Terroir evolution for Maison Trimbach …
… and the just-released 2008 Clos Sainte Hune, among other delights
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
Among highlights of my visit on 5 October to this marvelous Alsace producer? Two vintages of the famous Clos Sainte Hune. This exceptional wine is a product of the terroir in the Rosacker grand cru vineyard, located in the village of Hunawihr. Stretching over 1.67 hectares, this parcel has been in the Trimbach family for over 200 years.
Ideally south and south-east facing vines, with vines averaging 50 years old. They lie on a predominantly limestone subsoil. These factors give this Riesling a unique flavor of remarkable fruit concentration, enhanced by a refined hint of “minerality” (wet stone, to me) on the finish, and we got – for both very different vintages in 2009 and 2008 – pine needle like freshness.
But there were many other highlights to this visit, including tasting with #winelover founder Luiz Alberto, whose wine passion is evident.
We also enjoyed tasting the domain’s first-ever terroir named wine. A revolution of sorts for the Trimbach family, although co-owner Jean Trimbach calls it an evolution. And a fine one at that. Earlier this month, American critic James Suckling gave it his best score among all Alsace wines …
The Trimbachs have been long skeptical of Alsace’s grand cru system. They had criticized the 1975 agreed-boundaries as too wide. And the family has always championed its brand wines, including the aforementioned Clos Sainte Hune among others. But as more people appreciate terroir, the domain – like Hugel nearby, as I had earlier this year reported for Decanter – has begun changing its tune and emphasizing terroir. After all, 30% of the domain’s 50 hectares come indeed from grand cru vineyards, including the aforementioned Clos Sainte Hune. But the Trimbachs did not necessarily wish to make a big media fuss about the change, opting for word-of-mouth news spread. Well, it is working… They are considering putting information about grand cru terroirs on back labels of their brand named wines, too, although technically it may not be legal, if they do not indicate grand cru appellation(s) on front labels.
A bit of history…
For almost four centuries, the Trimbach Family has been promoting Alsace and its history, terroirs and fine wines. Maison Trimbach is still located in Ribeauvillé and still owned by the two grandsons of Frédéric Théodore, Bernard and Hubert, since their father’s untimely death in 1945.
Trimbach wine first acquired international acclaim in 1898, when Frédéric Emile Trimbach received the highest distinction at the International Wine Fair in Brussels. His name is on the label of the domain’s signature Riesling, the consistently delicious Cuvée Frederic Emile, justifiably prized by connoisseurs and collectors – and we tasted two vintages of this.
Vines from the south and south-east facing Ribeauvillé terroirs Geisberg and Osterberg – both grand crus – are the source for this most excellent wine. The average age of the vines, 45 years, results in limited yields. The marl-limestone-sandstone and fossil-flecked Muschelkalk soils, and carefully selected ripe grapes, lead to a dry and powerful Riesling, underlined often by a wet stone note with firm and ripe acidity.
Tasting notes: in bold, I liked in particular; in red and bold, even more – if also underlined, wine nirvana.
A nice way to start, I really enjoyed the Pinot Blanc 2014 as a fresh and tasty wine. But the others were very good, too. The old vine Riesling naturally stood out as deeper and more interesting.
- 2014 Trimbach Pinot Blanc – France, Alsace
Pinot Blanc is an underrated variety in general, as I had recently discovered on a press junket to the northern Italian wine region of Trentino, where the Pinot Blanc outclassed many other varieties there. Of course it has a natural home in Alsace where it is overshadowed (too often, unfairly, by Pinot Gris). Here we have pleasingly light pear notes, just ripe enough white apricot, clean and medium bodied and just lovely with tapas. For example. 12.5% alcohol. (88 pts.)
- 2013 Trimbach Riesling – France, Alsace
Trimbach is a major reference for Riesling. Here we have their initial level of wine, which is their least expensive offering, made from mainly purchased grapes. It is tasty, although in this vintage, I am getting perhaps a bit too much petrol for such a young wine, at least on the initial aromatics. Thankfully, pleasing white stone fruit, too, with some citrus like lift. A nice intro Riesling. (87 pts.)
- 2012 Trimbach Riesling Reserve – France, Alsace
Made from a selection of grapes coming from top vineyards in Hunawihr, Ribeauvillé and Bergheim, although not grand cru vineyards There is more character to this wine when compared with the basic Riesling tasted just before, with a fuller body and a longer finish. Tasted with #winelover founder Luiz Alberto, who detected a bit of yeastiness. Indeed, more contact with the lees in this wines elevage. More sumptuous on the palate. Nice job! (88 pts.)
- 2012 Trimbach Riesling Sélection Vieilles Vignes – France, Alsace
Made from old vine selections from the Trottacker and Muhlforst vineyards (candidates for being premier crus). Better than 2009, which I found a bit heavy with noticeable residual sugar. This has fine dry extract, and richness – but a very dry expression. White stone fruit aspects with some floral, too. 13% It is friendly in its full bodied richness nonetheless and owner Jean Trimbach suggested 2012 as a “great vintage for beginners”. (90 pts.)
Second Flight: Cream of the crop
What can I say? Yet again, proof positive of how darn delicious Cuvée Frederic Emile is. And then a pair of two very different vintages of Clos Sainte Hune: 2008 and 2009. Both really great, and although the 2008 will be better with time, the 2009 is more seductive now. Oh, and what about the revolutionary (evolutionary) bottling of the estate’s first Terroir named wine? Well, that too, was a very positive experience …
- 2009 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile – France, Alsace
Hmmmm! This is almost borderline, but wins in the end. The grand cru Osterberg brings welcoming acidity as the Geisberg alone has more richness, according to Jean Trimbach. A very smooth palate, with full-bodied richness. Dry, of course, with citrus and peach aspects but also wet stone. You begin to sense the solar aspect on the finish, just slightly warm but never hot. 13.5%. I’m a buyer. (91 pts.)
