Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jean Trimbach and the Wines of Maison Trimbach in Washington DC

Picture: Jean Trimbach and Christian G.E.Schiller

Jean Trimbach from the famous Maison Trimbach in Alsace, France, was in Washington DC on one of his regular US tours. My wife and I had the pleasure to attend a dinner at the Sofitel that he hosted.


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: 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.

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.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Oscar in the vineyards between Ribeauville and Riquewihr

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.

Maison Trimbach

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 Masion 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.

Jean and Pierre Trimbach, the 12th generation, are now in charge, with Pierre looking after the winemaking side and Jean after the selling and marketing side of it. Jean comes 4 times a year to the US to show the wines at dinners and tastings.

Maison Trimbach owns vineyards scattered across three villages, with an emphasis on planting Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The vines have about 40 years of age on average, and are cared for along lines that resemble lutte raisonnée, with a reasoned and restricted approach to the use of chemicals including insecticides and fertilisers. Maison Trimbach is very export-oriented with up to 80 perecent of the production being exported. It is both a domaine and negociant, thus it produces wine sources from own vineyards and from lease contracts.

Maison Hugel & Fils is the other wine producer in Alscace that comes to mind when you talk about large premium producers of Alsatian wine. Based in near-by Riquewihr, it resemble very much Maison Trimbach: Maison Hugel & Fils also has a long tradition of about 400 years, is a highly export-oriented winery, is both a domaine and negociant. We drank the wines of Hugel et Fils recently at the Restaurant des Emotions of Jean Luc Brendel in Riquewihr. See here.

Jean Trimbach

Jean is a lively, amiable character who provides both entertainment and instruction when it comes to his and his brother’s wines. It was a pleasure to dine with Jean Trimbach.

The Menu that Jean Trimbach and Chef Perret of the Sofitel had paired for us

Picture: Chef Perret and Annette Schiller

1st course: Chesapeake Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with frisèe and lady gala apple salad, mushroom essence

Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2005

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.

This is a Pinot Gris, one of the noblest of Alsace grapes, from the reserve range, i.e. a wine made with riper than the classic range grapes.

Tasting notes: light yellow in the glass, attack of pineapple and tropical fruit on the nose - a very impressive nose, a voluptuous body, a fruity wine with some noticeable residual sugar on the palate, balanced by the crisp acidity that gives structure and longevity, a superb Alsatian Pinot Gris.

2nd course: Pan seared Branzino with Swiss chard, curry and salsify roots, Little Neck clams or Duck Confit Risotto with spring asparagus, roasted hazelnuts, shaved parmesan

Trimbach Riesling cuvee Frederick Emile 2002

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.

Interestingly, the label neither declares the vineyard of origin, nor its grand cru status. Since the creation of the grand cru appellations in Alsace a number of viticulteurs have shunned the system, and Trimbach is one of the most notable names to do so. The Riesling Cuvee Frederic-Emile is always made from Grand Cru fruit from the Geisberg and Osterberg vineyards.

Tasting notes: an Alsatian Riesling at its best, with a fresh, crisp and fruity character, a harmonious wine, which is very rich and fat, but has no residual sugar and has a wonderful mineral structure. This wine benefits from extended cellaring. The classic Riesling cuvee Frederick Emile 2002 was an ideal marriage with the fish, while the combination with the duck was sub-optimal.

3d course: Cheese Plate, imported and local seasonal cheeses

Trimbach Gewürztraminer 2006

A wine from a classic Alsatian grape – Gewuerztraminer – in the classic Trimbach range, a day to day wine.

Tasting notes: attack of flavors of exotic spices, lychee, passion fruit and papaya on the nose, amazing aromas from rose, ginger and geranium on the palate, coupled with some residual sugar, a well-balanced and very aromatic wine.

4th course: Red Wine Poached Pear with green apple sorbet

Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2006

Tasting notes: attractive pale yellow color with bright young green hints in the glass, white flower and apricot notes on the nose, medium-bodied with a creamy palate, classic structure and bright acidity, elegant and easy to understand with a substantial finish.

Maison Trimbacg, Ribeauville, France

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  1. Château Brane-CantenacMay 17, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    "Jean you look great!!!!!!!!!! it's been so long... come and visit us in Bordeaux soon. coco"

  2. Dear Christian,

    Many thanks for your mail and your nice words.
    I was very happy to meet you and sincerely hope to see you soon in Ribeauvillé.

    Many thanks for posting our wines on your blog, very nice comments, merci !

    Please share with your wife my warmest regards.