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We love visiting the small storybook villages along the ROUTE du VIN
in Alsace. The wines are amongst the world's best-kept secrets and this translates
into favorable pricing for those of us who enjoy DRINKING wine (as opposed to those who
are merely "collectors").
There has been a bit of an escalation in the pricing, but we still find
some really good wines at sensible price levels.
One dynamic which disturbs us, however: We've noticed
many wineries now seem to be making wines with a bit of residual sugar. We can only
imagine this is done in hopes of courting ever-more favorable reviews from some of the
major American wine writers, whom we've noticed are often oblivious to the sweetness in
these wines. As a result, we're finding increasingly higher levels of alcohol and
sugar in many of the wines of Alsace. That's fine for "show pieces", but
we want wines which we can drink (without having to fasten the seatbelt of the dining room
The labels of but a few producers gives consumers a clue as to whether or not
the wine is bone dry, off-dry or a bit sweet (apart from those designated as
being made from late-picked fruit).
Each little town seems to be littered with wineries...small signs and display
windows beckon tourists to ring the doorbell and come inside for a "degustation"
(wine tasting). The region boasts more than 31,000 acres of vines and makes more
than 100 million bottles annually. As I noted above, this region is the best kept
secret in the vast world of wine. Quality, as in other areas, continues to improve.
Though Americans seem to identify the GewŘrztraminer wine with Alsace, we drink far more
Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris on our visits there. The locals find the
GewŘrztraminer too overwhelming for most foods, save for Munster or Livarot cheeses.
The Pinot Blanc or Sylvaner make for nice aperitifs, while good Muscat (and these
are usually fairly dry, by the way) pairs handsomely with asparagus starters. With the main plate,
we seem to enjoy the Pinot Gris or crisp, dry Rieslings. Though often more
costly than Sauternes, one can find stunning late-harvest wines which are called
"Vendanges Tardives" or "Selection de grains nobles".
Alsace should be an easier region to understand for Americans as this is one of
the few areas in France which tends to label its wine by the grape variety. You'll
frequently find the name of the village where the grapes were grown to be somewhere on the
wine label. Another feature to add to the confusion...there are some 50 villages
with "Grand Cru" status. This element indicates not only a superior
vineyard site, but regulations mandate smaller maximum yields as well as requiring higher
sugar levels or riper fruit. As production of grand cru status wines totals less
than 4% of the region's production, these are, of course, more costly. Further, only
Riesling, GewŘrztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat had been entitled to this lofty status.
In 2006 the INAO group awarded "Grand Cru" status to the
"lowly" Sylvaner grape in one small corner of northern Alsace.
The region also produces a simple little blended table wine, called
Edelzwicker. This is usually made of odd lots and typically Sylvaner, Chasselas and
Pinot Blanc account for much of the blend. Apparently the name translates to
something like "the cellar garbage can". Happily, we've encountered a
number of these which are not at all trashy! You'll sometimes find these
little blends labeled as "Gentil,"
though this designation traditionally refers to wine made from a mixed-planting or
One little difficulty with the wines from this lovely region is that consumers
can't tell how sweet the wines are by looking at the label.
When you ask various producers about their wines, they often know the exact
number of grams-per-liter of residual sugar are in their wines, but this
information is rarely communicated on the label. Of course, balance is the
key, so a high acid wine with a modest amount of sweetness tastes drier than a
low acid wine with a small bit of sweetness.
Still, it would be helpful to know which wines are, in fact, dry. A
few estates are aware of this 'problem' and we hope they will work to solve this
Someone painted over the sign on the Grand Cru site called Mambourg in
Some Alsatian Wines
- ALBERT BOXLER
- Jean Boxler and his wife Sylvie run the show at the family estate these days
in Niedermorschwihr, a bit off the beaten path on Alsace's Route du Vin.
If you're a connoisseur of the wines of Alsace, though, this place IS on
the beaten path and if you know their quality, you'll understand precisely
- The domaine now encompasses some 14.3 hectares and averages about 60,000
bottles annually. The wines at this estate always are a wonderful
reflection of the vineyard and the vintage. When we've asked about the
style of their wines, the response is usually "that's what the vintage
produced." The wines are left to ferment at their own pace...Jean
doesn't work to craft the wines to a particular level of sweetness, for
example. "When it stops fermenting, it's finished." he
explains. As a result, a hot vintage the wines might have a bit of
sweetness, while cooler years tend to be a bit drier.
