Olivier Humbrecht stopped by Wine Spectator’s offices recently to show me and my colleague Alison Napjus the range of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s new releases, primarily from the 2007 vintage. Humbrecht and I have been sitting down to taste through the new vintage of Zind-Humbrecht's multiple cuvées each year for the past 8 years, beginning with the 2000 vintage.
It's always instructive and educational. Humbrecht, France's first Master of Wine, is very hands on in both the vineyards and cellar and has an encyclopedic command of the Domaine's 100 acres, which are spread over dozens of parcels from Clos Windsbuhl in the village of Hunawihr, north of Colmar, to the steep and brooding Rangen in the south on the edge of the village of Thann.
As in other regions, the 2007 flowering in Alsace occurred very early and over a short period. As a result it was very even. Warm and wet weather in June and July created a lot of fungal disease pressure, but it was easy to control at Z-H. "There were never 7 days in a row of dry weather," said Humbrecht.
Nonetheless it was less humid than in the maritime regions of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. August was cool and slowed the ripening, followed by good weather from about the 25th of August through October. "The grapes stayed incredibly healthy through September for all grape varieties," he said.
It was necessary to wait to get any botrytis, so there is a big contrast in the range of wines from very dry (e.g. one gram per liter of residual sugar) to very sweet (247 g/l RS). Humbrecht noted that roughly half the wines in the cellar fermented very quickly as a result of healthy grapes and more available yeast, while half fermented over 8 to 11 months.
In all, we tasted 37 wines. Here are my highlights.
Of the two Muscats, the Alsace Grand Cru Gueberschwihr Goldert was refined and complex, with floral, peach and mineral flavors. It was just off dry (6 grams RS) and Rieslinglike (90 points, non-blind).
The Rieslings were stunning, ranging from bone dry to almost vendanges tardives (VT) in style. Each had its merits; however, it was the Alsace Wintzenheim Clos Häuserer that struck me for its stubbornness and firm structure, leesy character and pastry notes that will allow it to age beautifully (91 points, non-blind). If you want a Riesling to drink young, go for the fruity, juicy Herrenweg de Turckheim; if you want something to reach for in 10+ years, the Clos Häuserer is the way to go.
Humbrecht presented the wines in pairs, and when we got to the Clos Windsbuhl and Rangen, there were unanimous smiles and murmurs of approval. The Alsace Hunawihr Clos Windsbuhl was bone dry, exhibiting a gorgeous nose of floral, apple, pine forest and mineral. On the palate it was racy, focused and taut, yet also dense and long (93 points, non-blind). The Alsace Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St.-Urbain, also bone dry, was immediately savory and stony, adding tropical fruit to its flavor range married to a powerful, complex, firmly structured and smoky profile (94 points, non-blind). It was a notch above the Clos Windsbuhl, and potentially classic (95-100 points).
For the first time, Humbrecht kept the oldest vines of the grand cru Brand (at least averaging 57 years old, but possibly pre-WWII) separate, because they were influenced by botrytis. It's the Riesling in the range closest to VT in style, but more off dry, with 18 grams RS. Labeled Vieilles Vignes, it showed intense aromas and flavors of wax, coconut and apricot, all displayed on a gossamer, refined and harmonious frame (94 points, non-blind).
Moving on to Pinot Gris, the Alsace Turckheim Herrenweg had the allure of candy, offering aromas and flavors of peach, quince and vanilla on an opulent, yet juicy and mouthwatering frame (90 points, non-blind). As impressive as the Wintzenheim Rotenberg was (91 points, non-blind), it was the Alsace Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St.-Urbain, with its complex smoke, mineral and dried fruit profile and long, ironlike finish that impressed me (93 points, non-blind).
The Gewürztraminer Alsace Turckheim, from 20- to 30-year old Herrenweg vines, revealed a classic varietal character of honey, lychee and floral notes on a generous texture (90 points, non-blind). From the Alsace Hunawihr Clos Windsbuhl site, Humbrecht fashioned a lush, thick and creamy Gewürztraminer close to VT in style, yet with fine acidity to back it up (92 points, non-blind).
I want to mention two sélection de grains nobles wines Humbrecht made from Gewürztraminer in 2007, because for each vineyard, it was a first. The Alsace Grand Cru Wintzenheim Hengst SGN, with about 240 grams RS, showed a strict nose of dried apricot and spice, followed by an intense, rich and elegant feel on the palate, with a long spicy aftertaste (95 points, non-blind). The Alsace Gand Cru Gueberschwihr Goldert SGN, also at about 240 grams RS, was fermented in a new 600 liter demi-muid. Thick and concentrated, yet balanced and detailed, it featured pure honey, orange peel and coconut flavors that dovetailed on the seamless finish (97 points, non-blind).
What I took away from the tasting was that the range of wines is much drier in 2007. This is in part due to the favorable weather and healthy grapes and in part from more efficient yeasts that Humbrecht feels is a result of the biodynamic work in the vineyards.
Furthermore, the wines are transparent, allowing the individual terroirs to shine through. I feel this is also related to the drier style; wines with high residual sugars often mask the terroir when young.
Finally, it looks like a successful vintage for Zind-Humbrecht and likely for other top-quality estates from the region. Look for official ratings in upcoming issues of Wine Spectator and WineSpectator.com.