I went to Zind-Humbrecht in Turckheim last month and met with cellar master Olaf Richter, as Olivier Humbrecht was out of town. Olaf is an affable, ingratiating man who has worked a circuitous path outside of the wine world en route from the Pfalz (across the Rhine) to this extraordinary domaine, where he has soaked in more than just wine. We talked at length about many things, wine and beyond, and--as you might expect--we tasted through many, many wines (I'll publish my complete tasting notes soon).
An Astounding Beginning
We tasted through more than twenty of the estate's 2007s, and it would be difficult--because of such uniformly high quality--to single out one wine, except for the one that would stand out because it doesn't belong: a Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is from the Clos Windsbuhl, a vineyard famous for Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. And here they've made this extraordinary Chardonnay, so perhaps Chard should be added to the list of permissible grape varieties?!?! Since it is not on that list, it is relegated to Vin de Table status, and the vintage date may not be printed on the label. This is ludicrous, as such a seriously made wine has no business not being recognized as such, which Vin de Table isn't. M. Humbrecht made this wine from strictly controlled yields from vines in a vineyard cherished for the quality of regionally permitted varieties, and it spent some time in two- to three-year-old barrels obtained from a grower in Burgundy. In context, it hardly seems like Alsace wine when you taste it, but it is not like any Chardonnay I've ever had, either. It is a fascinating wine, combining elements of juniper, mint, and ginger into a serious, incredibly expressive wine that is unmistakably Chardonnay. This wine was but a harbinger of the things to come.
Looking for the Mystery
The wines that I found most stimulating were those that seemed to be hiding their hand. There were five (of eight) Rieslings that conjured this feeling in me, Clos Häuserer, Heimbourg, Clos Windsbuhl, Rangen-Clos St.-Urbain, and Brand Vieilles Vignes; two Pinots Gris, Clos Windsbuhl and Rangen-Clos St.-Urbain; two Gewurztraminers, also from Clos Windsbuhl and Rangen-Clos St.-Urbain. The sense of mystery in these wines was mentally and emotionally energizing and unsettling. They seemed to express qualities reminiscent of a scratch lottery ticket...with each passing year, more of the layer obscuring the prize is scraped away. At the same time, all the elements were there, you can taste them, draped like many curtains over the final goal. When they align to express their true nature, each in its own way, what a reward there will be!
A Few Bargains
The 2007 Pinot Gris Calcaire is a standout for value--it is "declassified" Pinot Gris from young vines in Clos Windsbuhl and Heimbourg. It would be incredibly useful at the table, as would both the Riesling Turckheim and the Riesling Herrenweg. The Gewurztraminer from Gueberschwihr, from vines adjacent to the Goldert Grand Cru, is a also a great value.
The Nectar of the Gods
There has been a trend in Alsace towards cultivating specific vineyards or plots only for the production of late harvest wines. Domaine Weinbach uses Gewurztraminer from the Grand Cru Mambourg in this manner, and Bruno Sorg uses its Gewurztraminer from the Grand Cru Florimont this way as well. Zind-Humbrecht cultivates Pinot Gris in the Clos Jebsal for this purpose alone, and this is one of the vineyards about which I was most curious. It is within sight of the winery, planted entirely with Pinot Gris, lies just below the Heimbourg vineyard, and is adjacent to the Grand Cru Brand.
The wines from this vineyard were radiant, golden expressions of sun, rain, and honey. The 2007 Sélection de Grains Nobles is an extraordinary, moving wine, with its sweetness taking a back seat to the rich panoply of flavors that cross your tongue (but don't think it is low on sugar!). Extraordinary doesn't fairly describe the 2006 Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale, the flavors of which continually returned in waves...the finish slowly subsides, only to return a few minutes later. A wonderfully sensuous experience. One final note--from further south on the same hillside, I tasted the 2007 Riesling Brand Sélection de Grains Nobles...I wrote in my notebook, "I'm just going to sit and enjoy this one awhile." Now that's a great wine.
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