I visited Alsace on the day following my trip to Champagne. If you take the obscenely early train out of Paris, the TGV goes directly to Colmar, where I rented a Fiat Panda (complete with an engine that would have been better off in a sewing machine) to navigate Alsace's snowy roads. Perhaps it was because visitors to the region are rare in February, but everywhere I turned I was greeted warmly, starting with the person who helped me find free parking in Eguisheim, a beautiful little village south of Colmar where there is a racket on parking. My appointment in Eguisheim was at Bruno Sorg, where I tasted with oenologist François Sorg, whose wines were glorious. They are mostly unavailable in the U.S. (a tragedy!), unless you're in Chicago. I made a brief stop at Trimbach in Ribeauvillé, and finished the day at Weinbach in Kaysersberg. Because this is Alsace, all of these estates are relatively close together--the longest drive was 15 minutes, and road signage is so comprehensive that I didn't even need the map I bought in Colmar.
Finding a Home for the Night
Schools in Alsace were on a week-long hiatus, so I had a difficult time finding a place to stay, as apparently most of the families that run the small hotels were away on holiday. As I swung the Singer by Fiat into the drive at Domaine Weinbach, I called my intended overnight destination in Kaysersberg, but the hotel was closed! Perhaps I should have investigated this earlier.... I didn't have time to call other hotels immediately as I was right on time for my appointment, so I stepped from the car into a world far different from the one I'd left (Ribeauvillé, which was somehow less intimate): a blanket of quiet, with butterflies of snow swirling about, cars passing silently in the distance beneath the white terraces of the Schlossberg Grand Cru, which, through the thick snow, looked as though it was sailing on by. This was perfect preparation for the tasting ahead--Weinbach's 2008s: elegant, lithe, pensive wines, though the Gewurztraminers were quite full-figured. I have been a long-time admirer of these wines, and tasting 25 of them in one sitting was a wonderful experience. I've never gotten such a strong impression of wines being crafted expressly for practical use (i.e., with an extraordinarily wide variety of foods). Clearly these are my people!
I eventually remembered I needed lodging for the night, so I asked winemaker Laurence Faller if she knew of a hotel that might be open. She mentioned a couple of options but suggested that I consult further with her mother when we were finished. So Madame Colette Faller (who has been the force and spirit of the estate since her husband Théo died in 1979) gave me more assistance than I deserved! In the end, Madame Faller spent 45 MINUTES helping me find a place that was open, and gave me very detailed directions to a marvelous place--the Hôtel du Faudé--in the village of Lapoutroie.
A Mountain Retreat
Nestled in the Vosges Mountains above the Kaysersberg Valley, Lapoutroie is only 10 km from Kaysersberg and 12 km from an excellent ski area, which would explain why the Hôtel du Faudé was mostly full when I arrived. They have three restaurants, but I chose the one specializing in regional cuisine, because it was serving one of my favorite Alsatian dishes, Baeckeoffe (pronounced "beck-eh-off-uh" more or less), a hearty pot roast-ish concoction with a heady aroma and sensuous texture. From the extraordinary wine list, I settled on a '07 Pinot Gris from Domaine Weinbach to honor Madame Faller who had sent me there, and at the end of my meal, the hotel proprietor sat talking with me for an hour, telling me about the area and colloquializing my French. With kindness from every quarter, no one could have done anything else to make me feel more welcome.
The wine was great with the Baeckeoffe, as Pinot Gris usually is. And as I said, the women at Domaine Weinbach are crafting wines meant to give the Spinal Tap treatment to your dining experience (as opposed to your drinking experience, where an Aussie Shiraz might go to eleven all on its own), and it worked.
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