Have you ever visited a place on your travels and immediately felt close to a loved one who is no longer with us? A wonderful feeling that comes from sharing a love that endures from beyond the grave; reignited by a sense of place, a sound, a smell or a particular experience. That’s how I felt when I visited the historic wine cellar of Strasbourg hospital…
No visit to Strasbourg would have been complete for me, without a visit to the Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg.
My late father had a passion for wine. In the latter years of his life he worked in the wine industry, sharing this passion with others. Family holidays throughout my childhood would feature visits to the most beautiful châteaux and wine regions in France. A family celebration was always a good excuse to break open a specially-selected wine.
So, perhaps it is no surprise that as I stepped out of the lift into the historic wine cellar beneath Strasbourg Hospital, it was as if my Dad was by my side. I’m not sure he’d ever visited this place. But I knew immediately he would have been fascinated by it.
Inside the Cave Historique des Hospices
The first thing you notice as you enter the cellar is the smell. Deep beneath the old hospital, the cellar is dark and damp. A musty, dusty scent of wine, cork and oak hangs lightly in the air. The cool temperature makes you pull your jacket tightly around you.
Beside the entrance to the wine cave with its vaulted ceilings, are the entrances to other forgotten passages, which must surely hold on to hundreds of years of lost stories and precious history.
The cellar itself dates back to 1395 and is the only remaining wine cellar to exist within the walls of a working hospital, making it quite unique.
Small-scale wine makers from the Alsace region still use the cellars today to store and mature their wines.
Along the walls of the main vault, sixty large vats of wine line up in an orderly fashion. Most of the barrels date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century, but some are much older. The largest vat has a storage capacity of 267 hectolitres. That’s 26,700 litres of wine. A lot of bottles!
As you wander along the rows you can’t help but marvel at the craftsmanship that has gone into some of the barrels, with their beautiful joinery and intricate decorative carving.
The oldest wine in the world
Towards the end of the main vault, six particularly special barrels sit behind an iron gate. You are immediately drawn towards them to see what special treasure needs extra security inside this place full of special things. This is a treasure chest for wine lovers.
Here a few particularly old and precious nectars from Alsatian vineyards are left to mature, including one dating back to 1472, said to be the oldest wine matured in a barrel in the world.
A small sample is decanted into a glass bottle so that you can see the wonderful honey colour and only imagine how it must taste. A legendary vintage that few have had the pleasure to drink, but must surely taste pretty acidic by now!
Perhaps most interesting, was imagining the role wine must have played in the history of hospital care. Wine quenched thirst, relieved pain, and lessened hardship. It featured in both religious mass and daily meals. The cellar is a rare insight into the past of the hospital.
So, if you’re a wine lover, then a visit to the historic wine cellar of Strasbourg is a must. For me it was a particularly special place.
Historic Wine Cellar of Strasbourg: Fact File
The historic wine cellar can be found beneath Strasbourg Hospital at 1, place de l’Hopital. The cellars are open from Monday to Friday (08:30 – midday/13:30 – 17:30), and on Saturday (09:00 – 12:30).
The historic wine cellar of Strasbourg is free to visit. For just three Euros you can also hire an audio guide, which will provide you with some of the fascinating history of the cellars.
You can also purchase wine from the shop while you are there, and expert advice is available if you need some help to choose. The wines available all bear the Cave des Hospices de Strasbourg label.
The ‘Great Whites’
Alsace is one of the best known wine regions in France with a reputation for exceptional white wines. If you’re thinking of making a purchase, there are some wonderful varieties to look out for including Alsace Pinot Blanc (also known as Klevner), Alsace Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Gewurtztraminer, Heiligenstein Klevener and the Alsace’s only red grape variety the Alsace Pinot Noir. Click here for more information.
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