Current gold indeed
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
16 March 2017
In 2015, I reported for Decanter on the Alsace harvest as being warmer than usual. The Alsatian Wine Council (CIVA), for example, had allowed acidification in Alsace for the first time since 2003, because acidities were lower than in previous years. But, acidity is above 2003 in general, thanks to cool evenings in August and September.
So I do admit to having felt just a bit of trepidation before tasting the just-bottled 2015 vintage wines of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht earlier this week.
Some wine professionals judge Zind-Humbrecht as too rich, especially in warmer vintages. But as Eric Asimov noted in the New York Times, way back in 2011, the style has changed, for some time already. By the time I wrote an article in Decanter Magazine, in 2014, about a focus on making dryer wines in Alsace, the pace had only increased.
How did I find the 2015s? My third year in row to taste the latest vintage to be offered from bottle at Zind-Humbrecht? Remarkably balanced, pristine and, for the most part, rather brisk. There is a Hermes-like quality, a velvety smoothness, to many of the wines, and much underlying power in the more prestigious brands like Brand and Rangen de Thann, coming from particularly advantageous terroirs and older vines.
The Gewurztraminer Rangen de Thann, for example, was nothing short of amazing, as was the Riesling Brand. I was particularly impressed with the Clos Windsbuhls. They displayed especially zingy acidity that framed very well the richness and depth. The price was right, too, so I could not hesitate and promptly purchased some of these. And the less acclaimed – and more affordable – brands proved delicious and smooth as well.
Sure, you have residual sugar in these wines, but there is for the most part supreme balance and a sense of wines meant to be enjoyed à table: fine gastronomic wines.
You see, dear reader, I totally adored the cooler fruit expressions of the 2013 vintage at Zind-Humbrecht, as you can read in my review in Harpers Wine & Spirit and here in Wine-Chronicles.
I had a similar reaction to 2014, as you can see in the video below, from last year’s tasting from bottle.
So before tasting the 2015s, a line from Shakespeare’s King Richard III came to mind, when he remarked to his accomplice the Duke of Buckingham: “Now I do play the touch to see if thou be current gold indeed.”
Certainly the context is very different, but 2015 proves that Zind-Humbrecht is a great wine producer in Alsace, with precise expressions, especially of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, whether the vintage is on the cooler side (2013, 2014) or on the warmer side (2015).
For those who may not know: Since 2001, Zind-Humbrecht wines indicate sweetness levels, so that his wines do not surprise consumers. In fine print below the alcohol level, the code (known as an indice) ranges from 1 (dry) to 5 (rich and sweet).
As a lover of dryness and precision in my Alsatian wines, I very much appreciate Zind-Humbrecht’s added dimension of opulence and nuance, a dimension that rarely goes into the realm of over-richness, as you can see in my tasting notes.
2015 Zind-Humbrecht? Current gold indeed.
Tasting notes. As usual, wines in bold, I liked in particular. When red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too, a kind of wine nirvana.
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Turckheim – France, Alsace
Lovely dry expression of Gewurztraminer. The older vines (average age just below 50 years) lends much substance to the palate, a vinous aspect, that complements subtle spice and exotic fruit flourishes that are never too much. For some palates accustomed to sweeter Gewurztraminer, could be a learning curve wine, but I really enjoyed this. (90 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim – France, Alsace
Somewhat hard to taste after the Gewurztraminer (would have been better to have tried in reverse order) and seemed a bit closed by comparison, not very expressive. But there is vinosity and elegance overall. (88 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Terroir d’Alsace – France, Alsace
I love the precision of this wine, and its vivid expression of fruit, quite a bit of citrus and touches of orange rind. It has just over 13% alcohol and 5 grams of residual sugar, all well balanced, and made from the younger vines in the Brand vineyard (so about 32 years old). Quite a bargain at 17 euros a bottle from the domain! (91 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Brand – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
A contained power, subtle expressions of fruit and wet stone with such depth and length. Tasted again towards the end of my visit and just one word popped in my head: “gorgeous”. Indeed, the 65 year old vines lend such depth of flavor, with an excellent balance of 13.5% alcohol and just under 7 grams of residual sugar. Not quite the driest on Zind Humbrecht’s register (Indice 2), but seems to be a tour de force in the making, and highly recommended. 100 euros ex-domain. (95 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
Between Brand and this one, I would lean towards Brand for now – if only because Brand costs 21 euros less, ex-domain. Otherwise, qualitatively, they are more similar than different. Both subtle in expression, but perhaps Rangen de Thann more expressive and even coming across with more weight and richness, in spite of the fact that it has less residual sugar than Brand. Very full bodied, nuanced and fresh on the finish. I vaguely remember getting a more excited feeling from the 2013 vintage, but this is darn delicious, too. (95 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Roche Volcanique – France, Alsace
