Maison F. E. Trimbach, one of the top producers in France’s Alsace region, makes any number of very good wines. They also make one indisputably great wine, which is the family’s Clos Ste. Hune Riesling. The other day I had a chance to taste vintages of Clos Ste. Hune going back to 1975, and even as a jaded wine writer, who tastes a couple of thousand wines a year, it was an extraordinary experience.
The Trimbachs have been making wine since 1626, and Clos Sainte Hune (from a small walled vineyard within the Rosacker grand cru) since 1919. Very few bottles of this remarkable dry Riesling are produced each year; they are very expensive. It’s a deceptive wine—when young, it doesn’t fully reveal its complexity and depth; cellar it, though, and as the years go by, layer after layer of nuance is unlocked. At the recent tasting, Jean Trimbach commented, “These wines are made with no malolactic [fermentation], no oak. In other words, no makeup. If you make it that way, I think Riesling is the best mirror of terroir there is.”
2009 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune ($238) “The year was quite warm, with an August heat wave. We still had beautiful acidity, but it’s a more exuberant and flattering vintage than 2007,” Jean Trimbach said. Green apple and wet granite aromas (it reminded me of hiking in Maine after a rainstorm); flinty, lemon peel flavors. Very young—needs time.
2007 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune ($238) “Alsace was probably the most successful region in France in ’07,” Trimbach noted. Powerful but ideally proportioned, this white’s acidic tension makes it seem to vibrate when you taste it; the citrus and floral notes resolve into a mineral, saline finish.
1990 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune (about $300 at auction) “If you ask my brother Pierre, he’d say this was his greatest Clos Ste. Hune ever,” Jean Trimbach said (his brother Pierre is the winemaker). Surprisingly creamy and soft, this extraordinary Riesling, 14 karat gold in hue, has notes of marzipan, honey and apricot that last for minutes, though that actually doesn't do justice to the wine's complexity and seamlessness. I'm with Pierre Trimbach on this one; it's one of the best white wines I've ever had.
1976 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune (about $800 at auction) From a famously great vintage. I found the ’76 to be very impressive, but not as profoundly great as the 1990 and 1975 we tasted. Orangey gold, with toasted bread and dry earth on the nose, and flavors of honey, lemon curd, nut and peach, ending on an estery note that recalls old, unpeated, single-malt whiskey, oddly enough.
1975 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune (undoubtedly expensive, but I couldn’t find any listed for sale anywhere) “Our father’s favorite year,” Jean Trimbach noted. Amazingly alive; no one would ever guess this wine was 40 years old. The aroma suggested hay, beeswax and toast—reminiscent, as someone at the tasting said, of a great, old, vintage Champagne. Tingling acidity on the palate, bright fruit and all those aromatic characteristics repeated in the flavor. Sort of mind-blowing.
All of these wines are obviously either for people with scads of cash or else people who are just complete dry Riesling fanatics. However, for anyone who just wants a superb dry Riesling at a much more reasonable price, we also tasted the 2012 Trimbach Riesling Reserve ($28). Brisk and firm, with zingy citrus and mineral notes and impressive backbone, it might not age for 40 years, but it will certainly develop for at least a decade, and it also tastes great right now.