15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

Old Sherry at the Cariñena Museo del Vino

Old Sherry at the Cariñena Museo del Vino

“You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness.” I wrote that nearly a year ago. It holds true, as before, near, dear and clear to me today.

Extreme cold ushered in January of 2015 and the obvious lede was Coming wine from the cold. Halfway through the month an epiphany of sorts knocked upside the cerebral cortex, elaborated upon in Varietal Spanish wine. That smithy precursor would lead to revelations in October.

As January wound down and I prepared to hit the Niagara Icewine Festival, (revealed in We the Icewine) I first asked a matter of fat cat factual question, Is writing making a mess of wine? “The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose questions without answers. They must be asked very slowly.”

Related – Mind blowing wines of 2014

The weeks of suffering through frozen days and night breeds reflection and thought. While the temperatures remained cursedly south of 20 I begged the question, Why drink that?, “looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. To remember generations.” Have wine forget winter.

Good bye and thank you for your hospitality South Africa @WOSA_ZA @WOSACanada @CapeWine2015

Good bye and thank you for your hospitality South Africa @WOSA_ZA @WOSACanada @CapeWine2015

I penned If it’s value you want, it’s South Africa you need and later in May, Shades of South Africa. Oh sweet, naive, wait until you travel there and see what’s really up, Godello. Same for A new Greek morning and Getting into Greece. One week in the Peloponnese and my psyche would be altered forever.

In March I explained Why it matters to taste wines again, urged sharing through the practice of Take a bottle, leave a bottle and waxed parenthetical in yet another meaningful soul-searching moment. Why hate wine? was waged with a comment on “the wine geek who hates certain wines. The wine aficionado who picks on specific bottles, bullies them to the point of hatred. Slags them beyond reproach. Rants to the world about the injustice of their existence.” Bugger off.

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

Then April. “The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.” Now you know the answer to Why taste Ontario?

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In May further validation with Searching for Somewhereness and I’m a little bit County, setting the stage for an October visit to proportion enormity across ridges and eskers. Further understanding culled in The Old Third and older County wines and The ridges of Prince Edward County.

Saturday night @barquebbq #smokerschoice and '08 @bodegasmuriel #rioja #spain

Saturday night @barquebbq #smokerschoice and ’08 @bodegasmuriel #rioja #spain

“Wine is a commensurate animal, altricial such as it is, acaudal, acersous, agnostic, aculeate and allocryptic such as it is not. Wine that is not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on one.” Path straying wines. The game changer happened one day in May at Barque Smokehouse with Chiara De lulis Pepe and The natural wines of Emidio Pepe.

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada followed Ontario Wine Awards judging, inclusive of tastings at Niagara College, Creekside Estates, Ravine Vineyard, Trius, Treadwell CuisineDomaine Queylus and The Good Earth Wine Company. A great, learned experience at Master classes of Terroir shed brilliant light on Gamay. Then the most important query of the summer. Can Chardonnay get any cooler? Well, one of two. Great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Nova Scotia? My maritime wine sojourn is summarized in East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine.

View of the mountains from Tetramythos, Aigialia, Peloponnese

View of the mountains from Tetramythos, Aigialia, Peloponnese

My great Greek Achaian adventure was told in three tales, Till I reach Achaia groundBring me Achaia love and Gateway to Achaia, from Roditis to Mavrodaphne

South Africa’s memories spilled out in waves, from Once upon a time in the Western Cape to Wines of South Africa: It’s the fling itself, through South African duck dynasty and Wines of South Africa: Go Cars Go.

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

October and November trips to Aragaon, Catalonia and Franciacorta opened eyes and expanded minds like never before. We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja was followed by CariñenaSomontanoTerra Alta and Calatayud.

With Pablo Alvarez (#vegasicilia) and Laurent Drouhin (#josephdrouhin) at #fourseasonstoronto for #primumfamiliaevini Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world's greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

With Pablo Alvarez (#vegasicilia) and Laurent Drouhin (#josephdrouhin) at #fourseasonstoronto for #primumfamiliaevini…Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world’s greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

Far out, man

Far out, man

Here are some mind blowing wines tasted in 2015.

Tetramythos Roditis 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PDO Patras, Greece (SAQ 12484575, $15.75, WineAlign)

Pulled from four vineyards at 650-850m of altitude and from vines 19-42 years old. No skin contact though it shows a light, slight tinge of colour. Nearly platinum in its yellow hue, perhaps attributed to organics says Papagiannopoulos, Eighty per cent was achieved through natural ferment (with zero malolactic) plus “one tank for security.” Roditis can go clean or develop anti-austerity, texture, viscosity in the direction of a dirty projector. The Tetramythos glides “forward through the clover and the bergamot.” I can see what she’s seeing. Tasting like a leesy ripe peach, this is the best “basic” Roditis tasted in Achaia. Serious match of Aleria Restaurant‘s Sea Bass Tartare. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today's master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today’s master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

Lafou Celler Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

Ramon Roqueta Segalés, winemaker, soothsayer, visionary, seeker of the Garnatxa Blanca of today from “a narrow valley.” Ramon is very concerned with the valleys, the landscape, the geology, how the wind, the mediterranean climate and the ancient rivers that run through, having left their glacial deposits, all combine for this particular and most important expression of Garnatxa Blanca. Established in 2007, this wine was first released in 2011. Combines old and young fruit, some harvested fresher at a greener stage and others picked later, riper, brought together. Vinified separately, with some skin maceration, looking for fat to surround acidity. Ripe fruit (10 per cent) sees oak, the rest in egg shape concrete tanks with six to seven months of lees contact. Smells like a ripe peach, fresh and without sugar but instead a sprinkling of subterranean, ancient riverbed harvested salt. The tang is layered, variegated, mineral, mastered over and in corralling of oxidation, elaborated with gentle but forceful demand. “We learned that you can get a balance by harvesting and an early and a later stage, sometimes three times.” Finishes with lime, fresh squeezed, sweet tonic and distilled flowers. A wine that has succeeded in “mastering the oxidation process.” Plus the tannic (anti-oxidative) aspects offered in micro-oxygenation from the slightly toasted new oak. Approximate price $28.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted October 2015  @lafouceller  @oenophilia1

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

"If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling" @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

“If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling” @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $64.00, WineAlign)

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  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $70.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 Don Melchor harkens backwards, to years like 2001 and 2003, rephrasing and rewriting the paradigmatic book. From seven contiguous, sub-divided blocks of Cabernet, the ’10 speaks most highly of Lot Two, emphasized by chocolate, menthol and mineral, in cohorts with Lot Four, in elegance and depth. Extended glom and time-lapse picking between April 22 and May 27 was the casualty turned blessing of a cooler growing season in the semi-arid Mediterranean-like scrub desert of Puente Alto. The alluvial motion hauteur of slow-ripened fruit can’t be overestimated. The frame by frame capture has resulted in aromatics wafting off the charts; violet, anise, roasting cocoa bean, garrigue, ferric filings, mortar on wet stone, Cassis and eucalyptus. There is no heat, rendering the 14.6 declared alcoholic irrelevant. Best of all, it smells like Chile as much as it does Cabernet. There is no need to discuss the (97 per cent) CS in terms of Bordeaux, that is until you taste. Then the tobacco angst and silky texture elicit Margaux. Black currants and fine chocolate melt on the finish, still with a mouthful of stones. For winemaker Enrique Tirado, this may be his “El opus.” It will age effortlessly for 12-15 years. For anyone who purchased this wine more than 10 vintages ago, comparing current cost can be a byproduct in natural preoccupation. Who would not want a return to the sub-$50 Don Melchor going back a decade or more? Yet while tasting the present decimus, $100 crosses the fiscal mind and seems completely apropos. At $70 the clarity and sonority of its value is the blazon of an epistle. Few Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley can compare. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @conchaytoro  @MikeAikins1  @DrinkChile

