Last Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour landed us in Strasbourg’s Christmas markets, on top of its Cathedral, and enjoying its wine. Today, we descend into the caves of the Hospice de Strasbourg.
As with our visit, not ten days prior, to Burgundy’s Hospice de Beaune, we find Strasbourg had its own, even older medical, religious, wine cellar. Since 1395, cellars beneath the city’s hospital provided wine as medicine and sacrament. Like Beaune, this hospice gained vine-land from guilty proprietors bent on heaven. Although wine-making stalled during the last century, it reformed as a cooperative in 1995. Let’s see what survived the centuries.
Pressed against Strasbourg’s medieval walls and beneath its tower gate sits the Medical University:
These massive, ancient barrels turn out 150,000 bottles of white wine produced by various growers throughout Alsace. It is damp but cool down here.
French Revolutionaries once hid in these tunnels. Today, each barrel has a chalked sign indicating its grape and producer.
We walk to the opposite end and find a treasure:
Yes, this barrel has waited since twenty years before Columbus first vacationed to the Bahamas. It has been tasted in 1576, 1716, 1868, and 1944 when Leclerc liberated Strasbourg. Germany cracked its own 1472 bottle in 1994, finding “great complexity…vanilla, honey, wax, fine spices, and fruit liquor”: not shabby for the world’s oldest viable wine.
Cave Historique des Hopitaux Universitaires de Strasbourg, Cuvée des Hospitaliers, Crémant d’Alsace, France. NV. €7.50
Appearance: Mild lemon in color, clear, with some very casual, medium minus-sized fizz. Aromas: smell developing and pretty present, with honey drizzled over a baked pear, vanilla, and chestnuts.
Wiping the sweat from my brow after that pornographic pear: the Palate: feels surprising dry, with medium plus acidity, mild alcohol 12.5%, and a medium body. Turning from the nose, medium intense flavors of lemonade, honey, and chestnut, lead to a lengthy mineral finish.
Hospice’s Crémant is a very good (4 of 5), all around fizz that would stand up to mild cheeses, appetizers, and most lunch fair.
Inspired, we venture into the ‘teens of Euros and buy a Grand Cru from Barr, southwest of Strasbourg:
Cave Historique Hospices de Strasbourg, Pinot Gris, Alsace Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr, France 2009. €12
Aromas: smell of youthful and pronounced ginger, vanilla icing, spiced pear, and roasted chestnut: similar to the bubbly, but oh so much more extravagant.
Palate: The medium minus sweetness locks down the free-wheeling medium plus acidity, med alcohol 13%, and medium body. The texture is viscous yet fresh.
Medium plus flavors remind me of spiced pear, golden apple, honey, and vanilla all of which carry harmonious along the medium plus length. The Hospice’s Grand Cru Gris is very good (4 of 5). Delicious.
Usually Pinot Gris suffers from blandness. But here it amazes us. This is the glory of Alsace. The cool, continental climate keeps grapes under raps: like an introverted child, they retain acid, intensity, complexity, and age-ability that is only unleashed after slow ferments and barrel aging.
Check back next Monday, when we continue our adventures in Strasbourg with beer!