Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Tastings and Notes on wines I have tasted

Gris, Grey, Gray: A Bright Spot in Chablis

November in Burgundy is grey.  The dense clouds are low, the temperature hovers slightly above freezing, and the humidity induces a kind of closed-in shiver that is not quite bone-rattling but creates a sensation of being fogged in and hunkered down.  The weather and atmosphere permeates. October often presents an Indian Summer of warmth and sun, with the excitement of harvest and bubbly fermentations, but come Toussaints, the skies and fog descend and enclose, the temperature plummets, mists rise off the soil, and doors are shut as a more interior life begins.  Soon the winter pruning will start, and the cold morning mist will mingle with the smoke of the burning sarments vine cuttings, producing a wonderfully memorable haze and distinctive smell that permeates the region with a quiet melancholy.

This is one of my favorite times to visit in Burgundy.  Growers have time to chat between their fall tastings and salons, the new wine is developing in barrel or tank, the previous vintage is bottled or near complete in its elevage, and people begin the serious business of evaluating the quality of the new vintage that has recently arrived in their cellars.  As a buyer or journalist one has the unique opportunity to taste and evaluate the previous year’s offerings that by now are (mostly) finished wines, as well as to weigh the new vintage to get first impressions of taste, depth, structure, and promise.

We arrived at the home of Louis and Anne Moreau in the early afternoon after landing at Charles de Gaulle, and while Anne was traveling, Louis welcomed us into the family compound in centre ville Chablis.  We were soon on our way to Beine, home to the cellars of Louis Moreau’s two estates, Domaine de Bieville and Domaine Louis Moreau.  Six generations of Moreaus have farmed the hills around Chablis since the Restoration in 1814, first settling as coopers, then beginning their acquisitions of vineyards with the purchase of the Clos des Hospices in the then soon-to-be classified Grand Cru Les Clos. Through the latter part of the 20th Century Jean-Jacques Moreau and his brother Guy expanded their holdings, and created the negociant business of J. Moreau. The family reorganized its estate and ownership in 1994, selling the negociant business to Boisset, and at the same time forming the Domaine Christian Moreau for Guy’s son, and then buying further vineyards and creating the estates of Domaine de Bieville and Domaine Louis Moreau for Jean-Jacques’ son (and Christian’s younger cousin) Louis.

Louis Moreau had just returned from 8 years in California, studying oenology and viticulture at Fresno State University, followed by work with Clos du Bois and the new vineyards and winery of Roederer Estate in Mendocino.  He took over the family vineyards, and today works 120 hectares producing the appellations Bourgogne Blanc, Petit Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru.  He and his cousin Christian share the monopole of the Clos des Hospices, just under one half a hectare (40.9 ares) of old vines Chardonnay that routinely ranks among the finest of Chablis bottlings.

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Louis Moreau, Bertrand Leulliette, and the author, Jerome Hasenpflug in the Louis Moreau Tasting Room in the village of Beine, Chablis

Louis’ holdings are dominated by Petit Chablis and Chablis, complemented by over 20 hectares of Premiers Crus Vaulignot, Fourneaux, and Vaillons, and slightly more than 5 hectares of the Grands Crus Les Clos, Valmur, Vaudesir, and Blanchot.   The vineyards are farmed organically, having begun sustainable agriculture (lutte raisonée) in the late 1990s. The Louis Moreau vignobles are centered around the village of Beine near the new winery cellars, entrepot, and boutique, with significant portions across the river in Fleys near the Grands Crus, and in the 1ers Crus hillsides surrounding Chablis itself.

As most of the vineyards now approach 50 years of age, vinification is increasingly in small parcels, allowing for each village terroir to show its own character, while giving flexibility for the final assemblage of the Petit Chablis and Chablis.  All the wines are vinified in stainless steel, except for the Grands Crus, most of which are fermented and aged in older oak barrels of 228 and 500 liters.  What is exceptional, and to my experience quite unique, is the aging regimen after the fermentations are complete.  The Petit Chablis and Chablis are assembled and aged sur lie for a full year, while the Premiers Crus are aged on their fine lees for 18 months, and the Grands Crus rest in their old barrels for two years on the lees. This extended lees contact gives an added richness to the wines, while protecting them from oxidation and making them quite drinkable upon their late release.  In spite of this extended lees aging, the wines see a minimal dose of sulfur, preserving a freshness and taut nervosité that adds to the fruit-mineral balance characteristic of classic Chablis.

