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Wine and food where three countries meet

November 21, 2012

When you next plan a visit to Alsace, a must-visit wine region, then don’t forget that it is as simple as crossing the River Rhine to visit the Baden wine region too. What makes this doubly appealing is that both regions are among the most welcoming to wine tourists that you can find in their respective countries, France and Germany.

A third country, Switzerland is where you will find the perfect city start or finish to your visit in Basel or Bâle. With a delightful old town, Basel is not surprisingly well served by excellent restaurants serving food influenced by its neighbours. Living close by for many years Sue Style, food and wine author and contributor to Wine Travel Guides, provides an excellent guide to restaurants in Basel, as well as in Alsace and Baden.

Alsace wine region

Kaysersberg in Alsace with the Schlossberg vineyard above ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Alsace – gingerbread houses and rich, spicy whites
Nearly everyone you speak to in the wine business becomes a little wistful when you mention Alsace – it’s too long since I’ve been there is the common refrain. Once visited, forever smitten. Yes, Alsace is in eastern France, and the language is French, but it’s so unlike the rest of France. Very neat and tidy, super-welcoming and ultra-friendly, the influence from across its border is very marked.

The city of Strasbourg and town of Colmar are renowned for their attractive streets and buildings, but the small Alsace villages are gorgeous too, like a Disney film set, but so much better and a few centuries older! Behind the pretty gingerbread-like houses and narrow streets, stretching up to the forests are the vineyards, growing the seven permitted grape varieties (six white plus Pinot Noir for rosés and reds), all neatly written on the labels of more than 99% of Alsace wines, no ‘guess-the-grape’ as you have to do with so many French appellation labels.

Go into one of the many wine producers’ tasting rooms, and you will be offered wines at different quality/price levels from all the seven varieties, though some villages excel at two or three in particular according to the vineyards’ soil types. Get to know which grapes work best with the local foods and then you can really indulge in the welcoming Weinstuben (the local name for the typical Alsace wine bar or casual restaurant). For example, the racy Riesling works perfectly with the fresh-river trout, earthy Sylvaner with the onion tart, rich Pinot Gris with the many pork dishes; spicy Gewurztraminer with the smelly Munster cheese; and the dry Muscat is simply lovely to sip on its own.

Exploring the Kaiserstuhl – home to three Pinots
Between the attractive university town of Freiburg and the Rhine River is the southern section of the Baden wine region, named Kaiserstuhl-Tuniberg. The Kaiserstuhl is a low mountain range of ancient volcanic origin; since a rationalization of the vineyard plantings back in the 1970s, the vineyards now form a very distinct part of the landscape grown on wide terraces that follow the contours on the several old volcanic cones. Since visiting the active volcanic landscape of Etna on Sicily recently, the Kaiserstuhl landscape now begins to make much more sense to me.

Kaiserstuhl vineyards

High up in the Kaiserstuhl, looking towards Alsace ©Brett Jones

Just as the Alsace vineyards are one of the sunniest regions in France, lying in the shadow of the Vosges Mountains to the west, so this part of Baden is by far the warmest wine region of Germany. Here Pinot grapes thrive whether Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) or Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder) and some excellent, full-bodied wines are made from them, in the furthest style imaginable to the more familiar wines of Germany, such as the delicate, dry and medium dry Rieslings of the Mosel or Rheingau.

Needless to say, the region is full of welcoming guest-houses, hotels, restaurants and wine bars, not to mention the wine producers. Bring your best beard trimmer to fit in with the locals (here’s a comprehensive guide to beard trimmers if you’re looking for a nice travel-sized but quality trimmer). A Kaiserstuhl day-trip last summer is fully described on Brett Jones’ blog, but the highlights were a spectacular walk, beautifully sign-posted through the vineyards and part of a network of paths, a substantial countryside lunch and a visit to the excellent producer Weingut Karl H Johner, known for its Pinot Noirs.

Christmas Markets and Holiday Gifts
Alsace, as well as Germany and Switzerland, is renowned for its Christmas Markets, which are just getting into full-swing now, so you might want to hop over there for a quick visit in the next few weeks – there are no less than five markets in Colmar alone.

Swiss cheese bookBut, if you are planning your present buying from your armchair, I’d like to recommend strongly Sue Style’s book (left) for all lovers of Swiss Cheese. Beautifully designed, each major cheese variety has a profile of a producer with gorgeous photographs and moving stories of when Sue meets the cheese-makers. British food and wine writer Fiona Beckett has written an excellent review on her cheese blog.

And don’t forget that for friends planning to tour the vineyards of France next year, you can offer a Gift membership to Wine Travel Guides, giving full access to all the PDF guides for 12 months. Readers of this blog (and those who you share it with) may use the special code D2Blog12 for a discount of 30% off the usual price, bringing the price down to £20 (approximately €26 or $33), valid not only for gifts but for your own membership until 31 Jan 2013. Just enter the code in the box on the page. Take a look at the Strasbourg Guide which is available as a free sample PDF guide on the website.