Mullineux & Leeu Syrah Iron 2013, Wo Swartland, South Africa (WineryAgentWineAlign)

If such cure, grip, ferric grab and intense tannin has ever infiltrated South African Syrah it has not yet found its way over to me. In a side by side comparative tasting with the Schist Syrah this one wrestles to win. The Schist is all perfume and soft elegance. The Iron draws power to strength from strength. It is an unrelenting conduit of energy, from soil clearly designed to outlive humanity. The Syrah is a product of geological wonder and winemaking that steps aside to let the terroir speak its mind. Demanding and filled with tension now, time will soften the stranglehold and loosen the wires. Lots of time. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxChris  @Nicholaspearce_

Fleury Père et Fils Cépages Blancs Extra Brut Champagne 1990, Champagne, France (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

The expediency of weighted oxidation in flight flies effortlessly as a traveller propelled with verve and intrepid behaviour. Dried tangerine and so many tannic aspects are exaggeratedly exceptional for Champagne, fast forward thrusted and draughted with effortless urge. Derived as if from concrete shaped in purest form, of and before life. The dried fruits and a pith so calming are gathered for a level of citrus almost never before encountered. A very, very special 25 year-old bottle of bubbles from a pioneering organic and biodynamic producer in Courteron. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted February 2015  @ChampagneFleury

Most exciting wines tasted in a long time @winesorarg #carasur #bonarda #criolla #argentina #valledecalingasta

Most exciting wines tasted in a long time @winesorarg #carasur #bonarda #criolla #argentina #valledecalingasta

Cara Sur Bonarda 2014, Barreal, San Juan, Agrentina (Approx. $140)

Dry farmed, mordant and agile varietal red, a garagiste of a dirt road, in minuscule production, from natural run-off water and wild yeast. Only 500-600 bottles are produced, from north of Mendoza, in the Valle de Callingasta and Zuccardi funded. The natural cure is off the charts, the Emidio Pepe of Argentina, in which winemaking is really just perfect. Smells like the scrape of the amphora, already imbued of the aromatics of years, the answers of age, the design of ancients. You could keep this in the glass for a week and it will hardly evolve. Imagined as a 40 year wine for sure. Purity incarnate. Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted August 2015  @winesofarg

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (220517, $150.00, WineAlign)

A tremendously ripe, rich and layered Syrah that has few equals or rivals in California so in that sense the price is benevolently justified. Winemaker Matt Dees is no flash in the pan. His wines are cerebrated and cogitated with no stone left unturned. They are showy, chiselled wrestlers, boxers and ultimate fighters but they are the real deal. This ’08 is a veritable protein potpourri, of wafts from the finest boucherie, all hung limbs and wrapped sheep’s cheeses, in caves, on counters and under glass. The expression is also very Côte Rôtie meets côte de bœuf rôtie, with added luxe perfume, chalk and lacy grain. The fruit boundaries are endless, the chew meaty, cured and smoky. Ultra Syrah of never wavering red fruit in a packed vessel with alcohol declared at a meagre 14.9 per cent. Even if it is really more like 15.5, the wealth of fruit, acidity, tannin and structure can handle the heat. With so much happening, this wine will age like the prized hind quarters and mother’s milk solids it smells of. Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008 says something and I’d love to hear what that is 15 years down the road. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @WoodmanWS  @CalifWines_CA

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $175.00, WineAlign)

The Bin 707 was first produced in 1964 though passed over from 1970 to 1975 and then in 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011. With Grange in mind, were it to look in the mirror, it would see its reflection as Cabernet Sauvignon. A true South Australian Claret, multi-regional blend from Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. The ’99 was the 28th and as I get on board in 2015 and taste the 707, it carries me so far away. Today, in this world and how we play it, this is as fresh as Cabernet Sauvignon can be. It reads like a book of dreams. It is a miller of fruit, in secondary ester of refinement. It is a jet airliner, leaving behind a voluminous, velutinous trail of exhaust. “I feel like it’s all been done,” but not like this, aged for 18 months in 100 per cent new 300 litre American oak hogsheads. Not with this precision from veraciously selected fruit. Not like this. Look to 2025 for the tertiary period to begin. Drink 2015-2024. Tasted August 2015 @penfolds  #treasurywineestates 

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Reserva Especial 1962, Do Montilla Moriles (424085, $205.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the 1986 which under recent European law (because it is not a red wine) must not be named Gran Reserva, this grandfather of a Pedro Ximenez is free to be what it’s supposed to be. A wine that was housed in a home somewhere in the village 10 years before the winery was created. A wine harvested in 1962, then took two months to ferment (to 7 or 8 per  cent alcohol). Estate distillate was added to fortify and raise it to 17 per cent, followed by a slumber for two years in concrete vats. The final resting place was in American wood where it slumbered peacefully for 49 years until it was bottled in 2011. In a show of future forward thinking and in retrospect, of historical allegiance, the signature on the bottle belongs to its original maker. Egresses from such delicate aromas, from citrus to coffee and stands in remarkable freshness belying its 50 years. The nuts are smoked with a zesting by citrus and a dusting in nutmeg. Chestnut and hazelnut curiously form a crasis of sensation, airy and creamy like mousse, sabayon or Caudreau. If you allow it, the finish will not let go. The sugar (300 g/L RS) and acidity (5.73 g/L TA) are the tangible aspects of its futuristic longevity. Like the ’86 this is another dessert wine secured of natural preservatives; undefined, magical, impossible. These wines opened could last for 20 plus years, unchanged. Unopened that number could surpass 100, without question, no problem. Like honey, this is an earthly substance that can last, seemingly forever. So, one glass of P.X. every day, going forward, for self-preservation. Drink 2015-2060. Tasted October 2015  @LeSommelierWine

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

Gaia Gaja and 1978 Barbaresco #veryproud #nebbiolo @StemWineGroup

Gaia Gaja and 1978 Barbaresco #veryproud #nebbiolo @StemWineGroup

Gaja Barbaresco 1978, Piemonte, Italy (Agent)

Tasted with Gaia Gaja as an added, as good a bonus as there ever was to an already exceptional line-up of Gaja wines, the 1978 Barbaresco is untangled, untwisted and liberated. Nebbiolo spoken with the utmost clarity. Cherries falling from the tree the moment the tips of fingers come within a hair of the touch. Spring is indeed in the air (despite it being early fall), a trick of the Gaja Genesis tale, “fields of incentive covered with green.” A mesmerizing Barbaresco, pure as driven snow, clear as a pool of fallen rain, quiet as an undisturbed slumber. Ancient longings of leather and dusty cocoa are but pipe stuffing, not yet lit. This Nebbiolo is pretty, feminine, beautiful and forcefully elegant. “When you’re asleep they may show you, aerial views of the ground, Freudian slumber empty of sound.” Only available from Nebbioli of the highest caste and order. Drink 2015-2028.  Tasted September 2015

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Bellavista Winery Brut Sparkling 1987, Franciacorta, Italy (From a Six litre bottle, Agent, Winery)

Tasted alongside a 750 mL, Magnum, Jeroboam and nine litre 1989. The Methuselah is the first wine to show similarly to any of the others so the comfort level rises and yet this rocks out flinty and reductive most like the 3L. The energy is consistent, but here the spice is magnified and the nutty sense that showed in the Magnum has come forth. This seems to combine the pique aspects of both the Magnum and the Jeroboam. A best of all worlds bottle plus what it brings that neither had. Absolute freshness. Does not evolve in the glass in its first few minutes like the others that came before. It evens glistens unlike the others, as if it knows how complex, special and alive it is. This is the bomb for sure. Dart straight through the heart. Crazy exceptional Sparkling wine. It should be interesting to try and assess, which is a major act of liberty in assumption, to gauge with accuracy how format affects age. To close one’s eyes tight and place a number on each wine, to where it has evolved and why. Here, Jeroboam still three to five years away from even that beginning. Truly. Drink 2018-2037.  Tasted November 2015  @BellavistaVino  @Noble_Estates

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The Cru chief comes to Toronto

The time is now. Olivier is in the @FineWineReserve house #zindhumbrecht @TrialtoON

The time is now. Olivier is in the @FineWineReserve house #zindhumbrecht @TrialtoON

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.