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Small parcel fermentation tanks at Domaine Louis Moreau
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Some of the 500 liter oak barrels for the Grands Crus

I tasted the following wines on the afternoon of Wednesday, 16 November and morning of Thursday, 17 November:

2016 Petit Chablis (predominantly Beine vineyards). Just finished alcoholic fermentation, malolactic not yet begun. Leesy cloudy.  Lemon-lime citrus with background of nectarine.  Rich entry with quite a bit of depth and fat.  Crisp, stony finish adds cut and length to the showy fruit.

2016 Chablis (55 year old vines from Fleys and 20+ year old vines from Beine). Alcoholic fermentation nearly complete.  More linear, focused mineral nose with tension. Lively rich entry, almost peachy fruit.  Complex finish with fruit-skin tones to add to the wet stones minerality.  Long, complex, and spicy.

2016 1er Cru Vaulignot (40 year old vines). Still a bit of sugar to ferment, leesy notes. Sweet ripe apple and pear fruits, with a background of chalk and stone.  Finishes long with increasing precision, a laser-like focus of minerality to complement the fruit depth.

2016 1er Cru Vaillons (mostly 70 year old vines planted just after WW2).  Alcoholic fermentation about 2/3 finished.  Almost like freshly-pressed grape juice with hints of grapeskin and seed tannins.  Predominantly ripe pear and apple flavors showing superb ripeness, but impeccably balanced by argilo-calcaire minerality.  Suave and elegant.

2016 Grand Cru Vaudesir (barrel fermented, from 4 year old 228 liter barrel).  Nose a bit subdued, slightly reticent.  Showing more powerful mineral structure than fruit. Dense and “unrepentant”, not much expression but an impression of weight and depth carried across its stony structure.

2016 Grand Cru Les Clos (middle slope, a parcel named “Felix”).  Stony nose with a hint of saltiness.  Rich and dense entry of apple and pear, soft and silky in the mid-palate. Finishes finely tuned, with a reassertive minerality to lend precision and structure to its balance.

The wines below were recently bottled:

2015 Domaine de Bieville Chablis.  Light green-straw. Lovely ripe pear with a background of wet stones.  Full ripe pear entry gives way to crisp freshness and mineral structure.  Quaffably delicious.

2015 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis (predominantly Fleys with about 25% Beine vineyards). Straw gold. More mineral green apple notes, with a hint of the saline. Full rich entry with much more complexity, apply with a lemon-lime acidity in the background. Good long finish, with salty minerality providing structure and depth.

2014 Domaine Louis Moreau 1er Cru Vaulignot.  Light gold.  Nose of wet stone minerality and green apple. Finely tuned crystaline intensity to its nectarine fruits and passion fruit acidity. Crisp and lean, nervous tension to finish.

2014 Domaine Louis Moreau 1er Cru Vaillons. Straw gold with green facets. Ripe, full, and richer in the mouth, and a background of chalky wet stones.  Persistent bright fruits of apple and nectarine with ample acidity gives an intense finely tuned expression of focused minerality and structure. Great length.

2013 Domaine Louis Moreau Grand Cru Valmur.  Straw-gold.  Ripe nose of wildflower honey and a background of wet rocks. Wild and rather herbal, full, rich, and yet focused and precise.  Long, intense, clean finish.  Delicious.

2013 Domaine Louis Moreau Grand Cru Les Clos.  Medium straw-gold.  Chalky nectarine with notes of grape skin.  Dense, rich and full entry, quite complex with elements of honey, peach, and nectarine mid-palate but sustained to a long, linear, persistent finish by mineral structure and depth.  Precise. Focused. Excellent.

At dinner:

2008 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Clos des Hospices.  Brilliant straw-gold. Wet stones mingling with forest floor, nectarine acidity. Lush, full entry with bright citrus-zest freshness and slightly saline background. An incredibly long finish turns towards truffled honey and candied orange peel. Still very young and developing complexity. Excellent from magnum tonight but has years to go.

Domaine Louis Moreau is a producer who continues to refine his trade. Organic vineyard practices, small parcel fermentations, extended lees aging, and patience before bottling makes this a domaine to follow closely.  Unfortunately, nearly half the crop of the Petit Chablis and Chablis were lost to frost and hail in the 2016 vintage.  But while the pressure for higher prices is strong, Louis Moreau’s depth of vineyard holdings and long aging process gives balance to a difficult result in the 2016 vintage.

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With Louis and Bertrand, this wine was a wonderful dinner companion, and great conversationalist, evolving and changing nuance and expression over our two hours at table.

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Hospices de Beaune – 154th Auction of Wines – Tasting

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 will mark the 154th auction of the wines from the Hospices de Beaune, one of the longest extant and certainly the most prestigious of wine charity events in the world.  The Hospices, or Hospital, in Beaune has been the beneficiary of the sale of wines from donated parcels of vineyards since its original endowment in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins.  Today, the auction sales serve to benefit not only the upkeep of the original L’Hotel Dieu (which continued in use as a hospital until the early1960s, now a museum), but also to benefit and finance the new, modern hospital in the town of Beaune,  This post will not attempt to recall the history of the Hospices or the origins of the many cuvees offered at auction on Sunday.  For a wealth of information on the Hospices, its functioning, the history, the various blends or cuvees, its viticulture and winemaking, and the details of the sales, visit the website http://www.hospices-de-beaune.com/index.php/hospicesdebeaune.

This post will offer the author’s opinions of the wines, tasted on Friday morning, November 14th, at the official professional tasting offered at the new cuverie of the Hospices de Beaune Domaine Viticole.  Incidentally, the 2014 wines will be the last vintage of the current regisseur, Roland Masse, and in 2015 the first woman winemaker, Ludovine Griveau, will take over.

THE 2014 VINTAGE – 534 PIECES OFFERED

Despite the hailstorm in June which devastated many of the Hospices’ vineyards in Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault, the 2014 Auction will present 534 barrels for sale in the 2014 vintage.  Other vineyards elsewhere returned healthy, even copious crops.  So 2014 is a return to more normal , average yields in Burgundy, and represents an increase in the size of the auction lots over the 2012 and 2013 vintages.  Still, 534 barrels from 60 hectares of vineyards, at 228 liters per barrel only represents a yield of about 20 hectoliters per hectare, a miserly result from nature’s vagaries in 2014.

I have covered the 2014 harvest and beginning of vinifications in other posts, but the tasting of the Hospice de Beaune cuvees on Friday was my first extensive tasting of wines from the 2014 vintage.  Keep in mind that most of the cuvees tasted were still in the process of secondary, malolactic fermentations, a difficult period to judge the wines’ potential.  But nonetheless, these professional tastings allow potential buyers at the auction, as well as domaine owners. negociants,  restaurateurs, and amateurs du vin, the possibility to evaluate the wines.  Historically, these official tastings mark the first evaluations of a new vintage, even with the wines in a very raw state.  I have been tasting new wines in Burgundy for over 25 years, often at various stages of the wines’ evolution, and while evaluating wines in such a state of unfinished youth can be difficult, it is not impossible to get an appreciation of a wine’s flavors, concentration, depth, texture, and balance.  What follows are my opinions of the wines at this early stage of their development.

I arrived at the Hospices de Beaune cuverie at 8:45am, to find nearly 200 people already waiting for and beginning admission to the tasting.  The lines of tasters were excited by the vintage’s strong potential, and the orderly crowd awaited their turn to enter the caves, and once inside, wound their way snake-like through the rows of barrels.  The entire process of tasting the 32 cuvees of red wines, followed by the 14 offerings of whites, took about two hours.  The caves were a bit crowded, but the organizers’ policy of only allowing 600 people in the large cellars at any one time meant that the lines proceeded in a manner that allowed all the tasters time to taste all the wines, take notes if they wished, and chat amiably about their impressions.

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Hospices de Beaune tasters winding their way through the cellars. Unrushed, generous, and complete, the organizers did a superb job of showing the many different cuvees.

As usual in Burgundy, the reds were all tasted before the whites.  I have no idea how many people will be tasting over the four tasting periods (morning and afternoon sessions on both Friday and Saturday), but the amount of wine poured out as samples must be substantial.  Hopefully the generosity of the Hospices will be matched by the generosity of the bidders at the auction Sunday afternoon!

