Travels in Alsace Part 2: Trimbach

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Uncategorized | Posted on 01-21-2016

For a winery that has been around since 1626, even minor changes feel like a big deal. But for those of us that know and love Trimbach—undoubtedly one of France’s most important wineries, the “first growth” of Alsace—some recent changes don’t feel so small.

And yet, when I met with Jean Trimbach at the Trimbach estate in Ribeauville shortly before Thanksgiving, everything felt like business as usual. Classy and cool, Jean made these relatively big changes feel seamless and natural. Above all, of course, the family remains dedicated to continuing to make the world’s best riesling. Jean quipped, “After riesling, there is nothing. And after that, there is chardonnay.” He then paused before adding, as if making a difficult concession, “or Sauvignon Blanc.”

So true!

IMG_2738Everything about Trimbach, from its charming estate to its sleek wines to the family that makes them, is elegant, understated, and classic. Like Vermeer’s paintings, the wines’ colors shine brightly through sometimes stern, always elemental, backgrounds. The domain itself, directly under hills laced with vines and capped by a crumbling medieval castle, feels invitingly simple, bespeaking a sense of taste and proportion that make the monstrosities in, say, Napa, appear as shamelessly tacky as a suburban McMansion.

When my wife and I visited the domain for the first time on our honeymoon, a stork took flight from its massive nest across the ancient grain silo across the street. The nest was, of course, still there on our return some twelve years later.

Trimbach is history that never feels old; while some other classists in the region can feel outmoded or musty, Trimbach reflects the timelessness of perfection. Over the years they’ve resisted trends, such as the biodynamicism that swept through the region, for all the right reasons; why make changes when you got it right at the outset?

Instead, Trimbach has made gradual, precise changes to its vinification—changes that sometimes belie trends and conventional wisdom about quality, such as increasing yields to lower alcohol percentage in the face of climatic warming—drawing on the uniquely profound experience with vineyards and wines by a family that has studied them for generations. Seemingly old-school and decidedly untrendy practices—like refusing to hand sort grape bunches, choosing instead to pay professionals to hand select on the vine—define Trimbach’s thoughtful, pragmatic approach.

The Trimbach’s are not renegades, mavericks, gurus, earth dogs, or demagogues—they’re wine intellectuals.Alsace1

But of course, the world around them changes. In Alsace, it seems to get warmer by the year. And there have been long standing debates about the Grand Cru system first established in 1975. Trimbach, an important thought leader both in Alsace and France in general, has long been known for opting out of the system. The problem? Not all Crus are made the same.

When the politically motivated bureaucrats first drew up the Cru boundaries, they painted with broad brushes; many Grand Crus, such as the popular Hengst and Schlossberg, include parcels that are both undeniably world-class and parcels that are totally mundane. Why, Alsace2then, would Trimbach want to participate in a system that has failed to recognize the specialness of their unique holdings—especially, of course, the famed 3-acre Clos Ste. Hune in a privileged part of the Rosaker Grand Cru? The Clos Ste. Hune, reflecting the incompoerably complex terroir of Alsace, has the areas’ highest percentage of limestone, the same degraded seashell, ocean-bed character that distinguishes the finest vineyards in Chablis.

So what has changed? First of all, Trimbach has, against all odds in an area where nobody wants to sell, procured important new vineyards: the recent first bottlings from Grand Cru Geisberg will soon be joined by wine made from a 1.6ha parcel in the mighty Grand Cru Schlossberg. In addition, as of ten days before my arrival, they significantly increased their Ribeauville holdings by purchasing a fully biodynamic vineyard. They’re going to keep it that way—so be prepared for Trimbach’s first truly biodynamic wines. And new family members, now in the 12th generation, are taking on expanded roles, from designing labels to making the wines. After 36 of his own, Pierre Trimbach’s son has now participated in his second vintage.

IMG_2739While Trimbach exudes class and restraint, the tasting, lead by Jean Trimbach, was downright opulent. We tasted through much of their large range of wines, beginning with the “classic” bottlings ranging from the 2015 Pinot Blanc to the 2013 Riesling—Jean corrected me when I called them “entry level,” and given their quality, I take his point. All were good or better, and many ridiculous values. If you are a wine purveyor appealing to a value-driven consumer base, why are you not selling these wines?

Overall, unsurprisingly, what stood out at the tasting were the dry wines. To make great dry white wines is no easy feat, and given their successes it’s not hard to see why Trimbach is the darling of France’s Michelin-starred restaurants. More than just dry—after all, Trimbach makes excellent, restrained sweet wines too—Trimbach’s wines are full of character, class, and, above all, balance.

The 2012 Riesling Reserve, produced from an area next to the grand cru Osterberg that will soon itself be classified, was a standout for its purity, expressiveness, and undeniable value. This is the kind of wine that I like to cellar—I’m recently drinking the 2002, which I thought would never come around. It did.

