Grapevine Archive for Alsace

‘Little town, it’s a quiet village…’

If you’re a Disney fan, your brain sang that line. (If you’re not a Disney fan, this blog post probably isn’t for you, although you’re very welcome to stick around for some gorgeous French scenery.)

The iconic opening to Disney’s 1991 film Beauty and the Beast is impossible to forget. Belle wanders into a sleepy village of colourful houses, cobbled streets and towering church spires that suddenly springs to life with gossiping villagers buying and selling their daily groceries.

This classic film moment came to life in Disney’s recent live-action remake of the film, but wouldn’t you like to walk the cobbled streets for yourself?

Riquewihr

Riquewihr

Well, you can – and you can drink some delicious wines while you’re at it – because the setting is reportedly based on two villages in the Alsace region: Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé.

Riquewihr
Not too far from Colmar, visiting this storybook village is like stepping back in time. The half-timbered houses date back to medieval times, and are identical to those in Belle’s village, and you can definitely imagine the villagers thrusting open the pretty windows to shout ‘Bonjour!’

The village square, the Dolder Tower (once a defensive gateway, now a beautiful clock tower) and the cobbled streets transport you straight into the world of the film. It’s particularly nice to visit in spring and summer when the colourful houses are given a run for their money thanks to the village’s vibrant floral decorations.

Riquewihr's Dolder fountain

Riquewihr’s Dolder fountain

There’s an antique shop if you fancy searching for your own candlesticks and carriage clocks (talking or otherwise), a fabulous pastry shop if you want to spy the ‘baker with his tray like always’, and plenty of picturesque old fountains at which to pause, take a seat and read a book just like Belle does (page-chewing sheep not guaranteed).

Famille Hugel's winery in Riquewihr

Famille Hugel’s winery in Riquewihr

The wine
There are two grands crus in Riquewihr, Sporen and Schoenenbourg, and one of Alsace’s most famous wine producers, Hugel, meaning you won’t be short of fine rieslings and delicious gewürztraminer. A member of the family, André Hugel, also established a wine-themed museum here, giving you an extra reason to visit.

Ribeavillé
Ten minutes north of Riquewihr, and roughly double the size, the town of Ribeavillé is packed full of history and fairytale charm.

Ribeavillé

Ribeauvillé

The beast would have his pick of real estate here as the town and the surrounding hills are dominated by the ruins of not one but three fortified castles (as well as a number of defensive towers, including the Tours des Bouchers, or Butcher’s Tower, which dates back to the 13th century.)

Castle over Ribeavillé

Wandering through the cobbled streets, you‘ll find postcard-perfect squares with more bubbling fountains that Belle would have pegged as reading spots, and you’ll find it a challenge not to burst into the Gaston song if you visit the Wistub Zum Pfifferhus, which really is the spitting image of the tavern Gaston and Lefou raucously frequent in the film.

The wine
Ribeauvillé has three grands crus: Osterberg, Kirschberg and Geisberg, and also hosts another of Alsace’s best-known wine producers: Trimbach. They are based just outside the town, and are known best for dry, steely riesling, producing one of the finest examples in Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile. Excellent gewurztraminer and pinot gris is also made here.

The Trimbach winery in Ribeavillé

The Trimbach winery in Ribeavillé

There’s plenty of magic to be found in Alsace so it’s good to find another excuse to sing this region’s praises. It really is one of the most underappreciated holiday spots in France, in my view, so even if you’re not a Beauty and the Beast fan, if you are planning a visit you’re certain to find beauty, at least.

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Tue 21 Jun 2016

A Celebration of Alsace Riesling

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Millésimes Alsace 2016, an international trade event in Colmar, was only the third of its kind – and a first for me. Superbly organised, if discreetly promoted (whilst there was a strong turnout of UK press, members of the UK trade were few and far between), this is certainly one I will aim to attend again in 2018, and with more time to take full advantage of the additional events on the days before and after.

