September 9, 2011 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Clos Saint Urbain
It started with a need for a wine pairing with spicy mulligatawny soup. My trusty guidebook suggested gewurztraminer.
Well, there’s gewurztraminer, and then there’s gewurztraminer. The soup was put to one side. This wine need not be tainted with food.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain 2005
The label alone is a mouthful. The wine itself is a superb mouthful. Bring the orange gold to the nose and the nectar richness is instantly evident. Perfectly ripe fruit, spiced apricot notes dominating. Aromas to muse over, eventually giving way to its full-mouth experience, a velvet viscosity. Rounded acidic balance, a mineral-laced semi-sweetness, seasoned with a deft measure of botrytis. Delightful creamy length. One is in the hands of a master. $$$
The master is 6′ 4″ Olivier Humbrecht. And he, in fact, holds Master of Wine accreditation, the first Frenchman to pass the vigorous exam. He is renowned for his way with white wine. The wine writer Andrew Jefford seems to run out of superlatives for the man. Of his domain, Jefford writes: “…France’s new generation [of winemakers] are above all engaged in a quest to peel back the land, to discover the truths and the beauties of terroir; and no domain in France has done this more effectively over the last four decades than Zind-Humbrecht.”
Written record of winemaking here goes back to the 12th century. The domaine in its present form dates to 1959 when Olivier’s father Léonard married Geneviève Zind. Today there are 40 hectares of white varietals, all cultivated biodynamically. There are four Grand Cru sites, including our bottle’s Rangen de Thann, the most southerly of all vineyards in Alsace, 5.5 hectares situated near the historic town of Thann.
Léonard had the forethought to buy up Rangen vineyards, notoriously steep (averaging 70%) and difficult to work, as other winegrowers were abandoning them in favour of flatter sites. When Olivier took over he embraced these terraced slopes (marked by volcanic rock and sedimentary sandstone, unique to Alsace) with new interest, introducing biodynamics and turning to horses to do the ploughing.
The vineyard is a beautiful one and through the centuries has generated the attention of poets almost as much as winemakers. In the late 15th century a chapel in honour of Saint Urbain, the patron saint of Thann, was built in the centre of the vineyard, overlooking the town. The most recent chapel on the site dates from 1934, and in it the special litany can still be heard: “…From drink and drunkeness, Deliver us, Lord! From devastation of tempest and frost, Deliver us, Lord!”
Prayer aside, there is something blessed about Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. It commands attention, not only for the quality of the wines, but equally for the care with which winemaking is approached. Respect for the natural traits of the terroir and commitment to non-intervention in the cellar are paramount. Jefford calls Zind-Humbrecht wines “earth’s wealth given sensory expression.”
They tend to turn wine writers to poets.