Being an orderly sort of soul, in general, I much prefer to go to a themed tasting, rather than a broad sweep across regions. Comparison is a very powerful tool but I would rather limit the field and try to learn a bit more about an area or grower in depth. Occasionally you get the best of both worlds, as happened at a recent Coe Vintners tasting, which took place at Home House, a private club in Portland Square. Billed as a fine wine tasting, it certainly lived up to that with quality wines from Champagne and Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, a few Italians and Spaniards and even the occasional Australian. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Olivier Humbrecht of whom more anon.
In the general tasting some tables really stood out:
Sumptuous Champagne from Pannier and from Dampierre. I particularly enjoyed 1999 Pannier Egerie and the corresponding non-vintage Rosé. The latter has a lovely raspberry and strawberry nose, balanced fruit and refreshment, delicious. The 1999 has good freshness alongside some interesting, mushroomy tones, a nice weight in the mouth I was less enamoured of the Pannier Blanc de Noir, ie made as white wine from the juice of black grapes. It was certainly distinctive with yeasty, even doughy smells to the fore. Dampierre was also excellent, especially the Family Reserve Grand Cru, 2000: toasty, hazelnuts, good fruit and very long. Altogether much better value than the Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes, white of 1998 (still tasted rather closed) and the rosé of 2002. Of course, if someone else has the wines in their cellar and the patience, that might be another matter entirely …
I also tried the Barolo and Barbaresco from Giacosa Fratelli, not least because I had bought a mixed case of these for a forthcoming tasting. The overall conclusion was that they really need time to get out of their rather rustic youth (the two basic wines) though the 2005 Barolo Bussia has already has some perfume to offer. A tasting in 2014-20 anyone? This was, even more, the case with promising red Burgundy, eg PC Clos de Thorey Monopole, Nuit St Georges, 2006 from Antonin Rodet – I could taste the youthful acidity hours later! But in ten years time, it will be wonderful.
No need for delayed gratification, however, with the wines of Zind-Humbrecht, though they too will develop with age. Olivier Humbrecht was showing a great range of wines, 13 in all. I concentrated on the ones that were new to me, especially from the Clos Windsbuhl vineyard. The firm’s comment is:
“The Clos Windsbuhl is, with the Rangen vineyard, the least precocious site that we cultivate on the estate. The higher altitude, the old rocky calcareous soil, its location near the forest all participate to create a slow ripening process. Often criticized in the past for this characteristic, we think that on the contrary, it helps the grapes to keep a structure based on acidity and not alcohol, and also that the vines have more time to ripen the grape physiologically.
Humbrecht explained further that the vineyard is around 300 metres above sea level, 100m higher and so cooler than most, and that it has a mixed history. Before they bought it, the older owners had worked for quality (only really good vineyards had names historically in Alsace) but then there was neglect, overplanting, overproduction in recent times. Having acquired it on the basis of its ancient reputation, they have grubbed up the new vines but kept the old ones.
Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2007: made with the fruit of the old vines, this is an amazing combination of crisp fruit and structure in the mouth. Wow!
Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl Vendanges Tardive 2005 – rich, dense, even tending to oily texture from late picked grapes, medium sweet but with good acidity, absolutely delicious.
Another vineyard featured was the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, very steep (to the point that it has to be ploughed using a winch) and South facing. In addition to the two Pinot Gris I missed in the excitement (2005, 2001), there was:
Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2007, a superb complex nose of honey, nuts and something herby/herbaceous, rounded in the mouth, melons, ripe fruit in general, even pineapple, with a refreshing finish. Excellent.
I finished the Zind-Humbrecht table with Pinot Gris Heimbourg Sélection de Grains Nobles 2005, a wine with well over 100 grams of residual sugar per litre – a huge, sweet sticky, but with great marmaladely flavours and counterbalancing acidity, and great persistence.