Super-Alsatian?


My recent article about Alsace has moved me to try more from that lovely region and my efforts have been rewarded with a most extraordinary wine.

It is produced by the wonderful Domaine Zind-Humbrecht – an incredible producer and not one to rest on its laurels. Like so many of the great Alsace estates they have been at it a long time, the Humbrecht family have farmed here since 1620 and in 1959 Leonard Humbrecht married Genevieve Zind. From that moment the reputation of the house really took off with concentrated wines being produced from a scattering of great vineyards. Leonard’s son Olivier now runs the domaine and he has taken Zind-Humbrecht to new heights of fame; he is France’s first Master of Wine and has developed an extraordinary understanding of his terroir and his grapes and has become a passionate advocate of Biodynamic viticulture.

I have to be honest, I can only really understand the basics of biodynamics and find it all a bit odd – if interesting and amusing. However, some of the biodynamic wines that I have tasted force me to take the whole subject very seriously – as they are often startlingly good.

Whether that is because biodynamics works, or that biodynamic farming ensures that a great deal more care is taken in the vineyard than normal, I am unqualified to say. I just know that virtually all the biodynamic wines that I have ever tasted have been great examples of their type.

The Humbrechts are not afraid of hard work; Leonard bought some superb vineyard sites on steep rocky land just when his peers were moving away from the slopes to the more productive and economic flatter land. As a consequence everything has to be done by hand, making the eventual use of biodynamic concepts something of a natural progression.

The domaines’s holdings include vineyards in, see my map here:

Grand Cru Hengst, in Wintzenheim.

Grand Cru Goldert, in Gueberschwihr.

Grand Cru Rangen, in Thann.

Grand Cru Brand, in Turckheim.

They also have other great vineyards that are not in the Grand Crus;

Rotenberg, a lieu-dit in Wintzenheim.

Clos Häuserer, a walled vineyard in Wintzenheim.

Herrenweg, a lieu-dit in Turckheim.

Clos Jebsal, a walled vineyard in Turckheim.

Heimbourg, a lieu-dit in Turckheim.

And most famously of all Clos Windsbuhl, a walled vineyard in Hunawihr.

Zind-Humbrecht have helped create the modern trend for extremely concentrated and ripe Alsace wines that as a consequence contain more residual sugar than used to be the norm.

To help their customers to enjoy their wines the small print of the label, very small print, includes a sweetness index shown as ‘Indice 1’ (the driest) through to Indice 5 (a sweet wine similar to a Vendage tardive).

I have to admit that this tendency to make very concentrated wines with high sugar content means that I do not always enjoy the wines of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, but I always appreciate their quality.

Zind-Humbrecht Zind 2006
Vine de Table

Right from the off this wine is a bit odd. Firstly it is a Vin de Table, yet Alsace has perfectly straightforward appellation regulations. The reason for this wine’s lowly status is that it is made from a grape variety that is not permitted in A.C. Alsace wine – Chardonnay.

Actually it is 65% Chardonnay blended with 35% Auxerrois. Auxerrois is a classic Alsace grape, but its reputation has often been diluted by being blended with the less fine Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois can legally be called Pinot Blanc in Alsace even though they are not the same grape. Auxerrois is an historic cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir and it is thought that Chardonnay has exactly the same parentage too!

Gouais Blanc by the way is something of the vinous missing link, being one of the parents of Chardonnay, Gamay, Colombard, Romorantin and even Riesling.

The next oddity about this wine is that the label declares it to be from the 2006 vintage. It is illegal to declare a vintage on a humble Vin de Table, so borrow some reading glasses and look again – that is not ‘2006’ but a batch number ‘Z006’, with the zeroes shown as stylised barrel ends.

In tiny letters under the alcohol level it states; Indice 1 – meaning that it is a dry wine.

The grapes come from the steep and rocky Clos Windsbuhl in Hunawihr that is thought to be Zind-Humbrect’s finest and the vines are over 60 years old.

My tasting:

As you would expect from this producer the wine is quite viscous with a rich peachy pale gold hue.

The aromas are enticing with peach notes very apparent together with some attractive spice character with white pepper and cloves.

The palate is succulent and richly textured with nectarine fruit mingling with poached pear, a taut minerality, a touch of acidity and it is very dry. The fruit is very attractive and there are honeyed nuances and nutty characters and an oily texture.

This is quite a mouthful of wine that certainly makes its presence known on your senses and yet it is only 12.5% alcohol (thank goodness).

It feels like a classic wine with a pedigree, you certainly know that you are tasting something. It is rich enough and elegant to enough to appeal to many people and to be very versatile and has decent length.

A very good wine indeed that I found very moreish, indeed unusually for me I have emptied the bottle on my own with no food in sight – 89 points.

For those of you who are nervous of Chardonnay, do not worry – Chardonnay just adds an elegance and a succulence here as well as a feeling of real dryness to the wine. The true character in many ways seems to come from the rich Auxerrois with Chardonnay giving the balance and finesse.

Zind is available from Uncorked.

So, perhaps the Alsatians should emulate the Tuscan producers and blend an international grape with their own native vines to produce wines that will appeal more to the modern palate and tame the sugar levels in the local grapes?

Chardonnay-Auxerrois, Chardonnay-Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay- Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay-Pinot Gris – Super-Alsatians anyone?

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