Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal VT 2009
And now for something completely different, as they used to say in Monty Python. This Python catchphrase still resonates, I find, even if recent news confirming a forthcoming reunion show suggests it should perhaps be replaced with – to quote John Cleese, before the lawyers get too excited – And now let’s “fill in the large hole” in our finances. In my case, the something completely different is from Alsace. Writing about wine won’t help me with the ‘large hole’ in my own finances, but I’ll persevere all the same.
Although I focus very much on the Loire and Bordeaux these days, memories of other wines, domaines and regions occasionally pop into my head, often with a sense of regret that I’m not able to keep up to date with every domaine, in every region, in every country. One domaine that I do miss is Zind Humbrecht. I have such fond memories of brilliant bottles consumed too many decades ago, plush yet intense, wines with a deep-pile texture and yet also full of vibrancy and vigour. It was in the wines of Zind Humbrecht that I first locked onto what people were referring to as ‘minerality’, a thought which might please Olivier Humbrecht who believes that minerality in a wine is a sign that “the vine is working properly”.
This weekend’s wine hails from 2009, a very good vintage for the region. The growing season started with an early budbreak in April, followed by good growth during a warm May with no frost. June saw a little cold spell although not one that appeared to interfere with flowering, and the remaining summer months were warm and dry, so much so that the greenery planted between the rows started to yellow. In some vineyards the acidity levels in the ripening fruit began to fall very quickly, and hydric stress was also a threat. There shouldn’t be any problem with ripeness in such a vintage, except perhaps for vines with more superficial roots which ‘shut down’ photosynthesis in the dry weather, which was not reportedly a problem at Zind Humbrecht. One advantage of the warm weather was that véraison was swift and homogenous, compensating for any irregularity induced by the cooler weather during the latter stages of the flowering.
The harvest months were fine and Olivier Humbrecht and team could have waited and harvested many vineyards very late, making a huge range of very sweet wines. The problem with following this plan would have been acidity, however, as levels in the grapes were already low, and so many vineyards were picked sooner rather than later. The harvest started relatively early, on September 9th, finishing on October 16th. By this time there was some good botrytis present, particularly on the Pinot Gris. All the same, because of the falling acidities only three Sélection des Grains Nobles (SGN) cuvées were made, from Rangen, Clos Windsbuhl and Clos Jebsal, and one Vendanges Tardives (VT), from Clos Jebsal again. This latter vineyard is so precocious it seems almost impossible to make a dry wine from it, generating SGN or VT cuvées every year, and it was the only vineyard that developed both VT and SGN styles in 2009.
The Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendange Tardive 2009 was picked at a very impressive 39 hl/ha from vines with an average age of 46 years. I say ‘impressive’ because despite this admirable yield the wine still registers a residual sugar of 90 g/l, balanced by 3.6 g/l acidity. In the glass it has a rich, lightly bronzed, golden hue. Aromatically it says a lot about the grape variety in question, the honeyed, tropical-fruit salad spiced with hints of bacon fat, lychee and chalk, along with touches of orange peel, orange blossom, tangerine and apricot, some of these latter nuances surely related to the botrytis present in the vineyard this year. The start of the palate is very pure, with evident residual sugar and a full, sweet, broad midpalate offset by plenty of charged, minerally vivacity; this probably plays a larger role in providing some balance, for the moment at least, than the acidity, which I find to be somewhat of the softer side. A remarkably textured wine, full, really quite perfumed, sweet but with plenty of structure beneath. Very fruit-orientated and primary at present, with attractive but certainly not strident structure. A wine with potential. 17/20
All in all this is a very good wine, one for laying down, and unlike the famous Perth Pink, not to be subsequently avoided. (25/11/13)