Located on the fertile Rhine River plain in the north-eastern corner of France, Alsace has been producing top-quality wines for centuries. A unique blend of French and Germanic cultures, Alsace represents the best of both traditions in its world-class wines. |
The Route des Vins
Experiencing the best of Alsace’s famous wines is as easy as following the Route des Vins. Officially established in 1953, the route runs some 170 kilometres from Marlenheim to Thann, passing by some 1000 wine producers, in addition to medieval chateaux and picturesque villages. On a barge holiday through this beautiful terrain, you are likely to have ample opportunities to taste the regional specialties.
The Alsace Line-Up
Alsace is best known for its dry, fruity white wines. In fact, about 90% of the wine produced in Alsace is of a white variety. Here are some regional staples you can expect to find if you’re tasting your way down the Route des Vins on a barge holiday.
Riesling – Dry and acidic, you can expect an Alsace Riesling to be aromatic, fruity, and flowery. With over a fifth of Alsace’s vineyards planted with Riesling vines, this white wine is a regional mainstay.
Gewurztraminer – The second-most planted grape variety after Riesling, Gewurztraminer grapes produce a white wine that can range from very dry to the sweetest dessert wine. You may notice aromas of rose, lychee, and passion fruit in this Alsatian classic.
Pinot Blanc – Spicy, smoky, and full-bodied, an Alsatian Pinot Blanc may be either sweet or dry. Pinot Blanc grapes are often used to make the region’s sparkling specialty, Crémant d’Alsace.
Pinot Gris – An Alsatian Pinot gris is a full-bodied, slightly spicy wine that can range in colour from golden to light pink. The blue-grey grapes used to make Pinot gris account for its name.
Pinot Noir – The only red wine produced in Alsace, the Pinot Noir of this region may be either rosé or deep rouge. Usually served chilled, Alsatian Pinot Noirs are easy to drink and consistent in quality.
Sampling the Wines of Alsace
A barge holiday in Alsace is the perfect opportunity to take in the local vintages. Many wineries and vineyards in the region are open to visitors and offer tastings of their wonderful wines. In a tasting environment, it’s important to learn the technique and etiquette of sampling wines. The wide world of wine jargon may be confusing at first, but a few simple steps can turn anyone into an expert.
Looking – The first step may seem obvious, but it’s essential: evaluate the appearance of the wine. Tilt and swirl the wine gently in the glass to catch its full colour range. Is it purplish black or a soft brick red? Is it murky or clear and sparkling?
Smelling – Next, take a few good sniffs to get a sense of the wine’s aroma. There are thousands of potential aromas, but don’t worry about identifying them all. Instead, evaluate the wine more generally. Is it fruity, floral, or herbal? Oaky, smoky, or spicy?
Tasting – When it’s finally time to taste, take a sip, not a gulp, of the wine and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds to let it circulate. Depending upon how many wines you are tasting, you may want to spit out the mouthful in the basin many wineries provide for this purpose (otherwise you may find that a buzz impairs your ability to detect specific aromas and tastes). The taste should follow the aromas you picked up when you smelled the wine. However, your taste buds can tell you if the wine is complex, harmonious, and balanced. A complex wine lingers in your mouth and changes as you drink it. The flavours of a harmonious wine blend easily and agreeably. A balanced wine offers those blended flavours in good proportions.
Overall, remember that the most important factor in wine tasting is whether or not you like it. Though your tastes may change and evolve with experience, a good wine is one you want to taste again.
Alsace’s Route des Vins offers a splendid journey through centuries of wine culture and tradition. On a barge cruise through this spectacular region, you can taste Alsace from sweet to dry, from white to red, and everything in between.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holiday cruises in Europe. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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