Wander through Riquewihr’s thirteenth-century Dolder gateway on a summer’s weekend and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d strayed by mistake into some sort of medieval theme park. Crowds throng its cobbled Grand’rue lined with polychrome timber-framed houses, intricate wrought iron signs and elegant oriel windows. In the shop windows, plastic storks jostle for space with decorated pottery and green-stemmed wine glasses. Sickly sweet smells of waffles and candyfloss fill the air.
Visit in the depths of winter – preferably on a weekday – and it’s quite another story. This improbably beautiful winegrowing village sheds its Disneyland aura and starts to feel like a real place again, reclaimed by the winegrowers, shopkeepers and restaurateurs who live and work here. Living nearby, I fall all too readily under Riquewihr’s winter spell. In fact it’s becoming our annual treat to hunker down here for a few days to recover from the holidays – and to celebrate my inconveniently timed, just-post-Christmas birthday.
For sheer perfection, snowflakes float gently down, muffling the footfall of our occasional fellow visitors. Out in the vineyards, which rear up steeply from the village, the only sound in the crisp, cold air is the gentle snip-snip of pruning secateurs. At the Brendelstub on the Grand’rue the chef is stoking up his wood-fired oven into which he will shunt a tarte flambée topped with Tomme des Vosges or a choucroute garnished with crispy-skinned duck.
Sometimes we stay next door in one of the funky, ancient-modern suites at the Cottage Sejour which Jean-Luc Brendel has managed to squeeze beneath and between the beams of this gorgeous 14th-century timbered house. Or we go round the corner to the cosy Sarment d’Or on the rue du Cerf where a huge log fire crackles and fusses. The rooms are simple and welcoming, the foie gras, game and luscious puddings seriously tempting – and the 26-euro menu the worthy winner of a red Michelin bib.
Riquewihr’s whole raison d’être being wine, there’s no shortage of tasting possibilities – Hugel, Domaine Agapé and Mittnacht Klack are all based here. You can’t taste at Boutique Vini (next door to and owned by Hugel), but you can browse their extraordinary and eclectic selection. It includes all the celebrated local names (Beyer, Trimbach, Josmeyer, Zind Humbrecht et al) and rising Alsace stars (Agathe Bursin, Paul Kubler), but its scope goes way beyond to embrace the world’s finest. If you’re looking for a particular vintage of Mouton Rothschild or Romanée Conti, something from J.j. Prüm, a Vega Sicilia, Clos Mogador, Sassicaia or Ornellaia, the chances are you’ll find it here.
Hôtel “Le Sarment d’Or”
4, rue du Cerf
Tel: +33 (0)3 89 86 02 86
48, rue du Général de Gaulle
Tel. +33 (0)3 89 86 54 54
27, rue du Général de Gaulle
Tel: +33 (0)3 89 47 99 37
Sue Style lives in Alsace and writes the Alsace chapters of Wine Travel Guides (www.winetravelguides.com)
Written by Sue Style