I’ve been cruising down the Rhine, starting from Basel in Switzerland in the south northwards through France and Germany to terminate at Amsterdam near the sea in The Netherlands.
The Rhine has been made navigable by straightening and narrowing it and building locks. In olden days it used to meander and spread itself through wide marshes and when in flood it reached to the mountain chains that line it either side at a few miles distance. Now the flat land on either bank is farmland rich in centuries of river silt.
The Rhine is the natural border between Germany on the east bank and France on the west. The hill covered mountains are the Black Forest in Germany and the Vosges in France.
I studied the effect of the Vosges (pronounced Voe-zsh )Mountains on Alsace vineyards for the WSET examinations but nothing beats seeing them first hand.
So when the boat moored at Strasbourg I took the optional coach tour to visit the Alsace wine route. We drove towards the Vosges, and then onto the Alsace Wine Route which runs along the foothills for about 100 miles.
The coach squeezed through narrow streets lined with traditional half-timbered buildings in the villages along the way. Upper slopes have been grassed to feed cattle, the flat land along the river grows corn, wheat and rootcrops and in-between on the lower slopes are the vineyards that made the name Alsace world famous.
As a French appellation, Alsace is unusual because it labels wines by variety. Only seven are allowed as single varieties: Pinot Noir is the single red variety taking about 10% of plantings. The whites are Riesling (22%), Gewurztraminer (19%), Pinot Gris (15%), Sylvaner (9%), Muscat (2%), and Chasselas (0.5%). Another variety, the uncommon Auxerrois is planted in about 14% of vineyards and doesn’t appear under its own name but in blends with Pinot Blanc (7%).
History and proximity to the border has meant that Alsace has been under German control at several times and this is reflected in the look of their wine which uses similar tall flute bottles and German-style varietal labelling. This confusion with currently unfashionable German wines has held them back in international markets, but the contents are distinctly different.
Alsace wines are traditionally drier and have more alcohol than the equivalent German wine. Though some wineries are making sweeter versions are now.
A mention must also be made of sparkling wine, Crémant d’Alsace which is made in the traditional champagne method and may include Chardonnay and 25% of all Alsace wine production is sparkling but I think much is consumed locally.
Alsace is packed with picturesque ancient fortified towns, famed for its food and lauded for its wines. I will return.
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Peter F May cruised the Rhine and travelled to Alsace at his own expense.