This Alsace Riesling is from a single grand cru site in one of the best Alsace vintages.

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A wine legend because…

Single-vineyard wines, other than those from grand cru sites, are not that common in Alsace, and over the decades Clos Ste-Hune has won a reputation as the finest of them all. It is only produced in good vintages; thus in 1980 and 1984 no Clos Ste-Hune was bottled. 1990, by contrast, is recognised as one of the greatest years in Alsace. The reputation of the Clos is not restricted to Alsace; many critics and sommeliers regard it as one of the greatest white wines in the world.

Looking back

The Trimbachs have been producing wine in Alsace since the early 17th century, and have owned the Clos for more than two centuries, although the first vintage to be released commercially was the 1919. In 1990 the winemaker would have been Pierre Trimbach and this was his first vintage after taking over from his father Bernard.

The vintage

Like its predecessor 1989, 1990 was an outstanding vintage in Alsace, although the crop was reduced by about 25% after poor weather at flowering. But the aromatic varieties were more troubled by these problems than Riesling. The winter was mild and dry, so in spring the vines experienced a growth spurt that was brought to a halt by miserable weather in June, just before flowering. Thereafter the growing season was fine and the harvest took place in early October in perfect conditions; sugar levels were abnormally high.

The terroir

The Clos is a 1.67-hectare parcel within the 26ha Rosacker Grand Cru, but the Trimbachs (like the firms of Hugel and Beyer) have always been firmly opposed to the grand cru system in Alsace. Since the existing grands crus have been generously defined, they feel it would be a disservice to this great wine to place it on the same level as other Rieslings from this site. There is no doubt that Clos Ste-Hune is easily the finest wine to be produced from Rosacker, and the Trimbachs wish to protect that renown. The site faces southeast on a gentle slope, and has rather heavy marl and clay soils over a limestone subsoil. The average age of the vines is about 50 years. Yields are generally about 50 hectolitres per hectare – low but not especially so, given that Riesling can reach a potential alcohol level of 13.5% at such a yield. It is the small size of the Clos that ensures production rarely exceeds 8,000 bottles in any year, a rarity factor that, in addition to its quality, justifies a very high price. Despite this very limited production, the Trimbachs have occasionally, as in 1989, produced an even scarcer Vendange Tardive (late harvest) from the Clos.

The wine

The Trimbachs have long produced Rieslings that are among the most severe and uncompromising from Alsace. These include not only Clos Ste-Hune but the magnificent Cuvée Frédéric Emile as well. They have never followed, indeed have always opposed, the trend to leave some residual sugar in the wine. (That said, the 1990 did have 5.6 grams of residual sugar, so rich was the fruit, but there is no perceptible sweetness.) To preserve the acidity so key for the longevity of their wines, the Rieslings do not go through malolactic fermentation. Although fermented in stainless steel, the wine is aged for about six months in large old casks. It is bottled relatively young, but then spends five years in the Trimbach cellars before release. Clos Ste-Hune does not seek to charm, and the initial impression given by a young vintage is often one of ruthless austerity. It’s a wine that demands bottle age and should not be broached until it is at least seven years old.

How does it taste?

Reserved, nutty apricot and apple nose. Very rich and full-bodied on the palate, supple yet nutty and mineral, a touch alcoholic but has splendid persistence.

The facts

Bottles produced 8,300

Composition 100% Riesling

Yield 59 hl/ha

Alcohol 14.2%

Release price N/A

Price today £395 x1 bottle Handford Wines (UK)