Tasting Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer with Olivier Humbrecht at the Fine Wine Reserve, Toronto

Tasting Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer with Olivier Humbrecht at the Fine Wine Reserve, Toronto

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 the #Muscat dream alive @TrialtoON #zindhumbrecht #olivierhumbrecht

Keeping the #Muscat dream alive @TrialtoON #zindhumbrecht #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $44.00, WineAlign)

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.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $44.00, WineAlign)

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

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $88.00, WineAlign)

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

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2006, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $85.00, WineAlign)

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.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Turckheim 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

“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

"If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling" @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

“If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling” @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $64.00, WineAlign)

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

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)

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

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $180.00, WineAlign)

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!

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All suss terroir

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

It has been more than 15 months since I returned from a pivotal, seminal and transmogrifying week in Alsace. The thoughts transposed to words continue to flow freely and with crystalline clarity. This may be the curtain call on that trip. Or not.

Type in the words “Alsace” and “philosophy” into a Google search page and the results will tell a Grand Cru story. The Alsace home page launches from terroir. It has to. Every winery, trade, marketing or governing organization’s website is ingrained to emphasize the rubric, to explain the true essence of Alsace wine. The local philosophy, indicating the cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine, is both necessary and fundamental. There is nothing remotely parenthetical about the notion of terroir, not in Alsace.

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Related – In a Grand Cru State of mind

As wine geeks we are constantly seeking it out and sometimes we imagine it, chat it up when it’s not really there. After we are immersed in Alsace, we cannot deny its existence. Terroir, defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate.” Or, goûts de terroir, as intaste of the earth.” Wherever wine is made around the world, soil is always as important, if not more important than any facet of the winemaking oeuvre. In Alsace, it is religion. I suss it, you suss it and in Alsace, they might say, “we all suss terroir.”

Alsace presents as a long strip of stupidly beautiful, verdant vistas, wedged between the faults and valleys forged with the Vosges Mountains on its west side and the Germany buffering Rhine River to the east. To consider its location as a province of France, drive 500 kilometres east of Paris and draw a line south from Strasbourg, to Colmar and to Basel. Wars have seen to make sure the region can never be too comfortable with its identity, causing an ever-annoying oscillation in governance.

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal's Fred Fortin

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin

Alsatians are the possessed refugees of Europe, tossed around like orphaned children from one foster family to another. That they can be so comfortable in their own skin is to accept their conceit as a French paradox, through ignoring its Franco-Germanic past, its passage back and forth between hands and its current state as a region governed by France. The confluence of cultures and of shared borders (and airports) would think to cause a crisis of identity. The names of towns and villages may act out a who’s who or what’s what of French sobriquet and German spitzname. None of that matters. The people, the places, the food and the wine are purely and unequivocally in ownership of their own vernacular, dialect and culture: Alsatian.

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg
Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Related – A Blanck slate in Alsace

When a winemaker wants to lay an insult upon you he will say something like “oh, that’s so Anglo-Saxon.” Ouch. He will mean it, for sure, but he will also grace you with a wink and a smile. He likes you and he respects your choice to come from far away to learn something of his wines. And you like him. The winemaker will also complement you when your palate aligns with his, when your thoughts intuit something about his acuity and his groove. His flattery will be genuine. The winemaker will pour old vintages and without a hem or a haw. She will share generously, not because she wants to sell more, but because she wants better people to drink her wine.

To ascertain a grip on the Alsace codex it must begin in the vineyard. The steep slopes, zig-zagging ridges and fertile valleys are composed of highly intricate, alternating and complex geological compositions. The landscape switches repeatedly from clay to marl, from calcaire (limestone) to schist, from volcanic to granitic rock. Each vineyard and even more parochial, each plot contributes to define the wine that will be made from that specific micro-parcel. The wine grower and winemaker’s job is to treat the soil with utmost respect. To plow the land, to add organic material, to refuse the use of fertilizers and to spray with solutions composed of non-chemical material.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture is widespread across the globe but Alsace is a leader in the practices, particularly in the latter’s holistic, asomatous way. Though more than 900 producers make wines, including many who do not partake in a bio-supernal and subterraneal kinship with the vines and the earth, the ones who do are fanatical about their winegrowing ways. Alsatian winemakers bond with their fruit, by employing the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s teachings as a predicate from which to apply spiritual connections to the physical act of tending vines.

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Related – It was Josmeyer’s imagination

The belief is that great wine can only be made from healthy, natural and disease resistant plants. Steiner’s studies on chemical fertilizers looked into the effect on plants growing near bombs in the earth. The growth was observed to be abnormal and unhealthy. Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer compared this to humans, who eat too much salt and thus need to drink too much. I tasted more than 150 naturally made wines from biodynamically farmed soils. The proof of quality and complexity is in the glass.

The winemaker of Alsace shows a respect for the earth that might be seen as a verduous variation on the teachings of theologian, philosopher, physician, medical missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. The Alsatian-born Schweitzer gave to the world his theory on the “reverence for life,” a term he used for a universal concept of ethics. “He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.” The biodynamic approach, through its human to vegetable relationship, echoes the concept. Careful care not to disrupt the balance of nature allows the vines to develop the strength to survive and to flourish in less than optimum climatic conditions, especially during times of drought. The quality of grapes and in turn, the complexity of wine, is the result.

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

The focus on soil and terroir is ultimately disseminated into the idea of tasting minerality in wine, a most contentious aspect of the wine tasting and writing debate. Nary an expert will admit that the impart of trace minerals can be ascertained from a wine’s aroma and most believe that it can be found in taste. An American geologist debunked the mineral to taste theory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Portland Oregon. “The idea is romantic and highly useful commercially, but it is scientifically untenable,” wrote Alex Maltman, a professor at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Maltman’s claim is simple. Vines absorb minerals from the earth but the amount is far too small for human detection.

Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer in Wintzenheim agrees to disagree. Ehrhart concedes that the quantitative number is small (only three to five percent) for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine. The remainder is a consequence of photosynthesis. Ever the spiritual and natural advocate, Christophe borrows from the writings of David Lefebvre. The journalist and wine consultant’s The minerality from David Lefebvre tells the story of why natural wines without sulfur express minerality. Lefebvre makes clear the argument that naturally-farmed (biodynamic and/or, but necessarily organic) vines are qualitatively richer in (salt minerals) than those raised with chemicals. “All fermentation, from milk to cheese, from grape to wine, is accompanied by the appearance of the component saline, one could say mineral, in the taste of the fermented product.” Chemicals and fertilizers inhibit growth and vigor, ostensibly wiping out an already minuscule number. If food is available at the surface, vine roots will feed right there. They will then lose their ability to create the beneficial bacteria necessary to metabolize deep earth enzymatic material. They essentially abandon their will to fight for nutrition deep within the fissures of the rock. Lefebvre’s conclusion? “All biocides and other products that block mineralization, such as SO2, inhibit the expression mineral.”

At the end of the day Lefebvre is a wine taster and not a scientist and the argument must be considered within the realm of the natural world. “The taste of stone exists in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire (all France) when the winegrower uses organic farming and indigenous, winemaking yeasts.” American made wine rarely does this, though change is occurring. Ontario winemakers are different. Taste the wines of Tawse or Southbrook and note the difference. Or, taste the difference a vegetable, like a tomato, or a piece of fruit, like a peach tastes when picked straight from the garden, or orchard, as opposed to the conventional piles of the supermarket. There can be no argument there.

