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DOMAINE WEINBACH
weinbach.gif (14334 bytes)This is an historic estate which is regarded by anybody who's anybody as one of the top domaines in Alsace.  The property is along the road entering the town of Kaysersberg and there's a walled vineyard surrounding the winery; the vines of the Clos du Capucins, an old Capuchin monastery dating back to the 1600s!

But vineyards have, according to the history books, been planted there since the year 890.  Kudos to whomever had the idea of cultivating grapes in this prime location back in the 800s!

The Faller family bought Domaine Weinbach (the name translates to something like "wine brook" as there's actually a small stream on the property) in 1898.  It had been run by Theo Faller's widow Colette and their daughters Catherine and Laurence since 1979.  Laurence had been the winemaker, but she passed away in May of 2013, having a cardiac seizure of some sort at the young age of 47!!!    Her sister Catherine takes care of sales and also is an eno-ambassador.  
 


Vineyards cover about 67 acres, with a number of grand cru-status sites taking center stage.  Schlossberg is a granitic soil and Riesling does extremely well there.  The Furstentum vineyard and Mambourg (closer to the town of Sigolsheim) are limestone and clay soils in which the Gewürztraminer grape thrives.  Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer also are cultivated in the Altenbourg vineyard (not a grand cru but adjacent to Furstentum).  Sand and gravel soils are found within the walled Clos du Capucins where they cultivate Riesling, Sylvaner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Take good notes on this...there may be a quiz later.

The wines have garnered good scores from various critics over the past years and it seemed to me the wines had become a shade sweeter than when we first were introduced to the Faller family many years ago.  I am happy to note the recent and current vintages seem to taste drier and/or have a finer point of balance.

Vines are cultivated biodynamically, though the winery doesn't make this a selling point.  Instead they focus on growing good quality fruit and making wines with finesse and elegance and let the wines speak for themselves.  We've seen many producers in Alsace make sweeter and sweeter wines which may "score" well in tastings but they're difficult to appreciate at the dinner table from the top of the bottle to the bottom.
Some growers seek to limit the production to such low yields that they can't help but make over-the-top, sweet wines.  Weinbach's yields are well-below the ridiculously high legal limits and seem to be sensible.


Fermentation and "holding" tanks in the Weinbach cellar.

Recent vintages from Weinbach have struck a nice balance, with acidity being high enough to mask the modest levels of residual sugar.

The Late Laurence Faller showed off some of the cooperage in which various wines are matured...The wood is used to develop the character of the wines, not for adding the flavor of oak.
We tasted a range of wines when we last visited the estate and found a terrific array of truly classic bottles, as usual.  From Pinot Blanc and Muscat to the Schlossberg Rieslings and Cuvée Theo Gewürztraminer, these are routinely wonderful.  


If you made wines of the quality of Weinbach's  you'd be smiling, too.
~The Late Laurence Faller in 2006~

 

The 2014 "regular" bottling of Gewürztraminer  that is currently in stock displays the delightfully aromatic grapefruit and rose petal notes of that varietal.  The balance is really fine as, despite a small amount of sweetness, the wine finishes as though it was dry.
 
 

 

 
 


We also have the 2015 Cuvée Théo Riesling.

This comes from a vineyard at the base of the famous Schlossberg hill near the winery in Kaysersberg.  Granitic gravel, some sand and pebbles contribute to the special character of this terrific wine.

This is a delicious vintage of Théo...Granny Smith apple notes and there's zesty acidity while retaining the florality of a good Riesling. You'll likely take note of the citrusy, lemon/lime tones here, too.

***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


You don't need to be in a hurry to drink Weinbach's wines...We drank a sensational bottle of 1992 Gewürztraminer with some foie gras in 2006...the wine tasted young and bright.  I would not have guessed this to be 13+ years of age!

In September of 2007 we brought a bottle of Weinbach 1982 Tokay Pinot Gris to dinner with friends (as foie gras was on the menu!).

The wine was superb...aromatic and complex and minerally on the nose and a steely 'edge' to it in concert with the foie gras...we were delighted!



Still life at Domaine Weinbach.
Currently Available: 2014 Gewürztraminer $34.99  (750ml)
2015 Riesling Cuvée Théo  $34.99
2006 Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Sale $23.99 (375ml)  (last bottles)
2009 Riesling Schlossberg Sale $24.99 (375ml) (last bottles)

 



ALLIMANT-LAUGNER

Hubert Laugner now runs the family domaine in Orschwiller, a few villages north of Ribeauvillé.   The original name has been Allimant-Laugner, Allimant being his mother's family.  He still includes the name on the label, but I suspect it may disappear in the next few years as his name appears prominently on the case boxes.