- 2009 Trimbach Riesling Geisberg – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
I remarked “this is revolutionary” and Jean Trimbach replied “no, it is evolution.” Whatever you want to call it, this is the first terroir named wine in the Trimbach stable – and it is delicious. All Michelin rated restaurants in Alsace have bought it, and rightly so. A pity that only 3,000 bottles were made from this vintage, coming from 2.6 hectares of wines. Refined, elegant yet rich as well. (92+ pts.)
- 2009 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune – France, Alsace
The wine is made from vines located at the center of the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard, which ranks among Alsace’s best. Until now, Domaine Trimbach does not label its Clos Sainte Hune wine with the Alsace Grand Cru title to which it is entitled. Could that change? Whatever the case may be, this solar vintage is very well handled here. A lovely pine needle aspect, with fresh meadows, lends freshness. It is very sumptuous on the palate but I could not sense the … 14% alcohol. Yes, a minty aspect and fellow taster Luiz Alberto remarked a sweet herb, like caraway seed (grains de carvi), but not as strong as aniseed. The four grams of residual sugar were balanced by 7.5 grams of acidity. Truly lovely stuff, especially considering that the wine had been opened two days before, Anne Trimbach said. Trois fois bravo! (94+ pts.)
- 2008 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune – France, Alsace
Just opened for us, and we were among the first outside the maison to have had a taste. What can I say? This is a gorgeous wine in the making. Sure, it was tight. It needed air. And I kept it in glass for about one hour and noticed it opening up. Tasted just after the 2009, which had been opened two days earlier, quite a contrast. Sure, the 2009 is more ready to drink – even at this baby stage – but the 2008 has more precision and more tension and, I would say, better purity of fruit. You get that pine needle aspect and freshness, as well as burgeoning notions of pure pear like white fruit, along with citrus aspects and touches of wet stone, but it is just born. Fine balance of 13% alcohol, with higher acidity than 2009, at 8.6 grams. Long finish. (96 pts.)
Third flight: A superb dry Gewurztraminer and late harvest styles
The revelation for me here was a superb Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre Gewurztraminer from the high acid 2008 vintage: a marriage worthy of heaven. And of course some very nice late harvest styles ended things well.
- 2010 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve – France, Alsace
Well, what can I say? I am generally not a huge fan of Alsace Pinot Gris. This is very well made, with 8 grams of tartaric acid and 34 grams of residual sugar. It is smooth and somewhat sticky. Lovers of Pinot Gris with some freshness will be happy with this! (86 pts.)
- 2013 Trimbach Gewurztraminer – France, Alsace
For a basic Gewurztraminer, I tip my hat to Trimbach. It has a dry aspect in spite of the 8 grams of residual sugar. “If we tried less than five grams,” remarked Jean Trimbach, “it would be 15% alcohol…” So we have 13.5% alcohol, with a smoky aspect that is not overtly varietal. Luiz Alberto got some floral notes and “a bit Muscat like,” he said. I appreciated the nuances here, as it was not just litchi and simple roses. “How do you judge Champagne? You judge them on their non vintage brands,” Jean Trimbach said. “We have to be extremely careful about our classic bottles.” Well, they are fine! (87 pts.)
- 2008 Trimbach Gewurztraminer Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre – France, Alsace
I am first and foremost a Riesling drinker when it comes to Alsace. Dry Riesling. Gewurztraminer is my second favorite wine. This one? One of the best I have ever tried. Why? The high acidity of the 2008 vintage happily pairs with the spicy and succulent aspects of this varietal and winemaker Pierre Trimbach worked some magic here. The vines are grown on top terroirs, but no grand cru grapes: Muhlforst and sometimes Trottacker. The mineral wet stone aspect, with a touch of salty butter reminded me of white Burgundy. Jean Trimbach agreed. It is dry, yet full bodied. Sure, you get the spice of Gewurztraminer but not too ostentatious. Medium plus to full body with a long, echoing finish. This is a wine you could serve with the main course, whether meat or fleshy fish. I am an enthusiastic buyer. (94 pts.)
- 2008 Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives – France, Alsace
While not reaching the subtle elegance of the more dry Seigneurs, this is of course a late harvest style, with … 63 grams of residual sugar. But as we experienced, you expect half that amount. The flavors are varied and lovely, from Clementines and blood orange to cinnamon. It finishes very focused with the acidity of the vintage balancing it all. Lovers of late harvest Alsace? This is your ticket. (92 pts.)
- 2005 Trimbach Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles – France, Alsace
A very concentrated wine. The aromatics are gorgeous, with figs and roasted pears. The palate exudes stone fruit and … more richness. My score is subjective. I guess I am not always a big fan of SGN wines, because there is so much sweetness. Trimbach deftly balances the elements leading to a very successful SGN however! (90 pts.)
It was such a pleasure to taste with both Anne and Jean Trimbach and with #winelover founder Luiz Alberto, who has much passion for wine, as he travels around the world to satisfy this passion. His wife Nanci Bergamo is just as excited about enjoying great wine and good. So I was lucky that we were able to meet in Alsace. And we also shared a marvelous lunch at the lovely La Brendelstub restaurant in Riquewihr, thanks to Anne and Jean Trimbach, where we enjoyed a delicious Cuvée Frederic Emile Riesling 2005.
So inspiring was that wine that we broke into a rendition of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, singing instead “Bring back, bring back, bring back my Trimbach to me, to me” – much to the joy (we hoped) of fellow restaurant patrons, some of whom eagerly sang along.
It was really fun.
Many thanks to the Trimbach family for such a warm welcome and for an excellent tasting!