Very impressive dry expression of Pinot Gris, which used to be called Le Thann. Quite full bodied with 14.2% alcohol, but moderate pH of 3.5 and but 4 grams of residual sugar keep this nicely balanced while flavorful. Nice job! (91 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
Rich and quite concentrated, with over 32 grams of residual sugar which I felt, 13.1 alcohol. I almost prefer the Pinot Gris Roche Volcanique because it comes across drier and more supple. But this wine needs time in bottle and I am sure it will be fantastic down the road. Especially for lovers of Alsace Pinot Noir. (92 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
Well, well, well. My initial reaction to this was a wine that was even more impressive than the two great Rieslings of Rangen de Thann and Brand. Well, OK, a different cepage of course and a different style, but this is the one of the very best Gewurztraminers I have ever had, period. Why? One has opulence, sure, but also substance, depth and beguiling spice aromatics that are at once subtle and cascading in impression. And all that with well over 40 grams of residual sugar. But these are so well incorporated, and there is such fine energy to this wine, that people (like me) sensitive to sweetness in wine, don’t notice that aspect. Oh, and it is very long. I would even go so far as to say that this wine is supremely gastronomic and would accompany lobster with butter very well, for example. A tour de force indeed. (96 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Roche Calcaire – France, Alsace
Well, a bit of a letdown in that the 12 grams of residual sugar come across too much for my taste. The wine lacks the verve and stone like minerality of, say, Roche Volcanique! (86 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Heimbourg – France, Alsace
In an awkward phase, no doubt, this wine is closed yet precise and focused on the palate. With a pH of 3.1, 4.5 grams of residual sugar and 12.7% alcohol made from grapes grown on vines planted some 22 years ago, I am sure it will wake up with more time in bottle. (89 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Häuserer – France, Alsace
For me the residual sugar – at 18 grams – seemed to come too much to the fore for this one. And yet we are talking about vines planted way back in 1973. Let’s cross the fingers and hope that time in bottle will make it more balanced. (86 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Roche Calcaire – France, Alsace
A lovely expression of Gewurztraminer, one of the least opulent and rich and most focused and precise, retaining of course the characteristics of the grape but in a lower key. A most refined expression and this with nearly 25 grams of residual sugar. Nice job! (92 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Hengst – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
Most appealing wine, delicious aromas and palate, from quince jelly and muscade to nutmeg. Not decadent but nearly there, and irresistible. (93 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace
Much potential here. At this stage the acidity (2.9 pH) seemed a bit disassociated with the alcohol (12.3%) and residual sugars (12 grams), but what a pristine, clean wine, with tension and focus. And, yes, substance. I think with time in bottle this will turn out just great and so my score reflects perhaps more the potential than the current tasting experience. I bought some without hesitation. (94 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace
A lovely, frank Pinot Gris. The pH is moderate at 3.3 with 10 grams of residual sugar (higher than for the Riesling) and 13.2% alcohol. Again, I am not a huge fan of Pinot Gris, so the score reflects more the wine for lovers of the grape. I was more excited by both the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer. (92 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace
Gorgeous focus here, with a sense of zing that seems a bit atypical for the grape. Opulence and spice, sure, but also fine structure and a sense of vivacity. Not as rich as, say, Hengst, this comes across as more refined, and I prefer it overall. Nice job! (94 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendange Tardive – France, Alsace
A deep and impressive wine with such substance and matiere as the French say. But for me – at this stage – the 73 grams of residual sugar were a bit too much to handle. It certainly needs a few years in bottle to come together and be perhaps like the wonderful experience we later had with a VT Pinot Gris from 2005. (90 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Zind – France, Alsace
A fairly straightforward and pleasing dry white. (88 pts.)
- 2015 Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
One of the best Muscat I have ever had. Why? It exuded an intriguingly cool and pristine expression of salty sea-like air. Along with the more typical “grapey character” there were also touches of white pepper. Just lovely wine, with medium to full body, and reminding us why this can be grand cru: nearly 30 year old vines, with 6.9 grams of residual sugar, 3.5 grams of acidity per litre, and 13.5% alcohol, all nicely balanced! I bought some. (93 pts.)
- 2005 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Vendange Tardive – France, Alsace
Gorgeous wine! So excited was I that I had to do a selfie video with friends who came to this marvelous tasting. Certainly opulent and full of spice and some notions of candied fruit, but also much structure and body, with a long finish and an overall sense of balance. A whopping 91 grams of residual sugar, but this was not merely “sweet” at all. The limestone freshness coming from the soils lends a certain freshness in the experience, a vibrancy. Bravo! (95 pts.)
- 2014 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg – France, Alsace
I really enjoyed this wine, as being crisp and fresh. Alas, I tasted it AFTER the late harvest Pinot Gris 2005, so it was somewhat difficult to appreciate. But a lovely expression of the grape and terroir. (91 pts.)