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Elegant Alsatian style suits Chinese cuisines

The suitability of Alsatian white wines to local food has been triumphed for years, yet the market has not fully appreciated the synergy between the two. Red is still the color of choice for drinkers on the Chinese mainland, and about nine out of 10 bottles consumed are of the more auspicious color.

Our Asian neighbors, however, are already converts to the "Eat Asian, Drink Alsace" campaign, as the delicate minerality and floral aromas are often complementary to the vast array of cuisines found on the world's most populous continent. Put simply, while trying to shoehorn the big Bordeaux blockbuster into a Chinese meal is often a matter of face, matching a racy Alsatian riesling or a sublime gewurztraminer is a better match of taste.

Wine aficionados often point to that special wine that converted them to what can almost be described as a religion - that first sip of honeyed nectar that stood quality labels apart from the rest. Perhaps, then, it will be the wines of Domaine Weinbach that turn local drinkers into full-blown converts.

The estate was established in 1612 by Capuchin monks captivated by the surroundings, let alone the quality of the soil. In 1898, it was acquired by the Faller brothers, who left it to their son and nephew Theo in the 1930s. After his death in 1979, the domaine fell to the capable hands of his wife Colette and eldest daughter Catherine, who was recently in town to promote the exquisite drops. Together with wine maker and younger sister Laurence, the Faller ladies were the first women to lead and manage a winery in Alsace.

Despite their accomplishments, the elder Faller daughter is quick to modestly downplay the challenges faced in what is still considered to be a masculine-orientated world. "There are more and more women nowadays, whether it be in wine making or in wine distribution and more and more as sommeliers. This was not the case 30 years ago," she said.

There is no denying, however, the feminine, elegant stamp of the wines produced biodynamically on their 28 hectares (domaine Weinbach makes its wines from 100 percent estate-grown grapes, many of which are from old vines with low yields of about 22 hectoliters per hectare). "We privilege the elegance and the balance in the wine, because it's easier to produce rich, concentrated, powerful wines," said Catherine. "It's less so to produce wines that really combine concentration and elegance, and wines which are food friendly. The more elegant they are, the more food friendly."

The wines are unbelievably seductive. The 2007 Muscat Reserve had delicate floral notes and a long lingering finish that spoke of white fruit. The 2007 Riesling Cuvee Theo, a citrusy, lemony wine, had such beautiful acidity that drinkers would reach for another sip almost immediately.

The 2004 vintage was particularly impressive for the Grand Cru vineyard of Schlossberg, and the Cuvee Sainte Catherine L'Inedit, a wine first released on St Catherine's Day, was a delicious release that had a rich bouquet and a fine, silky mouthfeel. The underlying acidity supported the fruit, which carried through long after the intense attack. This was wine to be paired with delicacies such as lobster or foie gras, and it definitely made for a good match with Asian flavors such as lemon grass.

Gewurtztraminer is another important grape in the Alsace repertoire, and too often it is left unfettered where it becomes sickly-sweet, or the minerality is not harnessed, leaving the wine slightly bitter.

The Domaine Weinback offerings, starting with their 2006 Reserve, wrap the intrinsic bitterness in sweetness, much like orange peels. The 2005 Vendanges Tardives (late harvest), was cloying, opulent and voluptuous, demanding attention from even the merest dabblers in the art.

Faller attributes the wines' success to dedication to biodynamic principles. Far from a marketing tool, the farming philosophy ensures the vines are stressed to a degree where they develop their own strength against the vigors of nature.

This point was made in 2003, an exceptionally hot vintage, when, having been trained to stand for themselves, the vines sent their roots deep into the various soils to ensure they had enough water.


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