Sunday, April 01, 2007

Better Than Sweet

There's truly something special about a great dessert wine. Anyone who's ever had a great German or Niagara ice wine, a special Sauternes or a Napa Dolce knows what I'm talking about. It's wine that reaches a stratospheric level in concentration and memorably complex, sweet aromas.

Of course, everyone has their favorite, be it a Chateau d'Yquem or a trokenbeerenauslese. Now, I've had d'Yquem several times, though admittedly not from one of the very best vintages. And, I have to say that the best sticky I've ever had may be a lesser know wine from one of the under-appreciated wine regions of the world, Alsace.

Alsatian wines, in general, are among my favorite white wines. But the late harvest wines, such as those of Zind Humbrecht, have been truly amazing almost every time out. Years ago, my friend Tony introduced me to the joys of these wines when we had a picnic at his house for the staff of the wine store where we both worked.


That day we tasted a 1993 Tokay Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendage Tardive, which was great, but we also had a 1989 Tokay Pinot Gris SGN from Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr. Three of us sat back, as I recall, sipping as our eyes rolled back in our heads. The complexity and intensity of this wine was simply an out-of-this world experience.

Luckily, Tony is frequent traveler to France and manages to restock these gems with some regularity. As I have blogged before, Tony is quite skilled at carrying these wines back through Customs even in the face of very tight restrictions. Not quite as creative as this person, but pretty darn close.

Consequently, we recently found ourselves treated once again at Tony's, this time with a 1994 Tokay Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Trie Speciale. This was a really interesting wine. Tony and his wife, Kristen, were visiting Zind Humbrecht for a tasting in 1995 when they were told about the very unusual wine that was still in barrels gurgling away -- its ultra high sugar levels made extra time in barrels necessary and promised eventually to deliver a very rich wine.

Man, they were not kidding. Tony managed to score some of this special wine on a trip several years later, and we had some recently. This copper-colored wine was an intense explosion of peaches and honey -- perhaps the richest, sweetest late harvest wine I've ever had. It lacks some of the acidity I would expect of a really fine late harvest wine, but its richness is such a marvel that you just have to slow down and appreciate that you may never taste its equal again.
Some people may not exactly love this style of wine. But it truly is a marvel. How can anyone not enjoy the experience, regardless of its limited pairing possibilities?

Zind Humbrecht keeps yields in its steep vineyards extremely low, almost guaranteeing intensely flavored wines. This wine is a single vineyard designate from the Clos Jebsal vineyard, a three-acre Pinot Gris vineyard. Here the grapes are allowed to shrivel on the vine as they move past fully ripe into super ripeness with the help of botrytis, or noble rot. As the grapes hang and shrivel, they shed water and their sugars concentrate, producing Vendange Tardive, or "late harvest," and a more concentrated dessert wine known as Sélection de Grains Nobles

This, my friends, can be a wine to die for, like its Sauternes' cousins. If you ever have a chance to try one, go for it. But, of course, it helps to have friends who travel to the right places. Thanks, bud.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Tony said...

It is an extraordinary wine. Only 600 bottles were made. On a 2005 visit to Zind Humbrecht I asked what they recommended pairing with this wine. They said "nothing". At only 4% alcohol it is in a category all its own.

5:38 PM  
Blogger JD said...

It's truly unique. How did the sugars get so high? I don't recall that being an especially hot year. Too bad there isn't more of it to go around. I sure am glad I have friends in high places!

10:20 PM  
Anonymous tony said...

Need not worry. I have informants in Turkheim and enought frequent flyer miles to make a purchase before I run out.

6:45 AM  
Anonymous aquabot said...

I never drink it but now for sure looking forward to it....and how long will it takes for shipping.? Where shall I get it in New Jersey....?

5:10 AM  

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