Our visit to F.E Trimbach in Ribeauville began with a visit through the winery and its extensive cellars which was conducted by Jean Trimbach, who is the marketing director. I had met Jean before in Dublin at a tasting of Trimbach’s portfolio of wines organised by the Wine Board of Ireland and was looking forward to this and we had also had a vertical tasting of Trimbach’s Clos St Hune a few months before which was really interesting.
Jean started by giving us a bit of background on Alsace, the Trimbach organisation and the Trimbach winemaking style. Apparently, the “Route des Vins” in Alsace is 85miles long and 2 miles wide and Colmar, at its centre, is the second driest town in all of France (the driest being Perpignan in the extreme south) due to the Vosges mountains (which peak at 1400 metres).
There are approximately 15,000 hectares of land under vine in Alsace with 8000 grape growers and about 1000 growers who market their own wine, so approximately 2ha per grower is an average. Jean suggested that Alsace is a superior wine making region to Burgundy as Burgundy only has 32 Grand Crus whereas Alsace has 51. (He could have been joking!)
Trimbach has 40ha, in 7 villages mostly around Ribeauville. Vines are spaced at 6000 per ha with 7000 per ha in Clos St Hune. Their average yield is around 60hL per Ha with Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer at around 50hL per Ha. Riesling is the main grape variety they grow but also some Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Pinot Noir and the other “noble varieties”: Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
The winemaker at Trimbach is Jean’s brother, Pierre, ( the 12th generation winemaker here) and in 2006 Decanter elected him at one of the 10 best winemakers in the world along with the likes of Anne-Claude Leflaive, Dominique Lafon, Egon Muller and jean-Francois Coche. The Trimbach wine-making style differs slightly to other Alsace winemakers as Trimbach ALWAYS vinifies to dryness (except for VT and SGN wines) whereas most other producers keep some form of sweetness in their wines. They also always inhibit the Malolactic fermentation for their white wines and never use oak for white wines either.
Trimbach produces approximately 100,000 cases per annum of which 90% is exported. They do not sell into supermarkets as they feel that this will lower their brand in the marketplace. (Although saying that, I have seen their wines in Superquinn).
Jean then gave us a quick run- down on recent vintages as follows:
1988, 1989 were very good
1990 was exceptional
2000, 2001 and 2002 he only rates as good
2007 was a very good vintage because of the lack of rain at harvest time.
2008 was also very good
2009 was also good and may improve.
Jean then showed us around their cellars and mentioned that they currently have 3 million bottles on the premises, it would take me even a while to get through that lot!
We then had quite a rushed tasting as Jean had another appointment (unfortunately no Clos St Hune) as follows:
(1) Pinot Blanc 2007
(Pinot Auxerrois 70% and Pinot Blanc 30%) This was a youthful, refreshing wine with mouth-cleansing acidity with very light fresh fruit flavours, not a “serious” wine but a well made basic easy drinking style wine.
(2) Riesling 2008
Jean said that 2008 was a really good vintage and this wine showed crisp citrus and green apple aromas. On the palate it had slightly higher than Medium acidity with above average intensity of Green Apple, Grapefruit and a strong mineral character. I thought that this showed well and feel that it had both the acidity and fruit concentration to develop well in bottle for at least 5 or so years.
(3) Riesling “Cuvee Frederic Emile” 2004
This is named after the Frederic Emile Trimbach who in 1898 showed his wines at the International Fair in Brussels and won some of the top prizes. Apparently, Cuvee Frederic Emile appears in more Michelin Star restaurant wine lists than any other wine including all of the 26 Michelin 3-star restaurants in France. Approximately 5000 cases of this are made per annum and the wine is only released 4-5 years after the vintage.
The vines here average approx 40 years old and are planted on the South and South-east slopes of the Grand Crus Geisberg and Osterberg overlooking the Trimbach winery. The clay-limestone soil contains a large proportion of “muschelkalk” and this covers a Vosges sandstone base giving the wine its unique minerality. Grapes are hand-picked with a yield of between 45-50 hl per ha. Fermentation is in stainless steel at around 20 deg C for 3-4 weeks.
The 2004 vintage was very good for Riesling This wine was medium Yellow in colour with aromas of yellowing apple, smoke and slight kerosene or petrol notes. Bone dry with a backbone of zesty acidity and flavours of crisp Apple and Grapefruit with some smoky notes and talcum like minerality. It had a weight in the mouth and well balanced alcohol and fruit. Great aging potential due to fruit and acidity profile.
(4) Pinot Gris “Reserve Personnelle” 2004
This wine is only made in good vintages as they try to make a “rich, weighty, opulent wine … which fills the mouth with succulent fruit” This wine was Pale yellow in colour with a noticeable pinkish rim, indicative of Pinot Gris and thick viscous legs. Developing aromas of Smoke, Citrus and ripe fruits. This definitely had a rounder mouthfeel (and Jean confirmed it at 8g/L he had mentioned earlier that anything lower than 5g/L is considered dry and that Trimbach always ferments to dryness?) Nice crisp acidity with highish alcohol and weighty texture. Good quality with nice spicy finish and fine balance between the acidity and the fruit flavours.
(5) Gewurztraminer 2007 14% abv
Medium Yellow colour with noticeable viscosity on the side of the glass, Pronounced perfume on the nose of Lychees, Rose Water and exotic spices, Dry with Medium acidity and flavours of Turkish delight, Lychees and exotic ripe fruits.
(6) Gewurztraminer “Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre” 2004
Only made in exceptional years these grapes are grown on the ancestral vineyards of the Lords of Ribeaupierre now called Grand Cru Osterberg from 50 year old vines. Yellow coloured with marked viscosity this wine showed intense perfume with aromas of Rose petal and Lychees, Bone dry with ample acidity and flavours typical of a quality Gewurztraminer, (ripe exotic fruits). For me the point to note about this wine was its weighty texture and rounded mouthfeel.
(7) Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2003, 12.6 abv 65g/L residual sugar.
Produced from super ripe grapes and “Passerillage”. This wine was Medium Yellow coloured with thick legs. It had aromas and flavours of Apricot, Peach, Turkish delight and Spice. Full bodied with moderate alcohol and a very long length great spicy finish.
(8) Gewurztraminer “Selection des Grains Nobles” 2001. 100g/L residual sugar.
Fabulously very sweet wine made from a yield of about 20 hl per ha. Medium gold in colour with Honey, beeswax and clear Botrytis notes, Good acidity with high alcohol and flavours of Honeycomb, Marmalade, Candied fruits and Apricot. Full bodied with excellent fruit intensity and a very long length. It will cellar under good conditions for about 20 years due to the intensity of fruit and the good acidity.