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Delhi Wine Club
Outsider’s View of Alsace from the Inside

Posted: Friday, 23 November 2012 12:02

Outsider’s View of Alsace from the Inside

November 23: Alsace is a fascinating special region in the far northeast corner of France.,with Vosges mountains protecting the sunnier land with a patchwork of soils, and specialises in distinctive white varietals, writes Susan Hulme MW who visited a well-known winery, Domaine Weinbach Faller to taste the difference. and was quite impressed.

Alsace is almost a little kingdom in its own right as it is cut off from the rest of France to the west by the Vosges Mountains and on the east it is separated from Germany by the River Rhine. It is special for a number of reasons: although it is so far north, it is drier and sunnier than most other parts of France because it is protected by the Vosges; the upheaval when these mountains were created has resulted in a patchwork of different soils and subsoils from several geological eras.

The area specialises in distinctive single grape varieties such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. As if that weren't enough to set Alsace apart, the wines are varietally-labelled and sold in distinctive tall bottles known as 'Flutes'. Apart from dry wines, Alsace is famous for its Vendange(s) Tardive(s) (VT), which are late-harvested wines, and its Selection de Grains Nobles or (SGN) which are sweet wines affected by noble rot.

Domaine Weinbach Faller- a powerful name in Alsace

They are one of a handful of producers at the top of their game and produce some of the very best examples of Alsace's distinctive style of Gewürztraminer. When I first heard of them, many years ago, they stood out for a few reasons; they made exceptional wines, they had two names and run by three women.

Winery Run by Three Women

Weinbach in local Alsace dialect means “Wine Brook”, and refers to a little stream that flows through the wine estate, while Faller is the family name. Domaine Weinbach was founded by Capucin monks in 1612 but In 1898 it was bought by two Faller brothers (our hostess, Catherine Faller's grandfather and his brother) and it became known as Domaine Weinbach Faller. The estate was later inherited by Théo Faller, Catherine's father, who died in 1979, leaving his wife Colette, and their two daughters, Catherine and Laurence in charge.

Hence Domaine Weinbach Faller came to be run by three women. Laurence Faller was the winemaker until 2010 when she left to move to Germany with her husband and two young children while Catherine was in charge of the business. Recently Catherine's son Théo has been taking care of the vineyards, thereby keeping things in the family.

Visit to the Winery

The day of our visit started with a fine grey drizzle and swirling mists but in spite of the weather the golden and russet colours of the vines in mid-autumn set the steep slopes of the undulating vineyards ablaze. The Faller home where our visit took place is surrounded by the original 9th Century monastic vineyard, the Clos (meaning walled vineyard) du Capucin and all of the estate’s wines are now labelled with this name. Interestingly, the colour of the habit worn by the Capucin monks is where the word cappuccino comes from.

We arrived at the famous walled vineyard and suddenly things fell into place and made sense. What had been a little traditional looking neck label with the words Clos de Capucin on Domaine Weinbach Faller wines now resonated with a sense of history and place.

Immediately behind the walled vineyards, across a small road, rose the green and gold-leaved slopes of the Schlossberg Grand Cru, one of Alsace's 51 famous named vineyard sites or Grand Crus. In the hands of the right producer these Grand Crus represent some of the greatest expressions of terroir in Alsace. Not only that, but single varietal wines made from Alsace's leading grape varieties, in particular Riesling, are like holding up a mirror to the terroir because of the clarity and focus with which they reflect the soils on which they are grown.

Biodynamic topaz jewels

Tasting at the winery was exceptional -partly because of the cosy informality of the setting in the Faller's family dining room, partly because of the warmth of our hostess, Catherine, but most of all, because of the crystalline purity and laser-like clarity of the wines themselves. The wines were put before us like a set of shimmering peridot and yellow topaz jewels beguiling in their vivacity and brightness, as each revealed a little snapshot of their own particular soil & vineyard. Perhaps a key factor in the purity of these wines is the fact that
Domaine Faller have been biodynamic since 1998 and certified by Demeter since 2010.

Catherine told us that they make over 20 different wines or cuvées and that the current 2011 vintage could be characterised as 'juicy'. Through the dining room window we could see the famous Clos de Capucin and the first two wines were made from grapes grown there. Throughout the tasting, Catherine proved to be very enthusiastic and forthcoming with suggestions for food and wine pairings, even going into to some detail with her own recipe for a truffle sandwich.

Our first wine of the tasting was a Pinot Blanc Reserve 2011, a blend of 70% Auxerrois and 30% Pinot Blanc. This was followed by two different Pinot Noirs. All three wines were well made and attractive. Catherine suggested the first wine would be good with Alsace onion tart, or goats cheese dishes or chicken.

Tasting Notes

Susan Hulme MW

Susan Hulme became a Master of Wine in 2005, winning also the Madame Bollinger Tasting Medal, awarded for an outstanding performance in the tasting part. She is a panel judge for the IWC and a regular contributor to Decanter tasting panels. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, former chairman of the Association of Wine Educators (AWE) and the editor of its Newsletter. She has been on the Institute of Masters of Wine Events Committee since 2008. Susan runs her own wine education and consultancy company, Vintuition, based in widows, Berkshire and provides training and wine courses for the trade and public. A major part of her work is running in-house training and WSET exams for wine sales executives. As a young woman she spent a few years in Italy - magical Sicily, followed by Puglia and Naples. Pics for the article were taken by Susan during her visit to Sicily


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