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

A week tasting through nearly 300 wines in Alsace may sound exhausting when in fact it is an experience that had me constantly, “as the expression goes, gespannt wie ein Flitzebogens,” or as it is loosely employed from the German in the Grand Budapest Hotel, “that is, on the edge of my seat.” I watched Wes Anderson’s film on the Air France flight over from Toronto to Paris and enjoyed it so much that I watched it again on my return. That kind of spiritual, dry European humour is not unlike that of the fraternity of Alsatian winemakers and how they discuss their wines. From Olivier Zind-Humbrecht to Pierre Blanck, to MauriceBarthelmé and to Jean-Pierre Frick there is an Edward Norton to Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson to Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody to Ray Fiennes affinity. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. The aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

The uninitiated into the wines of Alsace think it is one big pool of sickly sweet and cloying white wine. If perhaps this were, at least to some extent, once true, it is no longer. The progressive and philosophically attentive producer picks grapes (especially the particularly susceptible Pinot Gris) before the onset of botrytis. If a dry, mineral-driven style is the goal, picking must be complete before what Phillippe Zinck refers to as D-Day. Pinot Gris goes over the edge in an instant, even more so because of the advancing maturation due to the warm temperatures induced by Global Warming.

Sommerberg Grand Cru

Sommerberg Grand Cru

The global wine community’s ignorance to the multeity of Alsace wines, “as mutually producing and explaining each other…resulting in shapeliness,” needs addressing and so steps in the valedictorian, Christophe Ehrhart. The Josmeyer viniculturalist devised a system, a sugar scale to grace a bottle’s back label. Whites are coded from one to five, one being Sec (Dry) and five Doux (Sweet). The codification is not as simple as just incorporating residual sugar levels. Total acidity is taken into consideration against the sugar level, like a Football team’s plus-minus statistic. In Alsace the relationship between sugar, acidity and PH is unlike any other white wine region. Late Harvest (Vendanges Tardives, or Spätlese in German) is Late Harvest but Vin desprit sec or demi-sec in Alsace should not generally be correlated to similar distinctions in Champagne or the Loire. In Alsace, wines with vigorous levels of acidity and even more importantly PH bedeck of tannin and structure. Perceived sweetness is mitigated and many whites, though quantified with residual sugar numbering in the teens, or more, can seem totally dry.

Returning to the idea of increasingly warmer seasonal temperatures, the red wines of Alsace have improved by leaps and bounds. “We could not have made Pinot Noir of this quality 20 years ago,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Oh, the humanity and the irony of it all.

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann
photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

This sort of quirky response to nature and science is typical of the artisan winemaker. There is more humour, lightness of being and constater than anywhere else on this winemaking planet. There just seems to be a collective and pragmatic voice. Maurice makes a 10,000 case Riesling called Cuvee Albert, “because I have to make a wine for the market.” Yet Maurice is also a dreamer and a geologist. To him, “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”

Domaine Albert Mann’s Jacky Barthelmé: “Before Jesus Christ was born we have had vines here in the Schlossberg. So it is a very old story.” The Alsace vigneron is only human and works in a vinous void of certitude. They do not fuck with their land or attempt to direct its course. The young Arnaud Baur of Domaine Charles Baur insists that you “don’t cheat with your terroir or it will catch up with you. You will be exposed. You can make a mistake but you will still lose the game.” What an even more wonderful world it would be if he only understood the complexity in his multiple entendre.

Philippe Blanck is a philosopher, a dreamer, an existentialist and a lover. He is Descartes, the aforementioned Bill Murray and Bob Dylan rolled into one, a man not of selection but of election. He is both prolific and also one who buys the whole record catalogue, not just the hits. He opens old vintages freely and without hesitation. When asked how often does he have the opportunity to open wines like these he answers simply, “when people come.”

Pierre Frick et Fils

Pierre Frick et Fils

Then there is the far-out Jean-Pierre Frick, the man who let a 2006 Auxerrois ferment for five years before bottling it in 2011. “After one year I check the wine and he is not ready. I see him after two years and he says I am not ready. So I wait. After five years he says, I am finished. So I put him in the bottle.” On his Riesling 2012 he says, “This is a wine for mouse feeding.” Upon cracking open his remarkable, natural winemaking at its peak 2010 Sylvaner he chuckles like M. Gustave and smirks, “he is a funny wine.”

Few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. The exploration of its Grand (and other vital) Cru (for the purposes of this trip) was through soils (or not) variegated of clay, sandy clay, marl, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and sandstone. To complicate things further, a Cru can be composed of more than one type of terra firma and still others have more than one arrangement within the particular plot. All very complicated and yet so simple at the same time. The Crus tasted came from the following:

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Granitique/Granite (Brand, Herrenreben, Kaefferkopf, Langenberg, Linsenberg, Schlossberg, Sommerberg)
Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Domaine Schoenheitz Linsenberg Riesling 1990, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, 196618, WineAlign)

During a picnic, on a plateau up on the Linsenberg lieu-dit set above the Wihr-au-Val, this 24 year-old bottle acts as a kind of Alsatian Trou Normand. A pause between courses, which involves alcohol and you need to ask for its proof of age. Culled from deep dug vines out of stony and shallow granite soil. Soil rich in micas with a fractured basement. From a dream vintage with marvellous semi-low yields and a student of south-facing, self-effacing steep steppes. A sun worshipper prodigy of winemaker Henri Schoenheitz, a child of terroir du solaire. Rich and arid in simultaneous fashion (the RS is only 8-10 g/L), the years have yet to add mileage to its face and its internal clock. It may ride another 15, or 20. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted June 2015  @VinsSchoenheitz

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ $27.70 11903328WineAlign)

From fruit drawn off the granitic Grand Cru of the Brand but not labeled as such. Laser focus (what Jean Boxler wine is not) and texture. Possessive of the unmistakable Brand tang, like mineral rich Burgundy. The minerality ann the acidity from the granite are exceptional in a wine known as “Pinot Blanc Reserve.” As good a developing PB are you are ever likely to taste. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler Riesling Old Vines Sommerberg Grand Cru 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ, 11698521WineAlign)

A direct expression of winemaker (since 1996) Jean Boxler and his 150 year-old casks. This is Riesling suspended in the realm of dry extract, texture and a precision of finesse rarely paralleled in Alsace. It reads the truth of facteur for Sommerberg, its face, slope and pitch. Exceeds the clarity of the younger parcel in its contiguous continuance of learning, of pure, linear, laser styling. There is more maturity here and the must had to have been exceptional. “The juice must be balanced when it goes into the vats or the wine will not be balanced,” insists Jean Boxler. And he would be correct. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler Tokay-Pinot Gris Sommerberg Grand Cru 1996, Ac Alsace, France (Alsace)

From volcanic and granitic soils together combining for and equating to structure. A matter concerning “purity of what you can do from a great ground,” notes Master Sommelier Romain Iltis. Perception is stronger than reality because despite the sugar, the acidity reign to lead this to be imagined and reasoned as a dry wine. Ripe, fresh, smoky, with crushed hazelnut and seamless structure. Stays focused and intense in mouthfeel. Takes the wine down a long, long road. Quite remarkable. No longer labeled “Takay” after the 2007 vintage. Drink 2015-2026.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Calcaire/Limestone (Engelgarten, Furstentum, Goldert, Rosenbourg, Rotenberg, Schoffweg)

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

The Marl accentuated Hengst and its muscular heft receives more Barthelmé limelight but the always understated Furstentum Grand Cru is a special expression of the variety. As refined as Pinot Gris can be, with a healthy level of residual sugar, “like me” smiles Marie-Thérèse Barthelmé. The sugar polls late to the party while the acidity swells in pools, but the finish is forever. “Pinot Gris is a fabulous grape but we serve it too young,” says Maurice. “It needs time to develop its sugars.” Truffle, mushroom, underbrush and stone fruit would match well to sweet and sour cuisine. Flinty mineral arrives and despite the residual obstacle, is able to hop the sweet fencing. The potential here is boundless. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @albertmannwines

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Domaine Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

