27 Feb 2012

Familiar ground (Alsace, France – Day Two)

Returning to Alsace feels like coming home, as I feel an affinity to these wines are producers. After trying so many mediocre pinot gris (not pinot grigio, there is a difference) around the world it is nice to taste true examples of this seemingly elusive variety. It is nice to also visit producers I have visited before, or to visit ones whose wines I am familiar with. And although the weather is almost completely different to July 2010, it felt like only yesterday I was turning into the Domaine Weinbach Clos. They do say that familiarity breeds contempt, or in my case complacency. Much like when I was in Champagne, I got quite lazy updating this blog and now find myself chasing my own tail. No use in dilly-dallying then…

Domaine Trimbach in Ribeauville
Not long before I left Australia and my former position as Wine Buyer for King & Godfree in Melbourne, I attended a special tasting held by Nelson Wine Company which profiled Trimbach. The wines on offer we on pre-release, and as such was an indent tasting. The winery had released some rare back vintage wines, including some vendage tardives and selection de grains nobles wines. It was the first real opportunity I had got to see the longevity of these wines, as some went back to the 1970s. I relished the opportunity and took advantage of the great prices they had for pre-ordering, and hope the store made full use of them after my departure. With this in mind I looked forward to my visit to Trimbach with great anticipation, as they are one of the best known and widely regarded producers in the region. The winery dates back several centuries when it was established in 1626 by Jean Trimbach. Its original home was in Riquewihr, but the estate is now in the prominent village of Ribeavillé. As a negociant the winery is one of the largest in Alsace, but there is no compromise in quality. The cellars may be old but the methods are quite modern, recently investing in a high-tech filtration system. The winery has significant vineyard holdings, in grand cru sites such as Geisberg and Osterberg. The wines have a reputation for being very pure and elegant, and naturally long-living in the bottle.

Osterberg vineyard
Anne Trimbach, the latest generation to join the family business full-time, took me through a tasting of current and future releases. The riesling wines are the forte of the Domaine, and famously have the only Alsatian wine on every three-star Michelin restaurant in France. We started with the Classic Riesling 2009, which had ripe tropical citrus notes but retained steeliness, and was quite expressive on the palate with texture and ripeness. The Reserve 2009 wasn’t as bright or bold, and had a more reductive mineral character with some delicate floral notes. The 2006 vintage of the Cuvée Frederic Emile Riesling (the famous one, and a blend of two Grand Cru vineyards), had a slightly oxidative ripe stone fruit aroma and some richness from some botrytised fruit, and a little warmth that will integrate given some time. The Clos Ste Hune Riesling of the same vintage was a very contemplative wine, both hauntingly ethereal and complex, and yet rich and oily in texture. It is a wine that deserves serious ageing. We finished with the Cuvée Frederic Emile Selection des Grains Nobles 2001 which had developed a very truffle peach blossom aroma with some mushroom creaminess on the palate. The surprise wine was a SGN gewürztraminer from 1989, which was oppressively reductive and nutty, expressing some smoky mature cheese, with plenty of life left in it.

Trimbach Clos Ste Hune Riesling 2006
Domaine Weinbach is possibly the cult winery of Alsace, owning parcels in the first grand cru vineyard in Alsace, and having a world renowned reputation for producing some of the finest wines in the regions. The Clos de Capucins where the winery is located is one of the few domaines outside a village, and was built by Capucins Monks in 1612. The winery was acquired by the Faller family in 1898 and left to Theo Faller. Since Theo’s death in 1979 the winery has been run by his widow Colette and two daughters. Weinbach utilise very low yielding vines to ensure concentration and integrity in all of their wines, and vinify them using minimal intervention. These techniques include wild fermentations, large old oak foudre, and natural settling. Bottled in slightly larger bottles than the norm, the wines have very classic 19th Century style labels which communicate all the necessary information. Despite their cult reputation and the premium pricing of their wines of which they make very little, they are very welcome to visitors who are wine enthusiasts and lovers of cuisine. I fondly remember my visit in 2010 with Catherine Faller, her generosity of time (on a Saturday afternoon) and in gifting me several bottles to take back to Australia. On this occasion I was glad to be returning with much more experience and a more mature palate to truly appreciate the wines, as the first time I was so overwhelmed with their quality I was left literally speechless.

Domaine Weinbach
It is difficult to categorise the wines of Domaine Weinbach in only a few words, as they are a multitude of wonderful things at the same time. They are pure yet have amazing complexity. They are subtle and at the same time very expressive. The major thing I was able to take away from my first visit is that the wines are so harmoniously balanced that it is difficult to single out any aspect of the wine, you merely admire the whole. I was fascinated to see how the 2010 vintage would be expressed in the wines, and found they expressed a lot more citrus freshness than the previous vintages. The Schlossberg Riesling in particular had a lovely bright quince and lime fruit character, and a slightly smoky mineral texture that came very late on the palate. The Mambourg Vendages Tardives Gewurztraminer of the same vintage had a haunting purity of fruit on the nose, and some lovely savoury complexity without being think and cloying. Both wines were definitely showing their youth, and will live a long time in the bottle.

40-60 year old foudre at Domaine Weinbach
From the 2009 vintage the L’Inedit! Riesling had a nice off-dry balance and gorgeous viscosity and texture on the palate, with a very subtle white truffle stone fruit finish. The Cuvée Ste Catherine (my personal favourite) was showing delicate yet bright pear fruit on the nose, and a slight botrytis character was adding some nice oxidative complexity of white mushrooms. The Cuvée Laurence Gewurztraminer was again very delicate on the nose, showing some youthful musk and rose water, but on the palate was more concentrated in the spice notes and viscosity. The 2009 wines were generally riper and richer, yet still retained wonderful balance and elegance.

Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling 2009
From the 2008 vintage I tried the Altenbourg Gewurztraminer, which was more subtle than the Cuvée Laurence and was showing more savoury complexity. The Furstentum Vendages Tardives Gewurztraminer was one of the most restrained yet balanced GWTs I have ever tied, and in maturity will exhibit some lovely rich caramel and spiced toffee notes. The final wine I tried was the Mambourg Quintessence Selection des Graines Nobles Gewurztraminer, and was without doubt the finest dessert wine I have ever tried. It had gentle floral notes on the nose, was exquisitely subtle on the palate, balanced and caressing yet fresh, broad yet focused. It checked every box you could possibly imagine. Simply a revelation, and one that will stay with me.

Weinbach Furstentum VT Gewurztraminer 2008
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in Alsace.

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