Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wine Wednesdays - Wine Tasting in Champagne at Henri Giraud

From Alsace, we drove 4 hours west to Epernay in the heart of Champagne.

I have a newfound love for bubbles after our trip.  I always found it too sweet and gave me a headache, but I've explored new to me, drier styles that are the perfect way to begin a meal or as an aperitif.  It feels so celebratory even on the most ordinary of days!    

We arrived in Epernay and after a delicious lunch at La Grillade Gourmande headed to Henri Giraud for a tasting.  The house is currently run by the 12th generation of the family, producing amazing Champagnes from Grand Cru vineyards in the nearby village of Ay.

Just a reminder, a sparkling wine can only be called "Champagne" if it is produced in the designated Champagne region within France!    


The house is known for using a traditional clip closure called an "agrafe" that requires a special tool to open.  The handle of the dégrafeur is made from wood from the Argonne forest, which ties back to much of the oak used for the barrels in the Giraud aging process.



Once we got the bottle open, it was time to taste!  The wines were all delicious.  Crisp, dry, tiny bubbles.  



Their Code Noir Cuvee is made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes, somewhat unusual as most Champagnes are a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier (another red grape).  



If you plan to visit Epernay, I would highly recommend making an appointment for a tasting.

I'll certainly be on the lookout for bottles from Henri Giraud here in the States!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wine Wednesdays - Wine Tasting in Alsace

One highlight of our time in Alsace was our day of wine tasting.  I'll admit I don't have much experience with Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, the main grapes grown in this region, so it was fun to try something new.  These wines are mostly dry (not the typical sweet Rieslings from Germany), high in acidity, and great food wines.

We started our day at Domaine Weinbach.  The history of the winery dates back to 1612, in which it was built by Capuchin monks.  It's been run by the Faller family since 1898.  


       



We took a peak into the cellar at Domaine Weinbach
A selfie in front of the Grand Cru Schlossberg Vineyard
After Weinbach, we drove into the nearby town of Kaysersberg.  




From there we drove a few minutes to the next town over for lunch at Caveau du Vigneron in Turckheim.  While thoroughly "pork'd-out" by this point, we had one more traditional Alsatian meal, and I must say this might be my favorite of the Alsatian cuisine we sampled.  I'm still dreaming about the "cassolette du vigneron" similar to mac n'cheese but with spaetzle and bits of bacon, mmmmmm!  


After lunch and a walk around Turckheim we drove over to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.  We were welcomed by the lovely Jolene.  Her perfect English made for a wonderful, in-depth tour and tasting.  These wines were FABULOUS.  I can't wait to look for them here at home.



We started the tour in the vineyard before going into the cellar for the tasting.




Our last stop of the day was Domaine Josmeyer.  The Meyer family has been producing wines from Grand Cru vineyards since 1854.  The domaine is now run by daughters Celine and Isabelle.  The labels of Josmeyer wines feature gorgeous works of art.  





This part of France (and the wines) often fly under the radar, but they deserve more attention!  It's incredible how reasonably priced and widely available Grand Cru wines are in Alsace.  I wish the same could be said stateside, but unfortunately the prices rise with importation.

While many Domaine are open for tastings without appointment, it is smart to call ahead, especially in the off-season.  Weinbach and Zind-Humbrecht are open by appointment only.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Spring in France, Chapter 2 - Alsace

A bit worse for wear after a late night out in Paris, we made our train to Strasbourg and continued on our journey.  

The cathedral in Strasbourg is the most beautiful shade of pink.

The highlight of the cathedral is the astronomical clock that dates back to the 1800s, although I wouldn't say it was worth the early train to get there and see the "show" at 12:30pm where the characters spring into action.  But maybe that's the hungover me speaking.....
The highlight of Strasbourg for me was lunch at La Cloche à Fromage.  I mean have you ever seen such a presentation of cheese??  
  

We over-ordered per ush.
We picked up a rental car in Strasbourg and drove the 50 minutes south to Eguisheim where we checked into Le Hameau d'Eguisheim.  The B&B is located on site of the Pierre-Henri Ginglinger winery.

I've never b-lined so fast into bed for a nap in my life.  Revived, we made our way to dinner at Auberge Le Bouc Bleu.       


After our first glass of Crémant d'Alsace, we settled in for what might be my favorite meal of the trip.  Not only was the food outstanding, but the atmosphere and experience really contributed to the overall experience.  Le Bouc Bleu is run by a husband and wife team, she runs the front of house, he's in the kitchen.  Every aspect of the meal showcases their love for their craft and genuine hospitality.  If you find yourself in Alsace you MUST pay them a visit, but do so quickly; by 2018 they plan to sell the restaurant and will be hosting and cooking for guests at a small B&B in the Vosges mountains.  We left completely stuffed and vowing to return to stay with them once they open.  


The daily menu was small, allowing us to taste almost everything between the two of us:  homemade foie gras, cod with gribiche sauce, duck breast with artichoke risotto, and roast rabbit.

He snuck in an order for the 3rd dessert choice on the menu so we could try all three:  apple crumble, meringue with fresh berries and cream and a molten chocolate cake with homemade ice cream.  What a keeper!
We spent the next 3 days exploring the region; little towns strung together along the Route des Vins anchored by bigger cities Strasbourg on the northern end and Colmar on the southern end.  We spent a full day wine tasting which I'll save for a dedicated post.  

We spent 2 nights in Eguisheim then moved a bit north to Kanzel Hotel in Beblenheim.  It was nice to break it up and while we thought we would stick to the southern towns while in Eguisheim and the northern towns while in Beblenheim, we ended up driving back and forth all days, it's only a matter of 20-30 minutes north to south.     

 






We sampled the traditional cuisine of the region including choucroute garnie and tarte flambée at Caveau Heuhaus.  The tarte flambée was delicious, the choucroute I can pass on next time ;-)  



Sunset from our balcony at Kanzel

You can drive up the hill above Riquewihr for a gorgeous view from the top of the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg vineyard.
The town of Riquewihr was named one of the most beautiful towns in France, and while it was very pretty, it was also VERY touristy.  


The coolest thing in Riquewihr was Les Caves d'Affinage where they had so many different cheeses aging in a below-ground cave.




I have a new appreciation for Munster cheese; I sampled a tasting from young and fresh to ripe and aged after dinner at Le Sarment d'Or.  
The breakfast at Kanzel was quite a spread and so gorgeously presented!


My favorite town was Ribeavillé.  Slightly larger than Riquewihr, it also felt less touristy.


There are 3 chateau above the town of Ribeaville that you can hike up to, we didn't climb all the way to the top but a 15 minute climb gives you gorgeous views over town.
  

Award for favorite lunch goes to La Cocotte de Grand-Mère in Colmar.  Each day they have a set menu, we enjoyed a delicious goat cheese salad, duck confit, and chocolate mousse.  Make sure to call ahead to make a reservation!  




Colmar is slightly more bustling than the other towns.  The cathedral, food market, and "Petite Venise" are all worth seeing.  



We drove up into the Vosges mountains for a gorgeous view over the Vallée de Munster.  Sadly we didn't stop at the Maison de Munster!





The gorgeous scenery, kind people, food, and wine all showcased Alsace as yes another special part of France.  My Francophile tendencies continue....

 

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