Monday, February 14, 2011
With Jean Trimbach from Domaine Trimbach, Alsace, at Bart M. Vandaele’s Belga Café in Washington DC
Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jean Trimbach at Bart M. Vandaele’s Belga Café in Washington DC
It is only a few months ago that I visited Domaine Trimbach in Ribeauville in Alsace. Jean Trimbach, who co-owns Domaine Trimbach with his brother Pierre, showed us around. I had met Jean Trimbach for the first time earlier in the year at a winemaker dinner in Washington DC. I was very thrilled when I heard from Anne Trimbach, Pierre’s daughter, via Facebook that Jean was coming back to Washington DC and hosting a winemaker dinner at Belga Café. A wine tasting with Jean is always great fun and the cooking at Bart M. Vandaele’s Belga Café is one of the best in town.
Trimbach in Alsace
Alsace is one of the several world class French wine regions, which produces many excellent still and sparkling, red and white wines, but above all it is highly appreciated for its unoaked, dry and crisp white wines. They tend to be different from those in the other parts of France: Higher in acidity, sometimes really sour, but always a pleasant experience to have them in the glass. And they go very well with the Alsatian food, which is also unique in France. The famous choucroute you find only there in France. But of course, you find it also in neighboring Germany, for example in Frankfurt am Main. Compared with Germany, which also is famous for its world class dry wines, Alsace wines tend to be drier, more full-bodied and higher in alcohol. Finally, sweeter white wines and red wines play only a minor role in Alsace, but they have a very good sparkling wine, the Cremant d’Alsace.
Alsace sits in the northeast corner of France, sheltered by the Vosges mountains to the west and hard against the German border to the east. The vineyards reach from around Wissembourg in the north to Mulhouse, 70 miles south. Some 12 million cases are produced annually from 32,000 acres of vineyards.
Alsace is a fascinating amalgam of the German and French. The end of the 30 Years’ War in 1648 gave Alsace to France. In 1871, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace was taken by Germany. After World War I, it was once more part of France — until 1940, when Germany reclaimed it. With the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, Alsace became French yet again — and so it has remained. Wine production in Alsace traces its beginnings to the early centuries of the Roman Empire, when the Romans conquered Alsace and introduced wine.
Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jean Trimbach in Ribeauville at Domaine Trimbach
One of the most intriguing characteristics of Alsace wines is that they are bottled under their varietal names, unlike virtually all other French wines. Four grape varieties are considered to be the best:(i) Riesling – like in Germany, the most celebrated grape; (ii) Muscat – often used to produce sweet wines in France, the Alsace version is bone-dry; (iii) Pinot Gris and (iv) Gewurztraminer – Alsace's signature grape. Three other white grape varieties are also grown: (i) Sylvaner – A high-yielding grape, producing a refreshing wine, often used for blends, (ii) Pinot Blanc and (iii) Chardonnay – used only for sparkling wine. In addition, Alsace does have a little red wine made from the Burgundy grape, Pinot Noir. The Alsatian red wines tend to be quite lightweight, but can be delicious and interesting.
Alsace produces wines under three different appellations: (i) Appellation d'Origine Contrôlées (AOCs) for ¾ of the white, rosé and red wines, (ii) Alsace Grand Cru AOC for white wines from certain classified vineyards and (iii) Crémant d'Alsace AOC for sparkling wines. Alsace makes noble-sweet wines, but does not have the same reputation as Germany or Austria for its noble-sweet wines. I like the Edelzwicker from Alsace, which is blend and an easy to drink day to day wine.
Since the creation of the Grand Cru AOC in Alsace, a number of winemakers have however shunned the system. Maison Trimbach is one of the most notable names to do so. The issue Maison Trimbach has with the Grand Cru AOC is that in their view the Grand Cru vineyards in a number of cases have too extensive boundaries.
“All French 3 star Michelin Restaurants offer Trimbach wines” says Jean Trimbach. This is really impressive and clearly shows what the name Trimbach stands for today: Wines of the highest quality.
Maison Trimbach’s wine-making history goes back to 1626, when Jean Trimbach was recognized as a citizen of Riquewihr in Alsace. From then on, the Maison Trimbach became renowned for its wines. However, it was not until the turn to the 20th century, when, under the leadership of Frédéric-Emile Trimbach, business really took off. Since then, Maison Trimbach has remained a family run business, based in Ribeauville, just a few miles north of Riquewihr, were it all began almost 400 years ago.
Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jean Trimbach in Ribeauville at Domaine Trimbach
Jean and Pierre Trimbach, the 12th generation, are now in charge, with Pierre looking after the wine-making side and Jean after the selling and marketing side of it. The next generation is already involved. Anne, Pierre’s daughter, is with Jean in the marketing branch; inter alia, she is in charge of the facebook and twitter activities.
Maison Trimbach is very export-oriented with more than 85 percent of the production being exported. It is both a domaine and negociant, thus it produces wine sourced from own vineyards (40 hectares) and from lease contracts (60 hectares).
Maison Trimbach's vineyards are all situated around Ribeauvillé, where the soils are mainly limestone. The best sites include the Grands Crus Rosacker, Osterberg and Geisberg, but as indicated above, Maison Trimbach is one of the winemakers in Alsace that are staying away from the Grand Cru AOC system, while Maison Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune, a Grand Cru, is arguably the finest wine of Alsace. In terms of grape varieties, the emphasis is on Riesling, but Maison Trimbach also grows all other classic Alsatian grape varieties, such as Gewuerztraminer.
Jean explains Trimbach’s wine making philosophy: “In the vineyard, the vines are cared for with a restricted approach to the use of chemicals, including insecticides and fertilizers. We ferment at 20 to 21 degrees Celsius in stainless steel tanks and large, wooden barrels. It does not really matter, if a wine is fermented in a tank or a barrel. It is more a question of fitting our needs with what is available. The barrels are smaller than the tanks and therefore the wines we produce in smaller quantities tend to end up in the wooden barrels. We never use new oak. We never do malolactic fermentation. As a rule, we bottle very early to preserve the freshness and the fruitiness. This is what Alsace is all about. The wine then matures in the bottle. The same principle as vintage port. We release wine often only 5 years later. Sometimes we wait up to 10 years.”
The Trimbachs let their wines age in the bottles in the cellar during several years before they release them on the market, especially the grand cru wines, such as the Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile. Wines are tasted frequently and released when deemed appropriate. In fact, the Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2002 was released after the 2003 because the younger wine was felt to be ready sooner. "When it comes to great wines, there is no rush, our father said and we keep it that way" says Jean Trimbach.
The Maison Trimbach Wine Portfolio
When I visited Domaine Trimbach, Jean took us through the whole Maison Trimbach wine portfolio. The Trimbach wines come in 4 quality groups: (i) the Classic range, (ii) the Reserve range, (iii) the Reserve Personelle range and (iv) the Prestige and Collection wines.
Trimbach Classic: This is the Trimbach entry level range. These wines represent the traditional, dry, crisp Alsace white wine style and come as Trimbach Pinot Blanc, Silvaner, Gewuerztraminer and Riesling.
Trimbach Reserve: The Reserve wines are made from sections with mostly old vines. These are more complex wines than the Classic wines and can age longer. The Reserve wines come as Muscat, Riesling, Gewuerztraminer, and Pinot Gris. Maison Trimbach is not particularly known for red wines, but they do produce a Pinot Noir Reserve as well as a Pinot Noir Reserve Personelle.
Trimbach Reserve Personelle: The wines of the Reserve Personelle range are from the best terroirs of the estate and not produced every year. These wines will keep for years. There are 3 Reserve Personelle wines: (1) the Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile, (2) the Gewurztraminer Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre and (3) the Pinot Gris Reserve Personnelle. They are clearly recognizable because of their golden labels. The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is probably the best known Trimbach wine. It is one of the finest wines of Alsace, if not one of the world's greatest white wines.
Trimbach Prestige and Collection Wines: This group comprises (1) the Riesling "Clos Sainte Hune", (2) the Vendanges Tardives wines and (3) the Sélection de Grains Nobles wines, made from Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewuerztraminer. The Clos Sainte Hune is an exceptional terroir, exclusively planted with Riesling, located in the heart of the Grand Cru Rosacker, in Hunawihr. This Clos totals 1.67 hectares and has been in the propriety of the Trimbach family for more than 200 years.
Bart M. Vandaele and his Belga Café in Washington DC
With his European flare, Belgium native Bart M.Vandaele has taken Washington DC by storm since opening his Belga Café in the historical Barracks Row area near the Capitol a few years ago. With its exposed brick walls in a long room, modern art and a semi-open kitchen, Belga Café offers mainly Belgian cuisine, but also what Bart refers to as European fusion cuisine.
My Belgian friends, who joined us for the winetasting and who have eaten there many times, like Belga Café most when the chef stays close to his roots. They were talking about dishes such as Vlaamse Reus (leg of rabbit with Rodenbach beer) or ‘Belga’ Heilbot (halibut poached in Kasteel Brown beer). But Belga Café also offers more basic Belgian dishes such as moules frites, which come inmore than a dozen different versions. Others at the dinner table mentioned the impressive beer list of over 100 different beers. And I saw an impressive wine list, mostly Old World wines, with an extensive selection of Domaine Trimbach wines.