THE WINES – 2014 – A VERY FINE VINTAGE

As a very general observation, somewhat sweeping and contradicted in many individual instances, I found the red wines to be better than the whites.  Most of the reds offered a tremendous depth of fruit, lush, velvety textures, and a beautiful yet powerful balance between fruit, acidity, tannin, and oak.  I was astounded that of all the reds sampled, only a few were marked by toasty oak, and all the wines were in new oak barrels.  Most showed a depth of concentration that stood up to the new oak barrels, which I believe bodes well for the continued elevage of the wines after their sale at auction.  The whites, many still cloudy from the tumultuous primary fermentations and some slightly petillant from the onset of malolactic, struck me as somewhat flat on my palate, rich and fat in ripeness, but many lacking some grip, firm, fresh acidity, and real depth of concentration.  But these generalisations will be contradicted by some of the specific notes below.

RED WINES

Santenay Christine Friedberg – Bright focused red fruits tightly wound around a core of bright tart acidity.  Malo evident.  Lushly textured, even velvety.  Good length and depth.  Quite fine.

Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Rameau-Lamarosse – Spicy cinnamon notes with dark cherry cobbler elements.  Richer and longer than the Santenay, showing a kiss of toasty oak to finish.  Very good.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Fouquerand – Griotte cherry and cassis flavors, quite tart, linear and focused, with firm tannins.  A bit tight and drying in the finish.  Decent.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Arthur Girard – A little gas and petillance. Gamey and bloody notes, a strong mineral element with dark red fruits.  Rather deep and concentrated.  Very fine but a bit brooding.

Savigny-les-Beaune Les Vergelesses 1er Cru Forneret – Meaty aromas with new toasty oak very evident.  Bright tart red currant fruits. Lush with a lovely silky texture.  Oak resolving in the finish.  Very good plus.

Monthelie Les Duresses 1er Cru Lebelin – Bright, tight, focused red fruits, quite tart, with malolactic evident.  Finishes a bit green, lean, and slightly vegetal. Ok but not a favorite.

Auxey-Duresses Les Duresses 1er Cru Boillot – Tightly wound red tart fruits around a racy acidity and fine tannic structure.  Nice smooth texture, but restrained and somewhat short to finish.  Decent.

Beaune 1er Cru Cyrot-Chaudron – Pronounced toasty new oak.  Roasted cherry cobbler flavors.  Not quite enough depth and concentration to support the new oak. Good but oaky.

Beaune 1er Cru Maurice Drouhin – Deep intense red fruits of sour cherry and cassis.  Quite rich and deep, suave velvety texture.  Lovely integrated oak finish.  Balanced, nicely tuned.  Very good.

Beaune 1er Cru Hugues et Louis Betault – Petillant.  Bright tight acidity showing a bit lean in fruit.  Firmly tannic.  Not for hedonists.

Beaune 1er Cru Brunet – Tight, closed and tannic.  Lacks depth of fruit, even a bit hard.  Not for me.

Beaune Greves 1er Cru Pierre Floquet – Complex aromatics with clove and cinnamon spices.  Lushly textured, full red fruits of cassis and raspberry.  Hints of iodine minerality.  Long fresh finish.  Very good.

Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Avaux – Closed subdued nose.  Petillant entry, a bit of gas and showing new toasty oak.  Firmly tannic.  Fruits masked by new oak elements.  Closed and ungiving at the moment.

Beaune 1er Cru Rousseau-Deslandes – Toasty oak and grilled cherry fruits.  Lush rich texture but flavors and finish dominated by oaky toastiness.  Not for me.

Beaune 1er Cru Dames Hospitalieres – Complex aromatics of spice and soft red fraises des bois (wild strawberries).  Soft and accessible, a fine drink, if perhaps a bit simple and one-dimensional.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Guigone de Salins – Meaty, gamey, butcher shop nose.  Lush velvety texture, buoyed by a kiss of new oak.  Long pleasant finish but a bit marked by oak.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Nicolas Rolin – Subdued quiet nose.  Focused bright, tight and tart red fruits, with an emerging gaminess mid-palate.  Finishes firm but not hard. Should age nicely.  Very good.

Volnay 1er Cru General Muteau – Malo evident with pronounced petillance and gassy elements.  A bit light with soft red fruits.  Seems elegant and stylish, but maybe lacking a bit of depth?  Good.

