One of the must-do things if you travel to Alsace, the north-east region in France, close to Germany and Switzerland is to go wine tasting. But how can you arrange a wine tasting in Alsace when you travel on your own?
I went to the Alsace region for their fine dining but also to taste some of their wines. I visited a lot of wineries and share my experiences of wine tasting in Alsace and what to expect.
And maybe most importantly, how can you arrange it when you travel independently?
I paid for everything in full myself. I was not paid or sponsored. All my opinions and experiences are my own.
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How does Wine Tasting in Alsace France work?
And how to arrange it yourself?
Wine tasting tours in Alsace
I always recommend arranging a tour if you have 0 knowledge of the subject and you’re new to the region. Especially useful if you don’t speak the local language, a tour can be an excellent introduction.
Wine tasting tours in the Alsace are no different. There are several tours from Strasbourg or Colmar. You can choose a half-day tour or a full-day tour.
Some tours are mixed with a sightseeing tour of the main villages in the Alsace.
You’ll be collected in air-conditioned vans and you’ll drive part of the Alsace wine route. Depending on the tour, you’ll stop at 2 or 3 wineries or tasting rooms.
During the drive, the guide will explain a lot about winemaking and winemaking in the Alsace region. At the wineries or tasting room, the locals will take over and explain about their estate and brand.
Con’s of wine tasting tour in Alsace
Sadly, the downside to an organized tour is that it can be quite expensive. I couldn’t find a tour that included lunch (they give you time to lunch but it is at your own cost).
If you take into account that most wine tastings in Alsace are free, you basically pay a hefty fee for transport and a guide.
Another downside to a guided wine-tasting tour is that you can’t pick the winery. The tour has its contacts and you’ll taste a wide variety of wines but you can’t decide for yourself. This is no problem if you have no idea which winery to visit in Alsace, but it gives less freedom of choice.
Pro’s of wine tasting tour in Alsace
However, the pros of joining a tour are numerous!
If you don’t have your own transport and base yourself in Strasbourg and Colmar, this is an excellent way to see something of the region and Alsace wines for tasting.
Plus, you get all the information from a knowledgeable English-speaking guide! You learn something and you can taste wine!
As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about the logistics, driving in a foreign country and you might meet some interesting people on the tour.
Here are some recommendations of wine tasting tours:
- Full-day wine tasting tour from Strasbourg
- Full-day wine tasting tour from Colmar
- Half-day wine tasting tour from Strasbourg
- Half-day wine tasting tour from Colmar
How to arrange wine tasting in Alsace without a tour?
But what if you don’t like tours? Or want to pick your own wineries? Or want to go wine tasting for a full week (like I did).
If you have your own transport, the options are literally endless in the Alsace. But the large choice of wineries and tasting rooms can also be overwhelming!
At least that is what I thought. During my week in Alsace, I tried all different types of wine tasting. Here are my experiences:
Self-drive the Alsace Wine route
If you have your own transportation, you can drive the 170 km (105 miles) of the Alsace wine route and stop where and whenever you want.
If you arrive by plane or train (or bus), I recommend renting a car when possible. Here are some options:
In Alsace, wine tasting is really a low-key experience. At most places, you don’t need to reserve a wine tasting. You don’t need to dress up or look fancy.
Of course, if you have a certain winery in mind, or want an extended tour of the property, it is always a good idea to call ahead.
There are different forms of wine tastings:
Wine tasting at local wineries, with or without a tour of the premises
With over 15.000 ha of wine growing in Alsace, there are hundreds of local wineries. Some small, some bigger. Some have only a small range of wines, others offer the whole spectrum of grape varieties and offer different tastings.
In most cases, you can just show up, enter the tasting room and a family member of the wine-grower will ask if you want to taste some wines.
Of course, some wineries are smaller than others. Some cater more to tourists than others. I visited roughly 12 different local wineries and here are my experiences:
Winery visit with a tour and guide for a set price
I visited a couple of wineries where I opted to take a tour. This comes at a fixed price and this price is waived if you purchase a bottle of their wine.
I thought this is especially useful if you have no idea which wines they offer or what you’d like to taste.
Plus you get a great introduction to winemaking, the life of wine growers, and what kind of wine this particular vineyard makes.
