Zind-Humbrecht is one of the very best wine producers in Alsace, if not the very best. This producer is located in the Turckheim village and was created in its present form in 1959 from vineyard holdings of the Zind family of Wintzenheim and the Humbrecht family of Gueberschwihr. They purchased quite a lot of vineyards in the 1960s and 1970s, which was a period when many owners sold steep vineyards, since they weren’t considered profitable.
The person who did Zind-Humbrecht to what they are today is primarily Olivier Humbrecht, who took over the domain from his parents in 1989.
The style of the Zind-Humbrecht wines is fruity and concentrated, as well as often showing fine minerality. The residual sweetness varies, but irrespective of fully dry or quite sweet, they almost always display quite good balance. Worth noting is that also the “entry level” wines, i.e., those that don’t have any vineyard designation, are quite good and possess a weight that are only found in grand cru wines in many other producers’ ranges.
Zind-Humbrecht has 41.1 hectares (101.6 acres) of vineyards, of which over 10 ha are in grand cru sites and 25 ha are in other good vineyard sites that fully or partially are bottled with a vineyard designation. From south to north they are in the villages listed below. Vineyards in boldface are those that were represented at the tasting I write about below.
- 5.5 ha in the village of Thann
- All 5.5 ha in the Rangen de Thann vineyard, which is a grand cru. Zind-Humbrecht’s part is also called Clos Saint Urbain on the labels. Grape varieties cultivated here are 2.7 ha Pinot Gris, 2.3 ha Riesling, and 0.5 ha Gewurztraminer.
- 2.2 ha in Gueberschwihr
- 0.9 ha in Goldert, a grand cru. Here primarily Muscat is cultivated, of which approx. 90% is the more expressive Muscat d’Alsace (=Muscat à Petits Grains) and approx. 10% the more easily grown Muscat Ottonel, which they’ve decided to phase out from their vineyards. There is also some Gewurztraminer here.
- In other vineyards in the village, Gewurztraminer and Riesling can be found. Currently, they primarily go into the wines named “Calcaire” (after their soils).
- 7.3 ha in Wintzenheim, a neighbour of Turckheim.
- 1.4 ha in Hengst, a grand cru. Currently, only Gewurztraminer is cultivated here, but one plot will be planted to Riesling. Hengst is visible from Zind-Humbrecht’s tasting room in the neighbouring village.
- 1.8 ha in Rotenberg, which is located higher up on the same hill as Hengst. Here we find 0.5 ha Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois used for their “Pinot d’Alsace”, and 1.2 ha Pinot Gris.
- 1.2 ha in Clos Häuserer, which is located below Hengst. Riesling is cultivated here.
- In other vineyards in the village there is alo Gewurztraminer. Currently, they primarily go into the wines named “Calcaire”. Earlier, Pinot Noir was also cultivated in the village.
- 19.8 ha in Turckheim, the home village of Zind-Humbrecht.
- 2,4 ha in Brand, a grand cru. Riesling only.
- 11,5 ha in Herrenweg de Turckheim, which is the largest vineyard site of Zind-Humbrecht and is located around their facility outside of Turckheim. Several different grape varieties are planted in Herrenweg, and many of the wines without vineyard designation in their range originate wholly or partially from this vineyard. Vineyard-designated wines from here are produced from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat (currently mostly Muscat d’Alsace, and a proportion of Muscat Ottonel that is being reduced), but not in every vintage. Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are also cultivated here for non-vineyard designated wines.
- 1,3 ha in Clos Jebsal. Pinot Gris only.
- 4 ha in Heimbourg, which is located next to Brand. 1.6 ha Pinot Gris is cultivated in the upper part, 1 ha Gewurztraminer below, and on the south-facing side there are 1.15 ha Riesling and 0.3 ha Pinot Noir.
- 0.32 ha in Niedermorschwihr
- 0,32 ha in Sommerberg, a grand cru. A small plot in this vineyard was purchased in 2010, and the existing Gewurztraminer wines were replaced with Riesling, which was finished in 2013, when biodynamic conversion was initiated. So far, no wine has been released from this vineyard, and they don’t expect to sell the wine under the vineyard name the first years.
- 6.0 ha in Hunawihr
- 5,15 ha in Clos Windsbuhl. The largest part is planted to Pinot Gris, followed by Gewurztraminer and Riesling. There is also a plot of Chardonnay and Auxerrois used for “Zind”.
Zind-Humbrecht wines without vineyard designation often originate from Herrenweg, from small vineyards (a couple of hectares all together) that aren’t bottled under their own vineyard designation, from plots of young vines in other vineyards or from “down-classified” grapes from these vineyards. Since Zind-Humbrecht is a domaine, everything comes from their own vineyards and nothing is bought in.
