Jean Trimbach can laugh now a little -- about the fact that his Alsace region, on France's northern border, has been occupied many times by Germany -- most recently during World War II.
"From the Germans we take our discipline and our sauerkraut," he says. "And our grapes. Our grapes are definitely German."
That would include riesling, gewurztraminer and others. But Alsace doesn't make the German-style light-bodied, low-alcohol, often sweet versions of those wines. Protected from the North Atlantic wind and rain by the Vosges Mountains, Alsace has a warmer, sunnier microclimate, and makes wines that are drier, fuller in body and higher in alcohol and heft.
Jean Trimbach and winemaker brother Pierre make up the 12th generation to run the winery since its founding in 1626. "When I hear of other winemakers leaving home for other wineries, I always wonder about continuity. Pierre can't leave. He's my brother. Our wine tradition is handed down, father to son, for nearly 400 years."
He presented his wine in a seminar in Miami Beach in late February.
Trimbach also specializes in grapes from "vielles vignes," or "old vines" -- many 50 to 70 years old, he says.
"They're huge," he says. "With just a bunch of grapes here, a bunch there."
It's an axiom: The older the vine, the fewer the grapes per vine, the better the wine. Growers speculate it's because they have more time to thrust their roots many meters down toward better nutrients in the soil.
"This brings power and intensity, minerality and aging potential," Trimbach says.
Many of Trimbach's white wines will age 20 years or longer before passing their peaks, he says. They take on more minerality, more of the oily mouth-feel, the pleasant, faint petrol aroma of Alsace rieslings, the litchi fruit aromas of Alsace gewurztraminers, he says.
Trimbach makes food wines, he says. "Our wines love oily fish, they love scallops, they love lobster, they love chicken, they love pork, they love you."
*2009 Trimbach Riesling: bone-dry and spritzy with acid, with lively green apple and mineral flavors, spicy and rich; $22.
*2005 Trimbach Gewurztraminer "Vendanges Tardives" (late harvest): sweet and zingy, with aromas and flavors of honey and oranges; $65.
*2004 Trimbach Gewurztraminer "Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre": aromas and flavors of honey and golden apples, hugely rich and spicy, creamy; $40.
*2005 Trimbach Riesling "Cuvee Frederic Emile": aromas of white flowers and petrol, vanilla, white grapefruit and minerals; $60.
*2002 Trimbach Riesling "Cuvee Frederic Emile": softer, very rich, fresh fruit flavors, white grapefruit; $60.
*2004 Trimbach Riesling "Clos Ste. Hune": aromas of petrol and hazelnuts, rich, mellow caramel flavors; $185.
*2001 Trimbach Pinot Gris "Reserve personnelle": smoky aromas, rich, soft, sweet ripe pear flavors; $45.
*2001 Trimbah Riesling "Cuvee Frederic Emile" "Selection de Grains Nobles" (sweetness increased by infection with "noble rot" called botrytis, which concentrates the sugars): sweet and mellow, with flavors and mouth-feel of honey and hazelnuts; $170.