Zind Humbrecht shines yet again in 2014

After a superlative 2013, 2014 an excellent follow up

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

26 April 2016

About one year ago, I was singing praises for Zind Humbrecht 2013. Not meaning to be a bore, but I have to sing praises yet again for the 2014. Although overall, I may give a slight edge to 2013, it is still early days and certain wines – take the noteworthy example of Riesling Rangen de Thann – seemed even more vivid, vivacious and vibrant in 2014.

Reading the harvest report, spring and early summer months were marked by high heat and dry weather (mainly in the spring), which lead to precociousness. Flowering started end May, about two weeks earlier than average, and finished rapidly around 10 June for all the vineyards, after some extremely warm conditions. Fast and homogenous flowering was good, but then temperatures reaching 37° Celsius (over 98°F) led to some coulure and flowers aborted because of the extreme heat, usually rare so early in Alsace.

As a lover of tension in my Alsace wines, I was happy to read that a rather cool August was responsible for excellent acidities in the 2014 wines: a happy surprise in such a precocious vintage. All grape varieties show acidity levels equivalent or sometimes even higher than 2013 or 2010, borne out in my tasting of the 2014 vintage, organized by owner Olivier Humbrecht.

Unfortunately, 2014 was also the year of the dreaded Japanese fruit fly – drosophila Suzukii – which had the ability to pierce grapes, something that its European cousin cannot do. The little fly developed massively in 2014, thanks to favorable climactic conditions.

Colored grapes were more affected (red Muscat d’Alsace, Gewurztraminer, Pinot-Noir and Pinot-Gris), according to the Zind-Humbrecht harvest report, as it appears that the wounds made by Suzukii would heal slower, allowing all drosophilas to lay their larvas, and with them bacterial infections (acid rot) and yeasts making sometimes the grapes ferment in the vineyard.

However, Riesling and other white skin grapes were much less affected, so 2014 brings a bunch of superb tension filled wines like the Riesling Roche Calcaire. This wine has a total acidity of 4.7 grams per liter balanced by 7.5 grams of residual sugar, made from 40-year old vines on a mainly limestone terroir facing east and south. Gorgeous, fresh and brisk!

In the video I interview Olivier about the often used word “minerality” which so many wine people love to hate. Well, we spoke about what that could mean in the context of the vintage. And one wine that just blew me away was the legendary Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos-Saint-Urbain Grand Cru 2014.

Indeed, Olivier had left it open for two days before the official tasting, as it has so much brisk energy and richness, that it needed air to properly express its fruit, he said. It displayed much citrus and wet stone, with tension on the palate, and a layered opulence leading to a very long finish, with much energy and lift. A gorgeous wine that very well balanced its 5.5 grams of residual sugar with 4.6 grams of acidity per liter, clocking in at 12.5° alcohol.

There were other examples of great wines that I tasted, including a Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl that seemed even more elegant than its elder 2013 sibling, likely due to the fact that the 2014 has 7 grams of residual sugar and 4 grams of acidity and 14° alcohol while the 2013 clocks in at 14.5°, with 10 grams of residual sugar and 4 grams of acidity.

The tasting included some wines from last year, so it was great to be able to compare 2013 and 2014. As much as I loved 2014, some 2013s tasted better to my palate – but one must take into account one more year of development in bottle. Take for example the legendary Riesling Clos Windsbuhl. Its Muschelkalk (“mussel chalk”) soils – blending limestones and dolostones – enjoy ideal mid slope southeast exposures. The 2014 had 10 grams of residual sugar and 5.5 grams of acidity, and came across as richer and rounder. The 2013, however, had 8 grams of residual sugar and 5.2 grams of acidity, with alcohol levels each being about 12.5° Indeed, the 2013 came across as more focused and precise and it was a no brainer to buy some of those bottles, which I did. And you should, too!

Many thanks to Zind-Humbrecht for the invitation.

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