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The wines of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace

[See a more recent article based on a visit in June 2012 here]

Olivier Humbrecht (right) is one of the stars in the wine world’s firmament. As well as being one of relatively few winemakers to have achieved the MW qualification, he is also one of the champions of biodynamics, and is currently president of Biodyvin (www.biodyvin.com). More than this, he’s also a really nice, approachable guy.

But it’s the wines were focusing on here. We journos love to talk in superlatives – the best this, the best that – and even given this annoying tendency, I’m going to suggest that Zind-Humbrecht is probably the best producer in Alsace, with a stunning line-up of powerful, rich wines that possess a real sense of place.

While the Humbrecht family have been winegrowers since 1620, the Domaine Zind Humbrecht was founded in 1959. It has 40 hectares of vines, spread throughout a range of Grand Cru and single-vineyard sites. 

Annual production is 13 000–16 000 cases, and 22 staff are employed – much of the vineyard work, driven by the biodynamic principles, is labour intensive. Yields are between 30–40 hl/ha, which is low by Alsace standards: this is a region known for its often heroic yields. Olivier says that he’s ‘not too bothered by vintages high or low in acid: if you are doing things right in the vineyard it is an interesting wine.’

Grand Crus

  • Rangen (Thann) 5.5 ha

  • Brand (Turckheim) 2.4 ha

  • Hengst (Wintzenheim) 1.4 ha

  • Goldert (Gueberschwihr) 0.9 ha

Single Vineyards   

  • Rotenberg (Wintzenheim) 1.8 ha

  • Clos Häuserer (Wintzenheim) 1.2 ha

  • Herrenweg (Turkheim) 11.5 ha

  • Clos Jebsal (Turkheim) 1.3 ha

  • Heimbourg (Turkheim)  4 ha

  • Clos Windsbuhl (Hunawihr) 5.2 ha

In the winery, unsurprisingly the wines are made in a hands-off way: the fermentations are slow and the wines spend at least six months on the gross lees. Bottling occurs after filtration some 12–24 months following the harvest. ‘One of my goals before I die is to avoid filtering the wines’, says Olivier: this isn’t possible at the moment because of the risk of refermentation in these wines, many of which are bottled with high residual sugar levels. He waits until after winter to rack because of the risk of the yeast spores waking up as temperatures increase. Olivier only filters once the wine has become clear in the cask. ‘If you push a cloudy wine through a filter you damage it’, he says.

Would he like to make wine anywhere else? ‘It’s always tempting’, he says, ‘but there is so much work to be done in Alsace.’ If pushed, he’d stick to France. ‘There are so many wine growing areas in France to be rediscovered’.

Zind Humbrecht Riesling Turckheim 2003 Alsace
Very young, fresh perfumed Riesling with a nice lemony freshness. The palate is quite rich with pretty, honeyed lemony fruit. Rich stuff. Very good+ 89/100

Zind Humbrecht Riesling Heimbourg 2003 Alsace
From calcareous soils. A deep, rich herby nose displays sweet, lime-edged fruit. There’s some smoky depth, and hints of honey. The palate is concentrated and full, with the medium sweet fruit framed by good acidity and a minerality. Deep. Very good/excellent 91/100

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2003 Alsace
A rich, slightly smokey, honeyed nose leads to a palate that is rich and full, with good depth. This thick textured wine shows lovely balance and is really appealing. Weighs in at 15.5% alcohol. Very good/excellent 93/100

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal 2003 Alsace
Marl/gypsum soil. Rich, deep, sweet nose with meaty, spicy undertones to the honeyed fruit. The palate is explosively rich: sweet but brilliantly balanced. There’s also a thick herby texture and spicy edge. Brilliant. Excellent 95/100

Zind Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim 2003 Alsace
From gravelly soils. Deep coloured. Remarkable, explosive pretty nose of rose petals – very perfumed. The palate is dry but still quite rich textured with great concentration and balance. Very good/excellent 92/100

Zind Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Hengst 2003 Alsace
Alluring, rich perfumed nose of grapes and lychees. The palate is really rich and bold with great density. Quite sweet, but with nice balance. Very good/excellent 93/100

see also: the wines of Alsace, visiting Alsace (series), a visit to Zind Humbrecht

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