Domaine Zinck of Eguisheim
I was introduced to the wines of Domaine Zinck by Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers a few years ago, and have been lucky enough to taste them several times since, including the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling which was my personal standout of last year’s SPIT festival.
The Zinck portfolio is split into four distinct ranges:
- the everyday Portrait series which typify their variety
- the Terrior series which are from smaller, better plots
- the Grand Crus, the top of the Alsace quality ladder
- Crémants, sparkling wines for celebration and fun
Earlier this year I was treated to a tasting of some standout wines from the range at Dax Restaurant in Dublin, hosted by Philippe Zinck and Charles Derain, followed by an interesting discussion over lunch (with more wine of course). Full disclosure: I was a guest of Nomad Wines, but all opinions on the wines are my own (unless noted). Of course, tasting French wines in a French restaurant with Frenchmen meant I had to wear my England rugby jacket!
Philippe’s father Paul started the winery with 2.5 hectares in 1964, although his parents already had some vines on their farm. Paul gradually improved quality and expanded the land under vine – it had reached 6 hectares by the mid 70s and 8 hectares when Philippe took over in 1997. Philippe accelerated the expansion so that by 2017 the Domaine covered 20 hectares and employed 8 people.
But even more than quantity, Philippe kept striving to improve quality, going fully organic in 2011 and practising biodynamics in some vineyards. He looks for purity and finesse in his wines, balance rather than power, and an authentic expression of where they are made.
What’s new? is a question asked of Philippe by some people in the wine trade – perhaps seeking new blends and new varieties – but each vintage is a new chapter in the story of Domaine Zinck. With only six years since full organic conversion, there are decades of tweaking viticulture and vinification for each variety in each plot – there are no limits in sight!
The biggest challenges are generally natural – the weather patterns in each vintage. Straight forward global warming could be taken into account, but climate change (i.e. more unpredictable, changeable weather) is far more difficult to manage.
Producing such fresh wines with unrelenting summer temperatures into the 40s centigrade is a major achievement. Lots of sunshine and high temperatures could over-amplify the aromatics, letting them get out of kilter, so the canopy is left as full as possible to shade the grapes.
Damp weather (particularly mist and fog) increases the chance of rot and other unwanted diseases, so the canopy is trimmed to allow air to circulate better. If there’s too much rainfall then grass is allowed to grow in between the rows; the grass competes for the water so the vines don’t get too much.
Sylvaner is a variety that is much under-rated; in decades past when quantity was key, Sylvaner would produce plenty of grapes but with little character at these high yields. Now that the variety is being given a fair crack of the whip it is producing some good wines that are worthy of interest. Although not one of the four “noble grapes” of Alsace, Sylvaner is now permitted in one Grand Cru – Zotzenberg.
One of the key challenges facing Alsace as a region is the huge gap between AOC Alsace and the Grands Crus. Additionally, some of the boundaries of certain Grands Crus are thought to be too wide and not suitable for all the varieties that are grown there. One important addition to the region is the introduction of Alsace Premier Cru. Philippe believes that this is definitely going to happen and he would look to have his Terroir series wines classed as Premier Cru. Whether Grand Cru regulations get tightened up is another story.
As the only black grape in the cool climate of Alsace, Pinot Noir hasn’t received much attention – in fact the resulting red wines are often treated more like rosés (quite pale and served at 10ºC in restaurants!) However, the combination of better understanding of how the grape performs in different local microclimates and warmer vintages has enabled some very good Pinots to be produced – so much so that Pinot Noir from vineyards within certain Grand Crus (such as Réné Muré’s “V” from Vorbourg) will be granted Grand Cru status.
So now onto the wines!
Domaine Zinck Portrait Pinot Blanc 2016 (12.5%, RRP €18 at SIYPS)
For Charles, one of the key attractive features of Domaine Zinck is that it is one of the few producers who don’t make their wines too sweet – especially the “everyday” Portrait series. Even if there is some residual sugar the wines are balanced and not “sugary”.
Philippe noted that the 2016 Pinot Blanc is lighter than 2015 – the latter was a very warm vintage.
This is a fresh and fruity wine full of apple and quince. There’s a very round mid palate but a crisp finish which makes it very versatile.
Domaine Zinck Terroir Sylvaner 2014
Made from 35 year old vines on clay and limestone soil. This is highly aromatic! No dilute plonk here, this is probably the best Sylvaner I’ve ever tasted. Flinty and a touch smoky. Elegant and great for food matching.
Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €34 at SIYPS)
The Eichberg (literally “oak mountain”) is mainly clay soil (good for water retention) and combined with a hot vintage has produced an amazing Riesling. This is a rich, profound wine even in its youth – and it should cellar well to the end of the next decade. The nose alone is fabulous and worth the entrance fee – complex citrus notes where you can pick out different fruits as you inhale. This is a dry Riesling, yes, but it’s far from austere and is so delicious right now that it would take an immense amount of self discipline to lay down!
Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Goldert Gewurztraminer 2013
The Goldert Grand Cru is just to the north of Gueberschwihr with mainly east-facing slopes, and is most renowned for Gewurz and Muscat. Zinck’s Gewurz vines are 50 years old giving intense, concentrated flavours. On tasting, I can only describe it as fecking huge in the mouth! It’s so soft and round, but has an amazing fresh finish. Charles finds some Gewurztraminers to be almost like a lady’s perfume (or in pre-PC days one might have said “smell like a tart’s boudoir”), but this is perfectly balanced.
Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Rangen Pinot Gris 2011 (13.0%, RRP ~ €48 at SIYPS)
Rangen is the most southerly Grand Cru of Alsace, with steep slopes on volcanic soil. and a river of the bottom of the slope which helps botrytis develop. Domaine Zinck buys grapes from Rangen as it doesn’t own vineyards down there. Yields are low and 60% of the vines are on south facing slopes.
This wine is the perfect example of why Pinot Gris is narrowly my second favourite grape from Alsace – it’s so complex, rich and spicy. Ginger is complemented by star anise and liquorice, but to be honest the longer you taste it the more flavours you recognise. Isn’t that what makes wine interesting? Residual sugar is 30 g/L but it’s perfectly integrated and finishes off dry.