Back in 1998, when I had my first chance to travel to VinItaly (and Europe for that matter), I asked Joe Bastianich if I could take some vacation time afterwards to travel.
“Of course,” he answered. “Where are you going? Piedmont? Tuscany?”
“Alsace and Champagne,” I replied.
“You’re the wine director in an Italian restaurant and you’re going to visit France?”
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I had fallen in love with Champagne and especially the great whites of Alsace during my time at Wine Spectator, and had read and tasted so much that I always vowed to visit those mythical places. Without going into detail (and diggin through 12 years of photographs), it was my first professional “wine tour”, I was treated very well wherever I went and I tasted some truly wonderful wines. I even got to participate in the component and blending tasting for Domaine Weinbach… A true honor.
Obviously, one of the stops on the Alsace tour was Zind-Humbrecht. Zind-Humbrecht (or “ZH” to the geeky) is one of those out-there, love-it-or-hate-it kind of wineries (at least it was when I truly followed the wines of Alsace, which I have difficulty doing here in Italy). The wines are big, fat, rich, very concentrated and alcoholic (This one had 14%). They were easy to pick out in blind tastings for their fatness and alcohol, standing out from the more elegant Trimbachs, Hugels and Weinbachs and the ideosyncratic Marcel Deiss. I loved all of them, and still do to this day.
I came across this bottle (actually, FIVE bottles) after a friend of mine decided to close his little Enoteca and liquidate his inventory. He had given me a bottle of ZH Riesling as a gift after a conversation about my love for Alsace a year before. When I returned to pick out some bottles from his inventory, the first thing I asked about was the ZH.
He had sold one bottle of each. I snapped up the rest. He was selling EVERYTHING in the house for 8 euros a bottle. EIGHT, thats right, EIGHT euros.
Into the cellar they went, 2000 ZH Reisling and Gewuratraminer Gueberschwihr….
The Gueberschwihr bottlings are on the low-end of the ZH line, and I think are not made for aging. In fact, I looked the wine up on Wine Spectator and it was recommended to “Drink now” in 2002… HAH!
This particular bottle was perfect, showing little or no sign of oxidation. When I opened it and poured a bit into a glass, my wife could smell it a meter away… I gave her a sniff up close and she immediately said, “Lychees!”
Mind you, my better half knows nothing about Alsatian wine, let alone Gewutztraminer, and she nailed it. Lychees and roses burst from the glass. It was so seductive… On the palate it was very rich, almost syrupy, but with this beam of citrus and mineral that ran down the sides of my tongue while sweet mandarin orange also cut through. It almost seemed… Fresh?
With time and air the age started to peek out with hints of caramel, but the wine seemed to get more mineral and lighter on its feet (or maybe I was getting used to the weight?). There was none of that petrol character I find often in older whites, but I picked up a touch of gunpowder beneath hints of white chocolate, cocoa and coffee. At times i did notice a little heat on the finish, but it wasn’t so bad that it detracted from anything.
TEN YEARS OLD, no oxidation, layers of complexity, Uber-rich and somehow fresh simultaneously, a nose that made you sniff deeply again and again…
Awesome Old White Wine.
I’ll let you know when I open up one of the Rieslings…