The Cradle of Alsace Wine
Some of the great exponents of Alsace wine operate out of this fabulous wine village, but it remains a mystery to most, even among those who have traveled in Alsace. I'm sorry that it is overlooked, because it is an explorer's dream, and since it isn't overrun with tourists, the feeling of the village can transport you back five hundred years. Speaking of half-a-millennium ago, in the 15th Century, Eguisheim (pronounced EGG-eece-hime) was destroyed and completely rebuilt with three concentric circles to provide for the defense of the Château d'Eguisheim, which was held doubly sacred as it is the birthplace of Alsace's only Pope, Leo IX. There is but one street that bisects the fortifications of the old city center, which is accessible nowadays only by foot. It has been said that Alsace wine was born here in the 4th Century (hence "the cradle of Alsace wine"), but as I have seen no documentation to that effect, nor even a tall tale to relate, that title will be conferred later (if at all...).
Wines of Eguisheim
Eguisheim is surrounded by two Grand Cru vineyards--Eichberg and Pfersigberg. I am only familiar with the Gewurztraminers of the former, and they are extraordinary, long-lived wines that are unusually delicate (for Gewurz, which will never be delicate the way Riesling might). I understand from some friends that the Rieslings from Eichberg are also worthy of the Grand Cru. I am familiar with many wines from Pfersigberg, which is famous for its beautiful Gewurztraminers as well. It excels with Muscat, as is evidenced by the most consistently brilliant Muscat in Alsace: Bruno Sorg's Muscat Pfersigberg. Even in 2003, a vintage which, given its oppressive heat, was not ideal for Muscat, Sorg's Muscat retained acidity and nerve to make the wine taste like I'd bitten into the world's best peach. Riesling from Pfersigberg is dynamic and intense as well, and I love Léon Beyer's Riesling Cuvée Particulière, which is a bone-dry Alsatian classic.
The non-Grand Cru vineyards around Eguisheim are best known for Riesling, and many of the great 'generic' Rieslings of Alsace come from here. Actually, I am of the opinion that Eguishiem excels in all the permitted varieties, and its unsung achiever is Pinot Gris, which (it seems to me) suffers only because Eguisheim's Grands Crus are not known for producing great Pinot Gris. If you like to idea of drinking the wines at a local festivals or carnivals, go to the Fête du vin nouveau at the end of March, and you'll be slurping down the new releases.
Eating, Drinking, and Sleeping in Eguisheim
If you are planning to go to Eguisheim, inquire for rooms at the Hostellerie du Pape. It is a wonderful place to stay, situated well to encourage your exploration. I have eaten at Le Pavilion Gourmand, which features delicious local cuisine in a beautiful old half-timbered house. For something a bit more elevated, check out the Michelin starred Caveau d'Eguisheim. The food is excellent and ranges from regional classics (the choucroute is great) to colorful, layered, contemporary culinary stylings. And since I mentioned the great exponents of Alsace wine earlier, you know that there must be fine places to drink. And so there are: in addition to the estates of Léon Beyer and Bruno Sorg, you may also enjoy visits to Charles Baur (makes some very strong Rieslings), Paul Ginglinger (very good wines, esp. Riesling and Gewurztraminer), Kuentz-Bas (one of the great estates of Alsace), and the CV Eguisheim (the local cooperative, better known as Wolfberger--many of their 'generic' wines are uninspired, but the Grands Crus are excellent). There are several others with whom I am unfamiliar, so please share any info other than what is listed here.
Eguisheim has an incredibly fun wine festival on the last Sunday in August. You could bookend your stay in Alsace with wine festivals if you arrive in Eguisheim in time for its midday parade, investigate the wonders of Alsace for the next week, and then wrap it up the following Sunday at the extraordinary wine festival in Ribeauvillé. Now that would be a trip!
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