Zind Humbrecht 2013: buy it!

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

What a treat it was to taste the 2013 vintage at the legendary Domaine Zind Humbrecht estate near Colmar in Alsace. First of all, it felt like the United Nations. From South Africans to Americans, owner Olivier Humbrecht has hired an international cast of wine pros to help out. Take Paul Lewakowski, an American wine maker who had previously worked as assistant to Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Meursault.

With Paul

With Paul Lewakowski at the 2013 tasting

He currently works with Humbrecht in Alsace, managing the prestigious 5.5 hectare Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, perhaps my overall favorite Riesling made at the estate. When I bought some wines, I was welcomed by a lady from South Africa, also employed by the domain …

Then there is the talented domain cellar master Paul McKirdy from Scotland, whom I first encountered writing this story for decanter.com back in 2012. He also told me about hailstorm damage in vineyards back in 2013.

Humbrecht was the first French person to have earned the much coveted Master of Wine, and his outlook on making wine is at once intellectual, precise and international. Humbrecht travels around the world to gain an understanding of winemaking in different regions while making high calibre wines in Alsace.

A form of this text also appeared in Harpers Wine & Spirit, but does not include my detailed tasting notes – scroll below for these. Wine lovers should take note: many Domaine Zind Humbrecht 2013 wines exude crispy freshness, purity of fruit, delectable mid-palate sap, medium to full body, and often long and pleasing finishes.

One of the best Rieslings in the world enjoys a superlative vintage in 2013

One of the best Rieslings in the world enjoys superlative vintage in 2013

Created in 1959, Domaine Zind Humbrecht today owns 40ha of vines and is considered to make among the very best wines of Alsace, often celebrated for their opulence. As I experienced in a double vertical a few years ago at the Merano Wine Festival, the domain makes two of the greatest Rieslings in the world.

What makes 2013 special is that most of the wines are dry to very dry – as influenced by what owner Olivier Humbrecht called the vintage’s “racy acidity” and very few keep significant residual sweetness, even amongst richer varieties like Gewurztraminer. If you seek elegance and precision, 2013 is your ticket.

Cellar master Paul McKirdy

Cellar master Paul McKirdy

2013 was not the easiest of vintages in Alsace. Climatic conditions meant that winemakers needed to draw on all their expertise, as the Alsace Wine Council had stressed in its post harvest vintage analysis.

Flowering was delayed and irregular, given a rather cold and humid spring, which lead to flower shatter and millerandage. Strong heat waves marked July and August, leading to water stress problems in some areas. Low rainfall in August allowed vines to catch up a little on their slow development.

Overall, in September, the vines displayed satisfactory health. At the start of the harvest, the region benefitted from good climatic conditions: sun, mild temperatures and nighttime freshness that maintained fine acidity levels.

From their introductory wines to their grand crus, the wines were marked by both freshness and substance. It was revealing for example to compare the Clos Windsbuhl Riesling 2013 with its richer 2012 counterpart. At 12.4˚ alcohol, it was almost one degree less than the 2012, with almost four less grams of residual sugar (8 grams versus 11.5). Although the body and richness of the 2012 was impressive, I preferred the finesse and elegance of the 2013.

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Both excellent but I prefer the elegance and precision of the 2013

Challenging weather in the latter part of the harvest extremely limited the production of Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles overall in Alsace, with a total recorded volume of 3,817 hl (a decrease of over 60% compared to 2012). The harvest at Zind Humbrecht ended on 15 October and Olivier Humbrecht commented: “Achieving top late harvest potential ripeness was difficult.”

But I appreciated lower levels of richness overall. Pinot Gris is my least favorite Alsatian variety because it seems too often somewhat sticky to me, with higher residual sugars, yet lacking the zany original expressiveness of Gewurztraminer. It seems to be in an awkward position, or – as the French say – entre deux chaises. Not so in 2013 at Zind Humbrecht. Most Pinot Gris here conveyed an extra bit of verve that made them more appealing. The Rangen de Thann Pinot Gris, for example, with 13.4˚ alcohol and nearly 13 grams of residual sugar, and the spectacularly delicious Clos Jebsal, which I could not believe had 68 grams of residual sugar: very refined and fresh at the same time.

