2017 at Domaine Zind Humbrecht

An excellent vintage, built for aging

14 March 2019

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

It is always a pleasure to taste the latest vintage of wines from Domaine Zind Humbrecht.

And so it was on 12 March 2019, at the domain, where I joined various participants, including Paul Liversedge MW, who is based in Zurich.

Quite a contrast to 2016, a very good vintage, although some wines seemed a tad understated. Not so in 2017, a vintage of low yields due to a harsh spring frost and a hot and dry summer, which led to concentration and high quality, if somewhat lower-than-average acidities.

Indeed, summer temperatures were unusually high, classifying the vintage as the 5th hottest over the last 40 years in Alsace, by some estimates. As some readers recall, 2017 is known also for devastating morning frosts in April, which were widespread but localized to certain sectors, especially around Colmar, and did most damage on the plain and lower slopes.

Although many excellent terroirs, including the legendary Rangen de Thann, were not too affected, owner and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW explained that the “bit depressing” frost led to losses ranging between 95% and 30% for his potential production.

Hardest hit was Gewurtztraminer, more vulnerable to frost. Indeed, for some areas, Humbrecht explained how his father – who has 60 years of vintages behind him – had never seen so much frost damage. “In one morning, we were only able to harvest 42 hectoliters (nearly 1,110 gallons) of Gewurtztraminer, planted in seven hectares (17.3 acres),” Humbrecht wrote in his vintage summary.

For those grapes that withstood the frost, however, quite ideal weather conditions and an adequate level of rainfall encouraged steady growth of the vines leading to the precocious and fast harvest, which started earlier than usual in many areas, given the summer heat: Humbrecht writes of a veritable heat wave (la canicule) already in the latter part of June and July, that provoked some hydric stress. Thankfully August was not as torrid, so grapes were able to be picked at excellent maturity.

What is perhaps most fascinating about 2017 was how the low crop made the vines more drought resistant. Furthermore the quality of the phenolics was such that the wines leave you with an impression of structure akin sometimes to a red wine, Humbrecht said. It was especially important to pick at the right time in 2017, either for some vineyards that were late because of the frost or for others that could have exhibited too much potential alcohol if picked too late, as maturity came quickly.

With regard to late harvest wines, the drought brought less botrytis, as expected, but the passerillage ended up making the grapes became desiccated and dried out, which enhanced the impression of acidity and preserved the fruit more.

Humbrecht believes that 2017 is a “grand vintage” the quality of which will be proven with excellent aging potential. As you can see in the video, it was interesting how he compared the vintage to 1985, by opening a bottle of Muscat from the Goldert terroir from that vintage – a gorgeous wine by the way.

Huge thanks to Charles Amponsah for filming and editing the video. 

With one or two exceptions, the wines of Zind Humbrecht in 2017 that I tasted indeed came across very well balanced. Another interesting thing is that although the acidities were a bit lower than average, they were of high quality – and pH levels were rather low!

Tasting notes: as usual, if the wine is in bold, I liked it in particular. If red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too, a kind of nirvana sets in.

  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Zind – France, Alsace
    I liked the Zind in 2017 even more than last year’s. Just as smooth but it seems to have more nuance, this blend of 70% Chardonnay and the rest Auxerrois. The vines are getting older – 28 years old and owner and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht still considers them “young”. No denying the fine limestone terroir, and the pH at 3.2 is low enough to ensure zing to this Zind. Just over 3 grams of residual sugar per liter, and clocks in at 12.5 per cent alcohol. Do not hesitate with this Vin de France of Alsace! (92 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Roche Calcaire – France, Alsace
    More “young vines” at 27 years old! And you know what? This may be one of my favorite Pinot Gris wines I have tasted in a long while. I am not a fan of sticky wine and too often Pinot Gris has a bit too much sweetish aspects, but this one? No way! Indeed, these are younger vines from the great Clos Windsbuhl limestone terroir at Hunawihr. Still not old enough for the grand vin, this wine nevertheless conveys crisp precision and focus, with excellent juiciness on the mid palate. Just under 3 grams of residual sugar per liter and balanced by loads of acidity (the pH is 3.25). Indeed, the words I wrote on my tasting sheet were “gorgeous” and “elegant” so do not hesitate to get this one either. What I will write may seem like heresy to some, but the younger brother here seems even better to me than the grand vin, which, at 7.7 grams per liter, has over twice as much residual sugar per liter, and you can feel it. I get a better sense of balance in this wine and bought some bottles! You should, too. (93 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Windsbuhl – France, Alsace
    This may surpass the already excellent 2016. I love the fruit purity here, which comes across less baritone and earthy when compared to, say, either the Brand Riesling or the Rangen de Thann Riesling. There is real elegance to its expression, reflecting balance between alcohol at 12 per cent, residual sugar at 5.8 grams per liter, and total acidity at 4.8 grams. The pH is nice and low, at 3. Indeed, I think the 2017 has perhaps even more purity of fruit than what I had experienced last year, which was also very good. But if the price is right for you, and you lean towards refined Riesling (who doesn’t? 😂), then seek this out. (94 pts.)

