Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Visiting Jean Trimbach at Maison Trimbach in Ribeauville in Alsace

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Jean Trimbach at Maison Trimbach in Ribeauville in Alsace

I had met Jean Trimbach at the Sofitel Restaurant in Washington DC at a winemakers dinner last year and was very happy to see him again at Maison Trimbach in Ribeauville in Alsace. I was also happy to meet Anne Trimbach, the daughter of Jean’s brother Pierre, for the first time.

After Maison Trimbach, my next appointment was with Maison Leon Beyer in Eguisheim. Interestingly, Jean Trimbach reported that a few weeks ago former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing was on a wine tasting tour in Alsace; he had two wineries on his list: Maison Trimbach and Maison Leon Beyer! Good Choice.


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.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jean Trimbach at Maison Trimbach

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.

Picture: Trimbach Riesling Alsace Reserve 2008, #62 in the 2010 Wine Spectator Top 100

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.

Maison Trimbach

“All French 3 star Michelin Restaurants carry Trimbach wine” says Jean Trimbach. This is really impressive and clearly shows what the name Maison 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.

Picture: Anne 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.

Winemaking Philosophy

Maison Trimbach's vineyards are all situated around Ribeauvillé, where the soils are mainly limestone (Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, Bergheim, Rorschwihr, Riquewihr and Mittelwihr). 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.

Picture: Jean Trimbach and Annette Schiller in the Cellar of Trimbach

In terms of grape varieties, the emphasis is on Riesling, but Maison Trimbach also grows all other classic Alsatian grape varieties, such as Gewuerztraminer “My family is totally committed to Riesling, Riesling is really the king of Alsace for many reasons, in fact, Riesling is the king of the white grapes in the world” says Anne Trimbach. “From 1626 until today, Riesling has been made in the same traditional, pure, clean, dry style” Anne continues.

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.”

Picture: Jean Trimbach in front of the Gewuerztraminer Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre 2005, which was bottled in 04-2006 and will be released in 2011

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.

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).

The 2010 Vintage

Jean Trimbach was very upbeat about the 2010 vintage: “2010 is a very good vintage, except for the volume. Volume is down by 30%. But volume does not really matter, provided you are not down every year. 2007, 2008 and 2009 were good years in terms of volume and exceptional years in terms of quality.” He continued: “In 2010, the sugar in the grapes and the acidity were rather high. These will be fresh wines with a good ripeness.”

The Maison Trimbach Wine Portfolio

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.

I tasted the Riesling 2008 Classic: very fruity and savory with racy acidity, nicely balanced, slightly mineral finish.

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.

I had the Riesling 2008 Reserve: the Reserve, from old vines grown on limestone, was pure, crisp and intense with a fabulous fruitiness and limestone minerality.

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 Personell 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. Cuvée Frédéric Emile bears the name of the most significant person in the 400 year’s history of Maison Trimbach.

The 2005 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile was a bone dry and mineral Riesling, white flowers and steely citrus peel on the nose, pink grapefruit and pineapple on the palate, with an exceptional creamy mouth feel, the finish is rich, earthy and long, coming from the grands crus Geisberg and Osterberg, both clay-limestone soils, the 2005 Riesling Cuvee Frédéric Emile has a great ageing potential.

Maison Trimbach also produce excellent Gewurztraminer, with the highest expression of the variety being the Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre.

The Gewuerztraminer 2004 Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre is a classic Ribeaupierre, which shows pure fruitiness and freshness, classic lychee aromas and white flowers, followed by grapefruit and Asian spices, the finish is long.

Trimbach Prestige and Collection Wines

This group comprises the Riesling "Clos Sainte Hune", the Vendanges Tardives wines and 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.

I had the honor of tasting the Clos Sainte Hune 2005: The calcary soil allows the Clos Sainte Hune Riesling to develop a wonderful concentration of fruits, the 2005 has a steely, long finish, it has the potential to become one of the legendary Clos Sainte Hune vintages. The 2005 has not yet been released; there are 7000 bottles only.

Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) wines have white labels. They are restricted to four grape varieties, Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Vendanges tardives grapes tend to be over-ripe and often affected by noble rot (botrytis cinerea). They are always very sweet and rich, balanced by a fruity acidity. Available now: Riesling 2002 Vendanges Tardives, Pinot Gris 2000, 1999 et 1997 Vendanges Tardives, Gewurztraminer 2003 Vendanges Tardives, Gewurztraminer Vendages Tardives 2001 et 1999.

Selection de Grains Nobles wines are even sweeter and richer than vendange tardive wines. They are harvested very late and the botrytised grapes are literally being picked one by one. They go very well with Foie Gras or very rich meals and desserts. These rare nectars have an enormous aging potential. Available now: Riesling 2001 Sélection de Grains Nobles, Pinot Gris 2000 et 1994 Sélection de Grains Nobles, Gewurztraminer 2001 et 1989 Sélection de Grains Nobles.

schiller-Wine: Related Postings

The World Class Wines of Alsace

1. International Riesling Symposium, Rheingau, Germany

In the glass: Hugel et Fils wines at the cuisine des emotions de Jean Luc Brendel at Riquewihr in Alsace

In the world class white wine region Alsace

German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

Jean Trimbach and the Wines of Maison Trimbach in Washington DC

1st International Riesling Symposium, Rheingau, Germany

Aging Potential of Riesling – A Wine Tasting at the 1st International Riesling Symposium in Germany Led by Jancis Robinson

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