Dinner With Helfrich Winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with Helfrich Winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin and taste current releases of his wines. Helfrich is a family owned winery that was founded in 1934; it sits in the northern part of Alsace. They farm the Steinklotz vineyard which is one of only 51 in all of Alsace that has Grand Cru status. Additionally they source some of their fruit under long term arrangements with trusted neighbors. Amazingly Nicolas’ family has had a winemaker in every generation dating back to 1560. Prior to his time back home in Alsace Nicolas studied and worked in Burgundy and then spent a six months in New Zealand. It was a pleasure tasting wine with Nicolas and witnessing his passion for his work. Helfrich’s portfolio includes a carefully considered array of wines that share commonalities of quality while they are also each distinct. What follows are my thoughts on a trio of my personal favorites from the evening. The Helfrich 2012 Gewurztraminer was produced entirely from fruit sourced in Alsace. This wine is composed entirely of Gewurztraminer. After harvesting the fruit was destemmed and placed in a horizontal press. The juice was then passed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. It was settled and racked on the lees to help round it out. This wine is finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $14.99. This wine opens with a gloriously big nose that shows off tropical fruit aromas in abundance. The palate has apricot and Lychee fruit was well as white cling peach flavors. The finish is long and lusty with bits of mesquite honey and spice closing things out. The Helfrich Gewurztraminer is a gorgeous wine that I simply wanted to keep drinking.

The Helfrich 2012 Pinot Blanc was produced using fruit sourced within Alsace. This offering is 100% varietal. After harvesting the fruit was fermented at cold temperatures for about a week and a half. It was then racked on the lees. It’s bottled and closed with a screw cap. This Pinot Blanc has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Subtle hints of petrol emerge first on the nose of this Pinot Blanc. Fruit characteristics emerge next and dominate. Peach, wisps of nectarine and papaya are all part of the palate. Copious spice notes and a continued mélange of fruits make up the finish which has nice length. This wine is crisp and refreshing, perfect for warm weather sipping.

The Helfrich 2011 Pinot Gris Grand Cru was produced from fruit sourced at their own Steinklotz Vineyard. This offering is 100% Pinot Gris. The fruit was hand harvested and then destemmed. Whole grape membrane pressing followed. Fermentation was accomplished at cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks. This Grand Cru offering has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright stone fruit aromas burst from the gorgeous nose of this Grand Cru Pinot Blanc. The palate here is dense and layered with delicious, rich fruit flavors speckled with spice characteristics. Wave after wave of fresh and unctuous fruit flavors keep coming as this wine envelops your senses. The finish is substantial and lingering with spices, bits of honey and fruit flavors reverberating impressively. This Pinot Blanc was a sublime match with Pork Confit and side of sautéed Brussels sprouts.

What I love most about this trio of wines and the Helfrich portfolio in general is the great bang for the buck they represent. Alsatian wines, at this level of this quality, that we typically find on our shelves in the US often sell for much more. These are delicious wines that work wonderfully on their own and paired with food. In some cases they work well with cuisine more substantial than you might anticipate. These are well made wines that are affordable for everyday drinking and substantial and interesting enough for special occasion drinking as well, particularly in the Grand Cru tier. If you enjoy complex, aromatic whites with substance, do yourself a favor and look for one of the offerings from Helfrich.