The event showcased Alsace’s premium wines. Most were grand cru or lieu-dit (single-vineyard) wines, many were rieslings, and from the 2014 vintage which was so good for this wonderfully terroir-expressive grape (see for yourself in our new offer of Alsace wines, the fruits of a trip with my colleague & Alsace aficionado Marcel Orford-Williams back in February).

Millesimes Alsace 2016

This was certainly the most democratic wine show I have ever attended. One large room, the same modestly sized tables for all, no posters, banners or other eye candy, with wines poured by the winemakers and vignerons themselves. Where else would you find co-op wines, in this case from the Cave de Turckheim (and very good they were too), sandwiched happily between two of the iconic names of the region: Trimbach and Domaine Weinbach?

The weather was unseasonably wet, but there’s no getting away from the picturesque beauty of this region. Day two of the event was made up of visits to, and tastings of, some of Alsace’s finest grands crus. Other diary commitments meant I could not take full advantage of this opportunity and I had to leave a fascinating presentation on the geology of the region in the Goldert vineyard.

Goldert

The vineyard lies just outside the village of Gueberschwihr and from above the village we just spotted the local tourist train (known affectionately as the TGV!) which runs along the wine route twice a week from Eguisheim, and generally requires reservation in advance (though few had been brave enough on this wet & misty day). That bit at least is open to non-trade, and with air access to the region so easy via Strasbourg or Basel-Mulhouse, or by car or real TGV of course, it’s no wonder they receive so many visitors from the UK.

Gueberschwihr

And for a break from wine? Colmar’s extended and refurbished Unter Linden Museum comes highly recommended, and Easy Jet’s current in-flight magazine sings the praises of the Vitra Design Museum in Basel.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Our offer of the 2014 Alsace vintage is available now.

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Wed 13 Apr 2016

Remembering Etienne Hugel

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It seems not long ago that we were grieving for Laurence Faller. Yet Alsace is now faced with another desperately premature loss as it was reported that on the morning of Saturday 9th April, Etienne Hugel very suddenly passed away, aged just 57.

Etienne Hugel

Etienne always seemed to be in a hurry, no less so than in this sudden exit from the world’s stage, and it leaves us desperately sad and empty. Such a loss seems impossible to comprehend.

He entered the family business in 1982, not the best of vintages for Alsace. But his uncle, the irrepressible ‘Johnnie’ Hugel had made sure there was enough good claret to make up for any shortcomings. Château Léoville Barton1982 would thereafter always be associated with the Hugel family. Etienne was the twelfth generation of Hugel, along with his cousin Jean-Philippe and winemaker brother Marc.

Family meant everything for Etienne. Indeed, the official name of the business was recently changed to Famille Hugel to reflect this indelible bond. Each active member of the family had a role, and for Etienne this was sales and marketing, to which he was admirably suited. As roving brand ambassador, replacing his revered uncle Johnnie, he was in his element.

Selling Alsace wine has never been an easy proposition and so a successful salesman has needed the skills akin to those of a proselytiser. Here, Etienne excelled with his energy, undying love and passion for the wines, his charisma and his unfailing ability to engage with everyone who fell under his spell.

Etienne Hugel

Etienne was the master of communication in all its forms. The Hugel website is a model in interaction. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were the tools of his trade. In this regard he was my mentor, teaching me the importance and vitality of social media. Not so long ago I had my first Facetime conversation with him. Not an experience I particularly enjoyed!

He was a constant traveller and globe trotter. At first he shared the accumulation of air miles with Gérard Jaboulet, often appearing together at venues, including several memorable Wine Society tastings. It is impossible to think of Etienne without recalling that sad July day in 1997 when, with Johnnie and Nick Clark MW, we were all sweltering by the Chapelle on Hermitage Hill to say adieu to Gérard Jaboulet.