As I gushed over the 2008 Clos St. Hune, Trimbach’s flagship wine, Jean stated in his dry, understated way, that Trimbach has a “solid image for riesling.” True. The 2008 is an early bloomer, drinking perfectly well already. I doubt that this will be the one to go 50 years, but I don’t mean this as a slight to its obvious quality.

Between the excellent 2008 and 2009 Fredric Emiles, I don’t know which I preferred. The 2008 needs age to round out its sharp acidity, and was relatively closed. The 2009, on the other hand, considered by some the best wine made in Alsace that year, was far more open and can be drunk now or later. Of the two, I’d put my money on the 2008 aging longer, collectors.

In a tasting like this, the non-blockbusters can get lost in the mix. But why not point out that the inexpensive 2014 Pinot Blanc—the 2nd vintage under screw cap, another change for Trimbach—was fruity, clean, a lovely aperitif. The 2012 Riesling Selection de Vieilles Vignes, a new wine for me, juicy with blood orange and tangerine, is another worthy mention.

Of the late harvest and dessert wines, the 2008 Gewurztraminer Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre was stunning, with excellent acidity and purity—a reminder that Trimbach is far more than a one trick pony. And as for the 2007 Gewurztraminer Hors Choix SGN… my god.

After the tasting, I was in need of a nap. But why not go wander around Strasbourg instead? First, I’d have to over-pack my cumbersome luggage with some Trimbach bottles, including an awesome Frederic Emile magnum, that I could then haul all over creation for the next week.

Already looking forward to my next visit, I’m excited to see what Trimbach does—and doesn’t do—next.

Wine Reviews: Wakefield’s Pioneer Shiraz & Visionary Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-21-2015

Wakefield produces some exciting wines from Clare Valley, South Australia, ranging the spectrum from approachable, relatively inexpensive bottles to, well, these big boys.

The Pioneer Shiraz and The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon come from the Wakefield team’s best vineyard blocks in the Clare Valley. These are bold, concentrated wines that spend time in American oak, but the purity of fruit, complexity of flavors and aging potential make these wines very impressive. They’re special wines for sure — as they should be, considering the suggested retail price is $200.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Wakefield Shiraz The Pioneer - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $200
Rich purple color. Complex nose that needs time to open up and show it’s full bounty, but I start getting black cherry, blueberry and black currant mixed in with notes of bacon fat, black pepper, mushroom, notes of roasted coffee, eucalyptus and anise. Full-bodied, firm tannins but they’re smoothed out around the edges, and an impressive amount of acid holds the wine together. Black cherry, blueberry and dark currant fruit, tart and crunchy but full of sweet flavors. A complex web of black pepper, soy sauce, cedar, eucalyptus and mint makes this a delight to sip and ponder. Long finish with deep notes of asphalt and minerals. Rich and mouth-filling but so elegant. Really bold and worthy of cellar development, but impressive in its accessibility and vibrancy at this young point. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon The Visionary - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $200
Medium purple color. Aromatically slugging, with deep red and black currants and tart plums, but with air more reserved and elegant notes come out, tobacco, eucalyptus, mint, sweet violets, pickle, white pepper. Seriously complex sniffing. On the palate, this shows a firm tannic structure, some medium acid. Tart black currants and dark plums, the fruit has crunchy skins but lots of ooze on the inside. Complex secondary notes of tar, charcoal, wet forest, mint, white pepper, clove, roasted chestnut and dark roast coffee. Crazy complex but the elements unravel beautifully on the palate. The oak signature is written in thick pen, but it has enough other elements going for it. A burly wine that will improve for ten years and hold for longer, but it’s quite a thing to taste the power right now. (93 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: A Trio of Cali Rosés

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-24-2015

It’s the end of October but it’s still gorgeous outside here in the mid-Atlantic. Regardless of the shorter days and impending cold weather, it’s always rosé season as far as I’m concerned. Here are a trio of reasonably priced California rosé that would suffice for any weather.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2014 Quivira Grenache Rosé Dry Creek Valley - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $22
Bright salmon color. Fresh aromatic display: crunchy white and red berry fruit, notes of roses, nettles and sea salt. Medium-bodied with tangy acid. Flavors of watermelon, wild strawberry and white cherries mix with notes of white pepper and spicy oregano. Clean and cool but lots to contemplate. 62% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 8% Counoise. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2014 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $28
Medium salmon colored. So vibrant and fresh on the nose, with wild strawberries, white cherries and watermelon, mixed in with sea salt, crushed shells and a hint of white pepper. Crisp, clean, racy but attractive in its creaminess as well. I love the watermelon and tangy white cherries, and I get notes of honeysuckle, chalk, sea salt and rosewater. Delicious stuff right here, so vibrant and begging for shellfish and salads. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Cornerstone Cellars Rosé Rocks! - California
SRP: $15
Strawberry sangria colored. Nose of strawberry shortcake, maraschino cherries and some pepper. Creamy profile, medium acid, lots of strawberry and raspberry jam, add in some watermelon. Hints of pepper, spice and green herbs. A richer style in terms of fruit, but dry and showing some brightness. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. (85 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: Lieb Cellars of Long Island

