ALSACE – Wine Tour on the French Side of the Rhine

Wink Lorch's picture

ALSACE – Wine Tour on the French Side of the Rhine

A first visit to the wine region of Alsace on the far eastern side of France is unforgettable. The language is French, true, but nothing else about the region seems like the rest of France. Wherever you go on the wine road from Strasbourg down to Colmar and south towards Mulhouse, there are gorgeous villages with almost toy-town, timbered houses bedecked with flowers, narrow alleyways where you can peep through to the steep vineyards above, and welcoming wine tasting rooms and hostelries.


Wine Travel Guides - Alsace


Lying west of the Rhine river, on the south-eastern foothills of the Vosges mountains, Alsace  is the only classic wine region in France where the wines are named by their grape varieties, meaning that labels are easier to understand than other French wines. White wine lovers will feel at home here as the best wines are intense dry Rieslings, delicately dry Muscats, and fabulously rich Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminers. The reds are from Pinot Noir and whereas most used to be almost rosé-coloured and very light in taste too, in the past few years, a combination of climate change and improvements in winegrowing and winemaking have given more intense red Burgundian styles of Pinot Noir. If you visit the region, don’t fail to ask for advice from the sommeliers on matching the wines with local foods, which range from onion tart to pork dishes, through to sauerkraut and river trout, not forgetting the smelly but delicious Munster cheese and some incredible sweet offerings. Alsace offers late harvest sweet wines too and these can also provide interesting food matches.

The Alsace wine road  and the tourist offerings are managed with, dare I suggest, more Germanic efficiency than by many of the other wine regions of France. The route is generally very well signposted and English is quite widely spoken. The wine producers range from large co-operative cellars, through to the famous merchants like Trimbach and Hugel and many smaller family concerns. A fabulous welcome is offered to wine tourists with excellent, characterful tasting rooms.

Writing for Wine Travel Guides on Alsace is Sue Style, an English food, wine and travel writer living in the southern part of Alsace not far from the Swiss border and the city of Basel. Sue has travelled up and down the wine regions sampling the food of Alsace for many years, and to prepare our guides Sue intensified her efforts to discover the wine producers offering the best visits. Here is a flavour of how she introduces a couple of the guides.

North of Colmar: Colmar has the buzz of a small town, with its museums, shopping, restaurants and hotels, and it makes a perfect base for wine explorations. On the other hand, you may prefer the peace and quiet of one of the small vineyard villages which cluster at the foot of the Vosges - the delicious hilltop Zellenberg, for example, or one of the miraculously preserved, Hansel and Gretel-type villages of Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé, Kaysersberg or Bergheim with their medieval, multi-coloured, half-timbered houses. There’s plenty to do and see, between exploring Colmar and the villages on the Route des Vins, as well as lining up a few top tastings.

Around Strasbourg: As you head into the poetically named Couronne d’Or, a 'golden crown' of vineyards spreads out to the west of Strasbourg and the vines start to reflect their original role as part players in a mixed agricultural economy, where vines, fruit and cereals were traditionally intermingled and inter-planted. Strasbourg makes a good urban base for explorations, but there are good possibilities in the many villages on the wine route: Itterswiller, Mittelbergheim - one of France’s 'plus beaux villages' or most beautiful villages - and Ottrott.”

Last year my partner and I spent an evening in Alsace when we drove down through France to visit relatives in Basel, Switzerland. As we both already knew the Colmar area quite well, we chose to stay further north closer to Strasbourg. We explored a couple of villages in the late afternoon and were able to have a splendid walk up into the vineyards above the village of Mittelbergheim. As the grape harvest was due to start the following day, we were able to admire the ripe grapes with all the seven different permitted varieties beautifully labelled and their characters explained – an excellent educational experience. We selected one of Sue’s recommended hotels – the Hotel Arnold in Itterswiller - to spend the night and our pristine room looked right out onto the vineyards. After a pleasant meal of local food and wine in their winestub (wine bar/restaurant) opposite we walked off the meal down the sleepy main street of the village, admiring the vineyard picking machine parked up ready for an early start the next day.

Alsace is an enchanting area to visit with good road and train links from Paris, Germany or Switzerland. Sue has written three comprehensive micro-region guides to plan your wine tour  – one ‘Around Strasbourg’ and the others focussing on the areas to the north and to the south of Colmar. If this is your only wine trip during the year, then our economic Silver subscription offer would be ideal as this offers a choice of three downloadable PDF guides. For a useful discount (to help towards an extra bottle of Alsace wine perhaps?), use the promotional code offered to all visitors to Wandering Educators – you will find the details at our Wine Travel Guides feature here on Wandering Educators.


Wink Lorch is the Wine Editor for Wandering Educators