Of late, Etienne’s travels seemed to have become more focused on the Far East and indeed he regularly spent the first few weeks of the year based there. He was surely at his happiest in Singapore or Japan. He shared some of his impressions with wonderful photos which he posted on Facebook. His love for Kaoru, his Japanese-born wife, was immense and he was especially proud when together they won a contract to supply Japan Airlines.

As Hugel brand manager, Etienne was always keen to raise the family image at every opportunity. Joining forces with other great wine families seemed a most natural way forward and he was a fervent supporter of the Primum Familiae Vini which included Pol Roger, Symington and Drouhin among others.

Etienne was always keen to innovate. With his brother Marc, he created a new cuvee of pinot noir. Nobody had believed that Alsace could produce great red wine. The new cuvée, ‘Les Neveux’, proved everyone wrong. The first vintage, 1990, remains an exceptional red wine showing no signs of dying.

One of his last acts was to help modernise the famous yellow labels. They now seem bolder, more confident, reflecting the renewed dynamism that is clearly evident at Hugel. At the top end, the name Jubilee, coined to mark the firm’s 350th in 1989, gives way to something that has the touch of the atavistic and archaic and yet equally bold. Grossi Laüe is Alsacien for ‘Grand Cru’, and will replace the name Jubilee.

And there was still more. Amidst great pomp and ceremony last year at The Shard building in London, a new wine was revealed. This was a 2007 riesling, a great vintage and from a very particular plot of vineyard on the grand cru Schoenenbourg and called Schoelhammer. This is undoubtedly a grand statement of a wine and already hailed as one of the world’s finest dry rieslings.

Riesling is at the core of what Alsace and Hugel are about. It was also Etienne’s particular passion; riesling in all its forms, from steely dry to lusciously sweet. And his brother Marc made riesling in all those styles, providing Etienne with a showcase that was second to none.

However, we did think he had gone a little too far when out of his briefcase came a handful of riesling tattoos. Still we were game and for the next few days, some of us were sporting ‘riesling’ tattoos on our forearms.

Etienne Hugel tattooing Marcel

Though selling Hugel was the aim, Etienne quite happily sang the praises of other vignerons and more than once made recommendations of who I should visit. The Hugel shop in Riquewihr has a formidable range of Alsace wines.

He never missed a Wine Society tasting, and was due to co-host a tasting of botrytis-affected wines with Fabrice Dubourdieu. More often there was the Wine Society Alsace roadshow, often with his cousin Jean Trimbach.

After a Chester tasting we danced a cancan on stage for the amusement of members. After an equally memorable tasting in Bradford we booked into the best curry House in town. The Maitre d’ did show some surprise when we turned up with a case of gewurztraminer but he took it surprisingly well!

He was generous with his time, welcoming me in my early days with The Society and sharing his Alsace with me. There must be many other wine buyers, wine writers and sommeliers who will today be thanking him for all those hours he spent preaching his gospel.

Etienne helped bring on board the thirteenth generation. His son Jean Frédéric is part of the sales team while his nephew Marc-André is on the production side, working with Marc. A cousin Christian is in accounts and is daughter Charlotte is currently working in London, learning her craft at the offices of wine importers John E Fells.

Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to them, to his father, wife and brother and to the many Hugels that make up this great and indomitable family.

We shall miss you Etienne.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

When offered a ‘pinot’, I suspect most would expect either a glass of red pinot noir or white pinot grigio/gris to be poured.

But hold fire! I feel their oft-forgotten cousin, pinot blanc, offers an opportunity to try something deliciously different.

Pinot Blanc grapesThis white mutation of pinot noir was first identified in Burgundy in the 18th century. Its lowly status in the pinot family seemed to be compounded by several cases of mistaken identity: for many years some vines were thought to be chardonnay. The grape is still grown in this part of the world, permitted but rarely used in Burgundy and Champagne, but it is now planted in many areas.

