Jolene Hunter, the South African born winemaker at renowned Alsace producer Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, was in town recently to present a selection of their wines in a terroir masterclass.
Although the individual families have been making wine since the 17th century, the modern day story really begins in 1959 when Léonard Humbrecht married Geneviève Zind. Since this time the Domaine has grown to hold 40 hectares, including some of the very best parcels in Alsace’s top Grand Cru and Lieu Dit sites.
Now run by Léonard’s son Olivier (one of the rare number of winemakers who also holds the MW qualification), the Domaine is well known for its non-interventionist policies and have long practiced organic procedures. The Domaine was certified fully biodynamic in 2002.
Rather than simply presenting us with a handful of the circa 30 wines in their portfolio, we were specifically comparing three grape varieties (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer) across two different Alsatian terroirs.
Clos Windsbuhl is the more northern of the two sites and situated in Hunawihr. The vines are spread over 5.5 hectares and planted at 350 metres above sea level which, when paired with the moderating effects from the great swathes of forest to the west, keeps the vines nicely cooled throughout the warm growing season.
The soil here is known as muschelkalk which is an extremely old form of limestone, and the resultant wines are full of clean and pure fruit expressions with well-defined acidity.
Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2014, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace, 12.5%
Medium straw yellow in colour and with a deep citrus nose. Rich gloopy palate full of creamy lemon, honey and white pepper. A very precise streak of acidity cuts through the weight keeping this well balanced.
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2012, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace ,13%
Strict sorting was required in the ripe vintage of 2012 and this ripeness was very evident on the nose. With a similar youthful colouring to the Riesling, the nose here had touches of peach skin to the green notes of lime and apple. The palate was slightly sweetened by the 36.5 grams of residual sugar and had a fleshy lemon curd quality. Very clean and intense fruits played the lead here against a mellow acidity.
Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2013, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace ,13%
Golden in colour, the nose of this wine was full of sweet honey and lemon and extremely powerful. A nice and firm weight in the mouth, the lemon citrus took the lead here backed up by green flesh on the end palate. Like the Pinot Gris before it, a mellow acid took the rear and allowed the ripe fruit to sing on its own. Very refreshing.
We move south now to Rangen, and more specifically to the Clos Saint Urbain, which is the only site in the whole of Alsace that is fully classified as Grand Cru. Sites are on very steep slopes here and are all fully worked by hand as mechanisation is impossible.
The soil is mainly composed of volcanic black rocks and fragments known as Grauwacke which brings out stronger, denser fruits and darker smoky notes. The darker direction of the wine is also immediately visible in the more golden colouring. The rocky fragments heat up quickly in the day warming the grapes and concentrating the sugars. Once again the cooling effect of the high altitude, and the cool night temperatures allow sufficient acidity to remain.
Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2014, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 12.5%
2014 was a good vintage here and this resulting wine possesses a gold colour and lighter body. The palate is lean, with a pin-point acidity matching up to the strong green lime and smoky notes.
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2012, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 14.5%
Golden green in colour, the nose of this wine was full of creamy citrus lemon and lime. On the palate this is joined by fleshy apple flesh, cream, white pepper spice, and hints of peach. Rich and smooth with a mellow, but defined, acid. Fleshy palate, rich and smooth.
Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2013, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 13.5%
Deep golden yellow in colour, the nose was full of sweet honey and lime nose, and a blossom fragrance. Made from 34 year old vines, and with 42 grams of residual sugar, this was intense and sweet but not at all cloying. Lots of deep honey and textured lemon.
Selection Grains Nobles (SGN)
One final comparison came in the form of the sweeter SGN style. Made from strictly selected berries that have been affected by noble rot, these partially raisined grapes lose their water content leaving the rich and concentrated sugars. SGN is the highest rating of late harvest wine in Alsace.
Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl SGN 2008, 10.8%
2008 was a good year for producing SGN wine as the weather was wet in the summer and then dry before harvest allowing the rot to stop and the rasining to commence.
Bronze in colour with very pronounced toffee and sweet honey on the nose, the dense weight was at no point cloying, and the high acid well balanced the ripe fruits of lemon citrus and green apple. More matured fruit notes from dried pineapple and lemon curd. Very long finish.
Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain SGN 2009, 11.8%
This wine was more of a deep gold in colour (the effect of the volcanic soil). On the nose there was toffee, bruised and brown apple and light florality. The palate was just like drinking liquid toffee and extremely satisfying. Creamy and sugary, the acid was more towards medium in this wine and the overall sensation was nicely rounded. Very long finish and extremely pleasant wine to finish on.
With thanks to Gonzalez Byass for the tickets to their portfolio tasting and Domaine Zind Humbrecht masterclass.