The Alsace wines of the Bas-Rhin
By Sue Style
This Guide was last updated on 12 March 2011
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In the gentle hills of the Bas-Rhin, vineyards above the village of Dambach-la-Ville with the Rhine plain in the distance.
© Mick Rock/Cephas
This micro-region focuses on the Bas-Rhin, the department that makes up the northern half of Alsace. There's no doubt that the more southerly Haut-Rhin has always enjoyed the higher profile, priding itself on producing the finest and most sought-after wines. But as the climate warms and as accusations of excess sugar are increasingly heard, the leaner, drier wines of this slightly cooler northern part are finding more and more allies. As Serge Dubs, sommelier at the famous Auberge de l’Ill in Illhauesern and an erstwhile Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (‘world’s best sommelier’) once commented: “En Alsace, la finesse, c’est du côté nord!” - "If you want elegance and finesse in Alsace, look north!".
At the southern end of this Bas-Rhin micro-region, around Châtenois, Nothalten and Andlau, the vinescape is indistinguishable from the Haut-Rhin. However, as you head into the poetically named Couronne d’Or, a 'golden crown' of vineyards which spreads out to the west of Strasbourg, you’ll find that 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.
Alsace, in the northeast of France, is flanked by the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine to the east. This region is one of the driest in France. Protected by the Vosges, its climate is semi-continental with very cold winters, hot summers and long sunny autumns allowing the grapes to ripen well. The vineyards, stretching for approximately 150km from Thann in the south to Marlenheim in the north, lie on the foothill slopes of the Vosges at altitudes from 180m to 360m, with a multiplicity of soils including limestone, granite, schist, gravel, sandstone and clay-limestone. Over the centuries a body of evidence has grown up showing which grape varieties are best matched to which soils.
This micro-region is in the north of Alsace, within reach of Strasbourg. Here the Vosges range is not so high, consequently there is less protection from the rain and it is somewhat cooler too. The most important wine village is Dambach-la-Ville whose Grand Cru Frankstein's granite soils produce good Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
From Paris by road the easiest route to this area is by motorway via Strasbourg on the A4 motorway, (exit 51). Strasbourg is reached in about 4½ hours. The vineyards are to the west and southwest of Strasbourg reached via the N4 to the D422. . The new TGV-Est service offers frequent trains from Paris to Strasbourg taking about two and a quarter hours. There is an airport at Strasbourg for European flights, but the closest international airport is Basel-Mulhouse (part Switzerland/part France), which is about 1½ hours drive from Strasbourg.
Strasbourg Tourist Office,
17 Place de la Cathédrale, 67082 Strasbourg
Tourist Agency for Bas Rhin, 4 Rue Bartisch, 67100 Strasbourg
Tel: 03 88 15 45 83
Maison des Vins d’Alsace,
12 Avenue de la Foire aux Vins, 68012 Colmar
Alsace Wine Routes
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