The Boxler wines have not been easy to find in the US. Well, they're a
bit of a hot commodity in Alsace, for one thing. But for years they
retained an American importer who preferred to prevent the sale of their
wines! We had to guess what wines they might have, since the
fellow running the west coast office said he was "too busy to print a
list of offerings."
Happily that company closed its doors and Boxler wines are imported by
someone more sensible.
Their wines are highly-regarded and even their competitors are fans of their
wines. One vintner from a top Alsace winery, visiting our shop said "Oh...you
have Boxler's wines. They're really good. I buy them when I see
them back at home."
Well, there's an endorsement by someone from a prominent and
"noble" winemaking family.
Jean Boxler (ages ago!)
Jean Boxler with the Sommerberg vineyard in the background.
The Boxlers trace their family tree back to Switzerland in
the 1600s. A Boxler came to Alsace and settled in the little hamlet of
Niedermorschwihr and they've been there ever since. In 1946 Albert
& ╔lise Boxler began a little winemaking enterprise which was taken
over by their son Jean-Marc in 1962. He made some wonderful wines and
set a good example for his son, Jean (who took over the reins of the estate
The distinctive label was designed by Albert's cousin, who was a
painter...that bit of artistry adorns the bottles of Albert Boxler wines to
We currently have a beautiful 2018 Riesling in the
shop...very fine. It comes from two soil types, granite and
limestone. Close to dry. It's an elegant rendition of Riesling and
a joy with all sorts of foods, from Asian-styled dishes to smoked fish to
sausages and choucroute.
If you want to splurge, try a bottle of the 2014 Riesling from the Grand Cru
site called Brand. This comes from a vineyard in the neighboring town
There are various incarnations of the story of the Brand vineyard site, all
of them featuring a dragon battling the sun.
Some claim the dragon lost the battle and was somehow annihilated.
Other versions contend the dragon was simply forced into hiding.
The point is, though, the hillside that is the Brand grand
cru site is of granitic soil. The vines must send down roots deep into
this hill, which is south to south-east in its exposure. Add to this
that Brand is typically not influenced by the winds from the north and you
have marvelous potential. Combine that with the perfectionist
viticulture and old-school winemaking and it's no wonder Riesling from this
vineyard can be remarkably complex.
We have the still-young 2014 in stock presently. It shows beautiful
minerality and some citrus notes. This is already a showy wine and it
will continue to blossom over the next decade.
Boxler's 2016 Sommerberg from the Eckberg parcel captures the
"terroir" of this site with perfect precision. The wine is
crisp and acidic and should develop handsomely over the next 10-20+
years. There's a minerality here which presently shows a steely
edge...some have described this as "salty." Well, it's young!
The Edelzwicker was amazing. One sniff and you'll agree this could only
be a wine from Alsace. Nowhere else do they make wines of this
character. This vintage seems to feature aromatic varieties. It's also
rather dry and remarkably intensely fruity. We enjoyed a bottle with a
dim sum lunch...a wonderful pairing!
Currently in stock:
2018 Riesling $49.99
2013 Edelzwicker Sold Out
2014 RIESLING Grand Cru "BRAND" $79.99
2016 RIESLING Grand Cru "SOMMERBERG" Eckberg $82.99
- A small domaine in the
town of Katzenthal, Franšois & Felix Meyer farm something like eleven hectares of
vineyards. While not biodynamic, they are moving in the
direction of organically-farmed vineyards.
They make a full range of wines, including a good, zesty, dry Cremant d'Alsace.
Franšois, Nicole and their son, Felix. (some years ago!)
The next winemaking generation.
- Currently in stock:
2013 Riesling Reserve Sold Out
estate is located in the small wine village of Beblenheim. We have
fond memories of a summer evening with some good food in a little restaurant
there and a few bottles of Bott-Geyl wine.
