The Zind-Humbrecht 2011 Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim Vieilles Vignes Vendange Tardive certainly boasts a mouthful of a name, but even though the estate now plans to bottle only the fruit of their oldest Gewurztraminer vines in Herrenweg under that site name, they did not want to relinquish the by now familiar reference to old vines. At 13% alcohol and nearly a hundred grams of residual sugar, this is in effect a little S.G.N., but its intense spice and confectionary alliance of caramel, nut pastes and lychee are strikingly laced with downright invigorating, juicy and piquant citrus (lemon, mandarin) allied with oceanic brine. Hints of mushroom remain happily in the background, and the long finish of salted caramel, lychee and candied lemon rind soothes as well as stimulates. Look for impressive repeat performances – and quite possibly additional complexity – through 2030.
”The trap into which many growers fell,” opines Olivier Humbrecht, “was to pick 2010 too early and 2011 too late. In 2010 you had to wait for the acidity – especially the malic acid – to drop; whereas in 2011 you had a battle to keep potential alcohol from getting too high and the acidity too low. That situation made 2011 a record-breaking year for production of V.T. in Alsace, though not,” he adds with a smile, “at Zind-Humbrecht.” Having said the 2010 crop needed time to ripen, Humbrecht admits to some surprise at the fact that his harvest was finished already (with the Rangen vineyards), on October 18, earlier, as well as at higher must weights, than he had anticipated when he began strategizing and picking. But then, yields were miniscule even by region-wide 2010 standards (with Gewurztraminer decimated by hail on top of poor flowering); and like most practitioners of biodynamics, Humbrecht believes his viticultural regimen is conducive to promoting ripe flavors earlier in any given season. The fact that total pH levels in his 2010 vintage Rieslings remain so low even after most of them (like their 2011 counterparts) underwent malolactic transformation, is certainly proof that when Humbrecht picked, tartaric acidity far outweighed malic (green apple) acidity, in contrast with the situation that prevailed this vintage in most of the Rhine basin, French or German. Being on the whole slow to ferment even by this estate’s laissez-faire standards, Zind-Humbrecht’s 2010s benefited from the buffering of extended lees contact and very few were bottled before the following August, at which point the precocious 2011 harvest intervened. From that latter vintage, even much of the estate’s Riesling was picked by the third week of September, but Humbrecht reports that heat during harvest was not the problem that it had been in 2009. In addition, alcohol levels for Riesling cracked 14% only in Brand and Rangen (levels that – like those of his other 2011 Rieslings – Humbrecht underestimated when showing them to me from cask; and no wonder, because most of these wines manage to seem quite buoyant). Pinot Gris from 2011 was a different matter, with several bottlings – not for the first time – being vitiated by alcohol well in excess of 15%. Better perhaps, to have adopted the same attitude Humbrecht expressed that year toward Gewurztraminer: “to have tried to get balanced dry wines would in most cases have meant harvesting without physiological ripeness.” A welcome feature for many of us as Rieslings from both the 2010 and 2011 collections at this address will be their having with few exceptions fermented to analytical dryness, though the former often border on severity and will need time in bottle. The Humbrechts have recently found themselves in a ludicrous position. Unless a quorum of bottling growers can be found to collaborate on the establishment of a so-called cru communale (which commits those producers to 10% crop reduction and certain minimum prices) then a commune’s name is no longer authorized as the name of a wine. Neither Gueberschwihr nor Wintzenheim – the Humbrechts’ and Zinds’ ancestral villages – can muster such a quorum, so fantasy names have to be created to replace those village names if the same fruit as in past years is to be subjected to separate bottling.