SUNDAY DECEMBER 17:
More Vins d'Alsace
- DOMAINE WEINBACH
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
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
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.
Faller in 2006~
"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.
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)
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
- 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
Currently in stock: 2006 Allimant-Laugner
"Grand Cru Praeletenberg" Riesling Sold Out
Allimant-Laugner Cremant d'Alsace Rosé $19.99
DOMAINE FERNAND ENGEL
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
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
Daughter Sandrine, Bernard and his wife.
Bernard's grand-daughter Mathilde.
Currently in stock: 2015 ENGEL Pinot Blanc $12.99
Zind-Humbrecht winery is on every connoisseur's list of top wineries in
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
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
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
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
We can order other Zind Humbrecht wines for you...
Currently in stock: 2011 ZIND HUMBRECHT RIESLING
"HERRENWEG de TURCKHEIM" $49.99
- 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.)
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
Perfect with Asian cuisines and it tastes really dry with spicy foods.
- Currently in stock: 2011 DEISS "Engelgarten"
2012 RIESLING $29.99
No California Importer Presently...
- 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.
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
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
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
- 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."
- 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
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
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"
2002 Muscat Sold Out
modest-sized domaine is situated in the village of Wettolsheim, close to
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
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"
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
We've not tasted too many of their wines, but did enjoy the 2005 Pinot
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
- This old
winery is located in the village of Hussern Les Chateaux and is a major
It's undergone some changes over the past few years, being sold to JB Adam
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