Winemaker Olivier Humbrecht kneels to secure a foudre in the
cellar of his familys 1950s Turckheim winery, Domaine Zind
Photograph by Macduff Everton
In the July/August issue we explore Alsace, a region in eastern
France known for its diverse offerings of fruity, dry white wines.
Here, an interview with renowned wine importer Robert Kacher,
who in 1986 founded Kacher Selections in Washington, D.C., and
spends up to four months a year in France.
Hunawihr, a tiny Alsatian village, is home to lush vineyards and
St. Jacques Le Majeur, a 15th-century church where both Roman
Catholic and Protestant services are held.
Photograph by Macduff Everton
NGT: What makes Alsatian wine unique?
RK: In Alsace there are about 65 miles (104 kilometers) of
vineyards, where perhaps the most diverse selection of grapes in
France are grown: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Muscat dAlsace,
Gewürztraminer, Tokay-Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. The
possibilities that each grape type offers are dramatic and enable
winemakers to create a great variety of wines.
NGT: Some of the grapes used to create Alsatian wine originated in
Germany. What is a major distinguishing factor between German
and Alsatian wine?
RK: There are great, great wines made in Germany. But in Alsace
they tend to come in a slightly more full-bodied style with higher
alcohol and a little bit more overall weight and power.
NGT: How should a really great Alsatian white taste and smell?
RK: Each grape type has a range of flavors depending upon when
its harvested. Rieslings can range from austere, with a taste of
mineral and lemon-lime, to the riper tastes of flowers and exotic
fruits. Tokay-Pinot Gris often tastes like a combination of dried
peaches and honey. Gewürztraminer is like wild flowers, peach,
NGT: What is the wine to try when visiting Alsace?
RK: There are so many. . .one fabulous wine is Riesling Altenberg
dBergheim from Domaine Marcel Deiss. For people who are
looking for wines that are a little bit more open, a little bit friendlier
from the start, I think drinking great Tokay-Pinot Gris is the way
to go. Even Gewürztraminer, which is often very opulent and
heady and exotic, can be a lot of fun, especially in the warmer
NGT: What best enhances the flavor of an Alsatian wine?
RK: Alsatian wines are best enjoyed when youre at the table. To
truly enjoy wine is to cut into a beautiful Alsace-made sausage and
drink a perfect Riesling or even Gewürztraminer, which is exotic,
lush, and sexy. Theyre two completely different wines, Riesling
and Gewürztraminer, but they both work with the same foods.
Alsatian wines, with their weight, depth, and style, go well with
seafood, veal, roast chicken, pork, and leaner meats.
NGT: How do the wines flavors stay so pure?
RK: Theyre done in bigger wooden containers, what we call
foudres, rather than small oak barrels, so the wine stays fresher.
NGT: When is the best time to travel to Alsace for wine-related
RK: Late May through the end of June, when it is usually cool; the
vineyards start to flower in the middle of June. Plus, the
winemakers are very hospitable and sometimes invite you to come
in and taste. Ive walked into places and seen ten travelers there,
with the grower giving his lecture, explaining his wines, and making
his wines available. (For listings of wine activities in Alsace, try
www.tourisme-alsace.com or www.easternfrance.com.)
NGT: Are these activities for beginners or just connoisseurs?
RK: The only way youre really going to learn anything about
wine is to taste, so I think beginners can enjoy them.
NGT: In Alsace, where do you suggest travelers go for truly
RK: Theres a restaurant in Colmar called Au Fer Rouge, which is
great. In Illhaeusern, theres Auberge de lIll, which is famous and
a little bit snooty, but good. Aux Armes de France in
Ammerschwihr is very good and in Riquewihr theres one called
Maximilien. In Strasbourg, Id recommend Buerehiesel or Au
Crocodile. Theres also a wine bar in Bergheim called Wistub du
Sommelier, which serves very good local food. In general you eat
very well in Alsace, whether youre at a local wine bar or the most
sophisticated Michelin-starred restaurant. (For a complete listing
of restaurants in Alsace, try www.visit-alsace.com/restaurants.)
NGT: What about buying Alsatian wine in the U.S.?
RK: Some recommendations:
Chicago: Sams Wines & Spirits, +1 312 664 4394,
www.samswine.com; Washington, D.C.: Addy Bassins
MacArthur Liquor, +1 202 338 1433, www.bassins.com; or
Schneiders of Capitol Hill, +1 202 543 9300, www.cellar.com;
New York: Garnet Wines & Liquors, +1 212 772 3211,
www.garnetwine.com; Boston: Martys Liquor, +1 617 782 3250
(Harvard Avenue) or +1 617 332 1230 (Washington Street); San
Francisco: The Wine House, +1 415 495 8486; Westwood (Los Angeles suburb): Wallys Liquor Store, +1
310 475 0606, www.wallywine.com.
Heather Morgan is a TRAVELER associate researcher and online editor.