The domaine has 12 hectares of vineyards owned by Monsieur Laugner, with another 8 being rented and farmed.  A number of wines here are quite good.  




 

They have a small Riesling vineyard of note in the nearby hills at a grand cru site called Praeletenberg.  The soils are granite and gneiss.  I found the wine to be quite dry, but Hubert says there's about 7 grams per liter of residual sugar.  This is far less than many popular California Chardonnays, for comparison.



Another winner, amongst a very fine array of wines, is Laugner's sparkling wine made entirely of Pinot Noir.  Cremant d'Alsace Rose is delightful and rather dry.  The skins are macerated with the juice for about three or four hours.  Laugner started making this wine nearly two decades ago and it's really taken off the past five or six years.  No wonder...the wine is as good as most Champagne Rose wines and it's reasonably priced.

Currently in stock:  2006 Allimant-Laugner "Grand Cru Praeletenberg" Riesling Sold Out
Allimant-Laugner Cremant d'Alsace Rosé $19.99




DOMAINE FERNAND ENGEL
The Engel estate comprises some 41 hectares of vineyards in places such as Rorschwihr, Bergheim, Saint Hippolyte, Orschwiller and Kintzheim.  The Engel vineyards are cultivated biodynamically and yet the price of their wines is not excessive.  The estate used to be "mixed agriculture," but over the past couple of decades, wine has become the focus here.  The move to "organic" and then biodynamic came about when Bernard Engel discovered he was having allergic reactions while working in the vineyards with normal sprays and pesticides.  

The family started its enological adventure in 1949 but it took them until 1969 to come up with the novel idea of selling wine in glass bottles.

We tasted a wonderful little Pinot Blanc which we're told is made entirely of the Auxerrois clone.  It's aromatic and appley, showing fresh fruit notes and a crisp, tangy finish.  And the price makes it all the more interesting.  The 2015 is sensational, actually...as good as you'll find in Alsace!  Tons of apple notes on the nose and palate.  Nobody will peg this as a twelve-buck bottle of wine.


There's a nice tasting bar at this winery, or, if you prefer, you can have a seat at a table overlooking some vineyards and taste their range of wines.




Winemaker Xavier Baril, Bernard Engel's son-in-law, tastes the newest vintage as it's fermenting.  He was quite pleased with the results of this difficult harvest.


Daughter Sandrine, Bernard and his wife.


Bernard's grand-daughter Mathilde.


Currently in stock:  2015 ENGEL Pinot Blanc $12.99 
 

 

 

 


ZIND-HUMBRECHT

The Zind-Humbrecht winery is on every connoisseur's list of top wineries in Alsace...

It's a family-operated domaine that has roots going back to the 1600s.  The Humbrecht family traces its history back to 1620!

Leonard Humbrecht married Genevieve Zind in 1959 and thus Zind-Humbrecht was born.  Over the next couple of decades, Humbrecht was able to purchase some great vineyards from sites deemed "too difficult" by neighbors.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the wines of Alsace often sold for small money (they're still relative bargains in the 2010s!) and some people were not enamored with laboring in hillside vineyards.

The winery is situated in Turckheim and they own about 40 hectares of vineyards.  Olivier Humbrecht runs the place and he's a big proponent of biodynamic farming practices.  Olivier, further, owns the title of "Master of Wine," as he's a supreme wine geek.

In the 1990s, their wines would always get huge scores and we always felt this was because the wines were big, powerful, rich and were anywhere from slightly sweet to downright sweet.  Why the so-called experts deem to give higher scores to wines which have more "impact" and which don't always pair best with food is beyond my comprehension.

In fact, we had found a preference for the Zind-Humbrecht wines in vintages which were not highly-regarded, finding the wines more drinkable with the foods we were serving.  

We don't have many opportunities to taste their wines...the various importers, for whatever reason, don't seem to have Alsatian wines as a high priority.

We do have a delightful and serious quality Riesling in the shop.  It's their Herrenweg bottling from the 2011 vintage.

Now Humbrecht has realized there's an issue with the lack of information for the consumer regarding sugar levels, so some years ago they began noting on the label near the alcohol percentage a "code" guiding consumers to the sugar in their wines.  The number "1" indicates a dry wine, while "5" is quite sweet.