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-10-2015

The North Fork of Long Island’s Lieb Cellars was founded in 1992, and judging from a recent tasting of their wines, they have found a healthy rhythm. The wines shared a common thread: they’re bright, clean, refreshing and delicious. Lieb Cellars gets their juice from 11 classic vinifera varieties, which are planted in Tetris-like blocks across four different vineyards. This diversity appears to give Australian-born winemaker Russell Hearn a lot of options for blending.

They have a range of everyday-drinking wines, the Bridge Lane label (a white blend, a red blend and a Chardonnay), which are shockingly tasty and interesting for $15 a bottle. In addition to the typical bottle, these wines come in three-liter boxes and 20-liter plastic kegs. For big get-togethers, I could see a box or keg of Bridge Lane as an inexpensive but crowd-pleasing option, but they offer enough subtlety and complexity for wine lovers to appreciate, especially given the price. The “Reserve” label wines are unique expressions of their grapes and places, but the Cab Franc stole the show for my palate.

This wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted: Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Garnacha

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-26-2015

For wine newbs and nerds alike, Spanish Garnacha offers a lot of fun options, many of them for a moderate price. This grape (Spanish for Grenache) has historically been used in blends, but it’s common as a varietal wine, and “Garnacha” is featured frequently and prominently on many Spanish wine labels. A juicy red grape, Garnacha is becoming more widely known among consumers looking for something smooth yet bold and fruity.

Apparently every grape now has to have it’s own “day,” so on September 18, I tasted some Spanish Garnacha on Garnacha/Grenache Day. In an online video tasting sponsored by Snooth, Guillermo Cruz, sommelier at the award-winning Mugaritz in San Sebastian, said customers frequently ask for a bottle of Garnacha by name, which was an uncommon request just a few years ago.

Like any wine from any region, the $10 bottles with screwcaps and kitschy labels are most likely going to be sweet, candied wines without much depth. But perhaps unlike many regions, Spanish Garnacha quality rises quickly with only slight cost increases. There are lots of real, terroir-driven wines out there for $15-$25, which isn’t as easy to find with some other popular red varieties.

All wines in this post were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Acinum Wines from Veneto

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-19-2015

Vias Imports — a big player in the U.S. when it comes to Italian imports — has just launched its own label called Acinum. Hitting the nationwide market this month, these wines are solid, value-driven examples of the classic Veneto wines: Prosecco, Soave Classico, Valpolicella and Amarone.

The wines are a result of collaboration between the chairman of Vias Imports, Fabrizio Pedrolli, and grower and oenologist Enrico Paternoster. For those looking for an introduction to the wines of the Veneto, these widely-available bottles would be a good and inexpensive place to start.

These bottles were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-12-2015

I never tire of tasting California Pinot Noir. Since our last tasting report published in May, I’ve tasted a few newly-released Pinots from across the state. From the $15 multi-regional blends to the $60 bottle with 100% new oak, it’s always fun and educational to explore what’s happening with Cali Pinot.

In this batch, I especially liked the two Masút Pinots, which were the first wines I’ve tasted from the relatively new Mendocino AVA, Eagle Peak. If these wines are any indication of what’s coming out of this region, I can’t wait to taste more.

The wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Columbia Valley

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-05-2015

Columbia Valley is a huge area with multiple sub-appellations, home to a diverse array of grape varieties and wine styles. It’s hard to generalize about an entire region, but I think these wines represent a good introduction to what’s available from Columbia Valley.

I recently tasted through a few of these Washington State wines and found some really nice bottles. Like any region, there are those larger-production blends that offer some fun flavors but leave the palate and mind wanting more.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Whites

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 08-15-2015

Last week, I focused on some California Chardonnay. This week, the focus is on, well, pretty much everything else. This summer I’ve tasted through a bunch of non-Chardonnay California white wines, and I’ve come across some interesting ones, some unique ones, and some that are just plain okay. Some of the Sauvignon Blancs showed really well. I’ve gotten excited about a few California Grenache Blancs, and Kita’s Camp 4 Vineyard is one of them. It left me wanting to explore more and more California Grenache Blanc.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Grab Bag Reds

Posted by | Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-04-2015

It’s the dead of summer and it’s hot here in the District. These days, white and pink wines are my go-to. That said, drinking juicy California red wines and grilling out on a summer day is something of a patriotic duty for the American wine lover. And what better day than the Fourth of July to crack some Cali Zin, Petite Sirah or Charbono and toast to the good ol’ US of A?

These diverse wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

Read the rest of this entry »