Pictures: Catherine Faller from Domaine Weinbach in Alsace and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer from the famous Alsatian Restaurant L’Auberge Chez Francois in Falls Chruch, Virginia with Christian G.E.Schiller
Catherine Faller from Domaine Weinbach in Alsace recently teamed up with Chef Jacques E. Haeringer from the famous Alsatian restaurant L’Auberge Chez Francois in the hills outside of Washington DC for an extraordinary evening.
I visited a couple of wine makers in Alsace a few months back. One of my stops was at Domaine Weinbach, where I was received by Catherine and her mother - the Grand Dame of Alsatian wine - Colette Faller. With Catherine’s sister, Laurence, the three of them are known as the Faller Girls and have been running Domaine Weinbach now for several decades, after the death of Theo Faller, Catherine’s father.
Jacques father, Francois Haeringer, the founder of L’Auberge Chez Francois, was born in Obernai, not too far away from Kayersersberg, where the Domaine Weinbach is located. Kaysersberg with its ancient buildings, Germanic half-timbered gingerbread houses and cobblestoned streets, is a magical place surrounded by some of Alsace's finest vineyards.
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 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.
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.
Domaine Weinbach is a former monastery built in 1612 by capucines monks, who made wine already on the Clos. During the French Revolution, the monastery was seized and sold as a national property. In 1898, it was acquired the Faller brothers. The Faller brother left it to their son and nephew Théo. He, a prominent figure in Alsace winegrowing, was devoted to Domaine Weinbach all his life and developed, expanded and enhanced it. Since his death in 1979, his wife Colette Faller and their two daughters Catherine and Laurence have carried on Théo's passion for the great wines of Alsace.
Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Catherine and Colette Faller at Domaine Weinbach in Alsace
Domaine Weinbach now comprises 27 hectares. Schlossberg is probably the most significant site, being the first vineyard in Alsace to have Grand Cru status approved in 1975. Furstentum is a south-southeast facing Grand Cru site, nestled in the Kaysersberg Valley to the northeast of Schlossberg. The vines in Grand Cru Mambourg, like Furstentum, are a recent purchase for the Faller Family. The nearby Altenbourg lieu-dit provides Pinot Gris as well as Gewurztraminer.
The Fallers believe in minimal intervention in the winemaking process. The grapes are harvested by hand and whole-cluster pressed in horizontal pneumatic presses. The wines are fermented under the action of the indigenous yeast and aged in the same old upright oval casks that range in size from 3,000- to 6,000-liter capacity, then usually bottled after about seven months. The wines usually do not undergo malolactic fermentation.
Laurence Faller, the winemaker, is among a growing cadre of French winemakers that have embraced bio-dynamic farming in the vineyards. The 2005 vintage was the first 100 percent bio vintage at Weinbach, but Faller has been moving in that direction since becoming enologist at the family estate in 1993.
After the untimely death of Theo, Colette Faller buried Theo near the house in the vineyards he loved and subsequently called the wine those grapes produced Cuvee Theo. She took over the management of Domaine Weinbach and assumed the duties as winery hostess and titular winemaker.
Much of the credit of course has to go to her daughters Catharine and Laurence Faller. While Laurence is the winemaker, Catharine looks after the marketing and business side of Domaine Weinbach. Over the years, Catharine has becoming more and more the public face of Maison Weilbach, with Laurence preferring to remain amongst her vines and mother Catherine getting older.
The Domaine Weinbach Wine Portfolio
While we tasted half a dozen the Maison Weinbach wines during the dinner, Colette and Catherine Faller had taken me through the whole Domaine Weinbach portfolio, when I had visited them.
The Riesling range starts with the Riesling Cuvée Théo, sourced from the Clos des Capucins, where Theo rests. The Riesling (and the Gewurtztraminer) that grow there bear his name.
Picture: The Domaine Weinbach Wines Catherine Faller Served at the Dinner
The Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg originates from the upper slopes of the Grand Cru Schlossberg vineyard. There are three further special cuvées from the Grand Cru Schlossberg: (1) Riesling Cuvée Ste Catherine, from the lower slopes of Schlossberg; the grapes are picked late (some time around the 25th of November, day of Sainte Catherine) so that they can enjoy the late autumn sun, (2) Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine which comes from old vines on the mid-slope in Schlossberg, and (3) Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine L’Inedit. "L'Inédit means the original one and is from the most beautiful plots. It is only produced when Riesling reaches an exceptional maturity” told us Colette Faller.
The Domaine Weinbachs Riesling wines have a fine and delicate fruitiness; they are racy, nervy, dry but at the same time they are mature and long on the palate. “Riesling holds a special place in our vineyards and in our hearts ” said Colette Faller.
Tokay Pinot Gris
The Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvée Ste Catherine is sourced from old vines in the Clos des Capucins.
The other Pinot Gris cuvées come from lieu-dit Altenbourg. The Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvée Laurence is sourced from vines in the lower part of the Altenbourg vineyard, whereas the Tokay Pinot Gris Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence comes from the main part of the Altenbourg plot.
As the Riesling, the Gewurztraminer Cuvée Théo originates from the Clos des Capucins. The remaining Gewuerztraminer cuvées are predominantly from Altenbourg again. The Gewurztraminer Cuvée Laurence comes from the foot of the lieu-dit, and the Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence comes from the main part of the Altenbourg plot.
In addition, there is also the Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum Cuvée Laurence which comes from Grand Cru Furstentum.
Colette Faller said “with wonderful aromas of rose, gilly-flower, jasmine, spices, crystallized citrus fruit… with velvety bodies, they are sumptuous as an aperitif, with exotic food, smoked salmon or even with cheese, especially with French cheeses such as Munster or Roquefort.”
Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Noir
There is a Sylvaner Réserve from the Clos des Capucins. “The Sylvaner is good with cooked pork meats, oysters, fish. It is also a thirst-quenching wine “ said Colette Faller.
The Pinot Réserve is a blend of fruit from the Clos des Capucins and from vines at the foot of the Altenbourg lieu-dit.
The Muscat Réserve is a blend from the Clos des Capucins and the marly limestone soil at the foot of the Altembourg. “Dry, with an incomparable fruitiness, it really gives the impression of biting a raisin. It can be a wonderful aperitif and goes really well with asparagus and lightly spiced dishes” said Colette Faller.
The Pinot Noir Réserve is sourced from the Clos des Capucins and Schlossberg.
Vendanges Tardives, Sélection de Grains Nobles and Quintessences de Grains Nobles
There are also Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles cuvees. However, many regard the greatest wines to be the Quintessences de Grains Nobles. “They are exceptional wines, remarkable because of their great aromatical complexity, of their rare concentration and their perfect balance” said Colette Faller.
The Quintessences de Grains Nobles are extremely rare nectars, produced in tiny quantities in only a few vintages. The word Quintessence was invented in Domaine Weinbach; it was used the first time to describe a sumptuous cuvée of the 1983 vintage.
L'Auberge Chez François in Great Falls, Virginia
L’Auberge Chez Francois is an extraordinary place in the hills outside of Washington DC. It was founded by François Haeringer in the heart of Washington DC in 1954. Twenty years later, in 1975, the Claridge Hotel, which housed Chez François, was sold to make room for an office building. Instead of retiring at age 57, Francoise Haeringer decided to fulfill his dream of opening an "auberge" - a family inn prevalent in his native Alsatian countryside. L'Auberge Chez François opened in 1976 and became a family business. Eldest son Jacques, by then a chef in his own right, became Chef de Cuisine.
Pictures: Catherine Faller and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer
Today, L'Auberge Chez François is much the same as when François first opened it - family-run, with Jacques’ brother Paul as the restaurant's sommelier and Jacques as Chef de Cuisine.
L'Auberge Chez François is on the top 50 list of "Best Overall" Restaurants in US, as voted by users of the Open Table reservation system. It is such a gem.
Jacques E. Haeringer
Chef Jacques is one of America’s most respected culinary personalities. His menus feature classic Alsatian and French cuisine reinterpreted for American palates. While his father Francois used to say that the chef has to stay in the kitchen, Chef Jacques is very present in the restaurant. He clearly enjoys talking about food and to communicate with his guests. He is great fun to listen to. No wonder that Jacques can be found sharing his cooking secrets on radio and television programs across the country. In addition to his own popular PBS cooking show “Two for Tonight”, Jacques has appeared on other national television programs. Jacques can also be heard the first Friday night of each month serving up “Lewd Food” on the nationally syndicated Food & Wine Radio Network.
Picture: Chef Jacques E. Haeringer
Jacques is also a great writer and his articles have been featured in such journals as Gourmet, Wine & Spirits,and Cosmopolitan.Finally, Jacques is the author of “Two for Tonight,” a collection of recipes that inspire romance through food and togetherness, and the “Chez François Cookbook,” the bible of classic Alsatian cuisine featuring some of the restaurant’s most popular recipes.
What Catherine and Jacques Served
Here is what Catherine Faller and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer served. It was an fascinating combination of outstanding wines and superb food from Alsace.
Hors D’ Oeuvres - Sylvaner 2009:
Smoked Salmon Napoleon - Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2009:
Filet of Sole with Shitake Mushrooms - Pinot Gris Cuvee St. Catherine 2009:
Peppered Medallions of Tuna - Gewuerztraminer Cuvee Theo 2009:
Frozen Strawberry Souffle - Pinot Gris Altenbourg Vendages Tardives 2008;
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5 Rieslings on the Wine Spectator Top 100 List of 2010