Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

Some Reflections on Alsace Wines

September 2008

The Trimbach family of Alsace have been making fine Alsace wines for close on 400 years – they celebrated their 375th anniversary in 2001 – and are among the region’s vinous elite to this day. Leading judges like Hugh Johnson and Tom Stevenson have rated the family’s single-vineyard Clos Sainte Hune as the greatest of all Alsace Rieslings, and both have also suggested that Trimbach’s Cuvée Fréderic Emile may well merit second place.

 

To digress briefly. Alsace produces some of the greatest dessert wines in the world, notably Vendange Tardive (late-harvestings) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (individually-picked raisiny grapes). Both have great body and exceptional intensity. Despite this, my own favourite Alsace wines are bone-dry – steely, strikingly pure, arrestingly mineral and precise, and very long on the palate. They can improve for decades and go wonderfully with fine food.

 

Many of the world’s most influential wine writers, however, have become hypnotised by the region’s undeniably ravishing sweet wines. So much so that they nearly always accord their highest marks to V.T. or S.G.N. bottlings. Such wines deserve all the praise they get. The problem is that consumers are distracted from the dry wines of Alsace – the very wines that, in my view, represent Alsace’s greatest and most unique contribution to wine culture and to gastronomy. They are, quite simply, sublime when served with food. They’re also a lot cheaper than corresponding wines from, say, Burgundy.

 

Now back to Trimbach. The family are great advocates of dry wines. Wines that have never been in contact with oak. Their Rieslings are of almost unparalleled purity and steeliness of structure. While their Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer cuvées display a subtlety and finesse not always found in these, somewhat flamboyant, varieties. An illuminating experience was to be present quite recently when an ’85 Trimbach Gewürztraminer, “Ribeaupierre”, was served blind to the company. A great wine, of immense length and subtlety, it could almost have been mistaken for a Riesling (though the copybook Gewürztraminer traits, not least a restrained spiciness, were there when looked for).

 

 

VISIT TO TRIMBACH EARLIER THIS YEAR

 

05 PINOT BLANC

Pale brilliant GY, crisp fresh nose, GG, cooking apple. Hint of magnesium. Crisp vital flavour, rhubarb. ML. Now – 2 years.

 

Second sample :

More vital flavour, pleasant minerality, with delicate finish. Has more energy than first.

 

06 RIESLING **

Typical, brilliant GYG, excellent, incisive v. Riesling nose, nettles, greengage, magnesium. Tinglingly fresh. Very crisp, pure, vital flavour, cooking apple, lemon, faint touch of honey. Long closed aftertaste, mineral and pure. 2 years then 4-5+.

 

06 RIESLING RESERVE **

More nuanced appearance, complex GYG. Fine flowery nose, perfumed and refined. Delicate, subtle aromas : lime peel, chalk / lime. Very crisp, elegant flavour, longish, only medium full, with nuances. Chalky/limey finish. 2 years then 6+.

 

02 CFE ***(+)

Beautiful, nuanced GYG. Noble, rich, broad nose, concentrated and gently lush. Greengage, honey, chlorophyll. Hint of rhubarb. Lovely ripe voluminous nose, very homogeneous. Delicious flavour, quite chewy : greengage jam, lime, with stony aspect to long, nuanced aftertaste. Very good finish, stippled with minerality. 3-4 years then 8+.

 

03 CLOS SAINTE HUNE ***

Nuanced GYG, full, rich, vital nose, very CSH in rich mode : greengage jam with stone, hint of marzipan. Touch of magnesium, with hint of bay leaf. A bit heavy but enticing. Full, earthy, faintly clayey texture, touch of fig. Medium long, thick aftertaste, stony and earthy. Slightly bitter element (endive) on weighty finish. Not much lift but plenty of body. Reprise of marzipan on the aftertaste.

A voluminous CSH with the structure of a white Burgundy. Try with lobster, gratin of langoustine, John Dory (St Pierre) in sauce.

(A second bottle, served later, was paler, with a more refined aroma).

 

04 PINOT GRIS RESERVE ***

Rich yellow-gold, green tinge. Full honeyed nose, greengage jam, wild white rose. Delectable lush nose, hint of apricot. Medium full lively flavour, rhubarb compote, russet apple pulp, with lift. Longish, earthy/mineral aftertaste. Very good! Now; 2 years; then 3+.

 

01 PINOT GRIS RESERVE PERSONNELLE ****

Brilliant, almost glittery, GYG. Res. pers. look. Superb, masterful, broad aroma, white truffle, champignons de Paris, apricot, fig, yellow plum with stone. Lushly fruity. Very good rich, round, lush, yet quite dry flavour, fine, long and vital. Yellow plum with stone on faintly bitter aftertaste. Firm, mineral finish with earthy aspect. 2 years then 6-7. Very good with cod in sauce, as well as pork, salmon, etc.

 

05 GEWURZTRAMINER ***

Bright GYG. Excellent, vital Gewürztraminer nose, orange/orange blossom, greengage, yellow rose, some lychee. Full, satiny nose with plenty of stuffing. Long, nuanced, marrowy flavour, very fresh, orange, apricot, suggestion of marzipan. Very good fat, nuanced finish. 18 months then 5-6 years. A really useful, dry, very terroir Gewürztraminer to enjoy with spicy food, waxy cheeses (old Beaufort, Gouda, etc.).

