Domaine Weinbach

Faller Genius: Mesmerising Riesling and Gewürztraminer from one of the World’s Greatest Wine Estates

Let’s cut to the chase: Greatness is not always easy to define, yet here it’s straightforward. There’s the legendary quality of the Domaine’s terroirs for a start. Weinbach is the largest land holder on the Schlossberg hill, one of the world’s premier sites for Riesling. Then, there is the outstanding, certified biodynamic work in the vines, the low yields—typically less than 35 hl/ha—and the strict fruit selection at harvest time. Furthermore, there is the classic, minimalist and refined-over-many-decades practice in the cellars that includes whole-cluster pressing, wild-yeast fermentation with no additions, and maturation in ancient, colossal casks. Finally, there’s the brilliance and longevity of the wines themselves, a high standard Domaine Weinbach has been achieving for longer than anyone can remember.

Of course, no discussion of this Domaine would be complete without mention of the great women that established the modern Domaine Weinbach: Colette Faller and her two daughters, Laurence and Catherine. Sadly, two of these great wine women have been lost to us. Today the emblematic Catherine Faller—surely France’s most charismatic First Lady of wine—is the matriarch. Working with Catherine are her sons, Théo and Eddy Faller, who oversee the day-to-day running of the Domaine and are further driving it to higher peaks. Longstanding maître de chai, Ghislain Berthiot, revels in the phenomenal quality of fruit the Faller family give him to work with.

Domaine Weinbach farms 32 hectares of vineyards, predominantly Grand Cru. The most famous terroir is the majestic Schlossberg hill, closely followed by the walled Clos de Capucins; a Weinbach fiefdom that lies around the house and its cellars. Put simply, Schlossberg is one of the greatest Riesling vineyards in the world; the quality of this very famous vineyard was well known as early as the fifteenth century. For this reason, it was the first vineyard in Alsace to receive the status of Grand Cru in 1975. The Weinbach Domaine owns eight hectares of this terroir. Another of the Fuller’s great terroirs is the monopole, Clos de Capucins. Taking its name from the Capuchin friars who arrived here in 1619, the Clos is at the bottom of a slope, well protected from winds by the surrounding hills. Its soils consist of sand, alluvium, granite gravel and pebbles. And we should not forget the majestic Furstentum Grand Cru which, in the gifted hands of the Faller family, produces some of the world’s most profound Gewürztraminer.

Domaine Weinbach is universally regarded as one of the greatest producers of Alsace and therefore by proxy, one of the greatest ‘aromatic’ Domaines in the world. It is a Domaine that produces an endless stream of wines that are as delicious as they are profound.

The purchase, in 2019, of six hectares once belonging to Domaine Gérard Fuchs has added more Grand Cru land to Weinbach’s granite-rich bow. The parcels—now in biodynamic conversion—include mature vines from within the Grand Crus of Mambourg, Mackrain and Kaefferkopf and a one-hectare block in Furstentum planted to Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinots Blanc and Gris. Yet the sale lot was not limited to Grand Cru terroir, and Weinbach has also picked up some choice parcels of villages-level vineyard, all lying within a four-kilometre radius of the winery in Kaysersberg. With many of these parcels now in play, the Faller family has seized the chance to embark on a range of winemaking trials and these fascinating wines are released under the Ø Intrant (Zero Input) label.

In terms of vineyard and winemaking practice, the Fallers work as closely with nature as possible. They have farmed organically for some time; however, in the late 1990’s they began the conversion towards biodynamics, a move which was complete in time for the 2005 vintage. Only organic compost is used, and the high value placed on hand vineyard management means there is no recourse for anti fungal, or insecticides. Since conversion, we’ve noted incremental rise in minerality and freshness of the wines, alongside a higher clarity and depth of fruit. The wines have more body, tone and shape too. Quality is still the key, but the wines are somehow more pristine, with brilliant intensity. They glow with life on the palate, as if they have been lit from the back.

In the cellar, the fruit is whole cluster pressed into ancient large foudres where it ferments on its indigenous yeasts. The ferments are lengthy, unhurried and the wine is untended until it is ready for bottling without fining.

In terms of the style, Weinbach offers a remarkable confluence of intensity and clarity, of power and finesse, as contradictory as that sounds. There is also clarity and homogeneity when it comes to the levels of dryness (a rarity in Alsace these days). Basically, all the Rieslings are dry unless they are late harvest (marked “Vendage tardive”, “Selection de grains noble”, or “l’Inedit”, the latter being a specific late harvest bottling). The Gewürztraminer’s will all have residual sugar, but this will be balanced by the phenolics and natural acidity of the grape. In sum, the carnival of layered, rocky, and at times bewilderingly complex wines crafted at this remarkable Estate is something to behold.