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The Black Forest for foodies and wine travellers

January 11, 2009

By Sue Style

restaurant-kaiserstuhl-for-wtg-blog-2Wink tells me that Wine Travel Guides is about to venture into the German vineyards with three guides to the Mosel which will go on-line later this month. Meanwhile, if you’re one of those rare people who understand about and love German wine, it’s worth considering a visit to the Black Forest. People have always beaten a path to this gorgeous bucolic holiday area for relaxing holidays with a big dose of wellness thrown in, but increasingly it’s the food and wines that are calling the shots. On the food front, Baden-Württemberg (the Land where the Black Forest lies) boasts the highest concentration of Michelin stars in Germany. As for Baden wines, better known in the past for quantity than quality, these are now winning international plaudits – and prizes – for their elegance and complexity.

A good place to start is the Kaiserstuhl, a small enclave of volcanic outcrops sandwiched between the Basel-Freiburg Autobahn and the Rhine. Here is where you’ll find some of Baden’s finest wines, grown in terraced vineyards. It’s worth setting up a few tastings here to get a feel for how far the wines have come.

Reinhold and Cornelia Schneider’s winery in Endingen, founded only in 1981, was flagged in Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report as the fastest-improving producer in Germany. Their reputation for whites (Weissburgunder/Pinot Blanc, Grauburgunder/Pinot Gris) is firmly established but the Schneiders are no slouches where red is concerned (principally Spätburgunder, a.k.a. Pinot Noir).

Karl-Heinz Johner, whose wine career started at Lamberhurst Vineyard in Kent (southeast England), works 17 hectares in Bischoffingen (and a further 12 in Wairarapa, New Zealand) with his son Patrick. Their benchmark is Burgundy, their aim to make the wines that best express the unique terroir of the Kaiserstuhl. Their range of racy Spätburgunders is a lesson in what Pinot Noir can do outside its homeland in skilled hands with the right clones and good terroirs; their mouthfilling Weissburgunder knocks spots off its Pinot Blanc cousins across the Rhine in Alsace.

Close by in Oberrotweil is Weingut Salwey, another family-owned and -run estate. Since 2002, son Konrad has shared wine-growing and winemaking responsibilities with his father and takes care of the whites (floral and fruity Weissburgunders and fine Grauburgunders), while Herr Salwey Senior is responsible for some finely aromatic Spätburgunders.

The Schwarzer Adler Hotel and Restaurant

The Schwarzer Adler Hotel and Restaurant

For eating out, the Kaiserstuhl has plenty of options from honest country inns to elegant, Michelin-starred tables. The appealing Gasthaus Kaiserstuhl in Niederrotweil with its flowery-curtains-and-formica decor is run by a two-man father-and-son team. The (aptly named) chef, Herr Koch Junior, cooks locally sourced ingredients (kid, rabbit, pike-perch) enlivened with armfuls of fresh herbs and edible flowers from the chef’s garden and the surrounding fields and vineyards (wild garlic, dandelions etc.), while Herr Koch Senior attends single-handed to the small dining room.

In nearby Vogtsburg-Oberbergen is the firmly established Schwarzer Adler, a cosy-elegant, wood-panelled Gasthof whose classic French cuisine with local accents served by fulsome, smiling women in Tracht (traditional Black Forest costume) has merited a Michelin star since 1969. Owner Franz Keller was a pioneering wine grower in his day, making distinctive and idiosyncratic wines which fell foul of the (arcane) rules of German wine labelling, a tradition proudly carried on by his son Fritz. The wine list is spectacular – 1800 references, including top Bordeaux and Burgundies, as well as the cream of Baden.

If roast chicken speaks to you more than poached poularde with truffles, a final option could be the Keller-owned Winzerhaus Rebstock just across the road. Here you can feast on classics like Mistkratzerle (a proper farmyard bird that’s been scratching around in the Mist or manure heap), Wienerschnitzel or calf’s kidneys, with voluptuous apple tarts and cream cakes to finish.

Weingut Schneider, Königschaffhauserstrasse 2, 74396 Endingen am Kaiserstuhl.
Tel: +49 7642 5278
Weingut Karl-Heinz Johner, Gartenstrasse 20, 79235 Vogstburg-Bischoffingen
Tel: +49 7662 6041
Weingut Salwey, Hauptstrasse 2, 79235 Oberrotweil am Kaiserstuhl
Tel: +49 7662 384
Gasthaus Zum Kaiserstuhl, 79325 Niederrotweil
Tel: +49 7662 237
Schwarzer Adler, Badbergstrasse 23, 79235 Vogtsburg-Oberbergen
Tel: +49 7662 93 30 10
Winzerhaus Rebstock, Badbergstrasse 22, 79235 Vogtsburg-Oberbergen
Tel: +49 7662 93 30 11

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