The French wine-producing region of Alsace, located in the northeast corner of France but bordering Germany’s own Baden wine region on the other side of the Rhine, shares many characteristics with its Teutonic neighbour. For one, Alsace and Baden both grow roughly the same wine grapes – Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Silvaner, for example. Alsatian wines, unlike most other French wines, are named after the grape variety and come in the distinctive tall green flute-shaped bottles – the “flute d’Alsace” – similar to those used in Germany.
Much of that, of course, is due to the region’s troubled history – in fact the region has changed hands between both countries six times over the last 300 years. The vineyards of Alsace were devastated over various wars; vines that were not destroyed during the fighting were ripped out by occupiers. But when Germany’s Third Reich cut down much of the vines in the region in 1942, they actually did the vignerons of Alsace a favour. Prior to 1942 the winemakers of Alsace were growing high-yielding but low quality hybrid vines; they were then forced to replant and wisely went with better varieties of a higher quality thereafter. Because of that, today the wines of Alsace – especially its Rieslings – are regarded as some of the best expressed in the world.
“Alsace makes Germanic wine in the French way. Alsace gives the flowery-scented grapes of Germany the body and authority of such table wines as white Burgundy.” – Hugh Johnson, “The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition“
Maison Trimbach is a great example of what Alsace has to offer. The family-owned winery, first founded in 1626, is one of those few Alsace producers that’s managed to catapult itself onto the global stage with its rich history and a propensity for making elegant Rieslings. Its 52 hectares of vineyards – it’s the 5th largest in Alsace – are located around Ribeauvillé, growing a variety of noble Alsatian grapes led by the Riesling, but also Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer.
Trimbach is considered the benchmark wine from Alsace in the United States yet interestingly enough, one can almost attribute its stellar rise in the United States to something of a fluke. When the producers of the 2015 wine documentary SOMM: Into the Bottle – the sequel of the highly successful SOMM released in 2013 – reached out to the winery, 12th generation owner and winemaker Jean Trimbach wasn’t so sure if he wanted some independent American filmmaker tramping all around their winery or their prized vineyard of Clos Sainte Hune. The mere three-acre walled-in vineyard located within the larger appellation of the Grand Cru Rosacker is considered by some to produce France’s greatest white wine, so he was probably right to be concerned.
“Clos Sainte Hune Riesling is certainly revered as one of the great examples of Riesling from one of the great Riesling growing areas on Planet Earth.” – Paul Grieco, sommelier, in SOMM: Into the Bottle
But the wine documentary – now available on Netflix – went on to achieve prominence and aroused curiosity about Trimbach in America’s wine circles. Today Trimbach Riesling is the number one Alsatian Riesling, and its Pinot Gris Reserve the best selling Alsatian wine in the whole of the United States. And thanks in part to the show, 90% of its annual production of 90,000 cases – including its signature Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling – are exported.
We asked him about the precious 1962 vintage of Clos Sainte Hune he opened on the show. “I hesitated, of course. 1962 is an exceptional year for Alsace, and that vintage is very, very rare,” Jean muses.
“I have no regrets now!” he laughs.
Trimbach wines are distributed in Singapore by Vinicole Asia. Their wines – the Riesling, Riesling Reserve, Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile, Riesling Clos Ste Hune, Gewurtztraminer, and more – are also available for retail at 1855 The Bottle Shop.