The 2011 Herrenweg Riesling is noted as a "1," and this has but about 5 grams of sweetness, so it strikes most palates as dry.  The wine shows a mildly citrusy tone with floral notes.  You might also describe this as "minerally," since there's a stony aspect to this wine.  It's a terrific wine presently, but it will benefit from additional cellaring...perhaps even a decade, or so!  

We can order other Zind Humbrecht wines for you...

Currently in stock:  2011 ZIND HUMBRECHT RIESLING "HERRENWEG de TURCKHEIM"  $49.99

 
 
 
 
 
 


MARCEL DEISS                         
This 20 hectare domaine in Bergheim is very highly regarded in France and virtually unknown here in the U.S., unfortunately.

Jean-Michel Deiss is described in one book as a "tyrant" in the vineyard as he insists upon a major amount of work to maximize the character of the various varietals, but also the character of the "terroir" where the wine is born.  

In speaking with him a few years ago, I could see he's a real fan of producing wines which taste of where they come from.  I made the mistake of asking him what grapes were in a particular wine and he responded that the wine tastes of its terroir more than of one particular variety.  Indeed, the wine was a blend featuring the usual suspects and you would have to have a lead palate not to be able to taste that the wine was something fine and something from Alsace.  It could not, quite simply, have been made anywhere else.

The last time I saw him, he was holding court with some wine geeks and nodded for me to help myself and taste through his line-up of opened bottles...and this was another impressive tasting.  The wines are the work of someone who knows precisely what he is doing in the vineyard and how he reacts to what Mother Nature does there, too.



Some of the wines have only the name of their vineyard site, though basic bottlings feature the name of the grape variety.  These have been dubbed the ABC wines, since Deiss is quoted as saying you have to know your A,B,C's before you can write poetry.

Other wines carry only the name of the vineyard, so you can find bottlings such as Englegarten, Grasberg, Grand Cru Schoenenbourg or Grand Vin de L'Altenberg de Bergheim for example.

His wines are said to have great aging potential, but what we've tasted has been of such interest that we cannot resist drinking them young.  I am interested to see a few bottles aside to see what happens.  

The wines, by the way, are made using bio-dynamic cultivation practices.


Stopping by the Deiss tasting room is a delightful experience.  They have most of their wines open for sampling, though we noticed many people who stop, immediately scurry out when they see the prices of the Deiss wines.
Yes, these are not "cheap," nor is this winery a bargain hunter's paradise, but the quality of the wines is very high thanks to Jean-Michel being a perfectionist.  (Look at the photos of their winery and you'll notice there's a place for everything and everything is in its place.)



We currently have the 2011 "Engelgarten" field blended white wine in stock.  It's said to be Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Muscat.  The vineyard is situated not too far from the winery in Bergheim.  The soils are rather gravelly.

It's intensely aromatic, with fruity and floral notes at the start.  You'll be expecting the wine to be a bit sweet and it's nicely intense and has a luscious aspect to the texture on the palate.  There's a note of mango, perhaps...melon, ripe apricot, ripe pear...ripe.  

Consider this with a "sweet" seafood dish...something centering on prawns or sea scallops...fresh crab...lobster...you get the idea.

 

 

There's a 2012 Riesling in stock, as well.

Delicious and classic.  The wine comes from two vineyard sites with different terroir resulting in a very fine and elegant Riesling.
There's just a touch of sweetness here, but thanks to crisp acidity, the balance is such that most people find it to be dry.

There's a note of peach tea to this and some floral tones.  It's full-flavored and starting to mature nicely, losing its youthful notes at this stage.

Perfect with Asian cuisines and it tastes really dry with spicy foods.

 

 

Currently in stock:   2011 DEISS "Engelgarten"  $49.99
2012 RIESLING  $29.99

 
 



 
 
 


No California Importer Presently...

CHATEAU D'ORSCHWIHR
orschwihr.gif (19794 bytes)Hubert Hartmann owns this up and coming winery in the village of (not surprisingly) Orschwihr.  The old chateau is even surrounded by a moat!  Hartmann is quite a serious winegrower, looking to maximize quality at the expense of quantity.  He also does not rely on a bag of sugar to chaptalise his wines and a number of them have the notation right on the label of not having been "fortified" with sugar.  He also is a practitioner of good, sound farming methods...

Hartmann, further, has started labeling his bottles with the precise amount of residual sugar, if any, in the wine.   He says he is, frankly, frustrated when dining out and asking which of the Alsatian wines are dry.  He says he's frequently told "Well, they're pretty much dry."  And after ordering a bottle, he discovers the wine is not dry at all.
  wpe39.jpg (8667 bytes)
Photo:  Some cured salmon prepared by Norbert and Gaby, served with a Zucchini "pancake."