Volnay 1er Cru Blondeau – Quite a bit of gas, even a bit reductive. Silky fine texture with sour cherry fruits.  Subtle and suave to end.  Quite fine.

Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Jehan de Massol – Strawberry and soft cherry fruits.  Lush palate, smooth texture, and excellent tannic balance.  Delightful to taste.  Very well done.

Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Gauvain – Spicy red fruits. A bit firmer but also more dense than the Santenots above.  Full and quite concentrated red fruits give way to a long complex finish.  Very good to excellent.

Pommard Suzanne Chaudron – Tight closed nose.  Firmly tannic, not at all open.  Finishes tannic, lean, even mean.  Not for me.

Pommard Raymond Cyrot – Meaty and dense.  Rich full red fruits of cherry and cassis with a background of toasty oak.  The finish is dominated by the new oak.  Decent but oaky.

Pommard Billardet – Red licorice and tart sour cherry fruits in the nose.  Petillant and gassy.  Hard to evaluate through the malolactic notes.  A bit tart, firm, and tannic to finish.  Should be ok.

Pommard 1er Cru Dames de la Charite – A bit of gas and reduction in the nose and entry.  Dark cherry, deep, dense, and a bit brooding.  Very masculine and concentrated.  Very good to excellent.

Pommard Epenots 1er Cru Dom Goblet – Ripe cherry, red berry fruits.  Suave and velvety texture.  Lovely balance of soft tart cherry fruits, lightly oaky, finishing elegant and stylish.  A feminine counterpart to the powerful Dames de la Charite cuvee.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Grand Cru Charlotte Dumay – Pure refined nose of dark red fruits of dark cherry and cassis.  Lovely sweet mid-palate with spices of cloves and cinnamon in the background.  Excellent balance and depth.  Should be superb.

Corton Grand Cru Docteur Peste – Spicy clove cinnamon nose but darker and a bit more brooding in fruit than the Charlotte Dumay.  Deeper, firmer tannins give a slightly drying tone to the finish.  But the sheer depth and power should overcome in the end.  Excellent.

Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi Baronne du Bay – Lovely red fruits of currant and strawberry give way to a soft, elegant, and refined texture.  Quite drinkable today, nicely supported by new oak tones.  Very good to excellent.

Echezeaux Grand Cru Jean-Luc Bissey – Dark black fruits, dense and brooding.  Tart blackberries and black currants.  Deep, intensely concentrated, and very long to finish. Superb.

Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Cyrot-Chaudron / Georges Kritter – Quiet, closed nose.  Dense and firmly tannic entry.  Blackberry and myrtille notes but also brooding, gamey and sauvage.  Perhaps even a bit too dense, almost over-extracted.  Should be excellent.

Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru Madeleine Collignon – Dark and brooding black fruits with a hint of reduction.  Lush, silky suave texture underneath.  Really refined and elegant with sheer weight and power.  Hints of raw meat, licorice, clove and cinnamon spices.  Long and luscious.  Superb.

WHITE WINES

Saint Romain Joseph Menault – From 600 liter tonneaux.  Citrus notes of lemon, lime, and pink grapefruit.  Chalky wet stone minerality, hints of malolactic petillance.  Precise and focused, with a crisp clean finish.  Very fine.

Pouilly-Fuisse Francoise Poisard – From 450 liter barrel.  Creamy and vanilla notes with a whiff of stony minerality.  Mildly citrus with peachy stone fruits.  A little diffuse, and perhaps a bit short.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Montrevenots Suzanne et Raymond – Lemon meringue, lovely creamy texture, delightful chardonnay fruit flavors kissed by new oak.  Refined and elegant.  Very good.

Meursault Loppin – Light citrus notes, light texture. Undistinguished, lacking depth and concentration.  Not to my liking.

Meursault Goureau – Creamy texture but a bit light and innocuous.  Disappointing depth and concentration.