From the village of Gueberschwihr and from soil composed of sandstone, chalk and clay. The vines average 50 years in age and the wine saw a maturation on the lees for 11 months. Philippe Zinck notes that “the terroir is stronger than the variety.” If any grape would stand to contradict that statement it would be Gewürztraminer but the ’10 Goldert begs to differ. Its herbal, arid Mediterranean quality can only be Goldert talking. Though it measures 20 g/L of RS it tastes almost perfectly dry. It reeks of lemongrass, fresh, split and emanating distilled florals. This is classic and quintessential stuff. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Goldert Grand Cru 1985

Tasted from magnum at Les Millésimes Alsace, a wine described by Caroline Furstoss as “unusual for late harvest,” because the terroir is simply stronger than the variety. Another economically non-viable low yield LH, “from a vintage more on the reductive than the oxidative side.” Even at 30 years it requires aeration and time to open up. Travels from spicy to smoky with that air. There is a density in bitterness, an attrition miles away from resolve and a promise for rebate, if further patience is granted. The spices inherent are ground, exhumed and combine with the base elements to rise atomically. A spatially magnificent wine of sugars not yet clarified and an acquired taste not quite elucidated. A taste of an ancient kind. Drink 2015-2035.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Marno-Calcaire/Marl-Limestone (Altenberg de Bergheim, Clos Hauserer, Eichberg, Hengst, Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Osterberg, Pfersigberg, Sonnenglanz, Steingrubler)

Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins Des Brebis” 2010, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $60.95, WineAlign)

A pulsating and metallic, mineral streak turns the screws directly through this spirited Bergheim. From Schoffweg, one of nine Deiss Premier Crus planted to Riesling and Pinots. A pour at Domaine Stentz Buecher from fellow winemaker Carolyn Sipp simulates a trip, to stand upon a scree of calcaire, the earth below a mirror, reflecting above a multitude of stars. “He’s a character,” smiles Sipp, “and perhaps even he does not know the actual blend.” The amalgamate is surely Riesling dominant, at least in this impetuous ’10, a savant of fleshy breadth and caracoling acidity. The Schoffweg does not sprint in any direction. It is purposed and precise, geometric, linear and prolonging of the Deiss magic. This is a different piece of cake, an ulterior approach to assemblage, “a bigger better slice” of Alsace. It should not be missed.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $114.95, WineAlign)

In a select portfolio tasting that includes a trio of highly mineral yet approachable 2010’s (Rotenberg, Schoffberg and Schoenenbourg), the ’11 Mambourg stands out for its barbarous youth. It seems purposely reductive and strobes like a hyper-intensified beacon. Rigid, reserved and unforgiving, the Mambourg is also dense and viscous. Acts of propellant and wet concrete circulate in the tank, compress and further the dangerous liaison. This is a brooding Deiss, so different than the jurassic citrus from Rotenberg, the terroir monster in Schoffberg and the weight of Schoenenbourg. In a field of supervised beauty, the Mambourg may seem like punishment but there can be no denying the attraction. Five years will alter the laws of its physics and soften its biology. The difficult childhood will be forgotten. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Langenberg “La Longue Colline” 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

Rogue Alsace, classic Deiss five varietal field blend specific to one hangout. The steep, terraced, granite Langenberg, terroir from Saint Hippolyte. Deiss coaxes, expects and demands precocious behaviour from four supporting varieties to lift and place the Riesling, with the intent being a result in “salty symphony.” This is approachable, something 2011 could not have been easy to accomplish. The accents are spice, sapidity and acidity, from the granite, for the people. Isn’t this what a mischievous brew should be about? Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Léon Beyer Riesling Cuvée Des Comtes D’Eguisheim 1985, Alsace, France (316174, $50.00, WineAlign)

I wonder is any Alsace Riesling sublimates history, religion and occupation more than Cuvée Des Comtes D’eguisheim. It breathes the past; of popes, Augustinians of Marbach, Benedictines of Ebersmunster, Cistercians of Paris and Dominicans of Colmar. From the limestone-clay for the most part of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg and only produced in exceptional vintages. In 1985 low yields, same for botrytis and then 29 years of low and slow maturation. In 2014, is the herbal, aromatic, limestone salinity a case of vineyards, grape or evolution? All of the above but time is in charge. It has evolved exactly as it should, as its makers would have wished for. It is ready to drink. The defined minerality, with fresh lemon and a struck flint spark has rounded out, without the need for sugar. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

Arnaud Baur understands his place and his family’s position in the Alsace continuum. “You can make a mistake and you can still lose the game.” His use of entendre is subconsciously brilliant. In 2009 the warmth went on seemingly forever and so Baur did not even bother trying to make a dry Riesling.  “We really respect the vintage,” says Arnaud. Meanwhile at 18 g/L RS and 7.0 g/L TA the balance is struck. Many grapes were dried by the sun, ripeness was rampant, flavours travelled to tropical and acidity went lemon linear. The 14.2 per cent alcohol concludes these activities. Matched with foie gras, the vintage is marinated and married. There is certainly some crème fraîche on the nose and the wine plays a beautiful, funky beat. As much fun and quivering vibration as you will find in Alsace Marno-Calcaire. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted June 2014

Dinner wines at L'Epicurien, Colmar

Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar

Charles Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

A good vintage for Riesling and considering the heat, an even better one for Gewürztraminer. The vineyard offers 50-70cm of clay atop Jurassic yellow limestone where roots can penetrate the rock. They suck the life into this enzymatic white. This, of digestibility, “a wine you don’t want to drink two glasses of, but three.” Delicious, clean, precise Gewürz that Mr. Baur recommends you “drink moderately, but drink a lot.” Arnaud is very proud of this ’07, for good reason. Two actually. Balance and length. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)

Tasted not long after bottling, the yet labeled ’13 is drawn from a vintage with a touch of botrytis. “We don’t sell too much of this,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Along with the sweet entry there are herbs and some spice, in layers upon layers. Almost savoury, this interest lies in the interchange between sweet and savour, with stone fruit (peach and apricot) elevated by a feeling of fumée. A playful, postmodernist style of short fiction. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711WineAlign)

In 2008 the brothers Barthelmé used the Hengst’s strength and the vintage to fashion a remarkable Pinot Gris. It is blessed of antiquity, like concrete to bitters, with power, tension and a posit tub between fruit and sugar. At 34 g/L RS and 7.6 g/L TA there is enough centrifuge to whirl, whorl and pop, culminating in a healthy alcohol at 14 per cent. Quite the reductive Pinot Gris, to this day, with a sweetness that is manifested in mineral flavours, glazed in crushed rocks. “It smells like mushroom you threw into a dead fire,” notes Fred Fortin. This is the bomb. Needs four more years to develop another gear. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

From marly-limestone-sandstone, “a fa-bulous terroir,” says Maurice with a smile. The “stone carrier wagon” is mostly calcaire, especially in the middle slope. This has a roundness, an approachability. It really is clean, clean, Gewürztraminer. It’s erotic, gorgeous, certainly not slutty or pornographic. The colder limestone preserves the freshness, with a need for magnesium, to cool the factor further and to develop the terpenes. Gelid and stone cold cool wine. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

The Mandelberg receives the early morning sun and so this Grand Cru is an early ripener and the first of the Bott-Geyls to be picked. The added warmth of 2010 introduced noble rot into a vineyard that often avoids it so the residual sugar here is elevated to an off-dry (even for Alsace) number of 30 g/L. The rush to pick in this case preserved the natural acidity, allowing the flint to speak. Additional notes of cream cheese and formidable dry extract have helped to balance the sweetness. Truly exceptional Riesling from Christophe Bott-Geyl. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @bott_geyl  @DanielBeiles

