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Jun 30, 2010 01:27 AM

Alsatian Riesling

I have heard that this is a very interesting wine. Any picks that are affordable and available in SF?

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  1. Most Alsatian Rieslings are bone-dry. The exceptions are those labeled Vendange Tardive or Sélection des Grains Nobles, and -- often -- those made by Zind-Humbrecht.

    Check out the wines from Kuentz-Bas, Meyer-Fonné, and André Ostertag from ***Kermit Lynch*** in Berkeley. Also in Berkeley are the wines from Ernest Burn and Jean-Paul Schmitt, available from ***North Berkeley Wines***. These are both importers and retailers, so you can find at least some of these wines across the bay in San Francisco as well.

    The Wine House has the wines of René Muré. K&L has a variety of Alsatian wines, including such stalwarts as Trimbach and Hugel, as well as Lucien Albrecht, Boeckel, Schlumberger, and more. They don't carry the entire portfolio of a producer, but a little of this, a little of that. Heck, even BevMo has a couple of wines from Trimbach and Hugel . . .

    That should get you started . . .

    21 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Jeez, I hate to argue with JBL, but the only consistently bone dry Alsace riesling is Trimbach and there's all kinds of nasty rumors that they do that by illegally using yeast. A lot of criticism leveled toward Alsace wines is that people don't know how dry they will be.
      K&L is a great place to start, but the only riesling I recognize there now is Trimbach. Oddlots on San Pablo Avenue in Albany might have some. He usually stocks Engel.
      I'd also check Beltramo's and Paul Marcus.

      1. re: SteveTimko

        Well, there are some other producers that consistently make very dry wines in Alsace - Leon Beyer springs to mind. But the general problem is the sweetness level is not obvious from looking at the label. While Trimbach is a great producer, it isn't the be-all and end-all of Alsace. What are these rumours about the yeast that Trimbach uses?

        I can deal with a bit of RS in an ostensibly dry riesling, as long as there is balance. A producer I love is Boxler, but the pricing is a bit severe here in the US.

        1. re: jmoryl

          That Trimbach uses something other than native yeast to make their wines dry.

          1. re: SteveTimko

            A large percentage of wineries around the world use purchased strains of yeast for their fermentations. Are you implying somthing more sinister like GM yeast? Or are you saying that they don't use "ambient" yeast ? No big deal that, except with those in the "natural" wine cult.

            1. re: SteveTimko

              "That Trimbach uses something other than native yeast to make their wines dry."

              Presuming that this is true, is it then considered illegal (as you posted above)?

              1. re: RCC

                I'm not familiar with this rumor, but I'm curious as to its origins and actuality. Had this been proven? With the prestige of the Trimbach line, wouldn't this be heavily investigated by purveyors of the wine?

                The Trimbachs I've had haven't been overly dry, and I've found them to have a wonderful depth in flavor and texture. If you want it dry and mineraly, to the point of near salinity, their 2002 Clos St. Hune is your best bet.

                1. re: zammdogg

                  It was discussed frequently on the Mark Squires board on the Robert Parker Web site. Sadly it's behind a pay wall now so I can't point you to the links. It's often other wine makers from the Alsace who say it, because try as they might with native yeasts they can't ferment the wine dry. It's like Trimbach has magical yeast.
                  Bone dry rieslings taste sour to me. I've never had a Trimbach I like. All too sour.

                  1. re: SteveTimko

                    Bummer! Hey, maybe they do have magical yeasts. Wouldn't surprise me.

                    I had a really dry riesling from '83, the vineyard escapes me. Might have been a Schloss Johannesburg, but it had a wonderful bouquet and a lush and fruity flavor. A ghost of its former self, but that's neither here nor there.

          2. re: SteveTimko

            Like others in this thread, saying that Trimbach's use of yeast is illegal troubles me. I'm not familiar enough with the AOC regs in that part of the world to say, but I hope you will follow up this.

            Here's a piece that my friend David Furer published in 2002 about Trimbach Riesling.
            In paragraph 3 he describes the house protocol, "Both of Trimbach's top Riesling vineyards are pruned for an optimum of 60 hectoliters/hectare, and normally harvested at 50-60hl/ha. Since 1995, both wines have been harvested at a minimum potential alcohol of 12-14%. The Trimbach house style is considered to be the one of the driest in Alsace. Though they respect their colleagues' choices to make the sweeter style now so popular in Alsace, the four Trimbach men emphatically have no wish to suit fashion by changing. Cultured yeasts are used (OG8 and Grand Cru for the hefe-heads), with a little fining and filtering with kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth). Both wines are rarely chaptalized, the last time being in 1979. The wines are fermented and stored in stainless steel, glass-lined, and temperature-controlled wooden vats. The wines taken off the lees early, while some batonnage on the fine lees is practiced if the vintage is a healthy one. Both wines are normally released about 5 years after the harvest. "

            So, it seems to be common knowledge that cultured yeasts are in play here, and i don't see why there's anything wrong with that unless it violates the law as you imply.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              From what I can tell I was misinformed about the use of yeast by Trimbach.
              The rules of winemaking in France are governed by both AOC and the European Union. Based on questions raised in this thread I attempted to research the AOC rules. It turns out there no no translations readily available in English.
              The person who made the comments upon which I based my comments is no longer easily accessible to me since eBob went behind a pay wall.
              From my own limited, flawed research, I've been able to determine there are some restrictions on use of yeast but it varies by AOC. And it apparently never applies to the simpler wines, only to Crus.
              It was also my understanding that Trimbach disputed that they used artificial yeast, yet your friend's article says they confirm they do. The information I had is that they had threatened slander against another winemaker who said they were using artificial yeast.
              Based on what I've been able to determine on my own, I'm guilty of passing along bad information and perhaps taking part in a game of telephone by passing along bad rumors. So my apologies to Trimbach.