Year later we visited the domaine and met Jean-Christophe Bott who had taken
over the family vineyards and winery. He was embarking on a project
leaning towards organic farming and now the winery cultivates its vineyards
according to biodynamic principles.
Today the estate comprises something close to 13 hectares of vines in 60
parcels spread out along the route du vin in more than a half a dozen
villages. Bott Geyl produces the typical range of Alsatian wines, from
rather dry and light to full-bodied and sweet.
Bott has realized that the character of the wine stems from viticulture and then
having good, simple cellar practices.
His "Elements" Riesling is a good example of a crisp, mildly minerally
Alsace white...the aromas are lightly fruity and floral with a touch of
lime. It tastes rather dry and seems to have a good level of
The most recent importer of Bott-Geyl gave up bringing in these wines. We
saw Bott at an event in Burgundy not too long ago...he asked if we might
introduce him to another possible importer, but so many companies are skittish
about the wines from Alsace.
While we were conversing, a fellow came up to the tasting table and started
speaking to Bott in German...then he looked at me and asked "Do you
understand what we are saying?"
"Ja, ein wenig." we responded. The fellow was a bit surprised
that we understood not only his German but some French, too.
He handed me his card and I told him I knew his work as both a critic of wine as
well as a vintner.
- Currently in stock: 2011 BOTT-GEYL RIESLING "Les
Elements" Sold Out
- HUGEL et Fils
- This family-operation turns out about a million bottles annually. Their
wines, along with their large competitors, the Trimbach family, can be found all around
As with a winery such as Robert Mondavi, the modest-quality wines are, at
least, well-made and periodically rise above that level. They launched a new tier of
wines, designated "Jubilee" and these are of greater interest. The winery
has been making some outstanding Vendange Tardive wines, but have your credit card ready
as these are not cheap.
We have access to many of their wines, so special ordering something is not
In tasting through their wine early in 2017 while in Europe, we found every
bottling to be "correct" and well made, but nothing was a real
- Currently available: Sold Out
We have easy access to a number of Hugel wines. With a few days'
notice, we can have these for you.
- ROLAND SCHMITT
This lovely domaine is in the northern part of Alsace and we first
visited the estate in the early 1990s. The wines were just becoming
famous, thanks to Roland Schmitt's dedication to making damned good
wine. The area was not viewed as being especially prestigious, but
Schmitt's penchant for perfection brought a level of attention to detail in
the vineyard (and cellar) which was rather unknown in this area.
We enjoyed visiting, as this winery was a bit of a
discovery. Mrs. Schmitt (Anne Marie) was from Italy, so we
could converse with her in Italian, while our German friends spoke their
native language as we tasted through the impressive line-up.
In those days, the wines had been gaining attention in France, as the
quality was high and the prices were imminently fair. In fact, they
were not much interested in sending wine to California! They were
having trouble meeting the demands of French customers and the wines were
finding a nice audience amongst the sommelier crowd in Europe.
In 1993, tragically, Roland and Anne-Marie were in a horrific auto
accident. He died and she was in a coma for close to a month!
We sensed Roland's loss in tasting the wines...there was something
missing. But after a few vintages and getting her sea legs under her,
Anne Marie righted the ship nicely. Today she's assisted by her two
Bruno, I believe, was schooled in history, but eventually decided the family
business was interesting and challenging. He takes care of some of the
business side of the winery.
Julien, though, was smitten early on and he studied enology and
viticulture. In fact, he's been the driving force in pursuing organic
farming as he feels this allows their Bergbieten terroir to show
itself more readily.
Julien Schmitt, who looks after the cellar work.
The wines here are quite dry and, perhaps, a shade minerally. The domaine covers
some 10 hectares, the highlights coming from the grand cru Altenberg de Bergbieten.
Farming is organic and the new cellar allows them to vinify with ease and
We currently have a wonderful 2019 GewŘrztraminer "Glintzberg.
The 2019 GewŘrztraminer is stellar! Lots of perfume to
this vintage with classic rose petal and grapefruit fragrances. It
Click Here to see My
Lunch With Anne Marie.
- Currently available: 2019 GEW▄RZTRAMINER "Glintzberg"
We can order their other wines for you...
