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The Trimbach Way

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 17, 2007 2:56pm ET

In today’s world where the emphasis is on instant gratification, the Alsace winery Trimbach is a throwback to another era. While most wineries are releasing wines from the 2005 vintage, Trimbach’s current releases of its top wines are from 2001.

Jean and Pierre Trimbach were in New York last week to host a tasting of their current estate wines (the firm also purchases grapes for their line of varietal wines) as well as a few gems from the cellar. For Pierre, it was his second trip to New York; the first was 20 years ago.

The tasting began with the two estate Rieslings, both from grand cru sites, the Cuvée Frédéric-Émile and Clos Ste.-Hune. They showed the purity, balance and mineral character that makes Riesling so appealing. These wines are bone dry, a style that was losing ground a few years ago in Alsace, as ripeness increased with warmer vintages and later harvesting.

Trimbach has always adhered to this style. It’s worked for the firm for 12 generations and they enjoy the largest market share of Alsace wines in the United States. And yet, the wines can be austere in their youth. That’s why they believe firmly in holding the wines in their cellars for several years before release.

One exception is the Riesling Cuvée Frédéric-Émile 2003, which was released last year. Coming from the scorching 2003 vintage, the brothers felt that the wine was forward and round, therefore ready to enjoy.

The Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminers are richer and contain some residual sugar, but less than comparable wines from many Alsace estates. Overall, the Trimbach style emphasizes elegance.

Among the older vintages poured were the Riesling Cuvée Frédéric-Émile 1990, a wine we rated 96 points on release. It lived up to that rating, showing the smoky, lanolin and preserved fruit flavors that aged Riesling develops. It was still fresh and lively.

A Gewürztraminer Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre 1990 demonstrated that this grape can age if grown and vinified well. The brothers also treated the crowd to a Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Noble 1967. This was very complex, with a bouquet evoking almond cake, coffee, fig and flavors of crème brûlée, marmalade and citrus peel.

All the wines were showing beautifully. Trimbach’s philosophy takes some of the guesswork out of when to drink, since they are released when the brothers feel they are ready. But there’s no rush either, as the mature wines were still fresh.

Jean and Pierre were clearly enjoying themselves. In response to a question from the audience about one of the wines, Jean replied: “Ask Pierre. He makes the wines. I just drink them.”