They used to produce some wines under village names, but changed rules means that they had to stop this. The weird explanation is that there is a requirement that several producers use the designation for it to be allowed, and Zind-Humbrecht has in several cases been alone in using the village name for a certain grap variety. Also, the maximum allowed yield is slightly lower if the village name is indicated (but still much higher than what is practiced by Zind-Humbrecht), and this apparently makes some producers in these villages lose interest. I assume the wines of such producers (that overcrop or at least wish to preserve the option of overcropping) are hardly worth much more attention than a yawn.
Clos Windsbuhl was something of a focus of this tasting. It is the northernmost vineyard of Zind-Humbrecht, and it is located in Hunawihr, which is located between Riquewihr (a pleasant “tourist trap” and home to e.g. Hugel and both Dopffs: & Irion and au Moulin) and Ribeauvillé (where e.g. Trimbach is located). As it happens, Clos Windsbuhl is located only a few hundred meters from Clos Sainte Hune, the flagship vineyard of Trimbach, and part of the Rosacker grand cru. Clos Windsbuhl isn’t a grand cru, but has enjoyed a very good reputation for quite a long time.
The exposure is south to southwest and the inclination is 15-40%. The vineyard has a relatively high location and close to the forest, so it is a vineyard with a cool location where the grapes ripen late. This means that the vineyard performs well also in hot vintages. The soil is different from the rest of the commune, and consist of muschelkalk with the underlaying rock close to the surface.
Zind-Humbrecht bought the vineyard in 1987 and produced their first wines from here in the 1988 vintage. When they planted Gewürztraminer here, many considered it madness given the cool location, but they feel it has worked out fine.
Residual sugar in the wines of Zind-Humbrecht
Zind-Humbrecht’s ambition to produce wines in a concentrated style and their low yields mean that they often will end up with high ripesness in their grapes. As far as I know, Zind-Humbrecht was one of the pioneers of the “concentrated and fruity” style of Alsace wines. If high ripeness is achieved, there may often be residual sugar left in the wine, even when it is not really produced to be a sweet wine. This is particularly true of Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, since they regularly ripen to a higher sugar concentration in the grape must compared to Riesling.
I don’t know of any other Alsace producers whose wines can carry their residual sugar better than those of Zind-Humbrecht, since there is so much “good stuffing” in them. That said, the Z-H wines do vary quite a lot in style. There is variation between vineyards and grape varieties, but there is also vintage variation. It’s therefore quite useuful to be able to know approximately how sweet a wine is in a certain vintage.
As an aid to their customers, since 2001 Zind-Humbrecht puts an “indice” number on the labels of all their wines. This indice goes from 1 to 5 and indicate the sweetness of the wine:
- 1 means completely dry, or at least a completely dry impression.
- 2 means almost dry; although the wine technically isn’t dry, the residual sugar isn’t too obvious, but rather adds body or roundness to the wine.
- 3 means off-dry, with an impression of some sweetness that can gradually decrease with cellaring.
- 4 means a noticeable sweetness (off-dry to semi-sweet)
- 5 means high sweetnss, in principle a Vendange Tardive (late harvested wine), but without sufficient botrytis (noble rot) character for Zind-Humbrecht to use that designation.
Unfortunately, it seems that few wine merchants write the indice number in their lists of wines, but detailed data for the last vintages can be found on the Zind-Humbrecht website.
The wines mentioned below were served at a tasting that were held on the evening after the Alsace wine day in Stockolm in the end of January. The tasting was hosted by the Swedish importer Viunic and the wines were presented by a representative of Zind-Humbrecht.
A significant part of this tasting consisted of a comparison between the 2011 or 2012 vintage versus the 2008 vintage in Clos Windsbuhl, for the three varietal wines produced from this vineyard: Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. I must say that I found the concenctrated style of Zind-Humbrecht and a vineyard in a cool location to be a very favourable combination, and the wines were quite impressive.
60-65% Chardonnay and 35-40% Auxerrois from Clos Windsbuhl, raised in oak. Indice 2 (residual sugar 11 g/l).
Medium yellow colour. Nose with some mineral and smoke, freshly cut apple, discrete notes of melon and tropical fuit, and a discrete oak note. Medium body, slightly spicy with oak barrel notes, apple, some stone fruit including light peach, minerality, and an aftertaste with apple and some spice. Foody, 88-89 p.
This wine has a bit of a peculiar history. In Alsace, the use of Chardonnay is allowed in the region’s sparkling wine appellation, Crémant d’Alsace, but not in the regular Alsace appellation that applies to the still wines. On the tier below in the French wine classification, there isn’t any IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) designation that covers Alsace, so if a non-allowed grape variety is used, the wine has to be declassified all the way to the high unspecific Vin de France (formerly Vin de Table) designation. Not only does this mean that the label may no longer say “Alsace”, in former times this also meant that neigher grape varieties or vintage could be indicated. Most good producers that had to declassify their wines to Vin de Table usually showed a bit of revolutionary spirit and found a way to indicate the vintage in the form of a easily decipherable batch number. In the case of Zind, a Z was used together with the last three digits of the vintage year, e.g. Z005 for 2005 (with the zeroes shaped as wine barrels). As far as I know, it is today allowed to indicate the vintage for a Vin de France, but Zind-Humbrecht has apparently continued to use the same type of labels, so this wine says Z011. This wine has been called Zind and been a Vin de Table/Vin de France from the 2001 vintage, and before that it was called Pinot d’Alsace, which in the 1990s seems to have consisted of more Auxerrois than Chardonnay, plus a small proportion of Pinot Blanc, and was sourced from more vineyards than just Clos Windsbuhl. The other vineyards are today probably used for their Pinot Blanc.
