“One year of maturation estranged the golden-yellow color of the 2012 Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St Urbain from the citrus-colored label, which opens as deep and rich as it is concentrated and mineral. The first contact with the flinty, lemon-fruity nose makes immediately clear that this is a great and expressive Riesling and, no doubt about this as well, one of the greatest white wines on planet wine. How intense and ripe it is, how deep and concentrated, how floral and matured, and how perfumed with the essence of volcanic rocks. Powerful, intense, compact and stony on the palate, this is a highly elegant, dense, stony, and expressive wine with an endless and highly complex finish. The essence of the Rangen? Close to perfection? At least one of the greatest European Rieslings I had from 2012. Who would have thought that in the autumn of 2012? The vineyard was hit by an intense hail storm in early August when 20 to 50% of the crop was destroyed. Oliver Humbrecht: “Fortunately, being very early in the season, the storm removed parts of clusters, and in some sectors the entire cluster, but did not affect the grapes left on the vine.” “This vineyard had a hard time in 2012 and it was capable to fight back superbly, producing an emotional wine.” Humbrecht assumes that the crop reduction “also explains the richness of this wine, which, amazingly, was able to ferment dry.” Drink: 2017-2040. 97+ points
I thought he was eventually overestimating my tasting capabilities when Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht finally guided me into the tasting room in the cellar of the stylish family domaine, where two vintages were prepared to taste — 2012 and 2013, all in all about 60+ wines. It was already late afternoon after we had toured through almost all of the family’s vineyards, including the Rangen de Thann in the very south of the region and my personal favorite, the Clos Windsbuhl from where you have a fantastic view over Hunawihr and where one of the most delicate Gewurztraminers I know is sourced. Olivier and myself concluded a compromise: I only started the tasting with most of the 2013s and some matured vintages, whereas I finished the mammoth portion in my home office where I also included some older vintages I had received from the German ZH importer and from my private stock. Last but not least I tasted some matured wines at WeinArt in Geisenheim during a tasting of Alsace rarities.
Since Olivier Humbrecht, like his father Léonard, is focusing very much on terroir wines, we started our tasting in the vineyards on a very hot summer day end of June 2015. I was surprised to see how different the many terroirs really are and how diverse they were also in terms of vegetation. In some vineyards the flowering was barely finished, whereas in others the berries were already as big as peas. Some soils are very poor and rocky, others deep and fertile, and most of them a good mixture. Some vineyards are in the plain, others on slopes of which some are gentle and others are steep, if not terraced.
Consequently, there is a huge difference in the vineyard management between the Rangen de Thann in the south and the flat area around Turckheim. So no receipts here, every plot is cultivated individually.
Although Zind-Humbrecht cultivates not only all of Alsace’s so called most important grape varieties but an impressive number of different vineyards too — many of them potential premiers and classified grands crus; and although you could easily think 40 hectares under vines (of which 38.5 hectares are in production) were too much for a family domaine to control, especially when the total is farmed biodynamically, Oliver Humbrecht and his teams have everything under control like a good vigneron taking care for the vineyards of his five hectare domaine.
For example in Thann, which is located 45 kilometers further south from the domaine, Humbrecht does not only have a four-head team to work the vineyards, but also the machines that are exclusively used in the steep terraces of the Rangen Grand Cru. All in all, Team ZH pays 24 full employees plus five to eight seasonal workers between January and July. During harvest, there are 60 up to 90 people picking the grapes, logically by hand and plot by plot, each one at the right moment. “Having wide spread vineyards like we do has advantages and disadvantages,” says Olivier. “On the one hand, it is the best insurance against hail and other damages and besides this, very interesting; on the other hand, you need a lot of machines and pretty good nerves.”
2012: A hard vintage with emotional wines.
“2012 is a contrasted vintage between different villages and periods of the year,” says Olivier Humbrecht. The winter was extremely dry and the flowering mostly delayed. Whereas some isolated precocious vineyards were flowering end of May, most of them did so in the cold mid-June, but flowering was not completed in some areas (like in Thann) before the end of June. June and July were very rainy and it was “extremely difficult to insure a continuous protection against fungus diseases.” Zind-Humbrecht had to spray 2.5 times more of metal copper than in average vintages, which demonstrates “how difficult the mildew was to control.” Thus, “certain spraying treatments had to be repeated.” A hailstorm in Thann destroyed up to 50% of the crop, but as the “emotional” 2012 Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain shows, “the vineyard was capable to fight back superbly.” August was warm and dry (although Thann received rain again), and also September was very nice. “The grapes showed beautiful physiological ripeness and were in excellent health, but sugars increased very slowly,” Humbrecht reports. The domaine started harvesting September 17 and finished late October 24. Since the potential alcohol increased slowly, especially for the Riesling grape, “it was necessary to wait longer than expected. Some rainfalls stopped the harvest in the middle of October, and usually most grapes harvested after started to develop some noble rot.”
According to Humbrecht, 2012 will be characterized by “pure, elegant wines with much less alcohol than usual and ripe acidity.” Most of the wines, especially Rieslings and the Pinot grapes for the entry levels, fermented fairly dry. The average yield of the estate is 51 hectoliters per hectare, with 26 hectoliters per hectare for the Grand Cru (mostly due to the smaller harvest in the Rangen).”
Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate (221)