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Bart M. Vandaele at Belga Café in Washington DC
Raised in the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium, Bart developed a passion for the kitchen at a very young age. Surrounded by family members active in the industry, he began his training early in life. In addition to years of formal training, Bart gained much of his knowledge, drive and creativity through his experiences in some of Europe’s top fine dining locales, such as Piet Huysentruyt and Restaurant Scholteshof, which received the second Michelin star while Bart served as Sous Chef under respected Chef Roger Souvereyns. Bart M. Vandaele was recognized as a Rising Star of 2006 by starchefs.com.
What We Ate and What We Drank
Belga Café – with the sympathetic Executive Chef/Owner Bart M. Vandaele - has become a neighborhood gem in the historical Barracks Row area of DC and a magnet for DC's foodies. No wonder that Jean Trimbach decided to have a winemaker dinner there.
Bart M. Vandale gave as a tour of his European fusion cooking, which went very well with the wines selected by Jean. We had 7 courses, 5 Trimbach wines and a Cremant de Bourgogne.
Roasted chicken & green celery soup
Crémant de Bourgogne, Jean-Michel Guillon
Terrine de jambon persilée with grain mustard and croutons grillé
After a few bites
Pinot Blanc 2007: A Pinot Blanc from the classic range. Attractive pale yellow color in the glass, white flower and apricot notes on the nose, medium-bodied with a creamy palate and bright acidity, orange peel and grapefruit notes with slight hints of sweetness.
"2007 was the first of three great vintages - 2007, 2008, 2009 - in Alsace. This is an easy going wine, not as intellectual as a Riesling. You can drink the 2007 Pinot Blanc now or wait a bit" said Jean.
Poached Maine lobster, baby calamari, red beets, Belgian endives, radish, tarragon-soy dressing
Riesling 2008: Another wine from the classic range. Very fruity and savory with racy acidity, nicely balanced, slightly mineral finish.
"One of the best classic Riesling we have produced in the past years" said Jean.
Smoked and poached foie gras with tutti frutti and foie crème brulée aux agrume
Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle 2001: A wine from the reserve personelle range. Light yellow in the glass, attack of pineapple and tropical fruit on the nose, good structure and a voluptuous body, crisp acidity.
"Alsace is were foie gras comes from. And what we drink with fois gras is Pinot Gris. This 2001 Pinot Gris from the reserve personelle range is spot. Delicious. Rich. Full of energy" said Jean.
Grass fed veal with choucroute tarte, bacon Brussels sprouts, truffle sauce, cream of topinambour
Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile 2002: The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is probably the best known Trimbach wine. It is always made from Grand Cru fruit from the Geisberg and Osterberg vineyards although, as mentioned above, the label neither declares the vineyard of origin, nor its grand cru status. An Alsatian Riesling at its best, with a fresh, crisp and fruity character, a rich and fat wine with lots of minerality.
"The Frederic Emile is made from very old vines, the oldest were planted 70 years ago, on average a good fifty, these vines have very deep roots, this means: minerality" said Jean.
Soft rind cheese from France with apples and figs in red wine
Gewurztraminer Selection de Grains Nobles 2001: A top of the line wine made from botrytised grapes. Attack of flavors of exotic spices, lychee, passion fruit and papaya on the nose, amazing aromas from rose, ginger and geranium on the palate, luscious sweetness, well balanced with good acidity.
During his stay in Washington DC, Jean also visited Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages, one of Washington DC's leading retailer and importer of fine wines and spirits. MacArthur Beverages sent around the special offer below. The first price is the regular price, the second the Jean Trimbach visit discount price, in US $. The current exchange rate is Euro 1 = US$ 1.36.
Panos Kakaviatos, a wine connoisseur, who writes for, inter alia, the Decanter was there and uploaded the following video, in which Jean takes the crowd through the Trimbach portfolio. A very nice video.
2007 Gewurztraminer 22.99 16.99
2001 Gewurztraminer Ribeaupierre 44.99 29.99
2007 Pinot Blanc 16.99 12.99
2001 Pinot Gris Personnelle 39.99 29.99
2005 Pinot Gris Reserve 22.99 16.99
2008 Riesling 22.99 16.99
2003 Riesling Clos Ste. Hune 155.00 99.99
2002 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile 65.99 49.99
2001 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile (1.5L) 129.00 99.99
2001 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile (375ml) 33.99 24.99
2001 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile Vendange Tardive 109.00 79.99
2006 Riesling Reserve 26.99 19.99
514 8th Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
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