The sun lit monastery of St Odile, high up on the wooded crest of the Vosges Mountains, caught my eye as our coach passed row after row of carefully tended vines on its way along the Alsace Wine Route from the walled town of Obernai to the village of Barr. We were taking an excursion as part of our Rhine River Cruise with Lüftner Cruises and as someone who enjoys both European history and Alsace wines, the visit to a family owned vineyard, had caught my eye as soon as the glossy brochure arrived.
For over 2000 years the Rhine has been Europe’s most important waterway and trade route, with viniculture playing a major role ever since this region was an outpost of the Roman empire. Alsace is one of the most picturesque of all wine growing areas along the Rhine, with its fairy-tale walled towns, winding narrow streets and half-timbered houses that are straight out of a Grimm’s tale. Alsace is situated on France’s most easterly border gazing towards Germany, and in the Middle Ages was thought to be the source of the famous ‘Rhenish’ wines. The imposing buildings and beautiful towns built in this period are testament to the wealth of the region built on the wine trade.
Today we were fortunate to be in the village of Barr to meet with Jean-Daniel and Fabienne Héring, “vignerons a Barr depuis 1858” . The Héring family have run their 10 hectare domaine for five generations from this pretty village, situated in the foothills of the Vosges mountains, where the vineyards take maximum advantage of their south east exposure to the sun. Domaine Hering produces mainly white wines, which are great companions for all types of gastronomic Alsace specialities. The grapes grown here are Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer, while a blend of white grapes is used to create the sparkling Cremant d’Alsace, which is as good as Champagne and half the price!
There was a tangible sense of balance and purpose in the courtyard as we learned about the wine-making process, with the vines rustling in the gentle breeze on the slopes of the Kirchberg above us. I was not surprised to hear that the grapes are handpicked to preserve their integrity and quality over a five week harvest and that the pressing is gentle so that the seeds don’t get crushed and affect the taste. The decision to become completely organic was taken in 2011 and a natural fermentation without the use of artificial yeast is used, in order to maintain the link to the terroir, the sense of soil, nature, appellation and human activity in harmony. We descend the narrow wooden stairs to the chilly cellar that dates back to 1652 where the wines are aged for between 6 to 10 months in oak and stainless steel tanks.
And so to the tasting room, where we find a light and airy space with wonderful views of the family Grand Crus Riesling and Pinot Gris vines on the Kirchberg hill. Baskets of Kugelhopf, a delicious local Brioche with raisins are available to accompany the tasting and clean the palate. There is a spittoon that doesn’t get much use from the gentlemen in our party who are, after all, on holiday.
Fabienne invites us to sit down around a semi-circular table in the tasting room and I notice the quotation from Baudelaire, profondes joies du vin, qui ne vous a connues?, beautifully hand painted on one wall. We fail to agree a translation but we sort of agree on knowing the profound joys of wine. This resonates with me and perfectly sums up what the Herings have been doing so successfully here for so many years.
Fabienne explains that we will taste three wines today; a Sylvaner, a Grand Cru Riesling and a Grand Cru Gewürztraminer. She shows us how to hold the glass by the stem so as not to warm the wine and tells us about the importance of colour ( the darker the more sugar) . We all sniff the wine to get the first nose before expertly swirling to add oxygen, which releases even more aromatic aromas for the second nose. Next we slurp and swish the wine around the palate. It’s serious stuff but we all chuckle anyway.
While the Riesling is the most important wine in Alsace, I enjoy tasting the less well known Sylvaner grape which is more of an daily pleasure. It’s dry, light and easy to drink with simple dishes and summer picnics, as well as perfect for the popular French cocktail Kir, (white wine with blackcurrant liqueur). We discover that Sylvaner grapes are planted in the northern areas of Alsace and make a refreshing, easy going wine with grapefruit and lime acidity, but less spiciness than the Riesling. We enjoy it so much that we order it again from the wine menu when we get back to the Amadeus Princess.
After the most enjoyable wine tasting and meander through the wines of Alsace, we continue our excursion to Obernai, one of those pretty medieval towns that built it’s wealth on the wine trade, to wander the half timbered street and sit in the market square in front of the statue of St Odile, who is the patron saint of Alsace. Soon it’s time to return to our cruise ship and continue our journey down the Rhine, but we’ll be looking out for more of these glorious Alsace wines when we get home.
My thanks for this Guest Post to my husband, Guy Cowper, who accompanied me on our Rhine River Cruise
More information about wine tasting on The Alsace Wine Route
Our Alsace Wine tasting and visit to Obernai was a half day excursion organised through Lüftner Cruises for guests on their Classic Rhine Cruise and cost €46 per person including coach travel, tour guide and wine tasting.
The Alsace Wine Route is a 170km trail that runs through the foothills of the Vosges mountains from Marlenheim to Thann, taking in the medieval castles, villages and vineyards of the Alsace wine growing region. There are many places where you can stop at the vineyards and wine properties to taste the Alsace wine and meet the local wine growers and throughout the year wine festivals are held in different towns and villages. Find out more about the Alsace Wine Route and the Fêtes du Vin on the Vins D’Alsace website
We enjoyed the wine tasting at Domaine Hering in Barr – find more information about the public wine tastings and gastronomic events they offer on their website. For more information about the nearby town of Obernai that was included in this excursion, visit the Obernai Tourism website
About Lüftner Cruises
My thanks to Lüftner Cruises who hosted our Rhine River Cruise – Lüftner Cruises specialise in European river cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhône and other destinations in Europe, with personal service and Austrian hospitality. You can also follow them on their Facebook Page. We travelled on the Amadeus Princess on a 7 day Classical Rhine Cruise which travelled from Basel to Amsterdam, although we disembarked at Cologne.
More stories from our Rhine River Cruise
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