The Range

Weinbach Alsace Grand Cru Furstentum Pinots 2021
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Weinbach Alsace Grand Cru Furstentum Pinots 2021

Biodynamic in conversion. Gris, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois rooted in the Furstentum Grand Cru. Specifically, it is made from about 60% Pinot Gris; the rest is from an adjoining block that is a field blend of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois. Due to the small quantity, all the grapes are co-fermented and aged in smaller (than usual) barrels for 14 months. The vines are around 40 years old. The review offers high praise, and we would expect nothing short of brilliance from this combination of vineyard, grower and vintage. 

“This effortlessly integrates the rich and creamy, spicy and textural sides of Alsace wines to create a powerful yet animating whole. Lots of melon and persimmon, but this is anything other than loudly fruity. A co-fermentation of pinot gris, pinot blanc and auxerrois. The second vintage of this wine declared as a Grand Cru.”
96 points, Stuart Pigott, Jamessuckling.com
Weinbach Alsace Grand Cru Furstentum Pinots 2021
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Weinbach Alsace Altenbourg Pinot Noir 2020
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Weinbach Alsace Altenbourg Pinot Noir 2020

Biodynamic. Echoing the note below, Eddy Faller explains that his Altenbourg Pinot Noir exhibits a more velvety structure than the Schlossberg-raised wine. To highlight each wine’s origins, the winemaking is almost identical, with a ten-day cold soak, followed by up to two weeks on skins, and long aging in predominantly old oak. Again, half the fruit was destemmed. The vines are planted at 10,000 vines per hectare using massale selections from the Clos des Epeneaux in Pommard and the ’21 was crafted from weather-affected yields of below 10 hl/ha. 

“In a blind tasting you could easily mistake this for a top 1er Cru wine from Beaune in Burgundy! Effusive cherry fruit that’s hard to resist. Stunning balance of concentrated fruit, very fine tannins and restrained richness. Then comes the totally silky finish with underplayed power that pulls you back for more of this Alsace pinot elixir.”
95 points, Stuart Pigott, Jamessuckling.com
Weinbach Alsace Altenbourg Pinot Noir 2020
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Weinbach Alsace 'S' Pinot Noir 2020
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Weinbach Alsace 'S' Pinot Noir 2020

Biodynamic. From the 2020 vintage, this wine has been renamed La Colline du Château, after this Schlossberg lieu-dit’s cadastral name, Au Château. Somewhat confusingly, the label we got this year still refers to the previous name “S”, as Weinbach had to bottle with this label for the US market. The Château referenced in the name is the iconic Château de Kaysersberg, pictured at the top of this offer, whose ruins preside over the town and lie a stone’s throw from the western boundary of the Schlossberg Grand Cru. With precious few bottles, we have yet to taste this release. However, Eddy Faller explains that, compared to the limestone of Altenbourg, the granitic soils gift this bottling a more linear and ‘smoky’ mineral style against the rounder and more supple limestone-raised wine. Cropped from steeply terraced, pre-clonal era 1960s vines, it was fermented with 50% whole bunches and aged for two years in Burgundian barrels (20% new); Pigott’s note below reflects not only a terrific year for Alsace Pinot but also the great strides Weinbach has made under the current generation. 

“This has a spectacular spectrum of forest berry, wild flower and sour cherry aromas with notes of fresh herbs and toast. Very focused and intensely mineral with really fine tannins on the medium-bodied palate. Then comes a wonderful wet stone freshness that makes this feel airy at the very long finish.”
96 points, Stuart Pigott, Jamessuckling.com
Weinbach Alsace 'S' Pinot Noir 2020
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Weinbach Alsace MV0 2021
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Weinbach Alsace MV0 2021

Biodynamic in conversion. Weinbach’s striking skin contact release is drawn from a parcel of vines in the Vogelgarten vineyard (the bird’s garden) between the Grand Crus of Furstentum and Mambourg. It’s a blend of 70% Gewürztraminer and 30% Pinot Gris from an east-facing incline of marl and limestone. Here, the steep slope optimises exposure to the sun, producing the kind of opulent Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris—with great aromatic complexity—that Eddy Faller felt would suit a skin contact style right down to the ground. Following three weeks on skins with indigenous yeasts, it is aged for eight months on gross lees in foudre. There were no added sulphites at any stage.This is the third release, and it is undoubtedly the finest so far. The knockout aromas take in amaro, blood orange and orange rind, while the palate is potent and fleshy, with grapefruit and watermelon dovetailing with crunchy freshness and grippy phenolic pucker. All this flavour and texture tapers to a long, salty close. Boom!