  1. Calcaro-gréseux/Limestone-Sandstone (Bergweingarten, Zinkoepfle)

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

The vines of southeast exposure are in the 35 year-old range for this Vin moelleux, “young vines” says Jean-Pierre Frick. “I am a defender of Sylvaner.” This ’10 is freshly opened, as opposed to the ’09 poured after sitting open a week. That ’09’s healthy amount of noble rot is not repeated in this ’10, what Frick refers to as “a funny wine.” A two year fermentation and a potential for 17 per cent alcohol (it’s actually in the 14-15 range), a touch of spritz and no sulphur means it goes it alone, natural, naked, innocent. It’s a passionate, iconoclastic Sylvaner, distilled and concentrated from and in lemon/lime. It may carry 53 g/L of sugar but it also totes huge acidity. Enamel stripping acidity. Full of energy, that is its calling, its niche, its category. The honey is pure and despite the level of alcohol it’s as though it has never actually fermented. Natural winemaking at the apex, not out of intent but from a base and simply purposed necessity. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @LeCavisteTO

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

  1. Sablo-Argileux/Sandy-Clay (Schlossberg)

Domaine Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ 11967751 $48.25, WineAlign)

What a fantastic expression of the Schlossberg, like a cold granite countertop. A Riesling that tells you what is essentiality in granite from what you thought might be the sensation of petrol. Full output of crushed stone, flint and magnesium, but never petrol. Now just beginning to enter its gold stage, just beginning to warm up, in energy, in the sound of the alarm clock. “You can almost see the rock breaking and the smoke rising out,” remarks Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross. A definitive sketch with a 12 g/L sugar quotient lost in the structure of its terroir. A Schlossberg a day keeps the doctor away. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Related – Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Argilo-calcaro-gréseux/Clay-Limestone-Sandstone (Goldert, Vorbourg)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011), Alsace, France (Winery)

“He has fermented five years,” says Jean-Pierre Frick, stone faced, matter of factly. “That’s how long he took.” Here, one of the most impossible, idiosyncratic and unusual wines made anywhere in the world. On on hand it’s a strange but beautiful experiment. On another there can be no logical explanation as to why one would bother. The third makes perfect sense; allowing a wine to ferment at its own speed, advocate for itself and become what it inherently wanted to be. Auxerrois with a little bit of sweetness (16 g/L RS) and a kindred spirit to the Jura (and with a potential of 15 per cent alcohol). This is drawn from the lieu-dit terroir Krottenfues, of marl-sandstone soils in the hills above the Grand Cru Vorbourg. Tasting this wine is like slumbering through a murky and demurred dream. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

  1. Argilo-calcaire/Clay-Limestone (Eichberg, Engelberg, Kanzlernerg, Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr, Steinert)

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc Terroir 2011, Alsace, France (BCLDB 414557 $15.79, WineAlign)

From 35 year-old vines on Eguisheim’s argilo-calcaire slopes with straight out acidity, trailed by earth-driven fruit. Less floral than some and pushed by the mineral. A difficult vintage that saw a full heat spike to cause a mid-palate grape unction. Pinot Blanc with a late vintage complex because of that sun on the mid slope. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Gris Terroir 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

From chalk and clay soils surrounding the Eichberg Grand Cru, this is a decidedly terroir-driven style and far from overripe. In fact, Philippe Zinck is adamant about picking time, especially with Pinot Gris. “The most tricky grape to harvest in Alsace,” he tells me. So hard to get serious structure and many growers are duped by high brix. Philippe tells of the 24-hour varietal picking window, the “D-Day” grape. Zinck’s ’12 is pure, balanced and bound by its earthy character. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Pierre Frick Muscat Grand Cru Steinert Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

“I like acidity, whoo-ahh,” says Pierre Frick, dry as Monsieur Ivan. The sugar on top of acidity here, it’s exciting. This one is a gift from nature, for culture. So interesting, a dream, a story. This has a citrus sweetness, telling a story never before experienced. There’s a depth of reduced apricot syrup, pure, natural, holy. “Tell no one. They’ll explain everything.” Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Volcano-gréseux/Volcanic sandstone (Kitterlé, Muenchberg)

Pierre Frick Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1992, Alsace, France (Winery)

From Argilo-Calcaire vineyards flanking the Rot Murlé, at a time when a minor amount of sulphuring was employed (1999 was their first sulphur-free vintage). Was Demeter certified, in 1992! This is all about intensity and acidity. An incredibly natural dessert wine, upwards of 150 g/L RS but balanced by nearly 10 g/L TA. The power is relentless, the finish on the road to never-ending. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Domaine Ostertag Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 1996, Alsace, France (Agent, $65, WineAlign)

From clay and limestone, fully aged in barrel, taking, sending and stratifying in and away from its own and everyone else’s comfort zone. Only the best barrels would do and yet the quality of the wood thought aside, this is Ostertag’s unique and fully autocratic take on Tokay-PG. Stands out with a structure wholly singular for the overall prefecture, with a twenty year note of white truffle, handled and enhanced by the wood maturation. Yellow fruits persist as if they were picked just yesterday but the glass is commandeered by the complex funk. It’s nearly outrageous, bracing and yet the flavour urged on by the aromatics return to their youth. To citron, ginger and tropical unction. This is oscillating and magnificent. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014  @TheLivingVine

  1. Argilo-Granitique/Clay-Granite (Kaefferkopf, Sonnenberg)

Audrey et Christian Binner Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010, Alsace France (Winery)

A blend of Gewürztraminer (60 per cent), Riesling (30) and Muscat (10) that spent two years in foudres. Christian has no time for technicalities, specs and conventions. “I just make wine.” At 13.5 per cent alcohol and 20 g/L RS the expectation would be vitality and striking lines but it’s really quite oxidative, natural and nearly orange. “But it’s OK. It’s the life,” he adds. An acquired, unique and at times extraordinary taste, complex, demanding, like Frick but further down a certain line. “For me, to be a great Alsace wine, it must be easy to drink. You have to pout it in your body.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

  1. Volcanique/Clay-Granite (Rangen)

Related – Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

  1. Marno-Calcaire-gréseux/Marl- Limestone-Sandstone (AltenbourgKirchberg de Ribeauvillé)
  1. Volcano-sédiment/Volcanic Sediment (Rangen)
  1. Graves du quaternaire/Alluvial (Herrenweg de Turckheim)

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Roche Volcanique/Volcanic rocks (Rangen de Thann)
  1. Marno-gypseux/Marl-gypsum (Schoenenbourg)
Jean Boxler, June 2014

Jean Boxler, June 2014

You see, no wine is poured, tasted and deliberated over without the introduction of the soil (or lack thereof) from which it came. To confine any study to just the Grand Cru would do the entire region an injustice. Though the original 1975 appellative system set out to define the plots of highest quality and esteem, many wines not classified GC are fashioned from terroir comingling with, surrounding, located next or adjacent to a vineyard called Grand Cru. Serious consideration is being given by CIVA and the winemakers to establish a Premier Cru and Villages system. While this will certainly increase levels of definition and understanding for Alsace, it may also disregard some quality wines, not to mention further alienate some producers whose artisanal and progressive wines go against the norm. A further consequence may result in elevating some average wines currently labeled Grand Cru into undeserved stratospheres.

Related – Trimbach, rhythm and soul

The Grand Cru story is heavy but not everything. Rarely has there been witnessed (outside of Burgundy) the kind of symbiotic relationship between vineyard and village. Perfect examples are those like Schlossberg and Furstentum with Kintzheim, Sommerberg and Niedermorschwihr, Hengst and Wintzenheim, Brand and Turckheim or Steingrübler and Wettolsheim. Domaine Weinbach’s cellars sit across and just down the road from both Kitzheim and Kayserberg. Albert Boxler’s cellar is right in the fairy tale town of Niedermorschwihr, just like Albert Mann’s location in Wettlosheim.

It is time, finally and thankfully, for a return to the reason for such a rambling on. With respect to the “cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine” being “necessary and fundamental,” examples tasted in June of 2014 indicate that the notion of terroir grows from nature and is nurtured by the vigneron. These 25 wines surmise and summarize, either by connecting the dotted lines of constellatory figuration or by Sudoku interconnectivity, the imaginable chronicle that is Alsace.

Good to go!

