Spotlight on Alsace: Zind Humbrecht “Clos Windsbuhl” Hunawihr Pinot Gris 2004

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Alsace is a blank slate with a surface as thin as paper. As the region’s winemakers have begun to scratch at the surface, its very old and intricate etchings have started to show themselves. With a geological complexity greater than any region in France except perhaps Burgundy, Alsace’s history has led it astray from the depth of its raw materials. Once a unified terroir with no AOC designations that distinguished between sites, it is only recently since the creation of the Grand Cru AOCs that Alsace has started to rediscover its terroir.

Tradition meets Innovation

Varieties rather than soils have been the focus of Alsace for generations. Most are aware of the Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, etc. that don the labels of most Alsatian wines. Few are aware of the incredible diversity of terroirs in the region, including the wine makers themselves. Even the greatest producers like Zind-Humbrecht and Jean-Michel Deiss acknowledge that they do not fully understand what is capable in Alsace. Which varieties grow best at what sites – an age old question, but one that Alsace, unlike much of the rest of France, is only beginning to tackle. In some ways this makes Alsace more like a New World region that is just discovering its potential. Perhaps this is why Alsace is one of the most experimental regions in all of France. However, unlike the New World, grape growing has been going on in this border region between France and Germany for centuries. It is this combination of tradition and innovation that makes the region so exciting.

There are as many philosophies in Alsace as there are soil types, with some winemakers focusing on site and blends, others primarily on varietal bottlings, and still others on house style. Zind-Humbrecht is perhaps a hybrid of the first two approaches, often bottling wines with varietal labels, but also offering an extreme range of terroir focused wines. In fact, Zind-Humbrecht may be the greatest winemaker in Alsace when it comes to expressing site.

Intellect and Biodynamie

Alsace is tops in France for organic and biodynamic wine production. Zind-Humbrecht is probably the leading proponent of biodynamic wines in France. He has a completely hands off approach. Zind-Humbrecht is a trained scientist and interestingly his devotion to biodynamics came from his belief in the value of experimentation. And it was in his experiments with biodynamics that he found the greatest expression in his wines and his terroirs.

Zind-Humbrecht is also the perfect example of why ‘natural’ wine doesn’t have to mean low alcohol, lean and pretty. Zind-Humbrecht is all about power, concentration, and maximal ripeness. It’s not uncommon to find ZH wines at 15% alcohol, and they are white wines! You would also never guess the level of alcohol given the wine’s absolutely perfect balance.

Alsatian Potions

I’m not surprised that Olivier Zind-Humbrecht is a master of wine. He is clearly a precision wine maker with great intellectual power but also the sensitivity of a true wine lover and taster. No one less than that could make wine this good.

There is a lot to write about this Domaine, which I will do in future posts, but right now I will simply extol the virtues of this single vineyard profundity. This wine is honeyed grapefruit with a zesty and pervasive aroma that yet leaves an ethereal pause in one’s mind.

The signature richness and density of Zind-Humbrecht explodes on the palate: honey, lemon and lime with the intensity of a great dessert wine. Yet the finish elides anything you may expect from the mid-palate; it is completely dry. For a wine that starts out massively rich and concentrated, the final experience ends up as a layered exploration of citrus on a mineral backbone. The chalky and savory elements of the wine contradict the richness of the fruit – but it is this contradiction that is so engaging.

A compelling potion of intellectual and sensuous exploration.

$85 at Kits Wine Cellar


    January 31, 2011

    Also try the biodynamic wines made by Pierre Frick. I tasted through his current releases last week and they are absolutely fantastic – a highlight of the Millesime Bio trade show.

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