2012 Heimbourg Riesling
Indice 2 (residual sugar 15 g/l).
Deep yellow colour. Nose with citrus, zest, some peach, discrete flowery notes, some stony minerality, and hints of honey and dried fruit. The palate is relatively dry (but not fully dry), noticeably spicy, and almost a little fiery with good acidity, citrus, and ripe apple. Somewhat heavy for a Riesling and shows a bit of Pinot Gris-like character rather than just the classical Riesling elegance, but this means that it is a food-styled and spicy wine. 88-89 p
2011 Clos Windsbuhl Riesling
Indice 1 (residual sugar 4.3 g/l)
Nose with pronounced and stony minerality, citrus, zest, and some petroleum notes. An elegant and classically firm Riesling nose. Dry on the palate, firm, pronounced minerality with stony character, citrus, high acidity, and an aftertaste with a lot of minerality. Firm and young, 90+ p.
2008 Clos Windsbuhl Riesling
Indice 1 (residual sugar 8 g/l)
Discrete nose with yellow apples including some winter apples, some smoke and spice notes, a hint of cocoa powder, some stony minerality, some mature notes with initially a hint of petroleum. After a while, more petroleum as well as citrus entered into the mix, which made this wine a progressively more classical Riesling. Dry palate (but not really bone dry) with a lot of citrus, powerful concentration, high acidity and minerality. Foody but firm and elegant, still rather young. 91(+) p
Both Rieslings from Clos Windsbuhl shows the interesting combination of power and firmness that can be achieved when the Zind-Humbrecht style is combined with a fully dry wine from a cooler vineyard site.
2012 Rotenberg Pinot Gris
Indice 1 (residual sugar 4 g/l)
Medium yellow colour. Nose with peach, rather ripe yellow stone fruit, noticeable spiciness, and a somewhat earthy impression with discrete mushroom notes. Dry palate, noticeably spicy, citrus notes with some apple, minerality, and good acidity. Foody, rather young, 89(+) p.
Definitely an interesting style of Pinot Gris, since it is both foody and dry!
2009 Rotenberg Pinot Gris
Indice 2 (residual sugar 12 g/l)
Nose with dried fruit, spice notes including cocoa powder, and fried apple. The palate is off-dry with powerful concentation and is very spicy, with fried apple, medium(+) aicidty and a spicy aftertaste. 89-90 p
2009 is a hot vintage, but here the sweetness hasn’t taken off to much (although it is sweeter than the 2012), and the acidity is quite normal for a Pinot Gris.
2012 Clos Windsbuhl Pinot Gris
Indice 4 (residual sugar 36.5 g/l)
Light yellow colour. Nose with spice notes, fried apple, minerality with some mint, and very lightly perfumed. Off-dry palate with powerful concentration, apples of which some are fried apples, some dried fruit, noticeable spice notes, and a fruity aftertaste with spice notes. Foody and rather Young, 91 p.
2008 Clos Windsbuhl Pinot Gris
Full golden colour. Nose with noticeable spice notes, fried apple, some honey, some dried fruit, a hint of botrytis and a bit of a “vendange tardive nose”. The palate is off-dry and noticeably spicy with fried apples, some dried fruit, a hint of red berries, medium+ acidity, and a spicy and fruity aftertaste. Foody, 91 p.
2012 Heimbourg Gewurztraminer
Indice 5 (residual sugar 55 g/l).
Medium yellow colour. Nose with lychee, rose petals, honey, some spice notes, and some minerality. The palate is off-dry with powerful concentration, honey, some tropical fruit, and spice notes. Young, but approachable now, 90 p.
2012 Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer
Indice 5 (residual sugar 50 g/l)
Medium yellow colour. Nose with pronounced perfume notes, ripe peach, zest, and a very discrete spice note. Off-dry palate with good concentration, citrus, tropical fruit, some minerality, medium+ acidity, some spice notes, and an aftertaste with minerality. Rather young and with potential, 91(+) p.
2008 Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer
Nose with honey, dried fruit, well integrated spice notes, flowery and perfumed notes, some minerality, and some developed notes. The palate is off-dry with good concentration, honey, spice notes, some dried fruit, some tropical fruit, and a fruity and spicy aftertaste. 91 p