Some of the excellent 2017s I tasted at Domaine Zind Humbrecht

  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendange Tardive – France, Alsace
    OK, as far as late harvest Pinot Gris goes, this is very hard to beat. I give it a very high score because the vintage did not see much botrytis and yet this one does. The aromas beguile the taster! At once you get a refined sense of white pepper, wet stone and then on the palate a fabulous combination of white stone fruits and botrytis derived flavors also echoed on the nose, including black tea and acacia. Just a gorgeous wine to enjoy on its own. And, by the way, the whopping 91 grams of residual sugar never feel over the top. It is truly a balanced wine, with dry extract and acidity to come across veritably elegantly. Bravo to Olivier and his team. (98 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    The famous volcanic terroir, the ever older vines – averaging 55 years old – and the vintage character come together to bring forth a rather concentrated yet earthy and focused Riesling. There is a certain burgeoning gunflint here that leads to an almost tannic palate, with a freshening iodine like aspect. At 13 per cent alcohol, the wine achieves fine balance with 4.2 grams of residual sugar per liter, 3.8 grams of total acidity and a low 3.15 pH. I kept going back and forth between this and the Brand. Both are really good, but I am giving the edge to the Brand and you will read why … In any case, 95 points ain’t shabby and neither is this wine, by a long shot. (95 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Brand – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    Everything about this wine impresses. Purity, density, dimension. Let’s talk about the 8 grams of residual sugar, shall we? Well, they were superbly balanced by nearly 4 grams of total acidity and a low pH of 3.1. The alcohol is just over 13 per cent and the average age of the vines – 67 – ensures a substance on the palate that is undeniable. You get citrus fruit, wet stone and subtle floral notes. The palate is – as evoked – dense and layered. There is much going on here, and the wine will give you pleasure for many years to come. Buy six bottles or 12 and taste (and enjoy) over the years! (96 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    Wow what a difference a year makes! Last year I was a bit underwhelmed by the wine, as it seemed a bit like a wallflower, but this year’s edition has more of everything. You would not think that the residual sugar is 8.6 grams per liter, because the acidity balances it out so well, and you end up with less withdrawn wallflower and more purity of fruit and floral aromas. Overall, you get a light, elegance from this wine, and promising for the future. Owner and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht surprised participants with a 1985 edition of this same wine, which tasted more like Riesling. Even he was thrown by its profile and would have guessed Riesling. I will get into that tasting note later, but Humbrecht found similarities between 2017 and 1985 as vintages. If that be the case, then buy this and stash away, if you cannot resist it now… (92 pts.)
  • 1985 Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    At the end of the 2017 tasting, owner and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht pleasantly surprised participants with this bottle and what a bottle it was! Such complex aromatics including cinnamon spice, white truffle and gunflint. The palate followed though, with juiciness and vivacity for a white over 30 years old. My goodness! This is why the Muscat grape was one of the original grands crus grapes in Alsace. Not to mention the microscopic oyster limestone terroir on a gentle slope and the 30 year average age of the vines, and the winemaking skill here … BRAVO! (95 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Häuserer – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    I love the mouth puckering citrus aspect to this wine. Talk about a sensation of acidity, as the 4.5 grams per liter in total (a pH of just over 3) balanced out the nearly eight grams of residual sugar per liter. Alcohol was just over 12.5 per cent. The vineyard, planted at the foot of the famous Hengst vineyard, includes deep limestone soil that lends freshness to the wines, and the vines – planted in 1973 – are getting close to a half century in age. Humbrecht and his team did some savvy pruning that somehow saved the grapes from too much frost, as this is a cooler climate. There is a lot of energy to the palate, which is more linear than broad. Nice job! (93 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    While the structure is impressive, and one senses dry extract and yellow stone fruit flavors, here was one case where it seems that the wine comes across more pasty and sweet, and lacking enough verve for the pristine balance of many of the other wines in this series. (88 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Häuserer – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    I love the mouth puckering citrus aspect to this wine. Talk about a sensation of acidity, as the 4.5 grams per liter in total (a pH of just over 3) balanced out the nearly eight grams of residual sugar per liter. Alcohol was just over 12.5 per cent. The vineyard, planted at the foot of the famous Hengst vineyard, includes deep limestone soil that lends freshness to the wines, and the vines – planted in 1973 – are getting close to a half century in age. Humbrecht and his team did some savvy pruning that somehow saved the grapes from too much frost, as this is a cooler climate. There is a lot of energy to the palate, which is more linear than broad. Nice job! (93 pts.)
  • 2017 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenburg – France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
    Tasted just after the Pinot Gris Heimbourg, this comes across much better to me. Coming it seems from a slower-to-ripen soil, the resulting wine has less residual sugar and a bit more acidity and thus comes across as cooler with a more distinct wet stone aspect combined with fresh herbs and even a bit of smokiness. As Humbrecht notes himself: “a wine that is dry and precise, almost having the structure of a red, with salivating acidity”. Nice! (92 pts.)

I will post more notes from wines tasted in the next few days …

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