              1. re: SteveTimko

                You betray a certain bias by using the term 'artificial yeast'. Most of the commercial strains are simply cultivated types and are in no way artificial. Unless you are talking about GMO yeasts, which may indeed be proscribed by the EU.

                1. re: jmoryl

                  Suggest a better term for not natural.

                  1. re: SteveTimko

                    Cultured yeast strains? You wouldn't be happy if someone called your purebreed dog an artificial dog, would you? Maybe mutts have nicer temperments and are less prone to inbred disorders.....

                    Using the ambient yeast strains in a winery are not always a universal blessing - sometimes one gets some real off flavors or incomplete fermentations and I can't see how that is revealing any sort of terroir.

                    1. re: jmoryl

                      Pure bred yeasts? I wonder whose bias is showing now.
                      And Pamela Anderson has cultured breasts. . .

                    2. re: SteveTimko

                      Just because a commercial yeast is a specific and isolated strain doesn't make it unnatural. Yeast that doesn't come from ambient sources (bloom on the skins, or in the air) is still natural yeast - it's just a particular yeast chosen for a specific purpose. What's the problem with that? It's certainly not "fake" yeast, as presumably you mean to imply the with "cultured breasts" comparison.

                      1. re: trombasteve

                        I admire plenty of wines made with non-native yeasts. I have no problem with that, so to speak. Just like I like it when I watch my friends dance and enjoy themselves. But it's another thing to watch say Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly dance. Native yeasts are the Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly of the wine world.

                        1. re: SteveTimko

                          All right, fair enough. I wouldn't say I view it quite the same way, but I'm sure you have good reasons behind your stance on this.

                  2. re: SteveTimko

                    "artificial yeast"???? WTF?!?!?!?

                    Most wineries in the world -- though certainly not all by ANY means -- use a CULTURED strain of yeast. This is a far cry from "artificial," which certainly implies "fake," "manufactured," "produced from ingredients not found in Nature." Cultured yeasts strains have been around for decades, and are no different than the cultured strains of lactobacillus used to make yogurt.

                    Indigenous yeast is -- depending upon the environment -- "impure," in that it can/will contain more than one specific yeast strain. Different strains of yeast contributes different "accents" to a wine's character: some may affect a wine's texture, for example, than another; some may be more tolerant of a higher alcohol content; and so on and so on. Different wineries utilize different yeasts to accentuate certain qualities.

                    Champagne producers often develop their own, proprietary strains of yeast for use in their fermentations; this extends, in some cases, to California sparkling wine producers. Most still wine producers -- especially in the US -- utilize yeast strains purchased from one of two major suppliers.

                    It is a common practice, for example, to inoculate the must for barrel fermented Chardonnay while the juice is in stainless to assure an even, uniform fermentation, and then rack the juice into barrel for (the majority of) its fermentation. OTOH, when I was working at Storrs Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, we racked the juice into barrels first and inoculated different barrels with different yeasts -- the idea was to develop a more complex character overall. We did the same thing when fermenting reds in MacroBins -- the Merlot, the Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, etc. all got multiple strains of yeast -- one per fermenter -- in an effort to develop more layers of complexity.

                    Some wineries have used indigenous yeasts with absolutely no problems whatsoever. (Think Bordeaux, but in the US, think Ridge.) Other wineries have used indigenous yeasts and have had nothing but problems (think David Bruce).

                    But ARTIFICIAL??? No . . .


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Artificial may be flawed, but cultured is equally flawed. It implies perhaps even more refined yeast. How do you not differentiate between 71B, created from tomatoes that gives Beaujolais that banana and pink bubble gum flavor. and yeast native for other grapes?
                      Or what about a Frankenyeast like BDX, that even though it is from grapes it turns into a colonizer and once you use it takes out your laboratory and that becomes your permanent yeast.
                      Artificial may be a flawed term, but it is superior to cultured.

              2. re: zin1953

                Cool, I'll check 'em out. I had a dry Riesling at a restaurant in SF once and it was great. I want the famous gasoline aroma, so yeah, I want it dry. Thanks zin, steve and the rest!

                1. re: kishoripapa

                  There is no connection between dryness and the scent of gasoline. Many sweet German wines have a distinct petrol nose.

              3. 3 words ... Trimbach, Trimbach, Trimbach!

                1. And don't forget about Alsatian Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Sylvaner.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Chinon00

                    One of my fav Pinot Gris, is Ostertag A360P, cannot be called by varietal name as aged in wood. Recently found in Ca for @ 25/bottle

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      I believe the labeling issue is not that the grape variety name cannot be used, but rather that Grand Cru Muenchberg (located at A360P) cannot be used on the front label due what the powers that be judge as lack of Pinot Gris site typicity. The name of the vineyard is referenced on the back label.

                  2. Weinbach also makes excellent dry rieslings. Trimbach's Clos St Hune is considered the standard for dry riesling and can be quite wonderful, even if too expensive for moderate budgets.

                    Lately have experienced some problems with St Hune. Opened two bottles of 1999 this week and both showed substantial VA. Previously two bottles of 1988 - one was superb the other badly oxidized.

                    You can almost never go wrong with Zind-Humbrecht although most show some residual sugar. All have great richenss. Meyer-Fonne makes wines in a similar style at more affordable prices. Usually great value.

                    Okstertags are atypical (wood) but often very interesting.

                    1. Just had the 2004 Josmeyer "Le Dragon" last week. Stunning. Powerful and racy. I'd steer you toward a more recent vintage of that wine.