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The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr
PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Were Olivier Humbrecht, MW a Rock ‘N Roll star, he would be the guy, the man, the boss, the one everyone wants to hang around. He’d be invited to every benefit concert, like No Nukes at MSG, Live Aid, Live 8 and a Tribute to Heroes. He would sing the biggest parts on the raise awareness and relief funds records like We are the World. He would headline every star-studded gathering to celebrate an influential musician’s career, like that of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

Olivier Humbrecht is a winemaker. He’s also smart, France’s first Master of Wine, rooted in his region’s history and hyper aware of every nuance in each terroir. He’s an extreme scientist, biologist, geologist, viniculturalist and viticulturalist. Olivier Humbrecht is a student of many Alsace genres, techniques and methods. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. So are many Alsatian winemakers. But Olivier also has the charisma, the persona and the drive to strive for bigger and better. People want to be near that.

The rock star complex manifests itself at a tasting of the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. Olivier has laid 14 wines on the cellar room table for a group of eight journalists and sommeliers. After leading the group through the lot, he checks his watch and sees there are a few minutes left in the allotted time. He opens two more bottles, then two more. Time is up. The group must press on. He opens another. Just one more, “for perspective,” he says. He can’t stop. The adrenaline is pumping. One more encore. Just one more Sélection de Grains Nobles…

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is well-known to the world, considered the consummate professional vigneron d’Alsace. The wines are immaculate to a fault; pure, precise considerations out of a multitude of variegated and diverse terroirs; of those around the winery’s home in Turckheim, Wintzinheim, in Gueberschwihr, Thann and in Hunawihr. The Grand Cru holdings of Brand, Hengst, Goldert and Rangen de Thann provide the stuffing for exceptional produce but can any other winery in Alsace lay claim to so many exceptional wines from their lieu-dit and single-vineyards not classified Grand Cru? The trifecta phenomena of the Zind-Humbrecht hill parcels, “Les Clos”; Häuserer, Windsbuhl and Jebsal may as well be Grand Cru squared. The wines from these most worthy soils are dreamy and in top vintages, impossibly perfect.

Most vintners in Alsace are connected to a village, have vineyard holdings surrounding or on slopes leaning upwards from the town. Many crush and ferment in caves beneath their homes right there in the ancestral village. Above ground Zind-Humbrecht is more modern than most, in many ways the embodiment of the 21st century Alsatian facility but Olivier’s wines are deeply connected to Turckheim, the village closest to a large proportion of his vines. The region’s regulatory board decision to eliminate a village like Gueberschwihr from being used on a Riesling label is both curious and counter-productive. Olivier is an island here, not having found any other producer’s support to keep such a designation alive. The irony is not lost. A winemaker incredibly passionate about soil having to label his wine by that very concept and against his will.

I had the opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht on two occasions, thanks to CIVA and SOPEXA, at the winery and at the Millésimes Alsace trade event on Monday, June 16th, 2014. Humbrecht’s brain is in constant churning motion. He will never rest and settle for the status quo. He has learned everything and has everything yet to learn.

Biodynamic farming is at the nucleus of Zind-Humbrecht’s practicum and by now spoken as an apothegm, not ad nauseam. Olivier notes that Colmar, the vinous hub of Alsace and just down the road from Turckheim, is the driest town in France. “We are in a region that in the past we had to fight for ripeness. This is not the case anymore. I have not had to chaptalize in 20 years.” Global warming has had a great effect on phenols but Olivier stands firm on timing. Plants, including grapevines, have very specific life cycles, from flowering to ripening. “I will be ready for picking September 1st,” he insists, “regardless of the weather.”

On varieties, Muscat D’alsace remains “important and fantastic.” Humbrecht insists on keeping it viable and alive. “Reds are trendy,” but not significant to Zind-Humbrecht, adding up to less than one per cent of total production. Ninety per cent are single-varietal wines. Riesling persists as the core variety. It’s a grape that hates to ferment so noble rot should be avoided, because it arrests fermentation.” For Riesling to succeed? “You need a majority of tartaric acid, slowly, coolly, through the cold of winter, to achieve proper malic acid, to achieve good Alsace Riesling. Basically you don’t even want to know it’s happening.”

Olivier is an ally to both phenol and tannin. “Phenols in white wine is something that is always neglected,” he says, and “I do appreciate tannins in white wine, especially in low acidity grapes like Gewürztraminer.” Too many people do not understand the aging capabilities in the wines of Alsace. “We’ve gotten rid of too many phenols in white wine,” he complains. “We love the anti-oxidants, which will not allow the wines to age well, with no protection against oxidation.”

The phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence only succeeds when PH is in the mix. “PH is more important than acidity. Low PH is a guarantee for good evolution in bottle, and good phenols.” That said, skin contact is to be avoided in Humbrecht’s world. “Alsace already has high aromatics so contact is contradictory.” It can lead to the inclusion of green phenols which would be detrimental to making sound wine. 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.

The ZH processes include high density planting, hand harvesting, gravity feeding, cold cluster pressing and the use of wild (indigenous) yeasts. The total annual output is approximately 300,000 bottles from 40 hectares, a capacity reached in the mid 1990’s. “We are not interested in getting any bigger,” concedes Humbrecht.

The last piece and going forward of the Zind-Humbrecht puzzle concerns vintages. “Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” says Olivier. “2014 is very precocious.” Flowering was done the first week of June, almost two weeks ahead of the norm. This is similar to 2003 and 2011. “We made a lot of mistakes then, because it was the first time we had this.” The plan is to adapt to the climate by cooling down the soil, with more grasses to retain moisture. They will also let more branches grow to restrict sun and more canopy management. Biodynamic farming at work.

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are notes on the 20 Zind-Humbrecht wines tasted in Alsace on Monday June 16th and Wednesday June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Noir 2012

To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.

Muscat Goldert 2012

Like any self-respecting winemaker in Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht is intent on keeping Muscat d’Alsace alive with hopes that someday it will once again thrive. The white and red coloured, longer ripening, small berry Muscat Petite Grains receives minor (one or two per cent) support from grapey, soft and aromatic Muscat Ottonel. Raised from olitic limestone and marl soil, this Muscat is blessed with terroir inducing greater acidity and a dichotomous, silty ripeness, like a green, unripe Sauvignon Blanc. One has the sense that in this unique vintage the noble variety may age with an almost unexpected stride through the years.

Riesling Terroir d’Alsace Vin Sec 2012

This is the most basic and tenable wine in the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. For the uninitiated it is an ideal embarkation point from which to engage the dry elegance and saline minerality of Alsatian Riesling. This “entry-level” effort is from 11 year-old vines, a slow ripening vintage and the stark reality of granite soils. The ever-present Humbrecht honesty and richness is here but in its most subtle (and only 2 g/L residual sugar) scale. Quick notes of lime, chalk and ginger. Olivier says it is made for the Brasserie or the Gastropub market. Never mind that it’s the most junior of his Rieslings. Nobility begins here with this reassuring, air-dried, easy to understand wine.

Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2012

Here rolls the rock of the ZH stable. From gravelly, well-drained, poor soils around the winery. The citrus factor is front, centre and in surround sound but a natural richness and sweetness brings balance. This means the wine will gracefully incline through to a dry yet fruity future. A savoury austerity will increase the ageing quotient, in addition to the omnipresent mineral flavours by way of old (47 year-old) vines that burrow deep in the gravel, providing grit and strength, especially in drought vintages.

Riesling Calcaire 2012

The artist formerly known as Gueberschwihr is no longer. The new regulation regarding the production of village wines became effective with the 2011 harvest so, alone in its support for the quality of wine for the village, Humbrecht had no choice but a switch to the Calcaire nomenclature. From richer, cooler, alkaline soils. A touch more sugar (8 g/L) than the Turckheim counterparts, this also has higher acidity. Technically not so dry but this is the elevated, though not quite astronomical PH talking. It is dry enough to be considered Sec. Momentarily stuck in the proverbial petrol and mineral fence. The door will open shortly, to the ZH airy density and so physically speaking, this will taste drier as it ages. Even if “all this science I don’t understand,” I do know “it’s gonna be a long, long time” before the Calcaire comes down to earth and settles into its skin. Ten years to be sure. Rocket man.