This is the third release, and it is undoubtedly the finest so far. The knockout aromas take in amaro, blood orange and orange rind, while the palate is potent and fleshy, with grapefruit and watermelon dovetailing with crunchy freshness and grippy phenolic pucker. All this flavour and texture tapers to a long, salty close. Boom!

“This orange wine has a fascinating nose of candied orange, bitter orange marmalade and tawny port. Stunning interplay of elegant tannins and dried-fruit aromas, the acidity just enough to keep this clean and straight.”
94 points, Stuart Pigott, Jamessuckling.com
“This shimmers in a most alluring pink and amber color. It comes with an enticing aroma of rose and sun-warmed peach, almost bottled peach. The palate has a tannic edge, more of that welcome apple pip bitterness, and real body. Fruit and aroma, rose and peach, seem to complete each other, while the tannic structure supports the delicate freshness. The finish is completely dry. The purity is astonishing.”
92 points, Anne Krebiehl MW, Vinous
Weinbach Alsace MV0 2021
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Weinbach Alsace Les Caracoles Pinot Gris 2021
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Weinbach Alsace Les Caracoles Pinot Gris 2021

Biodynamic. Previously known as Pinot Gris “Ste. Catherine”, this Pinot Gris is now named after its vineyard’s ancient cadastral name, Les Caracoles, which lies in the Schnackator lieu-dit below Altenbourg.Schnackator translates as the “snails gate”, a name perhaps linked to the snail-shaped fossils that run through the vineyard’s limestone soils. It is just underneath the Altenbourg on clay and limestone and the vines are 40-50 years old. The Fallers note that this terroir offers relatively cool, slow maturing conditions with consistently high acid levels in the juice. Add in 2021’s low pH and the limestone soils, and the result is a pristine and uniquely tension-fuelled Alsatian Gris. So much plays out in the review below. 

“If you are ever worried that Alsace pinot gris might be too extravagant for you, here is an incredibly pure and wonderfully balanced example. Super-ripe apricot yet so bright and clean, then you are pulled into the simultaneous rich and tense palate of this amazing pinot gris. Very dry and extremely straight finish.”
95 points, Stuart Pigott, Jamessuckling.com
Weinbach Alsace Les Caracoles Pinot Gris 2021
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Weinbach Alsace Grand Cru Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives Pinot Gris 2020
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Weinbach Alsace Grand Cru Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives Pinot Gris 2020

Biodynamic. The Altenbourg vineyard lies east of Schlossberg, just below the Grand Cru Furstentum. The soil here is composed of limestone and rich clays, and as such, it is considered an optimal site for Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. The Faller family are geniuses in sweet whites, creating ethereal wines that, despite their profound depth, always offer superb mineral drive and freshness. This virtuosity is again displayed in this crystalline, pure and powerful Pinot Gris without a hint of fat. The aromas suggest a kaleidoscope of mandarin, honey, brioche, spice and tarte tatin before a palate of stunning density offset by crystalline, lively acidity that carries the luscious sweetness (from 97 g/L RS) effortlessly. It finishes with astonishing length and mouth-watering clarity.

This virtuosity is again displayed in this crystalline, pure and powerful Pinot Gris without a hint of fat. The aromas suggest a kaleidoscope of mandarin, honey, brioche, spice and tarte tatin before a palate of stunning density offset by crystalline, lively acidity that carries the luscious sweetness (from 97 grams residual) effortlessly. It finishes with astonishing length and mouth-watering clarity.

Weinbach Alsace Grand Cru Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives Pinot Gris 2020
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“Domaine Weinbach is arguably one of the world’s greatest wine estates. Over the years, the Faller family has produced myriad fantastic wines that are sought by wine lovers and collectors everywhere. That consistent track record has shed light on Alsace’s many delicious, age-worthy and memorable white wines. Quality is so high across the board at Weinbach that it is hard to choose a single “best” wine as the subject of a vertical tasting.” Ian D’Agata, Vinous

Country

France

Primary Region

Alsace

People

Winemakers: Ghislain Berthiot and Théo Leiber-Faller

Availability

National

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