seafood and fish or simply sipping. The Gewurtztraminer will convince you there is a place for a sweeter beverage. Blanck (the man himself gave us the tour) insists nothing more than a bottle of this and an Alsace Kuglehopf cake, plus family and friends, will complete a Sunday afternoon. Give me the recipe and twist my arm.

France, Alsace, Wine

The Robert Blanck family winery dates back to the 18th Century. Kegs still in use range from 90 to over 250 years old.

The Vins D’Alsace Robert Blanck winery is part of the Obernai wine route in the valley about an hour outside of Strasbourg, and a member of the independent winegrowers association that imposes standards for small producers. The fun part of a visit is seeing the continuity since the family winery was begun in 1732. The old casks, it’s obvious, are well cared for by Blanck and his daughters who are joining the business.

As we stood in the cellar, we could imagine (and later saw pictures of) Robert and his family crawling into the huge casks to clean them of sediment by hand, with elbow grease, between batches. This is part tradition and part adherence to the Alsace AOC criteria which monitors not only quality of taste and smell, but everything from yield and content to bottling and sales. From about 50 acres, Blanck’s vineyard produces around 100,000 bottles per year, actually about half the cellar’s full capacity. The difference, of course, is part of the craft: nurturing and waiting. Time is as important as anything in the process.

We visited the Blanck Winery as an excursion with Viking River Cruise’s Rhine Getaway.

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13 Responses to Discovering Alsatian Wine

  1. Janice Chung May 15, 2017 at 8:09 pm #

    I stayed in the Alsace for a week many years ago and visited Obernai as well. There are so many great wines in this area and I do not recall trying wines from the Robert Blanck Winery. I think the cellars alone would have been interesting. The casks are a work of art! Love your photos.

    • Kristin Henning May 17, 2017 at 5:24 am #

      I found it interesting that the cellars, historically, were in the towns for defensive purposes, not out in the midst of the vineyards.

  2. Jackie Smith May 15, 2017 at 11:58 pm #

    Made my mouth water and it is only 8 a.m. Stunning photos in this one. Cheers!

    • Kristin Henning May 17, 2017 at 5:27 am #

      Hey, thanks, Jackie. Served with Kuglehopf cake, I think the Gewurztraminer would make a wonderful breakfast.

  3. Catherine Sweeney May 17, 2017 at 11:59 pm #

    Your photo of the sparkling Cremant is totally tempting. Would love to do a tour of the Alsatian region to learn about (and taste) their wines. I’m trying to imagine what it’s like to actually crawl inside the casks to clean them — not for those with claustrophobia, I’m sure.

    • Kristin Henning May 21, 2017 at 5:06 am #

      Yes, I’m glad it’s them, not me, crawling inside. And I’m glad it’s their hard work, not chemicals, that clean out the casks.

  4. Marilyn Jones May 18, 2017 at 11:47 am #

    I don’t drink, but I enjoy visiting wineries — seriously. The process and history are interesting to me!!

    • Kristin Henning May 21, 2017 at 5:08 am #

      Whether you drink or not, it’s fascinating to see the soil, know what other trees grow in the area, and see the process.

  5. Irene S. Levine May 18, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    Those casks look so rich with history!

    • Kristin Henning May 21, 2017 at 5:09 am #

      The large white dog and the small black cat who followed us around the winery contributed to the ambiance, too!

  6. Karen Warren May 20, 2017 at 9:41 am #

    I always find that wine – like food – tastes so much better once you’ve learnt a bit about it!

  7. Kristin Henning May 21, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    That’s the truth. I like to imagine I can taste the clay and limestone soil, or the apples, plums and pears of this area. Maybe I can.

  8. alison abbott May 21, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

    I’m sure it’s my imagination, but wine always seems to taste so much better when you are at the source. I’ve never been much of a fan of sweet wine, but Gewurtztraminer and a slice of Alsace Kuglehopf cake sounds like a very special way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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