Sheeps Moen
Ronkonkoma, NY —  January 17, 2007 7:25pm ET
Hi Bruce, That tasting sounded exciting! Being new to the New York City area, I'm excited at the prospect of attending but not familiar with how to get informed about such tastings. Could you discuss a bit more about producer-led tastings of past or famed vintages? Are they typically open to the public, or are they generally geared toward wine professionals? Thank you for the help.Sincerely,Dan
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  January 18, 2007 10:37am ET
Dan,This particular tasting was organized by Trimbach's importer for professionals in the wine trade. Many retailers hold tastings for the public when winemakers are in town. I would get to know your local retailer(s). There is also a Web site localwineevents.com that lists tastings.
Bernard Sun
New York, NY, USA —  January 22, 2007 2:49pm ET
Hi Bruce, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Trimbach's wines. I was fortunately enough to have been at the same tasting. These are wines of great purity of fruit, balance and elegance. It is great to see a domaine that has really withstood the test of time, where they don't succumb to the lure of making a wine in a style that is "popular". The Trimbachs really stay true to themselves and that is a pleasure to see. I hope more folks have the opportunity to try these gems from Alsace.
Ryan Anderson
Olympia, WA —  January 25, 2007 2:17am ET
Hi Bruce,My father-in-law has found a 1949 GH Mumm Cordon Rouge in his basement. I haven't been able to find any information on this Champagne. Do you have any info or leads?Sincerely,Ryan Anderson
Joe Cuomo
New York —  January 25, 2007 8:12pm ET
Bruce Sanderson-While I agree with you that Trimbach Riesling Cuv¿Fr¿ric-¿ile is exceptional, I'm not as confident that, as you put it, "Trimbach¿s philosophy takes some of the guesswork out of when to drink, since they are released when the brothers feel they are ready."I've opened bottles that were clearly too young to drink. Indeed, the last several times I opened a 1999 (twice in 2005, once in 2006), it was so closed as to be undrinkable. And it didn't improve after being decanted for hours, or left in the opened bottle for days. Now it's possible that this is an unusual vintage (or an inferior one), but my guess is that this wine won't be ready to drink for quite some time.You mentioned, though, that "the [Trimbach] brothers felt that the [2003 Cuv¿Fr¿ric-¿ile] was forward and round, therefore ready to enjoy." And based upon this, I'll give it a shot. But I must confess that I have my doubts: just three years in the bottle seems a bit young for this wine. I've opened the 1998 Fr¿ric-¿ile, for instance, when it was about seven years old, and it was breathtaking. But two years ago, the rather knowledgeable merchant who sold me the 1997 said it would be best to hold that particular vintage for several more years. So for now at least, I'm cellaring the 1997, the 1999, and the 2000.All of which is to say, I'd be grateful for more reliable, and more specific, guides in WS as to when a wine--particularly a Riesling--is not simply approachable, but at, or near, its peak. This seems to be even more of an issue with German Rieslings. I've had wonderful Sp¿esen--Gunderloch, Selbach-Oster, St-Urbans-Hof--that were lovely to drink upon release (though the acidity is indeed rather sharp), but the drinking window is quite small; roughly two years after the vintage date, the wines close up abruptly (the 2004 St-Urbans-Hof was already closed last summer), and may not open up again for another half dozen years or more.
Joe Cuomo
New York —  January 25, 2007 9:53pm ET
P.S. Sorry, but it seems WS's blog parameters swallowed up some of the words in my post, such as Cuvee Frederic-Emile (which appears above as Cuv¿Fr¿ric-¿ile) and Spatlesen (which appears above as Sp¿esen) and Trimbach's philosophy (which appears above as Trimbach¿s philosophy).
Joe Cuomo
New York —  January 26, 2007 2:24pm ET
Bruce Sanderson- I'm afraid I mispoke at the tail end of my first post on this thread. What I meant to say was that it was the 2003 St-Urbans-Hof Spatlese (not the 2004) which was already closed last summer (indeed, it began to close in late 2005). One other point, though, with regard to the drinking guides in WS. In the Buying Guide of the Jan. 31-Feb. 28 issue of WS, you rated the 2005 St-Urbans-Hof Spatlese Ockfener Bockstein at 93, and I agree: it's a beautiful wine. But you also say that it is "Best from 2008. . ." I drank the 2005 throughout last summer, and it was brilliant, one of the better young Spatlesen I've had (nearly as good as the young 2001s). The last time I opened a bottle was late last year and it was still drinking exceptionally well, and I expect it will continue to please for at least another summer, before closing down for another six or more years.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 1, 2007 1:44pm ET
Joe,You raise a few good issues. First of all, we give a range of dates for when we believe a wine will be at its peak drinkability. Once it reaches this peak, it should remain on a plateau before gently fading. The better the vintage, the longer it takes to reach a peak but the longer the plateau.That said, wines don't always behave logically. I checked and it looks like I didn't rate the Frederic-Emile 1999, but as a vintage, it was cool and rainy, a more difficult year. The wines are leaner in general, with no shortage of acidity. The 2003 on the other hand, is low in acidity and therefore more forward. It remains to see how these wines will age.Germany is another story. German Riesling is delicious young, then changes over a period of time. Mature German Riesling is a different animal. It's good to experiment to see when you like to drink them.
Joe Cuomo
New York —  February 3, 2007 11:51am ET