It can be found in Germany and Austria under the name weißburgunder, and in Italy as pinot bianco. It also features in Hungary and a number of Balkan vineyards. We used to list a Canadian example, and homegrown English examples can also be found. The slightly off-dry Chapel Down Pinot Blanc (£12.50) is worth a try, and the grape also appears in the blend of Sussex’s Albourne Estate Selection (£12.95).

Lovely as these English examples are, my place to start would be Alsace, where this near-neglected grape is capable of remarkable complexity and elegance.

Alsace is rightly hailed for its consumer-friendly labelling, with grape varieties being displayed on the label long before others caught on, but the ever-unfortunate pinot blanc is the exception that proves the rule here. A ‘pinot blanc’ from Alsace can by law contain pinot gris, auxerrois or even white-vinified pinot noir!

Nevertheless, the whole can often be greater than the sum of its parts, and I feel that the three pinot blancs currently available from The Society reveal the appeal of this unsung grape.

Three Alsace pinot blancs to try

1. At just £6.50, Cave de Turckheim’s 2014 Pinot Blanc overdelivers: I’ve recommended this to members in The Cellar Showroom a great deal, particularly for weddings and buffets. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, whose soft subtle melon fruit and fresh tempered acidity combine in an easy-drinking wine which suits a variety of foods and palates.

2. For a fuller feel, Trimbach’s 2014 Pinot Blanc (£8.95) shows how well the grape can complement auxerrois in an Alsace blend: it has a slight smoky and spicy character with fresh acidity, and the result is very stylish. Surprisingly it can be acquired for under £10 and is also available in a handy-sized half bottle for £5.50.

3. Finally, but still under £10 a bottle, Domaine Ginglinger’s 2013 Pinot Blanc (£9.95) is wonderfully aromatic and delivers ripe roundness that lingers. This is a great option for food matching, working especially well with egg-based dishes and with spicy food.

Enjoy!

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

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It is with a feeling of infinite sadness that I have to announce the death of Jean Meyer at the age of 71 after a long illness, which he faced with great courage, helped of course by his wife Odile and daughters Céline and Isabelle.

Jean Meyer with his wife Odile

Jean Meyer with his wife Odile

It would be difficult to overstate his contribution to Alsace. If this French and Rhenish region has achieved anything since its post war elevation to appellation status, much of the credit must stop at his door.

Josmeyer sign, AlsaceHe did something unimaginable, combining an approach to winemaking that bordered on the puritanical with a flair for marketing could have benefited any of the world’s most prestigious brands.

As a winemaker he had no master, believing in the intrinsic quality of Alsace wines, and every year facing the challenge of turning his grape into wines worthy of the appellation and the Josmeyer brand.

Josmeyer had started as a négoce house but Jean gradually did away with purchased grapes. Today all the production comes from own vines, and that includes The Society’s Exhibition Alsace Riesling. Moreover, all the vines are now farmed both organically and biodynamically.

Alsace revels in its grape varieties and Jean made all their diversity a strength. Together with his daughter Isabelle, he designed labels according to grape variety, changing with every vintage. He was a passionate advocate of grand cru and designed a Japanese-inspired label just for these exalted wines.

His wines were never less than elegant and always were marked by a sense of purity. Jean was a remarkable epicurean and realised, perhaps before anyone else, the importance of food in selling wine. And he had an answer for any number of dishes. He extolled the virtues of gewurztraminer with anything tomato, for example, and took the time to write a lovely piece on matching Alsace wines with cheese on our website.

There was more to this focus on gastronomy than just marketing savvy. Jean was an outstanding cook in his own right, understanding the delicate balance that exists between wine and food. It is the same sense of balance that made him an outstanding blender. As a host, he had no equal; his lunches were always a high point of the year. His risotto was something of legend and the perfect foil for an aged riesling or pinot gris.

