Tanzer's "Greatest Vintage of All Time?"
Stephen Tanzer has been traveling the world's wine routes for over 25 years. When one reads his International Wine Cellar vintage reports, one can't help but feel for the guy. Two to three cellars per day, twenty to thirty bottles tasted at each visit. Wines that range from bone dry to moelleux. Reviews jotted down in shorthand on cellar scratch pads. 80,000 words published every other month. Any corporate attorney who fantasizes about trading jobs with Tanzer is likely delusional and should be spending more time on a couch talking about himself.
These days, what most distinguishes Tanzer from other critics is his stubborn avoidance of perfect score hyperbole. As many publications find delight in posting 100-point ratings, and declaring the next 'vintage of the century,' Tanzer remains understated. That's why the International Wine Cellar report on the 2010 vintage in Alsace took us by surprise. The IWC provided a blow by blow of that extreme growing season, before calling it "one of the greatest Alsace vintages of all time." Here's why.
The winter of 2009-2010 was brutally cold, punctuated by a deep freeze on the night of December 19th when the thermometer dipped to minus 23 degrees Celsius in the most famous courtyard in Wettolsheim. The remainder of the winter and the early spring remained unusually frigid. After a temperate May, another cold front blew in from the east in June, disrupting flowering, and most importantly, radically reducing potential yields.
Growers rode the climatic seesaw during a hot and stormy July, only to be greeted by more cold weather in August. Francois and Maxime Barmes's 8-foot vines "didn't know which way to turn," shocked by the topsy-turvy conditions. But as would be the case all over France, mild temperatures and bright sunshine arrived in September, continuing on until the mid-October harvest.
At world-class Barmes-Buecher, Riesling yields were down 40%. As to the family's luscious single-vineyard Gewürztraminer "Herrenweg," this would be the smallest harvest in decades -- but also, as the International Wine Cellar suggested, the most exotically concentrated.
Brilliant straw-gold in color, the aromas alone are worth the price of admission. Ripe citrus and lavender oil, laced with apricot essence and ginger. The attack is rich, compact and terrifically weighty, packed with ripe apricot and lychee, laced with bitter honey. Amply kissed with sweetness, but as Tanzer so precisely noted, with "such bright, ripe acidity that it really doesn't taste sweet after all."
2010 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Gewürztraminer Herrenweg
"Vibrant and beautifully balanced, with a richness that belies an overall elegance, this offers floral and spice hints, delivering flavors of ripe apricot, papaya, candied kumquat, honey and lychee. Mouthwatering, with a tangy hint of sea salt-tinged mineral on the finish. Drink now through 2025."
93 points -- Wine Spectator
"Bright yellow-gold. Lemon verbena and lavender aromas mix with peach and crystallized ginger on the ripe nose. Rich, dense and suave, with canned peach and apricot flavors and a hint of bitterness at the back that adds freshness and complexity. This has a good deal of residual sugar (89 g/l) but has such bright, ripe acidity (7 g/l) that it really doesn't taste that sweet after all."
91+ points -- Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar