With a crop level averaging just 35 hectoliters per hectare, or nearly 30% lower than that of 2004, thanks to a concentration of material in the weeks leading up to the harvest, Olivier Humbrecht has produced an outstanding set of 2005s, with pinot gris and gewurztraminer particularly strong. Even where the finished wines retain significant residual sugar, their acidity levels-higher than those of 2004 in nearly every case-give them shape and vibrancy. I had the same impression here that I did at Domaine Weinbach: whereas some of the late-picked Z-H 2004s were caught by rain and rot, in 2005 the pinot gris and gewurztraminer were harvested under close-to-ideal conditions. There will be some extraordinary SGN bottlings from 2005, although a couple of them were still fermenting their sugars in September and were in no condition to taste. (The Sorting Table, Napa, CA)
Also recommended: 2005 Riesling Gueberschwihr (85).
($42) Slightly reduced on the nose, hinting at yellow fruits. Sweeter, suppler and richer than the 2004 version, but a bit youthfully closed. This was on its lees until it was bottled a week prior to my visit, noted Olivier Humbrecht. Possesses more stuffing than the 2004, but the firm acids give it shape and grip. Impressively dense for this basic muscat bottling. (The 2005 Muscat Goldert was still fermenting in September!)
($42) Pale yellow-gold. Aromatic, muscat-like nose melds honeydew, chlorophyll, mint and flowers. Supple, clean and easygoing, with lovely inner-mouth perfume to the stone fruit flavors. This is a bit higher in residual sugar and acidity than the 2004. In a distinctly round style, finishing with lush flavors of peach and spices.
($46; designated as Lot 148) Pale, bright yellow. Spicy aromas of ginger, nutmeg and stone. Then juicy and dry, with vibrant flavors of lemon pith, apple, pear, spices and stone. Finishes persistent and juicy, with a light touch. This was from a late harvest-and one senses the very ripe skins-but the wine finished drier than the 2004 cuvee Humbrecht decided to keep his two lots of Herrenweg separate because by the time he harvested this fruit, the earlier-picked grapes had already started fermenting, and because the finished lots turned out to be so different from each other in character.
($46; Lot 144; from an early harvest but finished sweeter than the cuvee made from fruit picked six or seven days later) Pale bright yellow. Stone, ginger and suggestions of dried fruits on the nose. Juicy and only slightly sweet, with vibrant flavors of apple, pear, peach and spices given grip by lemon pith and crushed stone. This went through malolactic fermentation, notes Humbrecht, and thus it's "less Calvinist" than the Lot 148. Quite tactile on the back, with a lingering note of ripe apple.
($49) Bright yellow. Ripe aromas of ginger and smoke; a bit exotic. Fat and fairly sweet (actually 11 g/l r.s.), in a distinctly softer style. With its notes of lichee, smoked meat, quince and nutmeg, I might have picked this as gewurztraminer. This fermented until June of 2006.
($75) Pale straw-gold. Exotic aromas of pineappley fruit salad, honey and ginger, with a resiny, piney pungency. Broad, round and dry, with pliant flavors of tangerine, nutmeg and earth. A bit low-toned for a riesling from Z-H but finishes with good grip. Humbrecht told me this finished with about nine grams of acidity after the malolactic fermentation, but the acidity shows today only in the wine's firm edge. I wonder if this bottle is representative.
($56) Pale straw-gold color. Aromas of orange liqueur, white flowers and minerals. Vibrant and clean, with ginger and nutmeg spice notes contributing energy to the peachy fruit. I find this brighter and more precise than the Clos Windsbuhl. It's sweeter but also livelier, thanks to a juicy sugar/acid balance.
($95) Pale straw-gold. Musky, nuanced nose offers chamomile and spicy high notes along with smoke and earth bass tones. Chewy and tactile, with plenty of CO2 perking up the flavors of pineapple, flint, minerals, nutmeg and earth. In a fairly dry, penetrating style, with underlying acidity currently hidden by the wine's chewy, tactile texture and fruit element. Finishes firm, juicy and persistent. This one grew on me as it showed more clarity with aeration. Powerful and built to age.
($95) Pale yellow-gold. Musky aromas of ripe apricot, smoked meat and minerals. Silky in texture and superrich but downright steely today. Very dry (less than three grams of r.s.) and unforgiving wine, and yet this seems purer and finer than the 2004. I wouldn't think about pulling a cork for at least three or four years, if not considerably longer than that. Humbrecht noted that both the '04 and '05 Rangens are much drier than the rieslings he produced from this grand cru vineyard in many earlier vintages.
