Sunday, May 19, 2013

France: Weekend in the Alsace

     Yes, we were back in France this weekend.  We traveled to the Alsace to purchase wine and to have a short weekend away.  Given that we are, perhaps, half-way through our tour, we have decided to make a concentrated effort to purchase some great wines to bring home with us.  So, that adventure started this weekend.  Riesling is Dear Husband's favorite grape and while we took a short trip there about a year ago, we decided to venture that way again-- to visit another town along the Alsatian Wine Route.  Another change to this trip...we were bringing a friend of Dear Daughter's.

    When we visited last year, we went to the town of Riquewihr.  This is a town that everyone must see.  It is so quaint and beautiful.  The small town is surrounded by the existing ramparts and its vineyards cascade down the hills.  During that trip, we spent most of one day exploring the various wine houses, sampling Rieslings and Dear Daughter was completely bored.  Late in the afternoon, we realized that we would perhaps never come back to this quaint village...throngs of tour buses descended on the town, choking the cobblestone streets and crowding the tasting rooms.  We left with some wonderful wine and nice memories of early mornings and late evenings, when the buses departed but little else.

     We knew that we wanted to bring back some Grand Cru Rieslings...the wine from the best vineyards and we knew that we wanted to get these in the Alsace.  Dear Husband has been gently telling me for months that I should just and make a day trip of it.  But who wants to go alone, drive three hours, buy wine and turn around and come home before school is out for the day.  While I could probably find a companion to accompany me, it still just didn't sound like much fun.  Finally, I convinced him that it would make a nice, quick weekend trip.  Dear Husband finally long as we did not stay in Riquewihr.  Dear Daughter finally long as she could bring a friend.  So, off to France...again.     

     Through some quick research, I learned of the town of Eguisheim, located about 20 minutes south of Riquewihr.  It seemed to have some of the same characteristics...surrounded by vineyards, good Grand Crus, ramparts around the city but I found no mention of throngs of tour buses.  I secured a very inexpensive apartment in the old part of the village and plugged the dates into our calendar.

     We left right  after school on Friday...driving once again through the rain and clouds.  We arrived in Eguishem shortly after 6:00 pm.  The girls had been occupied for entire trip immersed in making various duck tape creations and planning out their venture into Corporate America, with their new business idea.  The village was perfect...ramparts completely surrounding the old part of the village with the streets forming a series of circles until you reached the center of the town.  Our landlord met us at the apartment, a building on the north rampart, separated into five modern apartments.  He was extremely helpful, giving us various pieces of information and recommendations on wine houses to visit.  We took a short walk around the village.  The streets were almost empty and the girls loved exploring the various passageways separating one street from another.

     To keep it simple and economical, we had decided to eat dinner at the apartment.  I had packed our raclette grill and that evening we had a lovely meal of raclette cheese, meat and potatoes.  Dear Daughter's friend kept telling us over and over again how great the meal was and it was now on her all time favorite list.  It was quite fun.  The grill has a heating unit in the center.  Below, you place little trays filled with cheese and the heat from above melts the cheese.  Above the heating element is a flat grill surface and there you cook bite-sized pieces of meat and potatoes.  When these are finished cooking, you place them on your plate and then slide the melted cheese so that it covers the other items.   It is comfort food at its best and very communal.

Our Street in Eguisheim
Eguisheim Village Center
     Saturday morning brought brilliant, brilliant blue skies!  It was fantastic and a sight we had not seen recently.  Fueled by those tasty French croissants, we were out the door by 9:30.  We had an idea this time when it came to wine purchases.  We would not purchase immediately...but taste wines from several houses and then return to those that we liked.  The town was very quiet and in each tasting room, I asked if we could taste their Grand Cru (in my limited French).  We were blown away by the quality of the wine and the fact that while the grapes were grown in the exact same area, the flavor of the wine was completely different from wine maker to wine maker.  Because of our limited French, we did not get to learn as much as we wanted to and in many cases, the individual just poured us a few drops and then waited for us to talk.  Our strategy was blown during a visit to the fourth house.  We tried an inexpensive everyday Riesling and both liked it quite a bit.  Then we tried the Grand Cru and Dear Husband and I looked at each other simultaneously and explained, "This is the one!"  We left several moments later, loaded down with two cases of wine.  We did visit a few other houses and returned to one.  Within 90 minutes, our collection had grown to three cases.

     During this time, Dear Daughter plus 1 entertained themselves, shopped and munched on French pastries.  They were both quite happy in what they were doing and it was nice to see them both enjoying themselves.  But we realized that we needed to give them a nice, memorable afternoon.  Our landlord talked about a park on the edge of the old part of Colmar, a larger town 10 minutes away.  We decided that a picnic there would be nice and would give us all the chance to see a larger town.

     This ended being the biggest hit of the trip.  For at the far end of the park was as series of fountains coming up directly from the pavement.  I didn't realize it but the girls started plotting their return to the fountain from the time lunch was set up.  They ate quickly and then asked to be excused.  We were watching them with eagle eyes while we enjoyed the last of our wine and were completely surprised when we saw them walking THROUGH the fountains!  This continued for 30 minutes or so and they were completely soaked.  At one point, I tried to explain that we wanted to visit the old city and they told me not to worry.  They were true to their words...after a time, then exited the fountains, and tried to get the sun to dry them.  We did manage a short excursion into the city and by the time we left, they were for the most part, dry.

     While we had dinner reservations at one of the best restaurants in town for that evening, we decided that perhaps the wisest thing to do would be to have dinner at the apartment.  Both girls seemed a bit tired and a late, long dinner was probably not the wisest move.  I ran out to the local butcher and found a pre-cooked roast pork and several potato pancakes.  We made an appetizer of melon and prosciutto (left over from lunch), dined on our new main course and finished the meal with some treats the girls had purchased earlier in the day.  I think that everyone was asleep by 10:30 pm.


     This morning, the rain had returned.  After breakfast, we loaded up our belongings and headed not for home...but to Riquewihr.  I know, I know.  We were in the area, right?  So we had to visit Dopff au Moulin, to replenish our  stock.  I thought it might also be nice to walk in the village early before the tour buses arrived.  We were the first visitors in the tasting room and the attendant spoke very good English. We told her of our visit the previous year and how we had depleted our Grand Cru stock.  She immediately pour us two tastings of this year's vintage.  While she was packaging our case of wine, she asked us where we lived.  It turns out that she is from a town in Germany only 30 minutes from us.  As she gave us our purchase, she also placed a bottle of Cremant (sparkling wine) into a separate box and gave it to us - to thank us for coming back.  We tried to walk into the village but at 10 am, the town was bustling and we passed two tour buses.  Oh well...

     It was a nice weekend not only for the wine but to also see Dear Daughter happily hanging out with a buddy.  It does change the dynamic and pace of the trip a bit for us but not in a bad way.  So, I think it was a win-win for everyone.  But sadly, I do not think that we will be enjoying one of our bottles of Riesling tonight.  Promptly upon getting home, Dear Husband delivered them all to the the start of the collection!

    To console myself, I placed a bottle of Grand Cru Champagne into the fridge to enjoy with our delicious, decadent cheeseburgers tonight!  Evidently, you can't ship Champagne why not enjoy it!


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