Saturday, 23 January 2010

Wine tasting with Ziereisen and Zind-Humbrecht

This week, Jenny and I attended a special event hosted by Paul Ullrich AG, showcasing the wines of Weingut Ziereisen of Efringen-Kirchen (Baden) and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht of Turckheim (Alsace). Both winemakers were there in person, pouring the wine and chatting to the public. We both enjoyed what was a brilliant evening.

The Paul Ullrich wine shop is situated in Basel's old town on the corner of Schneidergasse and built on three levels - ground floor, upstairs and cellar. It was Olivier Humbrecht and his wines on the first floor which we made a bee-line for on entering. A lot has been written about Monsieur H and his fantastic biodynamic wines, so we wanted to see and taste for ourselves.

The setting was quite informal, so I hardly made any notes - see scanned list below (and the prices in Swiss francs - ouch!). That was just as well, really, because there was so much to take in, and, frankly, the wines were stunning. We started with the lovely Zind VdP, a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Auxerrois, which is labelled as a simple vin de pays (VdP) because Chardonnay - while allowed in Crémant d'Alsace - is not permitted in AOC Alsace wines. We then carried on through a phalanx of top Rieslings and Pinot Gris - with the Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain grand crus of both grapes shining most strongly. Borne of volcanic soils, the 2004 Riesling in particular will stay long in the memory. Almost yellow-gold in appearance, unbelievably intense with flinty aromatics and kinetics inside my mouth.

Something of more anecdotal nature to point out is that Olivier Humbrecht is a very tall man! An absolute man-mountain, and he literally towered over everyone while conversing in German, English - and French, naturellement.

Afterwards, we headed back down the stairs to the sous-sol, where Hanspeter Ziereisen was holding court. In comparison, the feel of this downstairs area seemed more conducive to a relaxed atmosphere, although Herr Ziereisen's happy, down-to-earth manner also proved quite infectious. Whereas the Paul Ullrich staff seemed to be constantly hovering round their guest from Alsace upstairs, it felt like a more "hands-on" experience in the company of Herr and Frau Ziereisen.

These wines were fantastic as well. From Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder to Chardonnay, the Ziereisen whites were for me the biggest revelation of the evening. Hanspeter Ziereisen explained that his vines grow on limestone, pointing out that there is in fact a chalk quarry situated round the back of the hill. This was borne out in the lovely minerally and, at times, unusually citrussy character of the wines. The Gutedel Steingrüble, for example, is so unlike most other wines of that varietal that the Baden authorities refuse to classify it. Ziereisen chooses to sell it (and his other wines) as Tafelwein instead.

Frau Ziereisen, with whom we had a lovely and amusing conversation, told us that her personal favourite from their whole collection was the 2007 Grauburgunder Alte Reben Jaspis. She said that the Jaspis plot was situated near the top of the hill not far from where the various local carnival clubs light their annual fire (Fasnachtsfeuer). Needless to say, the wine didn't disappoint. That and the Pinot Noir Jaspis were the two highlights of his collection, I felt. Honorable mentions for the Syrahs, too, though maybe I'd like to taste them again at the beginning of an evening - and not at the end!

As Paul Ullrich were offering a 10% discount on all the wines that evening, we thought it would be rude not to splash out on six bottles: 2 x 2007 Pinot Gris Calcaire (Zind-Humbrecht), 2 x 2007 Weißburgunder Lügle, a bottle of the aforementioned Grauburgunder and - as a little treat - a bottle of the 2007 Pinot Noir Jaspis. Comments on these wines to follow at a later date.

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