Vinitaly is not just about Italian wine. I had the rare opportunity and privilege to be part of a group to taste a 20 year vertical of Pinot Gris from the Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru vineyard. For me, it was unbelievable to see the evolution of age in a Pinot Gris – a grape many think does not have what it takes to age well! Featuring 3 wines each from 4 decades, I was able to find a favourite in each decade as well as an overall favourite. With a room full of wine enthusiasts, writers, journalists, dignitaries, students and aficionados, everyone had clear favourites, and truly, no vintage was the same, showing the true potential of this grape from Alsace! Presented by Oliver Humbrecht himself, this was a tasting I will never forget. Oliver started off by presenting a few facts about the area and vineyard in general:
- planted by the Cistercian Monks in the 11th century
- Rangen is SW facing with very steep slopes averaging 45º angles, some extreme to 60º. The vineyard is 350-450 m in elevation
- the Rangen vineyard is 5.5ha of high density plantings with volcanic rock which gives a smoky character to the wines
- the soil is very poor with high acid pH and high levels of magnesium. Interestingly enough, poor soils often produce the best grapes
- the climate is typically dry with classic cold and warm periods
- the altitude makes bud break very late
- 1986 saw a change from a regular crush to whole cluster pressings and gentler macerations
- 1998 saw the first biodynamic vintage
All wines were poured by the Italian sommeliers, which in my mind, are some of the classiest dressed people in all of Italy. They exude professionalism; there is no mistaking them as Somms with their black tie attire and silver cup on a chain around their necks. It was truly fun to just watch them come out as a group, pour as a group, and maintain a complete professionalism throughout.
1. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 2013– This was the 3rd smallest vintage in history of the vineyard with sugar levels at 14 g/L. The fruit was very ripe with high acidity, medium + body along with aromas and flavours of bruised apples, pears, hints of botrytis and smoke. This finished nicely, but a bit hot in alcohol for me.
2. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 2011– definitely a dry style with sugar levels only at 5 g/L, but a whole lot darker than the 2013. Higher alcohol too (15.5%!) but integrated very well. Bigger body, fuller mouth feel with lots of smoky minerality, sponge toffee and sweet spices. A favourite among many!
* 3. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 2010- The summer of 2010 was cold, but autumn was very warm, giving ideal conditions for botrytis to form, which was very evident in this wine. It was prevalent on the nose along with bruised apples, brown sugar, and again that minerality ever so present in these wines. At 50 g/L residual sugar, obviously the sweetest of the decade, but laser sharp high acid to keep this wine from being cloying. Overall, I found the 2010 to be very balanced; high viscosity and body, but only 12.5% alcohol. Full of character, this was my favourite wine for the decade!
4. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 2008 – again, a cold summer and warm autumn led to the arrival of botrytis, giving the sweetest example by far of this wine at 65 g/L RS. Medium to deep lemon in colour, the fruit was super ripe with botrytis laced lemon chiffon in aroma and flavour! Smoke and steel were also there along with high acidity, medium plus body and medium alcohol.
5.Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 2005 – for me, this was the most “savoury” vintage with the most steely minerality of all of them and an earthy mushroom hint to it along with apricots and hay, completely different than the 2008 as it was more off dry. A steely finish that was lasting, with a bitterness that was not unpleasant.
*6.Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 2001 – At 15 years old, this wine had perhaps the most smoky characteristic of all the wines of both recent decades. This vintage had great balance and a real elegance about it that I had not experienced until this point in the flight. Off dry with just a hint of sweetness, it exhibited dried apricots, quince jam and smoke on the nose along with a dusty granite, smoky flint, ripe and candied apricots and quince on the palate. Just beautiful complexities and my favourite for the decade.
7. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 1997 – Really turning golden in colour now, again with that savoury nature of smoky, flinty mushrooms, but if you dive underneath, you get that candied fruit of dried ginger and apricot. Razor sharp acidity, lean and austere with a thinner mouth feel than any of them and a very clean cut finish.
8. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 1995- As you can see by the photo above, this was the darkest wine of all poured. The smallest vintage on record, it too was austere, but presented much more body than the 1997 and the ripe fruit was evident with lots of dried apricot, ginger, marmalade, and of course those hints of botrytis. Slightly sweeter than the 97 too with 15 g/L (vs 8 on the 97) with a very graphite and smoky nature on the palate.
**9. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 1990 – Classic labelling throughout with one minor difference on this label: the 1990 vintage included the word ‘Tokay’, before the law was changed and they were no longer allowed to use it. Tokay Pinot Gris became just ‘Pinot Gris’ in order not to infringe on the proprietary name Tokay (Tokaji) used for the the sweet style Hungarian wine (identified in sweetness by ‘puttonyos’ levels).
This for me, was the most complex wine of the entire line-up, and not only my favourite of the decade, but of the entire flight. It was very ‘bourbon-like’ in character with a sweet vanilla smoky nose. But it didn’t stop there: there was dried ginger, steel, smoke, graphite and even some floral notes underneath. I absolutely loved the nose on this wine, and at 8 g/L RS, it had the perfect level of sugar too…not too sweet and not too dry. At 26 years of age, this wine could certainly age even longer, and I would love to see the result in 10 years, or even five. I would be ecstatic if this wine was ordered for me at any dinner! I might even drink the entire bottle myself!
And if tasting wines from the 1990’s wasn’t enough, we continued our journey to taste wine from the 80’s. A treat indeed!
10. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 1989 – The tertiary notes were very evident in this vintage with that typical Riesling diesel fuel or petrol being evident here. Mushrooms and earth, but again, by diving underneath, the ripe marmalade fruit was there, but I certainly had to go looking for it. This was also slightly sweeter than the 1990 at 12 g/L, and I found the finish here on the 1989 wasn’t quite as long as the 1990, which gave the 1990 the edge.
11. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 1985- This was a very dry vintage with lots of coulure in the vineyard resulting in small berries, so extreme care was taken to make something out of this tough vintage. This vintage was very waxy in character, but with high acidity and some really interesting flavours. It reminded me of Scotch with its peaty, maple, smoky notes. An interesting vintage that finished long.
*12. Clos-Saint-Urbain Rangen de Thann – Pinot Gris 1983 – What a treat to taste this 33 year old wine that had lots of life yet! Older style label before they changed in the next vintage. Again with that diesel note, but it was not overpowering here, and the smoky, mineral character was alive and well! Rich and full bodied with a waxy mouthfeel, I’m a big fan of tertiary notes, and this wine certainly had them, with not much fruit left. A stunning aged wine, and my favourite of the decade!
It was truly a chance of a lifetime to sit beside fellow classmates who appreciated the experience as much as I did, and to listen to Oliver Humbrecht in complete humility, talk about one of the greatest vineyards in the world and the wine that his father made, and now he makes. Outstanding! Salut!