Meursault Poruzots 1er Cru Jehan Humblot – Tangy citrus notes with a whiff of new oak.  Petillant, but lacks real depth and grip.  Light and dominated by a finish of new oak.  Acceptable.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru Baudot – Closed reluctant nose.  Soft and a bit flabby in texture, with creamy vanilla flavors.  Light lemon chiffon.  Disappointing.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru Philippe le Bon –  Bright focused minerality of wet hot stones.  Lushly textured, a bit diffuse and loose.  Lacks grip and depth.  Almost soft.  Acceptable.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru de Bahezre de Lanlay – Intense tangy nose of citrus and wet stones minerality.  But short and a bit fat in the mouth.  Builds a bit mid-palate and finishes fairly long and deep.  Good.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru Albert Grivault – Tangy citrus notes of lemon and kaffir lime.  Bright, fresh, intense depth of fruit.  Real Meursault, almost oily in texture.  Very fine depth and a long crisp, tangy finish.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Vergennes Grand Cru Paul Chanson – Dense and focused mineral and citrus notes.  Focused, rich, and deep at the same time.  Creamy mid-palate shows very fine depth of concentration.  Fine length in the finish.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Roi Soleil – A bit oaky.  Creamier style than above, a bit diffuse.  Lacks precision and concentration.  Ok.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Francois de Salins – Citrus with white flowers and bright focused minerality.  Bright, tight, focused citrus acidity with minerality adding precision and persisitence.  Racy and long.  Excellent to superb.

Batard Montrachet Grand Cru Dames de Flandres – Creamy nose a bit closed, showing vanilla and a bit of honey.  Rich entry of lemon and wild-flower honey.  A bit of tart malic acidity gives fine length and structured depth.  Excellent.

PROSPECTS FOR THE AUCTION – 2014 HOSPICES DE BEAUNE

The evolution of prices over the last years, with continued increases multiplied by short vintages, is expected to continue with the 2014 vintage Hospices de Beaune auction.  A very fine vintage of reasonable quantities, combined with increasing worldwide appreciation and demand for Burgundy wines, is sure to bring record setting returns from the auction for the benefit of the Hospices de Beaune’s operations.

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Where Riesling Rules

My first visit to Alsace and the Trimbach family winery was in June 1988.  I was with a group of colleagues from Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines, and on my first tour of the many properties represented by C&E at the time.  It was a month long journey through the Loire, Bordeaux, Catalonia, Jerez, the Douro, Burgundy, and Alsace, led by John Laird, who ensured that we saw not only cellars but cathedrals, abbeys, and historical monuments of note.   After a quick visit to Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame de Ronchamp modern church, we pulled into the small parking lot at Trimbach next to the winery, below the steeply terraced Grand Cru Geisberg.  I remember the warm greeting from the Trimbach family, but what I recall most vividly was gorging myself on fresh dark cherries from the trees at the end of the parking lot.  The cherry trees are now long gone, having made room for an extension of the cellars, but the view of the Geisberg Grand Cru rising steeply behind the tower of the Trimbach winery is much the same as it has been for over 100 years.

In 1988 the cherry trees were fully laden with delicious, juicy fruit, and as we met Bernard, his two sons Pierre & Jean, and his brother Hubert, one could sense the understated pride and forward vision of a family that had been practicing its trade for over 350 years.   The 1988 vintage would go on to herald a trio of magnificent vintages, firmly establishing the reputation of Pierre Trimbach as one of the finest winemakers in the world.

The fresh dark cherries were delicious and addictive, grand cru quality.  I think I ate at least 100 cherries, and I had diarrhea for three days afterwards.  My visit to Trimbach would remain fixed in my memory, not because of the diarrhea, but because of the beginning of my love affair with the great Riesling wines produced there.

The Grands Crus of Alsace had only been officially delimited in 1983, five years earlier, but Trimbach has been vinifying Riesling from its vineyards above the winery as a separate cuvee for decades.  Steep calcareous terraces rising behind the winery (Geisberg)  were combined with the deep marls at the crest of the hill (Osterberg) to produce a single-vineyard riesling of such startling intensity and quality that it was renowned throughout Europe nearly 100 years ago.

In 1967 the wine was first labeled as Cuvee Frederic Emile, in honor of Bernard and Hubert’s grandfather, who brought  the winery from Hunawihr to its current location in Ribeauville, as well as fame from being the top honoree at the world’s fair exposition in Brussels in the late 19th Century.  Cuvee Frederic Emile joined Clos Ste. Hune, the Trimbach family monopole in the heart of the grand cru Rosacker of neighboring Hunawihr, as the two dominant rieslings of Alsace, if not the world.  Tom Stevenson’s classic The Wines of Alsace calls Clos Ste. Hune the finest riesling in the world and ranks Clos Ste. Hune as a Grand Premier Cru, and says that if the same family were not responsible for Cuvee Frederic Emile then there might well be a tie for best riesling in the world between the two wines.

