I am trying to develop palate education around oxidative wine styles. There is plenty of available information about it, but distinguishing between one wine subjected to an oxidative wine making process and another wine that primarily oxidizes through bottle age, without any specific knowledge about the wine maker’s approach, is not always straight forward for me. Various oxidative approaches during elevage reflect less concern for, or purposely measured, oxygen contact to work on elements of the wine outside, rather than inside, the bottle. Conversely, reductive wine making protects against oxygen contact before bottling, upholding natural fruit flavors and preventing the wine from adopting “premature” age or advanced nuances and characteristics associated with oxygen contact. Recently I drank two fascinating natural, bio-dynamically made white wines that helped my learning about oxidative styles; (****1/2 $60 on release but $250 now) 2001 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris from the producer’s heralded Clos Windsbuhl site in Alsace and the dry (*** $23) 2007 Rene & Agnes Mosse Anjou Blanc made of Chenin Blanc from the central Anjou region of the Loire Valley.
The 2007 Rene & Agnes Mosse is so unique it will turn some tasters off due to its totally obvious oxidative style. A wine this young did not advance this far in the bottle without some measure of oxidation in the wine making process. The amazing thing about this wine is while the oxidative advanced yellow/orange color and aromatics of candied orange peel, nuts, over-ripe apple, and pear fruit will leave some thinking the wine is past its prime, there is still good acidity and enough brightness behind the rich and extreme characteristics from the natural winemaking and secondary barrel fermentation to create balance. I am not sure I would ever guess this was Chenin Blanc if I tasted it blind, but its juxtaposition of freshness and oxidation appeals to me, offering an uncommon flavor and drinking experience with a rich mouthfeel, funky aromas, and good structure. If you are a fan of Sherry, you will find similar oxidative flavors here.
A long time foodie friend living in NY’s Greenwich Village gave me a bottle to try, recommended to him by his friend that I have come to understand to be an in-the-know, highly connected, Parisian food and wine authority and personality. The whisper from Paris was that Mosse was currently making some of France’s most interesting wines. I concur and recommend the wine for anyone searching for the unusual or is just interested to see how the ultra-natural and biodynamic Mosse approach puts oxidative results on full display.
The 2001 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl is a mind blowing wine that will appeal to all palates for one reason or another (Insider Tip: It is available at Radius in Boston for $85 or less than 2X its release price, which is 3X cheaper than what you will pay for it now in a wine shop or at auction). I drank it at Radius over lunch with the good people from the Boston Design Center and it was a show stopper. The wine hints at vendage tardive character, but I assume it did not approach high enough sugar levels to merit the classification. It has turned a serious orange color from age and oxidation as you can see in the photo at the beginning and top of this post. It’s interesting to find wet slate (minerality) so prominent in a wine with such unctuous and viscous mouth coating qualities. But while the wine is indeed advanced in color and flavor, it shows vibrant bright fruit of primarily apricot and accompanying lime. It is a really fresh but advanced and fruit driven wine that appears to indicate less oxidation before bottling and eight or nine years of bottle age that helped to create the advanced color and secondary nuances. My sense is the fruit was naturally showcased and protected during the wine making stages, either by its ripe natural sugars or through a more reductive process than the one that produced the Mosse.
While it is hard to compare an ultra dry Chenin from the Loire and this Pinot Gris from Alsace, Zind Humbrecht appears to strive for the most appropriate balance between oxidative and reductive style as depicted in this video by Olivier Humbrecht:
These two white wines are evidence of the complexity available from Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc sourced from regional sites with legacies for producing fruit that performs well under the effects of age and oxidation. Both are strong buy recommendations in these and current vintages. But for me, understanding the differences of oxidation occuring in the bottle or during elevage continues to be a tasting challenge that will take more experimentation and time to decode.