Trimbach: An Alsatian Stalwart

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 05-29-2013

Trimbach has been written about before. And I have to admit that early in my wine days, I wanted to write off the winery. With its solid yellow labels and its  seeming omnipresence (over 30% of Alsatian wine in the United States is Trimbach), it just seemed so generic.

Domaine Trimbach.

But the truth is that the wines are fantastic. My non-wine-aficionado family still remembers the Trimbach Pinot Blanc we had at a celebratory dinner years ago, and I certainly can’t let it go unsung, especially after having tasted much more of the winery’s lineup.

I had the pleasure of being in the same room as Jean Trimbach earlier this month, along with other great wine personalities from D.C., and a healthy amount of his wine.  Here are some impressions:

Trimbach is currently headed by brothers Jean and Pierre Trimbach, who focus almost exclusively on marketing and vineyard/winemaking, respectively. Jean’s son Julian is currently studying viticulture and oenology in Dijon and will join his uncle back in Ribeauvillé after graduation, becoming the 13th generation to man the ship.

To put Trimbach’s size into perspective, there are about 15,000 hectares under vine in Alsace, worked by about 5,000 growers. All told, just over 1,000 different wines are produced in the region. Trimbach’s wines represent 105 of those hectares — 45 of which are owned by the Trimbach family, and another 60 of which are owned and farmed by families with a similarly long histories in Alsace.

Jean attributes much of the high quality of Trimbach’s always dry and racy table wines to the fact that they hold bottles at the cellar — some 3 million at a time — to provide a necessary development on the wines. He also notes the great vine age of their fruit sources. Some of the grand cru vines are approaching 80 years old. Not bad for a region that saw war and other turmoil in the not-too-distant past.

The line of wines is vast, all single varietal because “blending is a stupidity,” roared Jean when asked about their procedure with the fruit from grand cru Altenberg, one of the 2 blending friendly grands crus of Alsace. The classic wines include Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Sylvaner. Young drinking and clean. The 2009 Pinot Blanc featured ripe citrus, slight melon, a granitic minerality and a steely finish.

The “Réserve” wines are where things start to get serious. The grand cru fruit becomes much more involved and grape selection is noticeably more rigorous. The 2005 and 2006 Réserve Riesling were tasted next to each other, telling a tale of two vintages. 2005 was a blockbuster, producing wines of focus, intensity and relative ease of winemaking. 2006 was more hands on, with a slight attack of botrytis. The ‘06 had that exotic note to it with saffron, honey, and key lime. Jean notes that botrytis is widely considered by the consumer as something great and “romantic,” but reminds that with it comes grey rot, it’s ugly cousin.

Onto the signatures. A wine I’ve been lucky to experience at different ages is the Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling. A blend of the marl-based, south- and east-facing grand cru vineyards Geisberg & Osterberg, it is a wine of structure, depth, and certain ageability. Tasted at the Trimbach tasting was the 2005, which held true to its status, offering a bracingly lean structure joined by just-ripe stone fruits and citrus blossoms. It seems even a bit too early to drink, but considering this wine is under $100 on most wine lists, some shellfish or tandoori chicken could take it to the next level.

Other highlights from the dry section of the protfolio included the 2005 Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre Gewurztraminer. A just barely dry version of a grape than can vary from delicate and fresh (like this example) to slutty, sweet, and obnoxious. Grown on a marl and iron soil, the minerality really cleans up the finish. At the restaurant, this wine needs little introduction, as Gewurz lovers, few as there may be, are well aware of its food friendliness.

The highlight of the day, however, came after all the dry wines were gone. The last bottle passed around was the 2000 Sélection de Grains Nobles Pinot Gris. SGN wines are the crown jewel of Alsatian sweet wines. The grapes must be affected by botrytis and picked by hand, and they demand some of the highest must weight requirements in Europe. The wine was luscious on the palate but not overtly “sitcky.” Dried apricots, red plum, and baked apple were complimented by a frame of white pepper, marjoram, orange honey and toffee. Again, the finish was dominated by cleasing minerality. So much that my colleague exclaimed, “the finish is totally dry!” Next time you’re enjoying foie gras, don’t be forced to drink Chateau d’Yquem; reach for this.

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