So, although I bought mainly Rieslings (as well as some Muscats and Gewurztraminers), the only thing that kept me from purchasing some Pinot Gris was limits to my wallet size.

Among favorites, the Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos-Saint-Urbain Grand Cru 2013 (alcohol 12.5°, residual sugar 5 g/l, total Acidity 4.7 g/l, yield 9 hl/ha (!), optimum drinking period 2018 – 2038+, average age of the vines 51 years). The dark rocky volcanic soil combined with extremely steep south-facing slope helps the vineyard catch up late in the season and acquire superb physiological ripeness. Yields were extremely small, even smaller than 2012 and the result is a “vineyard concentrate” Rangen wine. It was like biting into a ripe and juicy pear, with plenty of stone fruit freshness. A must for any Riesling lover.

It was – as ever – interesting to compare the Riesling Brand Grand Cru with the Rangen de Thann. As expected, slightly higher alcohol at 13 but residual sugar about the same at 5.1 g/l and total acidity not much less at 4.2 g/l . The yield was higher at 22 hl/ha with an estate recommended optimum drinking period of 2017 – 2033+. The average age of the vines is 63 years. Brand is a very solar vineyard. It benefits from exceptional sun exposure (steep south facing slope) and warm well drained granite soil that brings richness and maturity. Compared to Rangen de Thann, a greater sense of ripeness and maturity and yet the Brand remains elegant and very complex – and was fermented perfectly dry.

I loved the cool precision of the aforementioned Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2013 (alcohol 12.5°, residual sugar 8 g/l, total acidity 5.2 g/l, yield 34 hl/ha, optimum drinking period 2018 – 2038+, average age of the vines 39 years). Clos Windsbuhl is located on top of a small hill attached to the Vosges forest, just above the village of Hunawihr so the high location explains a late ripening climate, enhanced by the calcareous (Muschelkalk) soil. Olivier Humbrecht’s tasting notes are on target: “The nose shows racy aromas: fruits, wet stones and is already very elegant. There is no extra weight and the palate feels razor sharp, with a mineral acidity that is unique to this vineyard.”

Many other wines were delicious, from the ripe green melon aspect coming from the Muscat Goldert Grand Cru, which I also purchased, and the rich, yet tightly wound (a good thing) Pinot Gris Heimbourg to the introductory level wines including a delicious Zind – a blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Auxerrois – which makes for excellent summer party wine.

It is really hard to go wrong with Zind Humbrecht in 2013.

Complete tasting notes: when bold, I liked; when red and bold even more. When red, bold and underlined? Heaven!

Tasting according to terroir

Tasting according to terroir

Gravel and granite soils

  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Muscat – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    The first of the wines I tried – and a fine (positive) tone setter. Taken from the gravel/granitic soils section. Just under 12 percent alcohol, barely noticeable residual sweetness (3.1 grams per liter) and a low pH of 3.1, this wine gave off expectedly grapey scents with a touch of pleasing floral aspects. The brisk acidity was refreshing and makes this a great buy. (90 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Herrenweg de Turckheim – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    As said in opening remarks as published by Harpers Wine & Spirit, I am not a super Pinot Gris d’Alsace fan, but this was setting a positive tone with brisk acidity, so I was “pleasantly surprised” with this achieving lower than expected sugar maturity, finishing fully dry in 2013. Stone fruit and a touch of nutmeg. The palate is fresh and brisk. Nice job! (89 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Terroir d’Alsace – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Made mainly from declassified parcels from the Herrenweg and Brand vineyards, this wine’s first vintage was 2008. Crisp and clean with a “vin sec” on the label! I like the stoney aspects, and even though dry, it exudes ripeness and weight. 12.6% alcohol with 3.3 grams of residual sugar and a low pH of 3.2. Lovely! (91 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Brand – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
    Always interesting to compare the Riesling Brand Grand Cru with the Rangen de Thann. As expected, slightly higher alcohol at 13 but residual sugar about the same at 5.1 g/l and total acidity not much less at 4.2 g/l . The yield was higher at 22 hl/ha with an estate recommended optimum drinking period of 2017 – 2033+. The average age of the vines is 63 years. Brand is a very solar vineyard. It benefits from exceptional sun exposure (steep south facing slope) and warm well drained granite soil that brings richness and maturity. Compared to Rangen de Thann, a greater sense of ripeness and maturity and yet the Brand remains elegant and very complex – and was fermented perfectly dry. (95 pts.)
Olivier Humbrecht MW, but this picture taken at Domaine de Chevalier in Bordeaux: the man travels!