($22) Deep yellow. Ripe peach, apricot, honey and spices on the nose, with a fresh herbal element emerging with aeration. Suave and silky, showing a tactile texture and good concentration. Ripe acids keep this rather sweet pinot gris from cloying. A bit abrupt on the back, but offers good complexity and satisfying fruit. This includes young vines from Clos Windsbuhl, a bit of Rangen and a considerable percentage of Heimbourg fruit.
($45) Full yellow-gold. Almost shockingly botrytized aromas of honey, apricot and orange marmalade. Supersweet and thick with fruit, with good purity to its flavors of apricot nectar and exotic spices. This fat, chewy wine has sound acidity but still comes across as a bit aggressive, with dominant noble rot character but modest real complexity. An unmistakable fruit bomb, though.
($52) Pale yellow-gold. Superripe, exotic nose combines apricot, smoke and spices. Highly concentrated, superripe and fresh, with flavors of wild dark berries and marzipan. Moderately sweet but not excessively so, with good balancing alcohol (14%) and spicy lift. This cuvee was not made in 2004, but in 2005 the very small, concentrated crop from these very old vines, which Humbrect described as typical of Herrenweg, yielded a wine with better structure but less botrytis and residual sugar than the younger Herrenweg vines. "And we had a perfect weather profile in 2005 for pinot gris." he added.
($58; from fruit harvested after a trie was made for SGN, but still with higher grape sugars than the 2004 version) Yellow-gold. Reticent nose opened to show apricot nectar and a toasty nuance that Humbrecht says is not from the barrel. Sweet (34 g/l r.s.), highly concentrated and chewy, with exotic apricot, marzipan and spice flavors. This is downright unctuous in texture, and also on the high side in alcohol at 14.9%. From a very low crop level.
($58; part of this wine was actually picked early at SGN ripeness) Pale gold. Like a fruit syrup on the nose, with a distinctly honeyed nuance and suggestions of dried fruits. Then rich, broad and silky yet light on its feet, with harmonious ripe acidity leavening the wine's moderate (about 25 g/l r.s.) sweetness. Impressively horizontal wine that really coats the palate. The superripe fruit flavors are complemented by a note of marzipan. Humbrecht notes that the wine's firm acids are a function of small yields and an element of noble rot. He recommends holding this for eight to ten years and then pairing it with Peking duck, kidneys in mustard sauce, or glazed pork roast.
($95; close to VT in style; from a much smaller crop than the 2004, with more botrytis) Knockout nose combines peach nectar, apricot and subtle smoky, nutty nances. Densely packed, highly concentrated and solidly structured, with a distinct botrytis influence to the tangy apricot, honey and spice flavors and a soil-specific element of iodine. The wine's pronounced sweetness (about 30 g/l r.s.) is leavened by firm flinty minerality, solid structure and high alcohol (just over 15%), and the finish is strikingly long and fresh. The flavors here are much purer and more fruit-driven than those of the earthier '04.
($22) Pale medium-gold color. Expressive aromas of smoked meat, rose oil and cinnamon. Plump and spicy, with good ripe acidity and a chewy saline nuance. This is tactile and nicely concentrated, not to mention persistent, for a basic bottling.
($37; includes young vines from Hengst and older vines from Herrenweg) Nuanced aromas of yellow plum, cinnamon and cardamom. This has alcohol and residual sugar similar to the 2004 bottling but shows more weight and richness, with very ripe suggestions of mirabelle and marzipan. Conveys a chewy impression of extract, with good lift from its aromatic spice component. Tactile and long on the aftertaste. Quite plump but not at all overly sweet.
($37) Yellow-gold. Highly aromatic floral, spicy nose, with a meaty nuance in the background. Sweet, dense and concentrated, with a layered texture and very good length. The wine's spicy character keeps it lively. Very smooth on the back end. "There were no bitter tannins in 2005 gewurztraminer as the fruit was thoroughly ripe," said Humbrecht. "We had great weather."
($46) Bright yellow. Musky aromas of yellow plum and subtle spices. Supple, pure and deep, with an ineffable spice character bringing one back for another sniff and sip. Boasts lovely purity and concentration of fruit and a captivating sugar/acid balance. At this point in our tasting, Humbrecht emphasized that he considers 2005 a superb vintage for gewurztraminer, "right up there with the best 2002s, 2000s and 1994s."