- The Trimbach name is one you'll find around the world of wine as, along
with the Hugel family, this clan has been a leading ambassador for the wines
They are viewed as a large producer in terms of sheer production numbers,
but beyond that, their wines are reliable and well-made. We like to
support good quality, small, family-operated wineries and so we'd overlooked
the wines from this producer, frankly.
We have had a couple of opportunities to taste through the Trimbach
line-up and each time we've been pleasantly surprised. There's
certainly a house style (dry, in fact!) and the overall quality level is
impressive, perhaps made even more so when you consider the quantity of
wine the Trimbach family produces.
The story begins, we're told, in the 1600s, when the first Trimbach
ventured 20 kilometers from his hometown, a mining village, to what is now
a town along the Route du Vin in Alsace. The family tree shows all
sorts of connections with grapes, barrels and wine. Today the place
is run by Bernard and Hubert Trimbach and now Anne Trimbach (the 13th
generation!) has recently joined the company.
With many vintners bottling "grand cru" wines, Trimbach had
resisted that notion, claiming that there are Grand Crus and there are
Yes, they've offered a few prestigious bottlings such as their magnificent
Clos St. Hune Riesling. It's an icon for Alsace (or France, for that
matter) and comes from a parcel of
vines in the grand cru site known as Rosacker, though this is not noted on the
label. The wine shows
hints of promise in its youth, but which takes years to unfold and blossom
into the grand wine you expect when paying such serious money.
We used to have this wine in the shop, priced around $200-$250 a
bottle. Now these have a $400-$500 price tag on recent vintages and,
sorry to say, we don't seem to have customers looking for such an
extravagant bottle of Riesling.
We put one on the dinner table recently and it was
sublime. That Hugel was quite good, too, so we were not suffering that
night.The vintage was a major challenge but good winemakers adjust and make
decisions along the way to produce the best wine.
They had a bit of rain in early September in 2006, but you would not know the
vintage was problematic. Well, problematic for many vintners.
- Clos St. Hune comes from a 1.67 hectare site
and in a good vintage, they'll produce perhaps 8,000 bottles.
Trimbach reflecting on the quality of their wines...
Anne Trimbach in the cellars of the family winery in
Lots of old, traditional cooperage at Trimbach.
Anne Trimbach in the vineyard directly behind the winery.
The 2007 is also exceptional. It's got great acidity
suggesting this can be cellared, as usual for Clos St. Hune, for another 20-40+
years. It's just starting to unfold and what a grand bottle this
is. There are floral and fruity notes, but there's certainly a
minerally backbone here. The sugar level is very low and the acidity is
rather high, assuring the longevity of this rare white wine. Its price tag
was high, to be sure, but compared to what you'll pay for a bottle of Le
Montrachet, for example, it was still attractively priced.
Now, in the 2020s, the wine costs as much as many Grand Cru white Burgundy
wines. We rarely have a request for such a bottle and when we tell a
customer we can special order it for them (and with a low margin as a courtesy),
they routinely gasp saying they did not know the wine was so expensive.
There's another special bottling called "Frederic Emile" and this
is a more affordable wine, if still a splurge for most people. This is
grown in a patch located between two grand cru sites, those of Osterberg and
Geisberg. It's a wine prized for its austerity, though it does well
with age and they often don't release it until the wine is close to 5 years
old...Trimbach considers this their "signature" Riesling and, in
fact, nearly half the wine they make is Riesling.
The Trimbach family is not one which follows the current fashion of making
wines with residual sugar. In fact, they look to make the wines as
stone, bone dry.
CuvÚe Fredric Emile from the 2008 vintage is quite dry and
minerally. Think of a streak of lime and stones amidst a floral
bouquet. The wine is starting to blossom and will probably remain on a
plateau for another 5-8+ years. Maybe longer.
have been leasing a vineyard and working the vines of the Convent of RibeauvillÚ
for some years. Fruit from the Geisberg site and grapes from another Grand
Cru site, Osterberg, goes into the Frederic Emile Riesling (above).
In 2009 they kept a small batch of Geisberg and bottled it on its own with
terrific results. Now they're in the business of making single, Grand Cru
They skipped the 2010 but bottled the 2011 Geisberg as a cru
It's still young, but if you taste this, you'll see it's got a lot of depth
already and it will continue to blossom over the next couple of decades.