Since Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling existed as a single vineyard wine prior to the Alsace classification of its 50+ Grands Crus in 1983, the Trimbach’s saw no need to label it with a Grand Cru vineyard designation.  In fact, because the wine is made from a blend of two grands crus, Geisberg and Osterberg, it could not be called grand cru at all.  And separating the historic vineyard site into two grands crus would rob the finished wine of its depth, complexity, and distinctiveness which brought it fame over its one hundred year history.  Even Clos Ste. Hune, with 200 years of history with the Trimbach family as winemakers, is denied the grand cru classification because it is a monopole within the larger Rosacker Grand Cru. Imagine if La Tache or Romanee-Conti had been denied status as grands crus because they were monopoles.  Unthinkable.

Fine wine writers and even Alsace winemakers have been critical of the 1983 Grands Crus designations as a bit generous and perhaps too broadly inclusive.  No doubt the  village politics of the region played a role as well in extending certain sites beyond truly definitive boundaries.  What is indisputable is that Cuvee Frederic Emile is Grand Vin in every sense of the word, a majestic wine of tremendous individuality and precision, a true terroir.  In the past years we have had to content ourselves with thinking of Cuvee Frederic Emile as the best reflection of the classic Trimbach philosophy in their particular grands crus terroir.

But I was recently fortunate enough to try a pure Geisberg Grand Cru, from none other than the masterful talents of Pierre Trimbach himself.  In 2008, the Trimbach family were chosen by the nuns of the Convent of Divine Providence in Ribeauville to take over the lease of 8 hectares of vineyards in Ribeauville, including 2.6 hectares of the Grand Cru Geisberg.  A bit further west on the Geisberg slope from the Frederic Emile portion, in a fairly steep section of limestone dominated rocky calcaire, Pierre Trimbach has been given a chance to shine.  The vines are not quite as densely planted as the Frederic Emile site, only 5000 vines per hectare versus 6500, and the age of the vines only 20 to 25 years old compared to the Frederic Emile’s mature 40 to 50 year old vines, but Pierre and the family have decided to bring Grand Cru Geisberg Cuvee Couvent de Divine Providence to market as a distinct bottling, rather than use it to bolster the limited supply of Cuvee Frederic Emile.

In my opinion, this choice is not merely brave, but revolutionary and entirely warranted.  It will add a new dimension to the stellar portfolio of Trimbach Rieslings.   This is not an abandonment of their existing philosophy with the single-vineyard Gold Label wines, but a new development, and an extension of that philosophy that emphasizes the singularity of site specific wines that define the concept of terroir.

Below are my notes from a tasting Saturday June 21st with brothers Jean and Pierre Trimbach, and Jean’s young son Julien (the thirteenth generation is being groomed as I write).

2009 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile:  Hot wet stone minerality with ripe hints of quince and Christmas pudding spices.  Somewhat subdued, cool and restrained on the palate, flexing its muscle but not quite fully knit.  Brilliant and racy acidity presents promising length and depth, with grace and fullness.  Will be wonderful while we wait for the 2007 to mature.

2009 Riesling Clos Ste. Hune:  Beautifully balanced, finely tuned stone fruits and minerality.  A bit more forthcoming than most young Clos Ste Hunes.  Open, fresh, lively mirabelle notes complemented by a hint of menthol or mint.  Perfectly proportioned depth and structure, fruit and minerality.  A lovely vintage, graceful rather than piercing.  Persistent.

2009 Riesling Geisberg Cuvee Couvent de Divine Providence (name not yet finalized):  Brilliant nose of bright small stone fruits, pure riesling with an element of verveine or mint tea.  Focused, precise, and wonderfully pure, nearly ethereal.  Dances lightly on the tongue, like winter sunbeams in the glass.  Not quite the old vines concentration of Fred Emile, but something more insistent and petulant.  More prodigy than virtuoso at this stage.

This Geisberg effort is truly an exciting development for Alsace’s dominant Riesling producer, Maison F.E. Trimbach.  And with other recent purchases of Grands Crus vineyards in Mandelberg and Schlossberg, I think we can expect some phenomenal wines to come.