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Be home before spring

Part 3 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue

by Thor Iverson

27 March 2006 – Thionville to the Bas-Rhin, France

Lorraine is grey and rainy – isn’t it always, in a metaphysical sense? – which puts a sort of psychic brake on our eagerness to hit the road early. Nonetheless, Patricia & Bruno load us up with pastries and giant bowls of café au lait…plus a little aged Burgundy for later…and the caffeine propels us out the door with renewed vigor. We make a not-so-quick stop at a giant Cora hypermarché for some supplies, then point our car east.

The drive across Lorraine is boring and wet until the forests and hills of Alsace, at which point the skies begin to clear. And the temperature – around 50°F in Thionville – rises to a balmy 70°F on the outskirts of Marlenheim, which leads to open windows and the happy feeling that spring is, despite the weather of the past few days, inevitable. We decide on the inefficient but incomparably beautiful long route to our destination, leaving all traces of A or N behind to take a version of the northern three-quarters of the route des vins all the way to Hunawihr, which brings us through nearly every impossibly beautiful jewel box village and craggy vineyard slope in the Bas-Rhin, twisting and turning all the way. The temperature continues to increase.

The vignoble is crawling with ant-like workers bearing shears and clippers and small wagons full of dead branches, while others follow with stake and wire, binding the vines into rigid forms in preparation for the growing season. This is a time of renewal in the vineyards, where everything of the past year is stripped away and the stage is set for all that is to come. There’s no excitement yet…just back-breaking work under a tenuous sky…but the sense of anticipation is building. Perhaps somewhere just on the other side of the Vosges, spring is waiting, and it will break over this region in just a few weeks’ time.


Pooling our resources

Traditional Alsatian décor

Hunawihr, France

Demeure d’Anthylla – Pulling into the gated courtyard of this gîte is like coming home after a long dinner. It really does feel as if we haven’t left, though in fact it’s been three long years since we’ve been here.

Our host, Constant Eckert, is a bit of an oenophile himself (not surprising for a man who’s turned a decrepit old winery into a lovely habitation), and he gives us a bottle of crémant and a half-bottle of old riesling before leaving us to our dinner preparations. The bubbly disappears at a rather alarming rate while we prep a gorgeous rib eye of veal and a salad of frisée and lardons, after which we’re practically forced to open a second bottle to match the cuisine. It, too, disappears. How’d that happen?

Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr “Calixte” Crémant d’Alsace Brut (Alsace) – Grapefruit and geranium with honeydew rind. There’s an impression of sweetness and a good deal of wetness, but what there isn’t a lot of is tingly fizz. this comes off more like a still than a sparkling wine, and to its probable benefit. Still, it’s pretty basic as such things go.

Chanson 1995 Beaune Clos du Roi “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Very faded and stripped, showing pale, dried cherry, strawberry leaves and earth. It’s elegant, but desiccated. Not quite mummified, though, and there’s still a minor amount of pleasure to be wrest from its bony clutches.

[nighttime vineyard]

The ghost of Hunawihr
[nighttime fountain]

We shake down the weight of dinner with a pleasant evening stroll through the dark and silent stone streets of Hunawihr, diverting for a dozen muddy steps into a vineyard above the Rosacker. But the drive, the dinner, the stroll and the wine quickly conspire, and we’re sent to bed at an absurdly early hour. And why not? Tomorrow, the serious wine tasting begins.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.