Part 11 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue
by Thor Iverson
31 March 2006 – Lapoutroie, France
A post-Trimbach stroll around Ribeauvillé is a walk around the familiar, so we head south and then upwards via the road that snakes past Kaysersberg. It’s striking how quickly the architecture changes, from the colorful half-timbers of the vineyards to plainer, more traditionally alpine tones at higher elevations. The temperature deviations are interesting as well: 63°F in Kaysersberg becomes 68° in decidedly mountainous Lapoutroie, then drops to 51° in the midst of the still-snowy Vosges. We take a few moments to appreciate the beauty of Lacs Blanc & Noir, but the chill wind eventually drives us back down to the wine route.
Turckheim – In the imposing shelter of the Brand is one of the prettiest among Alsace’s excess of gorgeous villages. Turckheim is surrounded by a wall, and thus the town seems packed into every available nook and cranny, with the haphazard streets and lines of a community that – at least in part – escaped the complete destruction wrought on so much of this region by two world wars’ worth of bombing.
Ammerschwihr – The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for this village, which – aside from a wall here or a tower there – seems largely reconstructed. But it we’ve done plenty of sightseeing today, it’s getting dark, and we’re not really here to walk around anyway. We’re here to eat.
A l’Arbre Vert – A hotel restaurant, and while the dining room is nice enough, it feels frozen in time; full of musty throwbacks rather than the traditional charms of, say, Zum Pfifferhüs. Our hostess is warm and welcoming, but the rest of the staff is rather cold and prone to unaccountable (though non-major) lapses, especially the restaurant is not exactly overflowing with patrons. Worst of all, the food is somewhat indifferent.
I start simply enough, with a slab of pâté de foie gras that’s a little over-spiced and lacks soul (that is to say, it tastes completely divorced from its animal roots)…and yet, even mediocre foie gras is not the worst thing. The same can’t be said for my scallops, which are overcooked in a sloppy, oversalted broth, and accompanied by vegetables with their own saline issues. Thankfully, there’s a bit of redemption in a tasty chunk of beef, slow-cooked and drenched with a creamy morel sauce. Dessert (I have an assortment of choices, though I don’t actually get to do the choosing) is fair enough, but unmemorable.
With the foie gras, I have a glass of a muscat that’s more than half-oxidized; lurid and floral with unrestrained, spiky acidity. It’s rather unpleasant. Since the restaurant has clearly left this bottle open too long, and seems disinclined to fix the problem, I’ve left the producer unnamed; it’s not his fault. With the rest of the meal, I make a selection from a list dominated by locals, yet pockmarked by sold-out bottles.
Kuehn 1999 Kaefferkopf (Alsace) – Quite off-dry, dominated by rich spice and density, but with improved clarity and focus on the finish. Ripe and somewhat sweet apples make an ultimately futile effort at counterbalance. Unfortunately, its presence and weight render it somewhat clumsy with food, but it’s fine as a sipping wine.
After dinner, I continue my quest for unusual distillates.
G. Miclo Gentiane Eau-de-Vie (Alsace) – Made from gentian root, a traditional element of bitters that also shows up in the now-cultish soft drink Moxie. It’s full of slate and a harsh metallic edge not unlike that of raw turmeric, with a sharpness that I don’t care for.
All-in-all, this is a disappointing experience; rarely actively bad, but certainly not worth a return visit.
There’s a welcome surprise on the drive back to Hunawihr: a partial lunar eclipse over the Schlossberg/Altenbourg/Furstentum/Mambourg stretch of vineyards. It’s a stunning sight, even though the night is developing a chill akin to that high in the mountains.
Copyright © Thor Iverson.