A visit can take up to 1.5 hours and the price can range between 10-15 euros. It is best to call ahead for your preferred language or book online.
I did this tour at Zeyssolff near Gertwiller. They offer a multi-media guided tour of their cellars and tastings. You can book in advance here.
Because a wedding was going on at Achillée, near Scherwiller, a tour of Achillé was not possible. But I did do a wine tasting in their cellar. As the winery is 100% biodynamic and sustainable, they have a unique concept and different wines.
Their cellar is completely made out of straw and wood and they make exceptional drinks. Book a tour with them via this link.
Winery visit without a tour, but for a set price
I also visited the tasting room of some vineyards without the tour. Either they didn’t do tours or a tour was not available at the time (or only in French).
This is usually reserved for bigger wineries with larger international audiences. They have set menus for a fixed price. This way, you’re sure to get a full range of the vineyard’s (best) wines.
If you buy a bottle, the fee for the tasting is waived.
In Riquewihr, there are hundreds of options for wine tasting. I decided to walk a bit from the old historic center of town and went to Dopff au Moulin.
They had an airconditioned reception room where I had the set menu of their Grand Cru tastings. I highly recommend their Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg.
Regular winery visit in Alsace
Most of the time, I showed up at the winery and only then noticed their size.
Some tasting rooms were just a cellar. The lady of the house had to drop her laundry to open the tasting room for me and pour me some wine to taste.
Other times, I entered an air-conditioned tasting hall/reception room where an employee or the daughter of the wine grower would show me a folder of all the wines they offer and I’d pick some wines for tasting.
In these cases, the tasting is always free of charge. There is no pressure to buy wine but I felt quite inclined to buy a bottle or two. It is strange to look a local in the eye and yes, assure them you like their wine, but no, you’ll just taste and not buy anything.
Now, these might be my own internal limitations or my lack of willpower, but I bought wine at every winery I’ve visited.
Of course, this becomes more and more difficult if you travel by public transport, need to fly out of France, or are on an extended tour of Europe. Then it is the perfect excuse to not buy wine.
But maybe you feel hesitant to taste 7 or 9 different wines and not pay a fee or buy a bottle. In those cases, the set wine tasting fee might be a better option.
Alsace wine tasting at local wine bars
Another option to taste some wines in Alsace is to visit a (local) wine bar or tasting room.
Most of the time, these are located in the center of the romantic towns on the Alsace wine route. Or in the larger cities like Strasbourg and Colmar.
It feels more like a bar than a winery. You can either order wine by the glass (ranging from €2.50 to €9 per glass) or ask for a menu (with or without snacks) to taste a couple of wines.
I paid between € 7 and €12 for this. The glasses are not full wine glasses, but probably half-full.
The advantages are numerous:
- No need to feel obliged to buy wine.
- If you stay in the city or village in Alsace, you don’t need to drive but can walk to the tasting room or winebar
- You can sample local food with your wine of choice
- You can fill your whole evening or afternoon
- Hardly any language barriers
But, the downside is, you miss the interaction with the winegrower and the explanation of the vineyard.
And it is difficult to decide what to order if you have no idea. The bartender will want to take your order and will want to know what to pour you.
During one of my tours, I visited the Belvedere Cattin. A family-run wine house with a great panoramic terrace overlooking the Alsace and some excellent wines.
You can go into the tasting room (free of charge) or up the bar and terrace and order drinks and food. They had a tasting menu for €7. Check it here.
In Colmar, I can recommend Le Second du Cercle. It is a very popular local wine bar, tucked away in a little side street. Come early as it gets packed quickly!
Cycle part of the wine route in Alsace
I’ve spent over a week in Alsace where I rented an (electrical) bike for 2 days. These 2 days were the best days of the trip. And that is why I want to mention them.
Basically, the principle is the same as if you would be driving your own car, but you’ll cover less distance by bike. This way, you can really taste a couple of wines in the region.
And you have to worry less about drinking and driving (although I still advise you to adhere to local alcohol laws and always be careful when participating in whatever form of traffic).
Rent a bike to go wine tasting in Alsace
I rented an e-bike for 2 days in Alsace and I used it to explore the region and go wine tasting.