Newly arrived is the 2006 Riesling "Bollenberg."  This comes from a hill with a curious history...it was said to be haunted by witches!  We might have to admit this 2006 is a bewitching example of dry Riesling (and dry it is!).  This is a lovely wine as an aperitif, but it can also be matched with Asian-styled foods, a huge sauerkraut, roasted pork, etc.

Hubert's 2002 Enchenberg Vieux Thann Riesling is a delight.  It's reaching a point of maturity and the aromas and bouquet are fantastic.  Enchenberg is a hill in the towns of Thann and Vieux Thann.  The most famous site is called Rangen, a volcanic soil which produces some remarkable wines.  Enchenberg ain't so bad, either, frankly.  You'll find a nice minerally aspect to this wine.  It tastes dry, but, in fact, it's got about 10 grams per liter of sugar...the acidity is high and easily balances the sweetness to where it's masked.  Remarkably complex and it's attractively priced...

In Stock: Sold Out...
 



No California Importer Presently

 
 
DOMAINE STIRN
This is a small winery presently and I'm guessing their production will grow in the next few years.  Having tasted a range of offerings from winemaker and grape grower Fabien Stirn, one is impressed by the finesse of his wines and the balance embodied by nearly every one.

Located in Sigolsheim, they have a number of grand cru sites in their portfolio, including Brand, Mambourg, Marckrain and Sonnenglanz.  The estate has vineyards in 8 villages near Sigolsheim.  

We have a sensational 2005 Muscat.  Now, in terms of California wines, 2005 is getting old and tired.  In terms of Domaine Stirn, the wine is young and fresh, with amazingly intense fragrances and Muscat flavors.  You can just about taste the fresh fruit in this wine.  It's also rather dry, so opening a bottle on a hot day is a most sensible idea.  The vineyard is located in Turckheim and the vines are old, some planted in 1958 and others in 1962.  It's entirely Muscat Ottonel which Fabien explains is best on good soils.  "The vintage makes the Ottonel." 
 

I find old label art to be really interesting.  Here are some bottles made decades ago.

Fabien Stirn with his Mom and Dad.


The other winner in the line-up is Stirn's Riesling.  We currently have the 2006 "basic" bottling in stock...it tastes dry and fresh.  

Currently in stock: 
2006 STIRN  RIESLING Sold Out 
2005 STIRN MUSCAT 
Sold out
 
 

Stirn Pinot Gris in a small Sigolsheim restaurant favored by the locals.  It's called Au Bon Coin.  "Carre de Porc Fermier."  








 

 



DIRLER-CADE
This small estate is located in the southern part of Alsace in the little wine village of Bergholtz.   The estate was founded in 1871 and today the fifth generation is at the helm, with Jean-Pierre (Dirler) and his wife Ludivine (Cade) running this biodynamically-farmed estate.  

They currently cultivate some 18 hectares of vines and produce about 100,000 bottles annually.  The amazing statistic here is that some 42% of their vineyards are located in grand cru sites!  
 
Come for a tasting and you'll sample a truly dizzying array of wines.  Each speaks well of its terroir.  You can certainly distinguish the various Riesling vineyards, for example.  Add to the mix that they have numerous vintages for sale and you will find dozens and dozens of bottles open in the Dirler-Cade tasting room.

Each wine manages to capture a certain point of finesse.  In tasting through the line-up, I felt the wines were the work of a real perfectionist.  

Dirler-Cade wines are not terribly well-known in the United States, as their importer keeps a rather low profile.  
 

 
 
 

Mr. & Mrs. Jean-Pierre Dirler


The rest of the Dirler-Cade team.
 
The Grand Cru sites are remarkable.  They have all four of the Guebwiller area -- Saering (the sea ring), Spiegel (the mirror), Kessler and Kitterlé.

We're big fans of this estate, but the American importer is a bit of a mystery, so the wines are not easily obtainable.  Oh well...Dirler makes nice wines!

Wines in stock: 2002 Riesling "Bollenberg"  Sold Out
2002 Muscat Sold Out

 

 

ALBERT MANN

This modest-sized domaine is situated in the village of Wettolsheim, close to Colmar.

Marie-Claire Mann, Albert's daughter, married Maurice Barthelme and they ran the estate for a while on their own.  Then Maurice's brother Jacky joined the team.  Their mother is a member of the Blanck family, so you've got strong ties to the Alsace wine industry!