It's a serious bottle of wine, as one might expect.
And they now have a Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling on the
horizon. So despite Trimbach being a very traditional winery in Alsace,
they are able to embrace change and adjust with the times, though the changes
may not be immediately apparent.
- With many Pinot Gris wines from Alsace being a bit sweet, it's great to
find one which is reliably dry. Trimbach's carries the
"Reserve" designation and it comes from estate grown and
purchased fruit. "We've always made it in the dry, Trimbach
style," explains Anne, "and the wine can be a bit austere in its
youth and we know it. That's why we give it some bottle age before
releasing the wine."
There's a Reserve Personelle Pinot Gris, too, though this is not offered
each and every vintage and it's actually from the Osterberg (grand cru)
site. It's a small production bottling and does have a touch of
Their basic Gewurztraminer was a real surprise...the nose was classic and
hugely fruity with lots of rose petal fragrances. It's not bone dry
but the residual sugar is just above most people's threshold for
sweetness... The special bottling called Cuvee des Seigneurs de
Ribeaupierre is even more impressive with spicy, peppery, grapefruity
And of course they periodically produce some late harvest wines which are
sweet show-pieces. Pinot Gris and GewŘrztraminer, typically.
- Currently available: 2015 Riesling $28.99
2008 CuvÚe Frederic Emile SALE $74.99 (last bottles)
2011 Geisberg "Grand Cru" Riesling $99.99 (last bottles)
We also have several Trimbach-labeled eaux-de-vie, so if you'd like a
bottle of Prunelle Sauvage, Framboise or Poire Williams,
we typically have 'em.
DOMAINE EMILE BOECKEL
Boeckel is an old family-run estate in the northern reaches of Alsace.
I remember my dad used to stock wines from this property back in the Dark
Ages when Bay Area wine drinkers only knew Hugel and Trimbach as the
sources for wine from Alsace. The Boeckels made good wine and the
prices were fair. Some things don't change!
The family owns about 20 hectares of vineyards and they buy grapes from an
equal number of hectares. Emile Boeckel is the patriarch of the
estate and his sons Jean-Daniel and Thomas run the
The winery is a curious maze of uneven floors and galleries. If you
know the "Winchester Mystery House" here in the Bay Area, then you
might call this Alsace's "Wine-chester Mystery Winery."
You'll find bins and bins of unlabeled bottles. Back in the late
1950s Boeckel built a track around the entire cellar with these little
"baskets" to carry bottles to the labeling machine. Modern
when it was installed, it's a charming relic of the past.
- The French
wines made of the Sylvaner variety are usually pretty close to Evian water
in terms of character and complexity.
Yet the Boeckels manage to make
an amazingly good wine from their Sylvaner vineyards. One secret is
the vines are old. A second part of the equation is that the vineyard
site is in a "Grand Cru" location, except that Sylvaner has not
been viewed as a "noble" variety. It had not been able to be sold as a "Grand
Cru" wine! This changed recently and starting with the 2005
vintage, Boeckel will offer a "Grand Cru Zotzenberg"
Sylvaner. Get your wallet ready, because surely this means an
escalation in price.
When you open a bottle of the "Vieilles Vignes" Sylvaner from
Boeckel, you immediately will inhale a fragrance that can only be from
Alsace. This is what people refer to when speaking about terroir.
This wine has plenty of it! There's a minerality and spice tone that is
magnificent. We currently have the 2008 vintage in stock and it's most
sensibly-priced at $15.99. The wine is predominantly from their
Zotzenberg vineyard, the newly-designated Grand Cru site.
Wait 'til it says "Grand Cru" on the
bottle...then you'll be paying serious money.
Jean Daniel Boeckel explaining the 'secrets' of Sylvaner.
A recent vintage of Gewurztraminer is a nice example of that grape, as it's
mildly fruity and lightly grapefruity. It's not an
"over-the-top" sort of wine...good, though.
- Currently in stock: 2008 Sylvaner Sold Out
2009 Gewurztraminer Sold Out
MORE VINS d'ALSACE