A first-hand report on the wine situation in Alsace was presented in an interview here recently by Hubert Trimbach, whose family wines, sold under the Trimbach label, are among the finest made in the region.
Unlike other white wine regions of France, notably the Loire, Alsace fared well in 1977. The harvest was about 15 percent higher than in 1976, and while the new vintage will not be the equal of its predecessor, Trimbach feels the wines are "light and nicely balanced." The finest wines of Alsace are long-lived. They keep for several years without losing quality. Therefore Trimbach recommended drinking '77s first and allowing the '76s, which are "coming along nicely" to age. "They need a little more time in bottle to develop and become harmonious," he said.
Hubert is the merchant, while his brother, Bernard, makes the wines. The family has been in the business for four centuries and under Bernard's hand, the wines have been complimented for their unusual elegance and purity, although occasionally criticized as too austere.
"My brother," Hubert explained, "is against allowing forcing malolatic (secondary) fermentation. He feels it robs the wine of freshment and life. So his wines take a little more time to come to maturity, but they last longer and stay flavor for longer."
They also cost more than most of Alsatian wines sold in this area. Production is limited, only 70,000 cases a year, so not much is shipped here. But Trimbach's riesling, sylvaner and gewurtztraminer are available in wine shops and on some, restaurant lists. There are special (more expensive) cuvees of both the riesling and the gewurztraminer.
Like so much else, worthwhile in life, prices for Alsace wines are going up. According to Trimbach, the '77s, while leaser wines, will sell to the trade for about 10 percent more than the 1976s. He blames the increase on four years of steady inflation in France and higher prices asked by growers when they learned of the short crops elsewhere.
Even following the increases, the wines of Alsace will remain comparative bargains. Look for them.