The domaine comprises about 21 hectares of vineyards.  Maurice Barthelme is a proponent of organic farming and they're also cognizant of having sensible crop levels to maximize quality.

Half the production of their wines is in Pinot Blanc Auxerrois and Riesling, with the other usual suspects accounting for the rest.

We've enjoyed their Pinot Auxerrois and Rieslings over the years.



Their Pinot Auxerrois is a delicious accompaniment to chicken or veal in a cream sauce...or something with a mushroom sauce.  Lots of bright fruit...we find it somewhat along the lines of ripe apple and quince.  Fairly dry, but it's not austere.

Currently in stock: 
2005 ALBERT MANN PINOT AUXERROIS  Sold Out

DOMAINE SCHOFFIT

We've followed the wines of the Schoffit family for many years, visiting them more than a decade ago.  

The wines here are usually well-made and of good quality.  For my personal taste, I often find the wines a bit potent and sweeter than I'd like.  This is a personal preference and the Schoffit wines seem to find a receptive audience.  

The estate is run by Bernard Schoffit, whose father, Robert, founded the place.  Bernard has extended the vineyard holdings, buying land in the Rangen region.  The property was too much work for others and so it was not planted with vines at the time of Bernard's purchase.  He worked diligently to clear this steep site and courageously planted vineyards there.  Now he appears to be a genius, as wines from this place is highly-regarded.

I recall Mrs. Schoffit explaining the wines labeled as "Cuvée Caroline" typically have a small amount of sweetness.  

We found their 2004 Gewürztraminer of the Cuvée Caroline designation to be magnificent.  It's wonderfully aromatic with the fragrance of lychees and rose petals.  And I like the balance of the wine...I suspect there's a bit of sweetness, but the wine actually finishes fairly dry in the company of food.  Very fine!  

Currently in stock:  2004 SCHOFFIT Gewürztraminer "Cuvée Caroline" Sold Out

 
 
 

ANDRÉ SCHERER

The domaine of the Scherer family is now operated by André's son Christophe.

The domaine is located in Husseren-les-Châteaux and they have holdings scattered around the area of nearby Eguisheim.

The winery features old and new technology, with an eye towards tradition.  

We've not tasted too many of their wines, but did enjoy the 2005 Pinot Noir.  

Over the years, Pinot Noir has improved dramatically in Alsace.  Years ago the vineyards were hugely over-cropped and the wines made were more similar to a rosé than a red wine.

Today, when we dine out in Alsace, it's possible to find some really marvelous examples of Pinot.  The 2005 Scherer is in between a Beaujolais and a good example of Burgundy.  The wine is light garnet in color and the fragrances are easily identified as Pinot Noir.  Mild cherry notes account for most of the fragrances here.  The wine is light and dry on the palate, the sort of wine you'll want to chill slightly.   It's not intended for cellaring, so please drink it in the near term.  

You can match it with roasted chicken or duck.  Serving it alongside some French cheeses would be a good pairing, too.

Currently in stock:  ANDRÉ SCHERER 2005 PINOT NOIR Sold Out

 


KUENTZ-BAS

This old winery is located in the village of Hussern Les Chateaux and is a major Riesling specialist.

It's undergone some changes over the past few years, being sold to JB Adam in 2004.

The current owner has the idea of increasing the quality of the Kuentz-Bas wines and reducing the quantity of wine they've been making.  He does, after all, have a "production" label, JB Adam.  

The domaine owns 10 hectares and has contracts with a couple of growers who farm another 10.  They're making 200,000 bottles these days, about half of what the estate used to turn out.  

We're fans of their 'basic' bottling of Riesling.  This is the 'foundation' of the hose, actually.  Kuentz-Bas fancies itself as a Riesling specialist.   We have a good quality, fairly dry Riesling that's nicely priced and easy to drink.    
 
Currently in stock:  2004 KUENTZ-BAS RIESLING Sold Out

 

 

BOTT FRERES
This is an old, traditionally-run family estate located in Ribeauvillé.  wpe1A.jpg (6972 bytes)Their wines have been imported to the San Francisco Bay Area for many years.  I have found their wines to be fairly typical and periodically quite nice.  


We have a lovely, typical, fairly fruity and not-quite-bone-dry Gewürztraminer in the shop presently.  The wine displays mildly spicy notes and is rather floral.   It's their Cuvée Particulière, a close-to-dry wine which is nice with Asian cuisine or roasted turkey.

 

Currently in stock:  2001 Gewürztraminer Cuvée Particulière Sold Out



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