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Dirler prudence

One by one, the pinnacles of Alsace crumble. Sometimes it’s unexpected tragedy — I still have trouble believing that Laurence Faller is gone — and sometimes it’s the fickle winds of the marketplace. But mostly, it’s climate.

Global warming is ruining Alsace. Actually, let’s make that more strident: global warming has ruined Alsace. The region’s “best” vineyards — the solar-collector grand crus of the Haut-Rhin — are often too hot for anything but slow-ripening riesling (sometimes) and grapes that wine law prefers to dissuade from those notable slopes (like sylvaner, or even pinot blanc). Gewurztraminer? Pinot gris? Forget it. Vendanges tardives-level ripeness is sometimes achievable from a good grower’s first harvest, these days. Yet far too many wines are sweet, alcoholic, and just generally huge, lacking any sense of acidity or freshness such behemoths require.

Saving graces could be coming from the cooler Bas-Rhin, where many sites are fully entwined with the lower arms of the Vosges and their cooling breezes, but a majority of the northern producers seem ill-equipped to handle the change in fortunes. While it’s far from clear that the sites in the north are capable of reaching the same heights as their southerly brethren, it also may just be that producer inexperience with making world-class wine is holding back the quality. Loew manages it. So does Gresser. Kreydenweiss is capable of it, but the wines crack up far too quickly. There aren’t all that many others. And even if there were, who would buy them? The market for Alsatian wines has cratered.

Still, there are holdouts. Trimbach, obviously…though the techniques that preserve their house style are a matter of some debate. Lorentz. Blanck. Mann. Some of the (semi-)non-interventionists (Josmeyer, Barmès-Buecher) manage thicker styles with grace. It’s too early to know what’s going to happen at Weinbach.

I’ve been visiting Alsace off and on for almost twenty years, and the options for something local that I actually want to drink with its already weighty cuisine diminish every year. But there’s one producer I return to again and again: Dirler-Cadé.

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It takes a nation of deux mille to hold us back

[trimbach]Trimbach 2000 Pinot Gris “Réserve Personnelle” (Alsace) — Even when these aren’t fully dry (as I’d guess, due to the richness, that this isn’t), there’s so much acid and structure that they act dry. More pear and metal than spice — that will change over time — and still swaggering and vibrant. I can’t believe I’m writing this about a 16 year old pinot gris, but: while it’s drinkable, I’d hold it longer. (5/16)

Urbain decay

Zind Humbrecht 1997 Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain (Alsace) — Like an oloroso made by ferrets to which has been added stale bathwater and molten lead. Beyond undrinkable. (4/16)

Émmy award

[cfe]Trimbach 1998 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) — Fully mature. The dust of a once-mighty civilization, reduced to corroded steel and acid rain. Like drinking a raw nerve. Absolutely delicious, and everything I ever hoped when I chose to age this by the case. (4/16)


[cfe]Trimbach 1995 Riesling “Cuvée Frédérique Émile” (Alsace) — From magnum…and let me say, for the record, that the John Holmes-ian stature of a Trimbach magnum is a sight to behold. Wielding this giant phallic symbol deftly enough to connect wine with glass is a multi-handed operation, yet the wine is far less forbidding than its pour. In fact it’s a fairly straightforward CFE, its iron and steel fully exposed but with the filigreed detail eroded. It’s lost none of its nerve nor its high-polarity lines of force, yet the overall energy feels diminished and buffeted. Perhaps catching it a bit younger would have been better? (Disclosure: this bottle was a gift from Jean Trimbach, from a 1998 visit to the winery.) (4/16)

Brand identification

Boxler 2009 Riesling Brand (Alsace) – A little sweet, a lot heavy, a fair bit alcoholic. There’s still plenty of honeyed minerality and bronzed musculature, with the stone fruit and gold of the site evident, but it’s just too boozy for my taste, and I’m not sure this is a quality one will want to live with for long. I’d say I was surprised by this result, but a legendarily hot vineyard in a big year…unfortunately, I’m not surprised at all. Dismayed because of what it portends for globally-warmed Alsace. Disappointed that this came from an extremely reliable producer. But not surprised. (4/11)

Time for a Trim

Trimbach 2008 Riesling (Alsace) – A powerfully appealing vintage that has not yet closed down (if it ever will; these négociant bottlings sometimes do, and some of those even come out the other end tasting better…2001 was an example, though it’s well past its prime by now). Vibrant ironfruit, perfect structure. If this all sounds like overenthusiasm, note that what it lacks vs. better rieslings is complexity; this is a direct shot right at the heart of varietal rieslinghood in Alsace, but there’s no ricochet. (8/12)

Bourg invasion

Blanck 2002 Altenbourg Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Singing right now, and as this has been consistent over the last few bottles I’m thinking of drinking through mine at this stage…maybe leaving one or two orphans for latter-day experimentation. The fruit, always more peach than lychee, and with a significant contribution from cashew, has coppered in a very pretty way, and the minerality has started to reveal itself in ruddy glints and reflections. (8/12)


Trimbach 2001 Gewurztraminer “Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre” (Alsace) – Crystalline and restrained. While it’s this latter quality that always marks this wine’s youth, it’s the former that emerges with age, which is not the case for the great majority of even Alsace’s best gewürztraminers, even the ones that age beautifully. As this one has…and it’s worth noting that it’s nowhere near done, either. Bright, light-infused peach and pear, still crisp (another sorely lacking quality of gewurztraminer from Alsace, and especially in these climate-changing times), and just an absolute joy to drink. No, it doesn’t have the lurid decadence of, say, a Weinbach at peak form. The Trimbach style, as damaged as it has been by the inevitabilities of ever-hotter vineyards, still reigns over this wine. While I’d hesitate to say it’s analytically dry, it performs as nearly so, and unlike richer gewurztraminer can still mingle, politely, with dishes that aren’t obvious gewürztraminer partners. (7/12)

By his trade

Boxler 2008 Edelzwicker “Réserve” (Alsace) – Boxler gets this blend so, so right each and every time, letting all the grapes play their part without dominating (as is the case with virtually every other edelzwicker, even the good ones), which just goes to demonstrate the point that sometimes, it really is about the winemaking. Gentle fruit, light-washed and hovering somewhere between stone, whitened, and sepia, recedes as gently as noontide. A lovely wine. (7/12)