Olivier Humbrecht came to Toronto last week to pour recent vintages of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. With brix and mortar special agent Ben Hodson of Trialto Wine Group leading the tasting room charge, Olivier also added in a few youthful historical gems in the line-up, including an “important and fantastic” Muscat that he so righteously and necessarily continues to insist on keeping both viable and alive.
Any time you get the chance to taste with Olivier Humbrecht the inevitable, integral and essential phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence is front and centre. His devotion to ripe phenolics and grape tannin in white wines is now legendary and in many ways, revolutionary. Low pH levels continue to dominate his directive. “Ripe phenols come from the vines and Olivier continues to refer to structure and acidity as a direct consequence of what happens in the vineyard.”
Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht
The other blast from the past brought to the Fine Wine Reserve tasting was a 2006 Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru of such pure acidity it speaks an ancient vernacular and spins in perpetual motion.
Related – All suss terroir
Humbrecht is the Cru chief of Alsace because of the plethora of terroir from which he chooses to make wine. It would be hard to name another Alsatian vigneron his equal of hands and with such a spirit of terroir understanding. In the 2011 vintage alone Zind-Humbrecht produced 29 different wines for Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Spread thin is not an issue. Each Cru, whether Grand, Clos or lieu-dit are approached with equal heedfulness and perpension. Here are the seven wines poured at the Fine Wine Reserve.
Keeping jurassic or neolithic relativities in mind, the young(er) limestone results in a buoyant chemical level of free lime and higher pH, in addition to an earthly, marly tang and richness in clay. With 15 months tacked on there is weight are there are settled flavours, as if mimicking the 24-hour open bottle, tasted last June. “Pinot Gris is the most versatile grape we have,” says Olivier, so matter of fact. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted November 2015.
From my earlier note of June 2015:
The Rotenberg’s shallow, red soils (located on top of the Hengst) bring a whole new set of parameters to Pinot Gris, in stark contrast to the Calcaire. Two bottles were poured. A two-day old sample showed settled and mellow flavours. A new bottle was crackerjack reductive, leesy and with a shocky aridity so unusual for Pinot Gris. The soils bring concentration, here magnified and compressed by the hastened moment. All the hallmarks of the Zind-Humbrecht style are there, if suppressed; tang, herbiage and a spicy spike. Very dry (4 g/L) and really invigorating white wine.
Ripeness is a virtue, magnified here, from a very warm year, now six years on in compression from east facing, oolitic limestone and deep marl soil (classified as argileux calcaire). “Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood,” when Muscat was considered in much higher light. The 2009, dramatic at this age, bobs aromatics to the nines, dressed to thrill. Unctuous and magnetic, this has changed gears in ways that the ’12 had not and undoubtedly has yet to click. Lays claim to Olivier’s adage, “any fruit picked unripe will come with acidity but that’s not the kind of acidity you want.” In spite of ripeness this has maintained the correct amount of tartaric acidity and low pH to petrol up the Muscat truck deep into the end of this decade. Muscat to provide shelter from the storm. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted November 2015
A wine always tough to pinpoint its aromatic desires, especially when so young, but it is not difficult to assess the willingness to thrive in spite of the harshest Alsace geological conditioning. That said, this has seen a minor spectre of development. It has made some new acquisitions; rock spirit outward of expression and ready to party from its early (before the 25th of September) harvest ripeness. Struck Riesling, in flint and some signal clarity of medium to thriving acidity. Southern Alsatian with veins running fine slate and bleeding minerals in steaks running across its salty skin. There should be a willingness to concede this as the most accessible immediate, modern era R de T there ever was. Drink 2016-2028. Tasted November 2015
From a professed beautiful vintage until a week of rain at the end of September, leading to noble rot in many places without sufficient drainage. In the Rangen the botrytis hit but the cause, effect and reaction remained within reason. Smoke and noble rot, out of aromas and into hues. The smell is sweet (carried by 35 g/L RS) but the acidity hides at least half that number, so it rings across with unconscionable aridity. Still the proposal insists that the late harvest sensibility can’t be denied, with its Ixion hyperbole of mineral and acidity. Acidity keeping this Riesling swirling like a Thessalian king punished by Zeus for his love of Hera, by being bound to a perpetually revolving winged fiery wheel. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted November 2015.
“What we call a village wine,” says Olivier, “so it’s usually a sweet wine.” From a well-drained vineyard offering blossoms and blessings of full flavours, supple textures that leave the palate with a sense of weightlessness. “In ’11 Gewürztraminer ripened really well and went to a really good level of potential alcohol,” he notes. Here it remains fresh at 12.5 per cent alcohol and at a healthy level of 75 g/L RS, though just short of existing in the land of Vendanges Tardives. A wine made by the vintage. Subsequent wines would and will more often than not be nearly bone dry. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted November 2015
This is the most northerly Zind-Humbrecht vineyard, in Hunawihr. Like oil and water from this to 2012. So much more richness, unctuousness, classic western European riverbank gluck and heavy weighted metal. Layers upon layers of texture though not nearly as dramatically sweet as it might appear to be. Hides it so well, thanks to those remarkable Windsbuhl gifting phenols and intense grape tannin. This has presence so very rare in Gewürztraminer. In the end its a glass full of liquid gems, polished, elegant and refined. Allow the sugars several more years to fully realize its potential relationship with the acidity. Drink 2018-2033. Tasted November 2015
Settled and amenable in an unexpected way, offering up its level of sweetness that 2011 and certainly 2012, do not, at least not yet. The phenols must have been available in an abundance of riches in 2007. They have allowed for an evolution to take this 2007 into its happy place right now. This has travelled the far eastern path to tropical fruit, of mandarin, in apricot and the mineral cream of south asian stone fruits. Those characterics persist and play nice with the Windsbuhl verve, subduing any notion of drama or over excitement. This is drinking well right now. Drink 2015-2027. Tasted November 2015
Olivier Humbrecht was hoping to pour two more wines, two very singular and very different Sélection de Grains Nobles. The LCBO could not find the shipped cases in their warehouse so they were not present at the tasting. Perhaps they will turn up at the same time the ark of the covenant crate is found.
When I visited and tasted with Olivier at the winery back in June of 2014, I had the opportunity to have a go at a younger vintage of the Pinot Gris. The older 2007 is available through consignment with Trialto, along with the Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles Goldert 2007 ($120.00, six-packs). The Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2007 is also currently available ($180.00, six-packs) in limited quantities. Here was my note on the ’09 Jebsal
A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world. Will live for a century and then some. Drink 2020-2115. Tasted June 2014
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel