Let’s visit the wine regions of Baden, Germany, and Alsace, France. These two undervalued wine sisters live side-by-side, separated only by the north-flowing Rhine River. They are as close as sisters who share a secret language, yet also are dynamic and independent.
Driving through Baden, you’ll see forests, rolling hills, vineyards, and small towns of red-roofed white buildings. Bordered by the Black Forest on its east, the region is orderly and clean. You can drop into a pop-up restaurant at a local winery, join a tasting at a larger, more well-known wine estate, or attend a town wine festival.
The Baden wine region contains nine subregions with Offenburg at the midway point. All subregions grow Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), except for the very northernmost. Pinot noir from Baden is lighter-bodied, more mineral-driven, and more restrained than those from Burgundy, Oregon, or California.
Riesling grows in the subregions north of Offenburg, while Grauburgunder (Pinot gris) and Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc) prefer the warmer southern regions around the city of Freiburg im Breisgau. These wines are lighter and less fruit-forward than those from Oregon. A much-lesser known and rarely planted variety, Gutedel (Chasselas), thrives in the region just north of Basel, Switzerland.
About 85% of the wine produced here comes from cooperatives. This low-key region produces good-value wines that are not well-known outside the country.
The Alsace region, protected by the Vosges mountains to the west, is half German and half French because of its history of being swapped between the two countries. The area delights visitors with its charming fairy tale towns, gentle canals, mountaintop castles, and even the Statue of Liberty’s twin.
Take a bespoke wine tour, join a group to discover Colmar or World War II history, or spend the day at a cobblestone café. Try the Flammkuchen (a pizza-like Alsatian favorite), a delicious Quiche Lorraine, or local sausages.
Organized under French Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées (AOC) rules, Alsace has three AOCs for wine. Alsace AOC covers red, white, and rosé wines, which make up 78% of the total production. Alsace Grand Cru is for vineyard-specific and late harvest (sweet) wines. Crémant d’Alsace AOC, 18% of total output, makes delightful sparkling wines in the traditional method.
You might see grape varieties on the labels here, the only place in France where it’s allowed. They include Riesling, Muscat, Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, and Gewürztraminer. Crémant also includes Pinot noir and Chardonnay.
Large companies, small family farms, and cooperative producers operate in Alsace.
Many small producers make fine wines deserving of higher recognition for their finesse, structure, and length.
Visit One, Then the Other
The people of both Baden and Alsace spend time in their sister regions. Residents of Colmar often shop in Freiburg, and those from Freiburg visit lovely Colmar.
Freiburg has a gorgeous ciety center; it’s also larger than Colmar and hosts a university, so it has that youthful energy.
A comfortable commuter bus carries you from one side to the other on a regular schedule, or you can drive. The trip takes a couple of hours.
A train between the two goes through Basel, so it’s not a direct route.
When you visit, be sure to try these underappreciated yet amazing wines.
They run from bone dry to richly sweet. No matter which you choose, you’ll soon be a convert.
Prost! À votre santé! Cheers!