As a number 22 bus approached while we were strolling along Piccadilly, Margaret Humbrecht recalled that it would be 30 years next year since she spied her future husband, Olivier, on the 22 London bus in exactly the same spot. She had made a beeline for the tall, shy French winemaker and the result has been an entente très cordiale of Alsace and Glasgow ever since. 29 years on, the Humbrechts were back in town at 67 Pall Mall to show off the their wines from the 2014 vintage.
Olivier recalled that 2014 was one of highest acid vintages since 2010 with harvest starting 10 September and ending a month later. The season had been generally early thanks to early bud-break at the end of March and a very hot June and much of July. Because August was cooler than normal however, the natural acidity in the grapes was preserved, which was a big positive given that sunshine-ripened Alsace whites require good acidity for the balance to work well with food.
The fly in the ferment, as it were, was the presence of the Suzuki fruit fly which developed abnormally in 2014 because of the favourable climatic conditions. Drosophila Suzukii, to give it its full name, may not be as destructive as the phylloxera louse but it can still cause immense damage by piecing the grape skins, causing them to go mouldy. So sorting was a top priority for growers in 2014, making it ‘our most expensive harvest ever, double the average’.
Gewurztraminer was the worst affected by the phenomenon, ‘so we took the painful decision to declassify all our single vineyards’. Overall though, Olivier is confident that with ‘superb acidity balance and good physiological ripeness, with normal sugar levels…2014, with good dry extract, should definitely bring good ageing potential to the wines’.
Despite Olivier’s comments on Gewurztraminer, the 2014 Gewurztraminer Turckheim displayed classically juicy and fresh, exotic lychee fruit and the 2014 Gewurztraminer Calcaire a pot pourri fragrance and richly textured Turkish Delight exoticism. I have a hunch that the Pinot Gris will age beautifully in 2014 with a ripe but balanced apple and peach 2014 Pinot Gris Turckheim, a rich and textured 2014 Pinot Gris Rotenberg and a fabulous 2014 Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl, all fragrance, spice and exotically textured yet juicily restrained and refreshing fruit.
According to Olivier, Riesling was the least affected by the Suzuki fly while the limestone soils, where the grapes ripen late, were another bonus for Riesling in 2014. And it showed in the mineral precision, purity, balance and bone dry character of the 2014 Zind-Humbrecht Rieslings. An incisive 2014 Riesling Calcaire was followed by a stony, dry 2014 Riesling Roche Volcanique, but the stars of the show were the intense, fine-textured 2014 Riesling Clos Windsbuhl, shot through with tonguetingling citrus and the fresh, mineral, subtly smoky and fragrant 2014 Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain Crand Cru.
Meanwhile, whisper it quietly, but there’s a very good chance that Margaret Humbrecht will make a rare appearance hosting a masterclass on the Zind-Humbrecht wines to seal the Auld Alliance at our Winter Festival on Saturday 19 November in Edinburgh.
The Wine Gang
6 April 2016