Olivier Humbrecht MW, at Domaine de Chevalier in Bordeaux

Volcanic sedimentary soils

  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Thann – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Smooth, rich and racy at the same time. Flavorful with with an aromatically dry finish, even if a touch short. (90 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
    Keep in mind that this – and the other higher end 2013s – tasted in March 2015 are but babies, and that in this case the point score reflects future development more than current state of affairs. So, the Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos-Saint-Urbain Grand Cru 2013 has the following “figures”: alcohol 12.5°, residual sugar 5 g/l, total Acidity 4.7 g/l, yield 9 hl/ha (!), optimum drinking period 2018 – 2038+, average age of the vines 51 years. The dark rocky volcanic soil combined with extremely steep south-facing slope helps the vineyard catch up late in the season and acquire superb physiological ripeness. Yields were extremely small, even smaller than 2012 and the result is a “vineyard concentrate” Rangen wine. It was like biting into a ripe and juicy pear, with plenty of stone fruit freshness. Long finish! A must for any Riesling lover. (96 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
    Well, well. This is a terrific Pinot Gris. Harvested by 15 October, the estate would have liked to have picked even later but the situation did not permit it. I think the relatively low 3.7 pH with its dry aspects – 13.4 per cent alcohol and 12.9 grams of residual sugar (not too high for this Pinot Gris) just make it a gorgeous wine. Flinty and smokey aromatics and Olivier Humbrecht’s notes are revealing: “The palate demonstrates how elegant a wine can be if harvested at a very low yield (in this case, 20 hectoliters per hectare), yet still carrying obvious ripeness.” Rounded mid palate, strong mineral character and brisk acidity leading to a lifting finish. Bravo! (94 pts.)
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Tasters at Zind Humbrecht

Limestone muschelkalk soils

  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    I loved the cool precision of this wine (alcohol 12.5°, residual sugar 8 g/l, total acidity 5.2 g/l, yield 34 hl/ha, optimum drinking period 2018 – 2038+, average age of the vines 39 years). Clos Windsbuhl is located on top of a small hill attached to the Vosges forest, just above the village of Hunawihr so the high location explains a late ripening climate, enhanced by the calcareous (Muschelkalk) soil. Olivier Humbrecht’s tasting notes are on target: “The nose shows racy aromas: fruits, wet stones and is already very elegant. There is no extra weight and the palate feels razor sharp, with a mineral acidity that is unique to this vineyard.” (94 pts.)
  • 2012 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Interesting to compare the 2012, also at the tasting, with its younger sibling. At over 13˚ alcohol, almost a full degree more than the 2013, with almost four more grams of residual sugar at 11.5. The body and richness of the 2012 was impressive, as it seemed almost exotic by comparison. With plenty of contour on the mid palate and a long finish. But I preferred the finesse and elegance of the 2013. (93 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    A very expressive nose (honied and fruity, rich yellow apricot). But indeed, given the vintage character, the palate is almost surprising by comparison: very brisk acidity and freshness, with excellent focus on the rounded and full bodied palate. Once again, a truly fine Pinot Gris, balanced and coming off dry, although with 14.5% alcohol and 10 grams of residual sugar. The low pH of 3.4 balanced things nicely. Bravo! (93 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Wow! A triple whammy from this great cooler terroir, this time for the aromatically appealing variety that is Gewurztraminer. I could not believe it was 34 grams of residual sugar. Very little noble rot, given the aforementioned difficulties for late harvesting in 2013, and the acidity (pH of 3.5) brings fine structure to balance the weight. Really lovely old rose aromas, and touch of ginger. Just delicious and even subtle. (93 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Zind – France, Alsace
    A delicious Zind – a blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Auxerrois – which makes for excellent summer (or any) party wine. At 13.4% alcohol with just 3.1 grams of residual sugar and a low pH of 3.1, it has a limestone like freshness, but a medium plus body coming from the Chardonnay. The vintage character shines through in the form of “juicy saline acidity,” as Olivier Humbrecht stressed. A great deal, and bravo! (91 pts.)
A wine to impress party guests

