I miss Alsace and all its flowers and greenness but sorting through my photos and notes reminds me how lucky I was to visit. The trip with the Wine Scholar Guild was 5 days and each day had its own surprises. There are pictures of my day-to-day experiences on my facebook page for Traveling By The Glass.
The morning of our 5th day we visited with Cathérine Faller of Domaine Weinbach in Kientzheim (we could see Domaine Weinbach when we were in the Furstentum vineyard with Philippe Blanck Day 3). Weinbach is one of the “holy trinity” of Alsace, the others being Domaine Marcel Deiss Bergheim (which we visited on Day 2) and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Turckheim (Day 1).
The first thing I noticed as we walked into the courtyard were the beautiful roses. Andrew Jefford (our leader and vigneron whisperer) in his briefing mentioned that Cathérine Faller was a master at food and wine pairings and to make sure to ask her questions in that regard.
“The Faller family has been in residence here since the end of the 19th century. Domaine Weinbach is now run by Cathérine Faller, daughter of the late and sadly missed Colette and Théo Faller.
Cathérine had been assisted by her sister Laurence until 2014, but sadly she died very suddenly, aged just 47. Laurence was a hugely talented winemaker and her input was clearly visible in the sheer brilliance of the wines. One of her first achievements was to have the estate certified biodynamic.
At the heart of the Weinbach domaine is the historic Clos des Capucins, a 5-hectare walled vineyard on the site of a 9th century monastery. Clos des Capucins is also a registered trade mark and the name confusingly appears on all their labels, even when the wines come from the family’s more prestigious holdings in the grand crus of Schlossberg (granite), Mambourg (marl and limestone) and Furstentum (limestone).” (From The Wine Society )
Cathérine started the tasting with her 2015 Pinot Noir from Clos des Capuchins with which she recommended pairing pigeon. She said Rhone wines are for game. We tasted a pinot gris which she said pairs beautifully with truffles, a 2016 Muscat that was composed of 70% Muscat Ottonel and 30% Muscat d’Alsace that had the most delicate scent of earl grey tea and bergamot. With the muscat, of course, she recommended the classic asparagus pairing. Then we moved onto her delicious, balanced, nuanced rieslings, where she started to speak about riesling with crab, lobster, langoustines with coconut milk and lemongrass. My notes from here start to get sketchier as I am just enamored with her wines and the thoughts of the versatile food pairings. The last of my notes from the morning I scratched “pinot gris with tuna or gravlax”. As we sipped the pinot gris, the conversation moved onto residual sugar, VTs and SGNs and then we moved onto cheese pairings.
Someone in the group said they had not tried real Alsatian munster cheese (a washed-rind stinky cheese that Alsace is known for) yet, which lead to a long discussion about Catholics, Protestants and styles of wines and styles of cheese. She explained that the difference between Protestant and Catholic cheese was that the Catholics used whole milk (which is more expensive and more luxurious) and the Protestants skimped and used skim. I found this whole conversation amusing since I had a Protestant father and a Catholic mother and this whole conversation referenced the Thirty Years War which took place from 1618 -1648 and was a religious war of Protestants versus Catholics, during which Alsace was a battleground. As a result Cathérine said mostly in jest, there are Catholic valleys and Protestant valleys and the best cheese came from the Catholic valleys because they use whole milk and she happened to have some of that cheese in her kitchen.
This conversation lead to another “priceless” moment of the trip, a tasting in her kitchen of “real” munster cheese (which she happened to have a whole wheel of) with 2 different Gewurztraminer SGNs, one from Schlossberg 2013 and one from the lieu-dit Altenbourg 2001. The 2001 had mushroomy complexity going on, where the Schlossberg was a bit more fruit forward because of the age.
I am not a cook but I love kitchens. Nothing was more thrilling than to be in a real french kitchen not a “fake”one or one decorated to be a french kitchen, this was a real, old, often-used kitchen with the huge stove and pots hanging from the ceiling. I was in kitchen heaven. Cathérine precedes to put a plate together of cheese and bread for our group, for the impromptu gewurz and munster tasting. Yet again both wines tasted incredible with the cheese. This was not your “american”munster, the cheese was closest to Burgundy epoisses. Although you may be able to source real Alsatian munster in the States, between the shipping and exposure to refrigeration, it is almost impossible to replicate the taste of Alsation munster cheese eaten In Alsace. My new relationship with gewurz was solidified and its pairing with the munster was a 1 +1= 3 situation. It was one of those beautiful food and wine pairings that may never be repeated but it is okay, I saw how harmoniously the 2 pair together. Thank you Catherine, if you read this, for a morning I won’t forget!!
The morning yet again reinforced to me that well-made wine with the right food is a simple yet luxurious pleasure much like sitting underneath a shady tree in a gorgeous place. Domaine Weinbach was the place of delicious food, beautiful wines, roses and incredibly hospitable, generous people like Cathérine Faller.