Riesling Clos Häuserer 2012

Also Turckheim in origin (specifically Soedlen) but from marl soil atop really aggressive limestone from just under the Grand Cru Hengst’s nose. One of the highest in PH, this is austere and currently shut tight within a dry (4 g/L sugar) free lime zeppelin drum. Though aromatically mute, the mineral density on the palate is striking, like a reduction of half and half spread on sourdough toast. The 18 month lees program is most noticeable here and this Riesling will be led towards a petrol induction future. When it gets there, a taste will bring you into the Häuserer of the holy. The deep marl soil on top of calcareous Oligocene mother rock will speak and it will ask  “are you dizzy when you’re stoned?”

Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11532951 $73.00, WineAlign)

There is a roundness to the Brand, in beautiful calming aromatics in defiance of the hard biotite granite, black and white mica soils. The pure mineralized clay silica brings heat to the land, with a high surface exchange quotient, not so different from the Schlossberg. This is precocious and precious Grand Cru that demands the wisdom and the fortitude of old vines, of a minimum 25-30 years of age. Zind Humbrecht’s average 66! With two per cent noble rot in the mix the wine reaches for more sugar (11.5 g/L) out of its desperately low yields. There is a high mineral ripeness and a tropical tingling, in melon and clementine.

Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 12133871 $101.00, WineAlign)

The Thann is a 22-hectare, low yielding Grand Cru. The terra is volcanic and dark sedimentary soil, very steep and homogeneous. The high mineral altitude and poor attitude means the Zind Humbrecht ambition is aromatically challenging to assess, even if to taste it’s so obviously exquisite in concentrated depth. Such a rich, intense grapey nose but the flint smothers the smoky smoulder that should be present. A tight, angular and sobering expression, more isometric and idiosyncratic than anything tasted to this point. An island in the line-up. Not the most loveable Rangen, like its name, which is too old to even know its meaning.

Riesling Heimbourg 2012

From the village of Turckheim, the vines are planted on the steepest aspect of the marl covered, oligocene limestone slope. More noble rot present here than in the Brand, resulting in, naturally higher sugar (15 g/L), richer fruit and a deeper hue. “The sweetest Riesling we’ve made in 2012,” admits Olivier. A most interesting specimen too, an upside down cake in alternating layers of apricot and crushed rocks. The flavours are high-toned, not necessarily tropical, but lush.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Alsace, France (agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

“Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” notes Humbrecht, exemplified by this blasted 2011 in contrast to all the ’12’s at these tastings. Here the fruit leans in the most elevated petrol direction, from a warm year and an earlier harvest. A younger evolution is taking place, showing immediate and gratified balance. The terroir is cool, rocky limestone with shells, similar to Burgundy. The clos is a gently sloping, six-hectare parcel. Overall it’s anti-floral, wet chalky creamy and striped by linear acidity. Only 4.5 g/L of sugar. These last two numbers mean nothing if you don’t recognize the PH because there are different acidities in wine. Here the acidity walks the fine line, side by side with its partners.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2007

From a different era, this was fermented bone-dry, dire, with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar. A Riesling to show just how tight the Zind-Humbrecht band was back then and it is just beginning to communicate in its mid-life, mineral voice. If as a lieu-dit subject it was once “incommunicado,” with no comment to make, this has changed. The notes are layered and together, the mid-palate extraordinarily full, the length in reverberating, extended play. Here in today’s communique he’s come clean, having moved on from the strict, straits style, once spun unbending. The experience of great players and exceptional monopole (Grand Cru deserving) terroir has given the ’07 Windsbuhl the foundation to realize a classic Riesling.

Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012

Fruit comes from the Heimbourg, providing pure limestone effect and a great nutty character. The sugar is nothing to forget about (10.6 g/L), here already commissioned and integrated. Provides support for Olivier’s declaration that “if anything should happen to a wine, it should be before you bottle it.” Much more accessible than the fastball-curveball-changeup, out of the strike zone ’11. Here it’s all down the middle,  juicy, hittable fastballs.

Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012

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.

Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11545233 $74.25, WineAlign)

The noble grape in this Muschelkalk (calcareous) vineyard comes through in high concentration, with an increase in noble rot from very low yields (12 hl/L). There was hail here in 2012, just after flowering, not a devastating storm but enough to minimize quantity. The sweetness (35 g/L) is heightened and uncompromising yet always mitigated by intense mineral activity. The richest and most unctuous wine of the morning (to this point) with direct, pure ripe tree-fruit flavours. This is a Pinot Gris that remains firm against the dangers of oxidation and it will develop smoky and toasty aromas. The structure is what I would call remarkable but not exceptional. Time will tell. Here the wait needs to be a minimum five years and then to drink well past 2025.

Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2012

As of the 2011 vintage, the Wintzenheim bottling became the Calcaire, for village designation (or lack thereof) reasons. Fruit here in 2012 is mostly (not necessarily typically) from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard. The marl and limestone leads to a very typical Alsatian and even more typical Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer. Full on glycerin, creamy, perceptibly sweet and protracted wine. Even at 35 g/L it is tempered by high tannic animation, as much as in Burgundy. Skin tannins are much more interesting than those from oak because they elevate the acidity by way of contrasting balance to the sugar. This is why they succeed.

Gewürztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2012

From old vines of the Hengst, the yield is half of the Calcaire, the concentration raising the bar in the opposite direction. The residual number is the same but the sugars are more complex, intensely natural and variegated. The texture and flavours cover a creamier, wider spectrum and even though some typical rose petal/lychee components are noted, they remain submerged beneath the piquancy and the richness. This Hengst will gain flesh and weight as it ages, elevating the potential for late harvest sensations and alcohol.

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2012

The Muschelkalk calcareous, southeast facing slopes of this Clos employ slightly cooler temperatures and the stretched elasticity of slow-ripening to bring a sense of balance and poise to Gewürztraminer. The same can’t be said for Riesling on the same site, at least not in 2012. The Windsbuhl here speaks in more sweetness and less alcohol. “If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz,” says Olivier, “then you won’t see it in Riesling.” Here is an example that backs up one of his most telling axioms. “It’s the phenols of the grape that make it age gracefully better.” Age it will. Drink this beginning in 2020 and through 2040.

Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Hengst Grand Cru 2011

A wine not often made because of the dry climate in this Herrenweg vineyard. The gaining of full botrytis expression only happens once in every five or six years and when it does, this eager and vivid sweet wine is the result. Harvested at high ripeness and proportion (50 per cent) of noble rot, with a quick (one month) fermentation to achieve a sweet balance (vin liquoreux) not that far from some SGNs. At 102 g/L it is obviously quite sweet though once again, with acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character it strikes a balance. I don’t normally imagine late harvest wines to speak in terms of elegance or restraint and I’m not sure those are the most apt descriptors here. Yet the Hengst is as subtle as it gets for the genre and never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010

The residual on the 2010 Windsbuhl is remarkably high, this as a result of its long but (not compared to 2009) fermentation. From a historic vintage, with top-notch acidity (the goal was 16 g/L) and clean, precise botrytis. With the complexity and structure provisos of the Muschelkalk calcareous terroir and (43 year-old) vines, this exceptional dessert wine was given all the tools necessary for success. A parabola of a dessert wine, one sip and “we barely remember who or what came before this precious moment.” Attacks the mouth with an unparalleled sugar/acidity/tannin continuum. The flavours bring to mind quince, apricot and creamy mangosteen in out of control concentration. There is a reason sweet wines like these are so rare and receive such high praise. Exceptional fruit of uncompromising quality and a winemaker’s reverence are the reasons. Olivier Humbrecht prepared this 2010 to succeed and to live for decades. Drink from 2025 to 2055.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

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.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Good to go!

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