I figured I could drink a bit more than if I would be driving, partly because it takes longer to reach the next winery and partly because of the exercise involved.
In Eguisheum, I rented a bike from a local bike shop and followed 2 different routes on day 1 and day 2.
It was a self-guided bike rental and tour so I had to arrange the bike, and my navigation, and the tastings myself.
But it gave me unlimited freedom to explore small villages, visit local wineries and the amazing countryside up close. Part of the trip went through the vineyards and I saw the people working the vines from up close.
E-bike rental in Alsace
I highly recommend an e-bike. Especially if you’re not used to cycling in the hilly countryside, an e-bike is essential in Alsace. Some hills were amazingly steep, especially with a long lunch and some wine in your legs, the extra assistance is more than welcome!
If you intend to buy some wine, make sure to ask for bike bags. I had 2 bike bags (one on each side) and traveled with a rucksack, so I brought home over 10 bottles on one of the bike trips.
It can be a bit daunting to arrange the rental bike and navigate in a country you’ve never been to before. That is why I also recommend a visit to a winery and take their bike tour!
Go to a winery for a bike tour
Some wineries are bigger and they also offer a guided (electrical) bike tour of their estate. This can be a 2-hour or full-day event, depending on the tour that you book.
You need to go to the specific vineyard and book the tour with them. They provide you with their e-bikes and guide you through their estate.
Of course, there will be some wine tasting too! It is an excellent way to get a more in-depth view of the winegrower, the specific vineyard and you get to see the area by bike!
Obviously, the wine tasting is limited to that estate. But that can’t be a bad thing. You need to book in advance to secure your spot on the tour but I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
Getting to and from the assembly point (probably the vineyard) is not included, so you have to arrange your own transport.
On one of my bike rides, I stopped at Rieflé, near Pfaffenheim. This family-run winery offers different options for tasting but they also offer e-bikes for rent and bike tours.
The area is lovely and their vineyards are strung together. Check out all the tours and options via this link.
What to expect when you go to Alsace for wine tasting
As you can read from the above story, the experience can be quite different if you go on a tour, visit a tasting room in the city or visit a local winery and speak to the wine maker himself.
But most tastings have the same things in common.
As mentioned before, most wine tastings at the winery are free of charge. Some tasting rooms offer a set tasting menu for a set price. The fee is waived when you purchase a bottle.
How to communicate
When you come in, it is always nice to greet the person in French. You can always ask if they speak German or English.
Most of the people working in the tasting room at least speak another language than French.
If your language skills are limited and you don’t speak French, German, or English, I recommend you arrange a pre-booked guided tour.
What wine to taste at an Alsace wine tasting?
Most of the time, they will ask you what you’d like to taste.
‘Wine’ is not a good answer!
If you have a specific grape variety in mind or know their wines, order those. In all other cases, I recommend asking for their suggestions.
The winegrower will then know you’d like to sample a couple of wines.
Some smaller wineries only have a few varieties of grapes, others offer the whole range of Alsace grapes:
- Pinot Blanc
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Noir
Other famous terms you need to know:
- Crémant d’Alsace (Champagne that cannot be called champagne)
- Edelzwicker (mix of different grape varieties)
- Grand Cru Wines (wines harvested from the best vineyards)
- Vendanges Tardives (late-harvested grapes)
- Vieilles Vignes (grapes from very old vines)
Amount of tastings
Usually, you get a small bit of wine for tasting. Sometimes in a regular wine glass, other times in small tasting glasses. If you think you’ll not buy any wine or still need to drive, it is best to ask for a small bit of wine.
Don’t expect copious amounts, usually, it is 2-3 slugs or a few sips.
Order of wine tasting
If you ask to taste a variety of wines, they will start with a Crémant d’Alsace. The local sparkling wine. It is produced in the same way as Champagne, but as it is not from the Champagne region, it is not allowed to call it champagne.
Only when you finish your glass, will they proceed to the next glass. You go from dry to sweeter. Once you hit the sweeter wines, it is very hard to go back to the drier varieties so be aware!
In most tasting receptions, it was a standing affair at the counter. I found this a bit odd and tiring. As some tastings can take up 7-9 glasses and over half an hour, I asked to sit down.
They usually have space and tables for this so I don’t really understand why they don’t offer this in the first place.
