Strasbourg Part 2: Historic Wine Cave beneath a Hospice: Cremant and Pinot Gris Grand Cru

Strasbourg Cathedral SNOW P2Last 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:

Hospice de Strasbourg ExteriorAround the complex, hidden behind the hospital, are some unassuming (i.e. handicap inappropriate) steps and a door:

Hospice Strasbourg Cave EntryWe pass a counter and a case-stacked shop and enter the barrel cave:

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.

Cave Hall Strasbourg HospiceWe walk deeper in and find barrels larger than my college dormitory:

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:

1472 Barrel Hospice Strasbourg

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 de Hospice Tracy And AaronSince we didn’t liberate Strasbourg, we return to the shop to purchase humbler cuvées.

Hospice Strasbourg shopAmidst the many fantastic, complicated, and expensive things, we find bubbly on sale:

Cremant Magnum StrasbourgWe nearly buy the magnum, but austerity measures keep us to the 750ml. Willy Gisselbrecht made this fizz (this is a cooperative after all). But how does it show for €7.50?

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.

pornographic pearWiping 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

Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2009 HospicesAppearance: A pale lemon gold color carries from core to a short, clear rim, with noticeable legs.

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!

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One Response to Strasbourg Part 2: Historic Wine Cave beneath a Hospice: Cremant and Pinot Gris Grand Cru

  1. sand110 says:

    All that environmental austerity yields bubbly filled with life and flavor?!

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