En Alsace

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We’re spending a week in Colmar in the Haut-Rhin area of Alsace where the weather’s cool with little sun but no rain. The photo shows vines on the hills at Niedermorschwihr, where Albert Boxler is based. Bare and obviously well-tended, the vines surround the roads on the flat plains. The higher, and better, slopes of the Vosges seem almost inaccessible to the casual visitor. Here, vine nurturing is a hard job on these south facing inclines. The vineyards are bounded by woodlands, which must have been cleared at some point in the past to make way for the vines. Turning over the soil, establishing the posts and wires, planting, pruning and harvesting the grapes are all done on steep inclines – the physical demands of keeping these top quality vineyards are plainly obvious and explain why the better wines are more highly prized – and priced. Wines purchased from the vineyards all seem to start at €8/9, then move to €11-13 and upwards to the Vendage Tardives – depending on the grape variety. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers dominate the higher prices but most growers sell all the other wine varieties. It would be interesting to know how many growers just supply grapes for the wine makers (a la Champagne region).

Two disappointments so far – Cremant d’Alsace and Pinot Noir. The sparkling wine was uninteresting whilst the Pinot Noir – or the ones we’ve tried, anyway – were thin, raw and tannic. One grower’s Cremant was made from predominantly Pinot Noir, presumably from the flatter areas. (why waste the effort of the higher slopes on producing cheaper wines?)

Those are the only two, small, negatives so far as most of the wines we’ve tried have been wonderful in their balance of fruit sweetness and acidity. Generally the wines have a restrained power and complexity of flavours that are unique and difficult to reproduce in other parts of the world. They are certainly worth the prices we are paying.

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