Buying wine in Alsace
If you intend to buy some wine, either one bottle or a whole case, it is always good to take notes. Either by physically writing down the name of the grape and wine or taking pictures of the label or by asking them to leave the bottle on the table.
If you taste over 9 different wines, it is hard to tell which was your favorite and which is a hard no. Once you’ve hit the sweeter wines, it is difficult to go back to a dry Riesling and ask to re-taste it to determine which one you’d like to buy.
Tips for wine tasting in Alsace
Now that you know how to go about tasting wine in Alsace independently, I have some common tips for you:
- You don’t need to book ahead because you can always stop at a different winery, during peak harvest times (September-October) it might be a good idea to call ahead.
- If you’re dead set on visiting a certain vineyard, I do recommend booking ahead. Check out most wineries that have English tours, via this website.
- For tastings, no need to call ahead but for tours, food & wine pairings, or tours like vineyard bike tours, you need to book in advance. Check the best options here.
- Always check opening hours. Some wineries are only open on certain days. In general, if open, the hours are 9.00 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.00/18.00/19.00
- Bring your own water. They don’t offer it with the tasting but I recommend rinsing between tasting the different types of wine. Food or snacks are also not offered or included.
- Don’t wear perfume or after-shave or other heavy odorous scents. This can intervene with the tasting of the wine
- As you can read, the person pouring the wine expects that you know what you’d like to taste. Do a quick search about the winery and their wines on offer. It will make the wine tasting easier as you can request a specific wine
- Always follow the recommended order for tasting. Start with a Crémant D’Alsace (sparkling wine) if they have it and work your way up from dry to sweet.
Which wineries to visit in Alsace?
This question is really impossible to answer! There are soooo many. And most of them offer a wide variety of grapes of Alsace and years and options for tasting. So how on earth will you decide which winery to visit?
The good news is, with such a wide variety of wineries, you basically can’t go wrong!
Each visit is a personal experience and each tasting will be different. However, if you do wish to come somewhat prepared (that’s why you’re reading this, right?) I have some tips for you.
Basically, these are (some) of the wineries I’ve visited or heard great things about. I loved their wines enough to buy at least one bottle. Or they offered excellent service and information. Or they are conveniently located.
The wineries I’ve visited
Here is just a very short selection of the places I’ve visited. Take your pick:
- Zeyssolff near Gertwiller. Click the link to book your multimedia tour of the cellar and wine tasting.
- Domaine Schwach near Hunawihr. They offer tours and tastings, their wines are really reasonably priced.
- Achillé in Scherwiller. A truly unique experience in this biodynamic winery where the cellar is made from straw. The staff goes above and beyond to inform you about their approach to winemaking and their Quetsches Alors is an amazing surprise!
- Dopff au Moulin in Riquewihr. They have a great selection of Grand Cru wines and they are very well-equipped to handle international guests.
- Jean-Baptise de Adam in Ammerschwihr. Another great place for Grand Cru tasting and their staff speaks English perfectly.
- André Blanck in Kientzheim. A lovely place to wander around and take their tour. They speak French and German but not very good English. But their wines were excellent and I bought a few bottles.
- And Bernard Humbrecht in Gueberschwihr. I conversed in German with the lady, but I think she also speaks English. The location is excellent, right on the town square and they offer a great selection of wines. I specifically liked their Pinot Noir.
- And last but not least, Cattin, just outside Voegtlinshoffen. Mainly because of their view but also because they offer a great tasting selection. It is popular with large tour groups, so time your visit wisely. But Cattin also offers a wide selection of wines, price-wise. Their award-winning Riesling was only 7 euros.
Taste wine in Alsace
As you can see there is a lot to discuss when it comes to wine drinking in Alsace. And we haven’t even discussed all the different types of wines and what to eat with them. But that is for another time and place maybe.
As you can see, arranging a wine tasting in Alsace, even independently, is very easy and a must-do. So when you go to Alsace, try some wine!
Would you organize your own wine-tasting tour around Alsace? Or do you prefer a guided tour of the towns and the wineries? I hope whichever option you choose, that my tips have been helpful, and arranging your wine-tasting trip in Alsace is a little bit easier.
Let me know your comments in the comment section below!