Bruce- Thanks for getting back to me. I think you may be right about the 1999 Frederic-Emile; it may indeed be a difficult vintage, with high acidity. I was wondering when you thought it might be ready to drink. As for the 2003, I did pick up a bottle, simply because you suggested (via the Trimbach brothers) that it was now ready to enjoy. So I'm happy to give it a shot. As for German Riesling, though--and particularly the 2005 St-Urbans-Hof Spatlese Okfener Bockstein--I think this may be where we disagree. I've already gone through over a case of this wine, and, as a young spatlese, it is truly amazing. Judging by the 2001, 2002, and 2003 St-Urbans-Hof Spatlese Okfener Bockstein, the 2005 seems to have the same drinking window: each of those earlier vintages was a delicious young spatlese upon release until about two years after the vintage date. I've been drinking the 2005 since last summer, and I expect to drink it throughout this coming summer, after which it will probably close up tight for some time to come. But as I think I suggested in an earlier post, I'm afraid your recommendation of when to drink it--"Best from 2008. . "--will lead readers to open this wonderful wine just after it has closed down (in late 2007). But there is one thing upon which we do seem to agree: "Mature German Riesling is a different animal." And I'm cellaring some 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005 St-Urbans-Hof (along with some 2001 Gunderloch, Selbach-Oster, Joh. Jos. Prum, and J. & H. A. Strub) for that precise reason. I'm guessing it'll be eight years from the vintage date until these spatlesen (along with some Prum auslesen) begin to open up again. Is that your sense of it as well, Bruce? Anyway, thanks again. -Joe
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 4, 2007 10:36am ET
Joe,There's nothing like the taste of young German Riesling kabinett, spatlese or even auslese, during the first few years of its life. I find they begin to lose that fresh, primary fruit character, but never really shut down, say like a red Burgundy. I like to enjoy a few bottles young, then save a few for 5-10 years, depending on the quality level.The 2001s seemed to shut down more than the other vintages. I suspect the '03s and '05s will shut down less, due to their lower acidities.The '05s are so rich, that the structure is often covered with baby fat right now. That's why I suggest giving them 6 months to a year to become better integrated and more complex.
Joe Cuomo
New York —  February 5, 2007 1:38pm ET
Bruce- Yes, I think we agree that a young kabinett, spatlese, or even auslese can be delicious in, as you put it, the first few years of its life. But I've found that a kabinett is more likely to continue to be enjoyable three or four years after the vintage date, while a spatlese is more likely to be enjoyable only until about two years after the vintage date. As you suggest, this was certainly true of many 2001s. (There also seem to be some spatlesen and auslesen that are simply unapproachable when young, such as the 2001 Joh. Jos. Prum, and I've found the same to be true of the odd kabinett, for instance, the 2001 Muller-Catoir.) We also seem to agree that it's often a good idea to cellar some of these wines for a while (my guess is that it would be about eight years after the vintage date before they are enjoyable again, and you suggest five to ten years). As for the 2003s shutting down less, though, I can tell you that the 2003 St-Urbans-Hof Okfener Bockstein Spatlese did indeed shut down in late 2005. But you make an interesting point about the 2005s, that they are "so rich, that the structure is often covered with baby fat right now." I would have to agree that the 2005 St-Urbans-Hof Okfener Bockstein Spatlese is indeed a rich wine. I had it yesterday, and found its richness (along with its fruit, its minerality, its length) to be one of its more appealing characteristics, though, yes, the structure is a bit reticent just now. Still, it was delicious. And, strangely, it was also much more approachable than, say, the 2005 Okfener Bockstein Kabinett I had opened the day before. Thanks again, Bruce. -Joe
Joe Cuomo
New York —  February 5, 2007 1:42pm ET
One suggestion, Bruce: I think that in the wake of the spectacular (and much publicized) 2001 vintage, quite a number of merchants took a chance and began stocking German Riesling in a way they hadn't before. Unfortunately, many consumers (and many merchants themselves) had no idea that a spatlese or auslese often has a very short drinking window when young, then closes up for a number of years (before reaching its peak). The result seems to have been many unsatisfied customers (who drank their spatlesen or auslesen after the wines had already shut down), and many befuddled merchants who then got stuck with a rather large inventory they couldn't sell. I know of at least two stores, for instance, that had wonderfully wide selections of 2001 spatlesen and auslesen. Several years later, one now stocks a tiny fraction of the German Rieslings it once stocked (most of which are unsold 2001s and 2002s), the other (after being stuck with a huge unsold inventory) is now out of business. Which is to say, I think it would be a great service, both to consumers and merchants, if WS were to run an extended piece elaborating on the points you and I have made on this thread, Bruce: when to drink--and when not to drink--a German Riesling, depending upon vintage and producer. Thanks again. -Joe
David Cable
Santa Barbara —  February 10, 2011 9:15pm ET
Hi Bruce,
It was nice to read about your visit by the Trimbach brothers. I had the great opportunity to visit with both of them at their winery a few years ago and to taste their outstanding wines. We recently held a private event here at our store with Anne Trimbach, who was in southern Calif for a couple of days. She was able to host a private tasting with several of the Trimbach wines including the 08 Riesling Reserve that you folks placed in your Top 100 last year. As a special treat, from my cellar, I opened 2000 Riesling Vendanges Tardives, Cuvee Frederic Emile. Alsacian dishes served were: onion tart, crepes with duck confit, choucroute, and coq au Riesling. It was a very special evening for all.

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