Wine in Alsace

Threading south along the eastern foothills of the Vosges from Marienheim to Thann, the Alsatian Wine Road is home to delicious wines and beautiful vineyards. The 170-km (105-mile) Route du Vin passes through small towns, and footpaths interspersed throughout the region afford the opportunity to wander through the vineyards.

Buses from Colmar head out to the surrounding towns of Riquewihr, St-Hippolyte, Ribeauvillé, and Eguisheim; pick up brochures on the Wine Route from Colmar's tourist office. Although the route is hilly, bicycling is a great way to take in the countryside and avoid the parking hassle in the towns along this heavily traveled route.

Wine is an object of veneration in Alsace, and anyone traveling along the Route du Vin will want to become part of the cult. Just because Alsatian vintners use German grapes, don't expect their wines to taste like their counterparts across the Rhine.

German vintners aim for sweetness, creating wines that are best appreciated as an aperitif. Alsatian vintners, on the other hand, eschew sweetness in favor of strength, and their wines go wonderfully with knockdown, drag-out meals.

The main wines you need to know about are Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Sylvaner—all whites. The only red wine produced in the region is the light and delicious Pinot Noir. Gewurztraminer, which in Germany is an ultrasweet dessert wine, has a much cleaner, drier taste in Alsace, despite its fragrant bouquet. It's best served with the richest of Alsace dishes, such as goose.

Riesling is the premier wine of Alsace, balancing a hard structure with certain fruity roundness. With a grapey bouquet and clean finish, dry Muscat does best as an aperitif. Pinot Gris, also called Tokay, is probably the most full-bodied of Alsatian wines.

Sylvaner falls below those grapes in general acclaim, tending to be lighter and a bit dull. You can discover many of these wines as you drive along the Route du Vin.

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