($61) Full yellow. Tangy, botrytis-influenced yellow plum aroma shows terrific lift. At once suave, exotic and powerful, with impressive concentration and outstanding persistence. Very sweet but not sugary, thanks to an impression of solidity. This needs to be served with the richest foods. Finishes tactile but not at all rough. These vines produced just two casks of this juice plus a bit of SGN in 2005, said Humbrecht, who added that the yield was just 20 hectoliters per hectare, vs. 50 in '04.
($95) Bright yellow. Mirabelle, marzipan and nutmeg on the expressive nose. Sweet, dense and highly concentrated, with real generosity and freshness to its fruit flavors. There's a spiciness here from botrytis. Finishes tactile and powerful. With its 14.4% alcohol and 48 g/l r.s., this could hardly be more different in its balance from the dry and somewhat topheavy 2004, which is 16.2%, with just 4 grams of sugar. It would be a shame to drink this too soon.
($95) Bright golden-orange color. Deeply pitched but pure aromas of spices, smoked meat and flint. Supersweet, thick and powerful, conveying a chewy impression of soil without coming across as rough-edged or phenolic. This has VT richness. Fine acidity and a powerful spice character give shape and lift to this unctuous, silky wine. Humbrecht says the r.s. here is less than 50 grams per liter.
($128; from fruit picked at SGN ripeness) Pale yellow-gold. Wonderfully sappy aromas of tangy apricot and fresh herbs; youthfully tight and bracing. Supersweet but with powerful structural underpinning; the wine's acidity is initially hidden by its sweetness but comes out as the wine opens in the glass. The long, honeyed, tactile aftertaste is as chewy as a solid. If you're tempted to open a bottle of this anytime soon, give it extended aeration. Humbrecht told me this has similar numbers to the '04, which is 14% alcohol with 68 g/l r.s.
($128) Medium gold. Supersweet aromas of tangerine, strawberry and aromatic oils. This compellingly sweet wine comes across as a bit softer than the Clos Jebsal VT because its ripe acidity is more thoroughly integrated today. Wonderfully spherical wine with a distinctly exotic character-and noteworthy freshness from underlying minerality. A tad higher in sugar and lower in alcohol than the Clos Jebsal.
($106; 14.8% alcohol with about 50 g/l r.s.) Full yellow-gold. Slightly reduced aromas of pineapple, spices and air-dried beef. Deeply spicy on the palate, with an earthy, roasted aspect to its meat and cinnamon flavors. Fat, sweet and quite powerful but a tad aggressive, even rustic, and a much less fruity style than the Clos Windsbuhl. But then this is an infant today.
($127) Wonderfully pure, fine aromas of spices and honey. Powerfully sweet, primary and spicy, with superconcentrated flavors framed by harmonious ripe acidity. Large-scaled and powerful, with slowly mounting back-end flavors that completely saturate the palate. As tactile as this is, there's no phenolic harshness. This is lower in alcohol but much higher in residual sugar than the other 2005 gewurztraminer VTs, noted Humbrecht, who described these grape skins as perfect. "My philosophy in making this wine is like cooking a lobster. I don't throw anything out. It's necessary to press gently and slowly to extract all the best elements of the skins." I should point out that by this point in my marathon tasting, my handwriting was becoming illegible, and I still had the SGNs to go!
(from grapes picked at 155o Oechsle) Medium gold. High-toned, utterly vibrant aromas of apricot liqueur and honey. Spectacularly tangy and rich, combining nectar-like stone fruit and honey flavors with saline soil tones. A classic nobly rotten combination of huge sugars (actually more than 200 g/l r.s.) and bracing acidity. Finishes with palate-saturating length and great verve.
(187o Oechsle; tasted from cask) Full gold. High-toned aromas of apricot liqueur and lemon verbena. Glyceral to the point of solid, with kaleidoscopic flavors of apricot liqueur, cinnamon and chamomile, complicated by a saline element. Impossibly fresh botrytis tones throughout. An incredible elixir with finishing flavors that are hard to scrape off the palate. This is 9.7% alcohol with about 240 g/l r.s.-or at least it was on the evening I tasted it. (Incidentally, Humbrecht also has some Pinot Gris Rotenberg and Clos Windsbuhl SGN in 2005, but these wines were still "bubbling away" in September.)
(192o Oechsle; the first bottling under this label since the '94; just 400 liters made; nearly 12% alcohol with about 240 g/l r.s.) Deep full, bright gold. High-toned aromas of peach, apricot, honey and caramel. Wonderfully thick, smooth and round, with a deeply honeyed character and great density and solidity of texture. More deeply pitched than the tokay SGNs, with extravagant sweetness but not quite the verve of the Clos Jebsal. From an October 20 picking, among the latest for the domain in 2005. The very long finish coats the palate with honey.