Jean Meyer with daughters Céline (left) and Isabelle, and Josmeyer director Christophe Ehrhart

Jean Meyer with daughters Céline (left) and Isabelle, and Josmeyer director Christophe Ehrhart

He had a boyish charm and infectious enthusiasm that will be irreplaceable.

Odile was his life companion who allowed him to shine, though not without the occasional tease. Céline and Isabelle are his talented daughters who for some time have held the reins of this extraordinary Alsace house. Our thoughts are with them.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

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I occasionally wonder whether we, as a Society, make enough of a fuss about our range of spirits and liqueurs. One supposes that the telltale ‘wine’ in our name precludes too much of a focus on other beverages.

Still, when there are bottles as delicious as Windholz’s Eau de Vie de Mirabelle on offer to members, I feel that some amount of fanfare is in order.

Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie WindholzIt was purely by chance that I tasted this particular Eau de Vie. A bottle had been opened in the tasting room and, as it always seems to me a great shame to miss any opportunity to taste, I poured a little into a glass and gave it a swirl.

I was immediately struck by the bright, fragrant nose. The scent was delightful: hints of pears, plums and a slight floral twist – I jotted down ‘violets’ in my notes. The palate is fresh and clean and dry with lovely fruit flavours: plum and pear again, but also a lick of cherry.

What struck me most, however, was the length of flavour. I remember sitting back at my desk some time later, letting my coffee turn cold because I was still enjoying the taste of the Mirabelle. Concentration, balance and freshness are all here in abundance.

This would make for a wonderful digestif, or perhaps to accompany some Turkish delight: I have a notion that the floral notes of each would complement each other perfectly.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie Windholz is currently available for the bin-end price of £34.50 per bottle (was £39).

And to finish my piece on the ‘Alsace spring’, events relating to visits by the Hugel family…

Hugel is The Society’s oldest supplier for Alsace. We are not sure when the romance started; suffice to say that The Society is Hugel’s second-oldest customer in the UK after The Savoy!

Our first purchase was likely to have been a modest chasselas-sylvaner blend. This has now evolved over the years and today The Society’s Vin d’Alsace (£7.95) is a very smart dry white indeed. Sylvaner remains the base but nearly all the region’s grape varieties are included in the blend. Currently we are on the 2013 vintage which is the best made for a while. 2014 promises also to be pretty special.

This year Hugel et Fils changes its name to Famille Hugel: recognition that three generations now work for the business and that at least one of them is not a man! Times are a-changing.

The brand new Hugel wine: Schoelhammer Riesling 2007

The brand new Hugel wine: Schoelhammer Riesling 2007

Not to be outdone by their cousins, the Trimbachs, Hugel are also releasing something grand and mature for the first time. And what is really exciting is that it’s a completely new wine made from riesling.

This will be a riesling, from the great 2007 vintage and it will come from a single vineyard called Schoelhammer, a small plot of old vines on the grand cru Schoenenbourg above the town of Riquewihr.

Such an event had to be marked by a grand occasion and so journalists, buyers and sommeliers were invited to taste the new baby on a wonderfully sunny spring day in London. The event was not disappointing. Riesling Schoelhammer is unquestionably a great dry riesling and I can’t wait to have it here in Stevenage for members to buy.

Three generations from the Hugel family came to London that day. Etienne Hugel was there together with his son Jean-Frederic. Better still, André came to represent the senior generation at the unveiling of Schoelhammer Riesling. Etienne’s father is 86 years old and hasn’t really retired. (The senior Trimbach, Bernard, 83, is much the same.)

Three generations of the Hugel family: (l-r) Jean-Frederic, Etienne and André

Three generations of the Hugel family: (l-r) Jean-Frederic, Etienne and André

Born in 1929, André Hugel is the survivor of three extraordinary brothers whose lives encompassed the tragedies of the war years. Alsace did not just suffer occupation as with the rest of France: it was officially annexed by Germany which meant that Alsace men could be called up. Georges, the eldest was called and was wounded on the Eastern Front. Johnny fared better, serving mostly in Italy and avoiding any fighting, acquiring fluency in Italian instead.

Johnny would come to occupy a central place in Alsace not just for Hugel but as a veritable ambassador for Alsace wines in general. André was 15 when on 5th December 1944, Riquewihr was liberated by a Texan regiment. Andre Hugel ensures that the flag of the lone star state is hoisted above the town hall every year to mark the anniversary.

For André Hugel this was his first ever visit to the UK. As Riquewihr’s residential archivist and historian, a visit to London seemed long overdue and thanks to Ray Bowden, one time chairman of The Society, visits to the Cabinet War Rooms were duly arranged. That was in the morning before all three Hugels travelled up to Stevenage. They were greeted by both past and present Chairmen of the Society and by our Chief Executive for a guided tour of the premises followed by lunch.

A Note on Trimbach

Jean Trimbach

Jean Trimbach enjoying his own recent visit to Stevenage!

In my last post, I mentioned that Alsace wines often need time to come round. Many produces hold their best wine back until they feel they’re quite ready. Pierre Gassmann or Domaine Rolly Gassmann is soon to release a top gewurztraminer from the 1994 vintage and he still has some 1990 riesling to put on the market. Trimbach, undoubtedly one of the great names in Alsace also release top wines late. We have some stock of their top wine, Clos Sainte Hune, from the 2009 vintage, released earlier this year (£109).

Trimbach have also been busy buying up vineyards, never too far away from Ribeauvillé, but these will allow them to improve quality and launch new wines. Indeed, a new Trimbach riesling will be launched this year and it promises to be something very special. Watch this space.

Also exciting from Trimbach is the new bottling machine, an expensive investment, but one which will have a positive effect on quality and even allow for bottling under screwcap. We’ve just taken delivery of the 2013 Pinot Blanc (£8.95) under screwcap, and the wine is quite delicious.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Find wines from Hugel and Trimbach in our current offer of the 2013 Alsace vintage.

Thu 18 Jun 2015

An Alsace Spring: Visiting and Tasting

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Springtime seems to be so much about Alsace, or at least it seems to be the case for me. This year it started with a visit to Alsace at the close of winter, returning home on Saint David’s Day. Not a daffodil in sight until I got home.

This had been a packed trip, lasting a full five days with three or four visits a day. Alsace requires a certain stamina: so many grape varieties, so many wines and so many vintages! Alsace wines need time to come round so one is often at least a vintage behind. Most of what I tasted was from the 2013 vintage, the results of which have just been made available in our Alsace 2013 offer.

Josmeyer, whose wines are an integral part of our Alsace range and my springtime itinerary

Josmeyer, whose wines are an integral part of our Alsace range and my springtime itinerary

And what a vintage 2013 has turned out to be. I shall pass over the details suffice to mention a few key points:

• Non-existent spring
• Very late flowering…
• …and then a long wait to a very late harvest.
• Yields were tiny and what little there was of very good quality.

What is clear is that 2013 is very fine for riesling and exceptionally fine for the entire pinot gris family. I don’t often veer towards pinot gris in my tastes but 2013 is a great pinot gris vintage.

There was also a very special week in April when I was one of the judges for the Decanter World Wine Awards: thousands of wines judged by panels of tasters recruited for the occasion from the international wine trade. My job was sorting out Alsace and the Alsace panel of four tasters was made up of Thierry Meyer, a Strasbourg based authority on Alsace, Eric Zwiebel, sommelier at the Summer Lodge Hotel in Dorset and Aristide Spies, a master sommelier based in Belgium. We tasted some 300 wines, awarding medals to the very best.

Spring is also the time of the year when The Society welcomes Alsace through a couple of members’ tastings. We enjoyed triumphant tastings in London at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall where 300 members attended and following that a repeat show in Manchester where a further 200 members tasted 28 wines from seven producers.

