06 July, 2010

An Summer Evening of Alsatian Delights: Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtzraminers and Pinot Gris

For my "summer of wine" I am learning about and drinking wines of Europe. I have some formal wine education but I think the best thing to further my education is to taste as many wines as I can. So I jumped at the chance to blind-taste some of the finest whites from the Alsace region of France: Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtzraminers and Tokay Pinot Gris. This highly-esteemed Domaine makes over 30 wines including Riesling and Muscats. These whites can age gracefully, especially when made by Zind-Humbrecht.

The Big, Bold Whites of the Alsace
In general Gewurtzraminer is an aromatic, full-bodied, low acid, pink-skinned varietal that really blossoms in the climate and terroir of the Alsace. They can be dry or off-dry (sweet.) Typical aromatics include lychee, stonefruit, rose, honeysuckle and citrus fruits. The Pinot Gris is similarly full-bodied, unlike Pinot Gris from Italy and the States. They are higher in acid than the Gewurtzraminers and there are similar aromatics such as citrus, peach, ginger, vanilla, smoke and almonds. No new oak is used for any fermentation or ageing of these varietals because the winemakers are going for a pure expression of the fruit. Both of these varietals can be complex, bold and lush and they both make sumptuous "vendange tardive" or late-harvest wines.

The Tasting
A group of 20 of us blindtasted 8 Gewurtzraminers and Pinot Gris and we finished the evening with 2 "vendange tardive" or late harvest wines (which I did not review). Another Alsatian Gewurtzraminer from the famous Domaine Weinbach was thrown in as a ringer to compare and contrast. Each person rates the wine and then the ratings are tallied for a group total. We also tried to identify which were Gewurtraminers and which were the Pinot Gris. Here are the results of the tasting and some tasting notes:

Notice the deep golden color of these aged whites from 1994-1999.

A) 1994 Domaine Weinbach "Cuvee Laurence", Altenbourg Gewurtz(16.4%)
deep gold in color, spicey notes of keffir lime, ginger, fennel and orange marmalade on the nose; off-dry with an oily, viscous mouthfeel and aftertaste of lime. This wine was the oldest and it aged so well so it is no surprise that it came in at #2.
Group rating-2 My rating - 2

B)1999 Zind-Humbrecht "Vieilles Vignes", Wintzenheim" Gewurtz(12.5%)
medium gold, nose was skunky at first but those notes evaporated to reveal notes of apricot and honey. dry with notes of sweetness, bright acidity, lush mouthfeel
Group 5 My #4

C) 1999 Zind-Humbrecht "Goldert", Gueberschwihr Gewurtz(13.5%):
at first this struck me with light notes of petrol but underneath were notes of honey,lime and tart fruits. This one was also tangy and acidic with a bit of oiliness
Group - #4, My #5

D) 1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Clos Saint Urbain-Rangen de Thann- Grand Cru" Pinot Gris(14%
This was dark gold with a light orange tinge. Dry, acidic and spicy on the palate. Seems to have lost its former vibrancy...
Group #7, my #8

E)1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Rotenberg-Wintzenheim" Pinot Gris(14%)
light gold, with mineral notes of limestone, aftertaste of lime. acidic.
Group #8, my #7

The winner of the evening:
F) 1999 Zind-Humbrecht "Clos Windsbuhl", Turckheim (13%)
Another golden-hued Gewurzt with lychee, marmalade, and honeysuckle. It was off-dry but retained a good level of acidity. Balanced with some creaminess on the palate. Luscious and a little fresher than the others.
Group #1, my #1

G) 1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Vieilles Vignes", Wintzenheim Pinot Gris(14%)
dark gold, with notes of vanilla and peach and apricot. off dry.
Group #3, my #6

H) 1996 Zind-Humbrecht "Rotenberg-Vendange Tardive", Wintzenheim Pinot Gris (13%):
Yes, there was botrytis in this one. And it was darker gold so I knew it was an older vintage. Notes of honey, orange marmalade and apricot on the nose. I loved the aftertaste of apricot.
Group #6 my #3

The winner of the evening.

In the past I have never been that impressed by Gewurtzraminers because they can be too sweet. But now that I have tasted the finest examples of them I am in love with their pure fruit expression, fruit and floral aromatics, and slick, full-bodied textures. It was also interesting to get a sense of how these wines can change over time and that they become even more complex and spicy as they retain their acidity. These wines call for hard cheeses and foie gras!
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