A wine to impress party guests

Limestone Oolithique terroir

  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert – France, Alsace
    From the get go, a juicy green melon aspect that beckons drinking. Had to buy of this, as I do not have that much high quality Muscat in my cellar. And you should too ;-). The fruity aromatics set the stage for a dry and elegant palate, classic acidity from the terroir, and a long lingering finish. About the best expression of Alsatian Muscat one can buy. 12.6 percent alcohol, 6 grams of residual sugar and a low pH of 3.2. (93 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Goldert – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
    Here we have a grand cru that underwhelmed just a bit. While the Gewurz Clos Windsbuhl had almost 15 grams more of residual sugar, this wine seemed to come off as sweeter! Viticulture manager Alex Guth called it a more “feminine” style but I have not clue about that metaphor. For me, it just seemed to lack the verve of most of the other grands crus that I so enjoyed in this tasting. Having said that, there is no denying this wine’s rose and floral aromas and rich texture on the plainly full bodied palate! (90 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Calcaire – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Yet another successful Zind Humbrecht Riesling from 2013, exuding wet stone and ripe citrus expressions on both the nose and medium plus body palate. A lovely Riesling, crisp and pure and long on the finish. (91 pts.)

Limestone oligene and gypsum soils

  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Heimbourg – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Well, now, the nose and palate were really tight and reduced, so it took time to ascertain the intrinsic qualities in glass. Marl-limestone soils in a smallish 7.5 hectare vineyard of which Zind Humbrecht owns over 4 hectares. Finished bone dry like so many others in this vintage, as 12.7 percent alcohol with 3.6 grams of residual sugar and a low pH of 3.1, the reduction prevents its full fruit expression at this stage just after bottling but excellent salinity and acidity, with medium plus body and a long finish. (91 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Here we go again, in a good way… High acidity, complex and rich. Another fine Pinot Gris in 2013. The full bodied palate has a density that one gets from this variety, especially as the vines get older (here we have an average vine age of nearly 30 years), but with a brisk limestone terroir influenced salinity that lifts the long finish. Lovely!(92 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Tasted just after the Heimbourg and it just got better with this slightly cooler feeling wine, coming from vines grown on poor rocky red calcareous mother rock. Even more of a “limestone” like freshness albeit slightly higher alcohol – 14 as opposed to 13.8 for the Heimbourg. The difference may lie in lower residual sugars with Rotenberg: at 5.3 grams as opposed to 6.9 for the Heimbourg. Very citrus like on the nose and palate, full bodied, although slightly reduced. With aeration, very flinty and almost Riesling like. Just delicious! (93 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Calcaire – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    Well, here was just one wine in the entire 2013 series I did not like that much. Made mainly from the young vines of Hengst, along with a vineyard near the Goldert, I felt as if the residual sugar dominated the wine, leading to a sensation of monolithic sweetness overall. It is a wine that one can enjoy but lacks the verve of so many others from this vintage at Zind Humbrecht. (85 pts.)
  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Hengst – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru AOC
    Here we have a textbook Gewurztraminer of high quality: both high ripeness and freshness. Although I clearly prefer the Clos Windsbuhl as more elegant, the Hengst – with more residual sugar and a slightly higher pH – will please those who seek opulence in their Gewurz. A velvety and rounded texture and yet the 2013 vintage character keeps it from ever being over-rich. Nice job! (92 pts.)
Jebsal Chuztpah!

Jebsal Chutzpah!

  • 2013 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal – France, Alsace, Alsace AOC
    What Chutzpah! Really this wine is amazing in that it manages to integrate a whopping 68 grams of residual sugar to come across as balanced and savory. Is it the deep, rich marl gypsum soil that remains cool and fresh? Does that engender the excellent acidity and freshness? I have not clue, but I can just say that any Alsace Pinot Gris lover (and non lover for that matter) must try this. As Olivier Humbrecht wrote in his detailed notes for this tasting: “there is no sense of heaviness.” Cheers to that. Full bodied, long finish, high flavor intensity. Go for it!(94 pts.)

All in all, 2013 Zind Humbrecht is a strongly recommended purchase across all price points. Don’t hesitate!
Posted from CellarTracker

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