Springtime vines

Springtime vines

These were exceptional occasions with some quite extraordinary wines on show. I was especially moved to see Catherine Faller of Domaine Weinbach, still overwhelmed by the double loss of her mother and sister who died within a year of each other. That week was the anniversary of Laurence Faller’s death, such a capable winemaker who left us far too soon.

It was good to meet so many members in London and it was good that they were clearly enjoying their wines. A few told me how struck they were by the marked differences in taste and style and how each of the seven houses present seemed to have a readily identifiable style.

Why should this be so? Of course a lot of it is down to the people who make the wine and in a region which thrives in the spirit of individuality, such divergences are hardly surprising. But there is more.

There is another vital factor that is there to make Alsace so rewarding and fascinating. That extra factor is terroir which in Alsace is particularly complex. Just how geology may affect the taste of a wine is hard to tell and forms part of a much talked about subject. But soil structure in Alsace can change with every few hundred yards and it’s not just about the proportion of limestone to clay though both are present in Alsace. Vines also grow on sandstone, schist, gneiss and basalt, not forgetting alluvial sediments and wine styles differ from producer to producer and vineyard to vineyard.

Vineyard is therefore key to understanding Alsace, at least among the grander wines. Locals of course have known about the best sites for a thousand years or more, though it seems fairly obvious when standing by the sandstone wall that is the grand cru Knipperlé in Guebwiller that this has to be special. And the same must be true for the steep basalt slope of the Rangen at the southern end of Alsace in Thann or the granite of the Schlossberg above Kaysersberg?

Many of these vineyards were recognised long ago; some would have enjoyed the same reputation as any of the iconic sites of the Côtes de Nuits in Burgundy. Yet formal classification has been quite recent. Today there are some 51 grands crus in Alsace and without a doubt these produce the best wines. Soon there will be a secondary classification which will appear as premiers crus. More on that later.

Only four grape varieties, riesling, pinot gris, muscat and gewurztraminer may use the grand cru appellation. There is one exception for the now rare sylvaner grape from the grand cru Zotzenberg; and soon there will be another exception which will be made for the outstanding potential of pinot noir grown on the grands crus Hengst and Vorbourg. Veronique Muré showed two stunning pinot noirs from the grand cru Vorbourg last night at The Society’s tasting in London.

And so, on an emotional note, the Alsace spring comes to an end with the 2013 vintage offer.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Fri 13 Feb 2015

Remembering Colette Faller

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It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Colette Faller. And the tragedy is all the more so that it is less than a year now that we mourned the death of her beautiful and talented daughter Laurence.

Collete Faller, pictured with daughters Cathy and Laurence

Collete Faller, pictured with daughters Cathy and Laurence

Colette was undoubtedly one of the great ladies in the wine business and through her vision and indomitable spirit, Alsace has become one of the top regions for white wine and Domaine Weinbach one of its greatest exponents. Indeed, Domaine Weinbach has become one of the greatest producers of fine white wine anywhere.

The journey was started by her husband Théo, who, with Johnny Hugel and Léon Beyer to name but two, were among the founders of Alsace’s rebirth following the granting of appellation status in 1961. Following Théo’s too early death in 1979, Colette took over, undaunted by the task and with two daughters to look after as well.

The original vineyard at Domaine Weinbach was the walled Clos des Capucins. Today the estate also includes holdings in other vineyards, many of them grands crus, such as the Schlossberg, Furstentum and more recently, Mambourg. Colette invested wisely and was greatly aided in time by both of her daughters, Laurence in the vines and cellar, and Cathy, veritable head of the Weinbach mission across the globe.

Over the years, wine style had changed with riesling becoming noticeably drier, yet Colette always insisted on wines with diamond-like precision and purity. All grape varieties were treated with the same attention to detail. A mere sylvaner was never less than a treat to savour, preferably with a choucroute maison, while a riesling could be an ethereal delight. Late-harvest wines became something of a speciality at Domaine Weinbach and Colette was always willing to share these precious nectars with visitors.

Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach

Receiving visitors at the estate was an operation in itself, masterminded by Colette and of course aided by her daughters. A succession of front rooms provided the stage for what could be a whirlwind of bottles and glasses. These wood-panelled rooms all have interconnecting doors as well as doors leading to the atrium-like space that is the great farmhouse kitchen and so allowing for simultaneous tastings. The third act of Der Rosenkavalier comes to mind with its secret doors and people popping in and out. The three Faller ladies took it in turn, appearing each time with a brace of bottles, sometimes the same ones!

Colette had a sound business sense, choosing partners and customers with care; The Wine Society was very fortunate to be among her favourite customers. Gastronomy was always close to her heart so, not surprisingly, Domaine Weinbach featured on the wine lists of the very best restaurants. Anyone fortunate enough to be served mousseline de grenouilles at l’Auberge de l’ill, might well have been served her riesling from the Schlossberg.

And while on the subject of food, Colette never accepted anything less than perfect. One multi-starred chef was given a dressing down for a dish and asked to do it again, which was done with grace and a smile. On the other hand she did not take kindly to Johnny Hugel’s comments of her muscat, not Johnny’s favourite grape variety as one recalls! Both those indomitable souls are now surely enjoying a laugh somewhere among Elysian vines. May they both rest in peace.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer for Alsace

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Mon 29 Dec 2014

Buyers’ Christmas Wines

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We hope all readers had a delightful Christmas and that those still fortunate enough to be on holidays are still thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The barrage of flavours that comes with the Christmas spread lends itself to so many wines, and we had a great time suggesting bottles to go with members’ festive spreads this year, via this blog and a number of articles and videos elsewhere on The Society’s site. We see no reason not to continue in this vein now that the curtain has come down on The Big Day itself!

Here Society buyers Marcel Orford-Williams and Jo Locke MW’s thoughts on their own Christmas dinner and wine matches:

Marcel Orford-Williams

Marcel Orford-Williams

Marcel Orford-Williams: So Christmas is done for another year and a very good one it was too. I thought I had planned lunch wines well before but in fact changed my mind once, then at least three more times before deciding at the very last minute on a pair of Alsace wines.

No region of France does Christmas like Alsace. It is, according to some, where Christmas trees originated (from the town of Séléstat to be precise). Christmas Eve had been about riesling from the Saar so something else was called for. In any case the richness of all the trimmings with the stuffing I had made using chestnuts and quince called for something quite rich and so my choice fell upon a weighty but dry Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Hengst by Josmeyer from the excellent 2005 vintage (we’re currently selling the 2007). It was just fabulous and matched the food perfectly.

As a contrast I found a pinot noir from the same vintage from Hugel. Both were equally enjoyed and the Hugel was just perfect, still sweet, round, fruity but with enough body match the bird.I shall remember this pairing for next year!

Jo Locke MW

Jo Locke MW

Jo Locke MW: Three bottles stood out over our snow-challenged Christmas in the Alps. Roederer’s Brut Premier was right on form and a perfect treat for three. Catherine Marshall’s 2012 Pinot Noir from South Africa (sadly long since sold out) seemed to have filled out and blossomed into a perfect match for our roast guinea fowl which delivered some gorgeous flavourful juices and meant we did not miss turkey and trimmings at home.

My family’s preference for rare beef meant bavette on Christmas Eve – on the local family butcher’s well-stocked counter a rather unattractive fibrous-looking, if lean, French cut which the dictionary described as ‘undercut of sirloin’. The recommended flash frying to ensure tenderness complemented a delicious bottle of Château Poujeaux 1996, from a Society mixed case of some years ago, which proved that more modest appellations can be a great buy in good vintages. No hurry to drink this one if you have any – indeed, we wished we had a second tucked away!

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