 

04 GEWURZTRAMINER RESERVE ***

Rich, perceptibly evolved, YG. Very full, intense nose with some noble rot : apricot, mango, lemon curd, honey. Full, weighty nose which evolves in glass : rich polleny smell, yellow rose, hint of buttercup.

Lushly fruity, lush yet buoyant flavour, smooth and succulent. Nectarine on middle palate with zabaglione finish.

 

01 GEWURZTRAMINER RIBEAUPIERRE

N. nuanced GYG. Really noble, great Gewürztraminer nose, rhubarb, chlorophyll, gooseberry jam, chalk. Lovely, refined Gewürztraminer nose, complex and with restraint. Excellent, precise, complex flavour – very green – dill, greengage, gooseberry. Long complex nuanced, slightly stony, aftertaste, almost dry. A really exciting Gerwürztraminer – stony, nuanced, with flecks of subsidiary flavour on long finish. In 3-6 years could enjoy with refined, if slightly spicy, fish dishes.

8 years to peak then 3+.

 

01 CFE VENDANGE TARDIVE ****

Rich concentrated noble-rot style GYG. Glorious, complex, intense, harmonious nose, greengage, honey, pineapple.

Noble concentrated very intense flavour, sweet apple, honey, pineapple, crisp green apple, greengage, lime. Very long mineral nuanced aftertaste, chlorophyll, acacia honey, lime. Long limestone/sandy finish. Lovely now, better in 4 years, then 10+ of maturity.

Round about 2018 could enjoy this with St. Pierre (John Dory)!

 

00 PINOT GRIS VENDANGE TARDIVE ****

Very rich yellow gold, nearly amber. Immensely rich, concentrated, sweet aroma, barley sugar, apricot jam, cloudberry, fig. Rich syrupy nose, full and weighty. Lovely flavour – fat, one-third sweet, with mineral, earthy finish. Lush sweetish aftertaste, apricot, chestnut honey (smoky).

For long keeping.

 

02 GEWURZTRAMINER VENDANGE TARDIVE ****

Rich, evolved YG, green tinge. Full weighty concentrated nose, honeycomb, apricot, lychee. Very rich, syrupy nose, full, broad, very Gewürztraminer. Some yellow rose. Rich lush marrowy flavour, chestnut honey, apricot and Mirabelle jams. Though medium sweet, turns towards dryness on palate. Almost a hint of tobacco. Long, weighty finish.

 

00 PINOT GRIS S.G.N ****

Very rich amber-gold – very evolved look. Huge, weighty polleny nose, honeycomb, apricot jam, barley sugar, hint of saffron. Delectable flavour, sweet and marrowy but with buoyancy and dryish finish. Orange, Mirabelle jam, cloudberry. Long rich fat aftertaste with dryish finish. 6 years to peak then 10+.

 

01 GEWURZTRAMINER S.G.N. *****

Nuanced YG, amber tinge. Orange juice, fig, honey, on big blossomy aroma, which is lushly fruity and sweet. Yellow rose petals. Highly viscous, thick syrupy flavour, Mirabelle jam, honeycomb, pineapple. Very long, lush, concentrated flavour, mirabelle with stone, honey, lushly sweet apricot. Ends clean as a whistle, nothing cloying. Very mineral aftertaste with lift. Decisive, almost dry finish, despite the rich sweetness. Will keep many years.

 

 

FROM THE BOTTLING LINE :

 

07 RIESLING CFE ****

Pure, pale GYG. Excellent, pure, vital aroma, jumps out of glass : grapefruit, nettles, elderflower. Lovely core of fruit of singular purity. An aroma of great rectitude. Excellent crisp, vital flavour, greengage, apple, honey, elderflower. Steely acidity. Lovely follow-through, with intensely fruity finish.

Very good! 4-5 years then 8-10.

 

05 PINOT BLANC

Pale, brilliant GY, fresh nose, greengage, cooking apple. Hint of magnesium (a bit like smell of wild white roses). Crisp flavour, rhubarb. Slightly lacking in excitement. Medium long.

Now – 2 years.

 

2nd sample (freshly opened) : More vital flavour, pleasant minerality, delicate finish. More vitality than first sample.

 

06 RIESLING **

Typical, intense GYG, excellent, incisive, very Riesling nose, nettles, greengage, magnesium. Tinglingly fresh, very crisp, pure, vital taste, cooking apple, lemon, faint touch of honey. Long but closed aftertaste, mineral and very pure. 2 years then 4-5.

 

05 RIESLING RESERVE **

More nuanced appearance, complex GYG. Fine flowery nose, perfumed and refined. Delicate, subtle aromas, lime peel, chalk/lime. Very crisp, elegant Riesling flavour, longish, only medium full with nuances. Reprise of chalky/mineral trait on finish. 2 years then 6+.

 

02 RIESLING CUVEE FREDERIC EMILE ***(*)

Beautiful, nuanced GYG. Noble, rich, broad nose, concentrated and gently luscious. Greengage, honey, chlorophyll. Hint of rhubarb. Lovely ripe, voluminous nose, very homogeneous. Delicious flavour, quite chewy; greengage jam, lime, with stony aspect on long, nuanced aftertaste. Very good finish, stippled with minerality. 3-4 years then 8+.

 

© Frank Ward 2008


Key:

GYG: green-yellow-gold

GG: green-gold

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