THE whimsical half-timbered towers of the Maison Trimbach rightly suggest it was built by a family with a rich sense of humour; but the Trimbachs have a reputation for good wine.
And Riesling rules. “We love Riesling, we’re committed to it. It’s the most wonderful white wine grape in the world,” asserted Anne Trimbach, when she welcomed me earlier this month to the famous family cellars at Ribeauvillé in the heart of Alsace.
Trimbach’s Riesling is typically dry, with pure, piercing acidity. Their 2010 Riesling (£10.99 at Majestic) is a classic example, which if you were to drink it, you might find rather austere and, unlike the Trimbachs themselves, a little aloof and austere. It’s bone dry, with a piercing lemony aroma, hint of white peach, acidity and lingering salty finish. If any young wine could be said to exhibit what the French call ‘minerality’ this would be it.
Some wine scientists argue that ‘minerality’ is merely a by-product of sulphur compounds, which can be controlled and eliminated in the winery. But many winemakers, especially in France, insist that it has much more to do with the nature of the soil and subsoil in which the vines grow.
Anne and her family are firmly in this traditionalist camp. “For us, the stony character of the wine comes from the soil, especially our limestone sites,” she argues. It may be hard to prove by chemical analysis, but I too find it hard to dismiss the idea that the soil does not hold the clue to the distinct stony, salty character of certain fine wines.
Anne represents the thirteenth generation of one of Alsace’s most distinguished wine dynasties, which was founded in 1626. Four years ago she joined her Uncle Jean as a roving ambassador for the superb wines which have been made by her father Pierre for the last 33 years. She has no ambition to make wine herself but loves her present role. “I want to travel and to speak to people,” she insists.
The family’s first winery was in nearby Riquewihr, then a century later, as their production grew, they decamped to another local village Hunawihr, before moving to their present, improbably flamboyant buildings in Ribeauvillé a hundred years ago.
They now own 43 hectares of vines in some of the most highly prized sites in Central Alsace. A few weeks ago they were able to seal the contract on another two hectares in the best, original, part of the superb Grand Cru Schlossberg, which overlooks the villages of Kaysersberg and Kientzheim (A small number of strictly delimited Grands Crus are the best vineyard sites in Alsace). They will, of course, grow Riesling there. Plots of this size and quality rarely come on to the market. In addition to the fruit from their own vines, they buy grapes from another 80 hectares in long-term contacts with growers. “They’re for over 28 years,” confides Anne. “That’s more than my age!”
Their finest Riesling, a wine that many consider the best in Alsace, is their Clos Sainte Hune, which is made from a tiny plot within the Grand Cru Rosacker at Hunawihr. It has only come my way once. I sipped it on bended knee. Below that, their Riesling ‘Cuvée Frédéric Emile’ is as fine an expression of Riesling as any ordinary mortal might hope to aspire to drink.
Anne let me taste the 2006 (£32 at Majestic or Waitrose), a terrific effort, in a year in which every Alsace grower struggled to control a virulent outbreak of rot, just before harvest. It has marked minerality and a superb depth of ripe, peachy fruit, balanced by the same mouth-watering acidity that typifies every Riesling they release.
The grapes for this wine, created in homage to Anne’s great-great grandfather, come from the magnificent, twin Grand Cru vineyards, Geisburg and Osterburg, which rise up steeply behind the Trimbach cellars; but the Trimbachs don’t bother to mention this on the label. Their attitude is that the distinguished name of such a special selection is a perfectly sufficient selling point.
Although Riesling represents over 50% of their export sales (the UK is their third-biggest market behind the USA and Denmark), they bring the same rigorous care to wines from Alsace’s other grape varieties: their Pinot Blanc 2008, for example (£13.29 at Carruthers & Kent). Anne describes this as a “glug, glug, glug wine” but, although it slips down all too easily, it has quite enough depth and complexity to justify the price tag. It’s dry, of course, as is their Gewürztraminer 2010 (£13.99 at Majestic), which, though it has the rich, rose petal aromas of the variety, also has a firm, dry mineral core. “We make the wine as dry as we can,” Anne underlines. “It’s our discipline.”
But if the conditions allow, their sense of discipline does not exclude sweeter, richer styles. Gewürztraminer, Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre is a brilliant example. The 2005 (£29.99 at Carruthers & Kent), which is rich rather than sweet, combines an extraordinary depth of flavour with a fabulous spicy freshness. And the occasional, late harvest, Vendanges Tardives and Séléction des Grains Nobles (SGN) wines are stunningly good.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Mas de Montagnes, Côtes du Roussillon, 2011, £9.99, Majestic (£8.49 if you buy two)
Rich white wine from the Pyrenean foothills. It’s creamy, with ripe peachy fruit, but has a lovely lemony freshness, and hint of toasty oak. Real class and complexity. Try it with crab or chicken dishes.
I missed Viñalba Patagonia Cabernet/Merlot 2009 when it was on offer, but at the Co-op’s price of £8.99 is a bargain: a rich red from southern Argentina with a mix of bright bramble and blackcurrant fruit, supported by a silky texture, all rounded off by a hint of chocolate. Viñalba’s Malbec is, however, still on offer at just £5.49.
If you splash out and try one of the delicious Trimbach wines, be warned, you’ll want to try others. In which case, it’s worth knowing that Carruthers & Kent have the widest selection locally. I particularly recommend the stunning Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 2005 (£29.99), a fascinating mix of ripe melon gingerbread in a glass.