This past week, the Wine Bloggers Conference convened in Portland, Oregon. While I didn’t attend (a press trip to Oaxaca to study mezcal took precedence), I was invited to a number of unofficial after parties. Even though there was a great number of opportunities to taste some interesting wines, there was only one that was such a unique occasion that I couldn’t say no. The Wines of Alsace group offered a chance to taste what they refer to as the “Holy Grail” of Alsatian rieslings, the venerable and rare Clos Sainte Hune.
Clos Sainte Hune is widely considered one of the best single vineyard riesling wines in the world and one of the very best wines produced in France. Even better for me, the tasting of Clos Sainte Hune was to be a non-consecutive vertical tasting of the 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2002 vintages. This was a rare opportunity to taste one of the best wines in the world over several vintages.
Clos Sainte Hune is a vineyard in the Alsace region of France. While Germany is most famous for riesling wines, the French region of Alsace, which borders Germany, also produces some of the most highly-regarded rieslings in the world. Clos Sainte Hune is a grand cru wine from Alsace, grown on a tiny, three-acre plot with a calcareous-clay soil and a cool climate. The resulting wines from their 40-year-old vines are vibrant with nice minerality and great structure. These are not sweet, fruit-forward wines by any stretch of the imagination; instead, Clos Sainte Hune’s rieslings are a study in subtlety with soft, elegant notes that need a bit of time and patience to discover.
At prices well north of $100 a bottle, Clos Sainte Hune’s wines aren’t going to be the choice for your Tuesday night dinner. These are special wines for special occasions. Tasting each of these wines made me wish that they were paired with food. While wonderful on their own, each vintage of Clos Sainte Hune was the type of wine capable of taking a good meal and elevating it to something truly unique. Thoughts of bäckeoffe and choucroute garni danced through my head as I sipped these wines. I found myself craving sauerkraut and bratwurst with these wines.
Clos Sainte Hune is Alsace in a glass. It is truly remarkable that one wine can be so powerful and has such a terroir that a small taste can transport one to Alsace if only briefly. Perhaps that is just one reason that these wines are considered the “Holy Grail” of Alsatian riesling.
Here is a short selection of my tasting notes from the evening. I’ll readily admit that these aren’t as complete as they might usually be. I was just too busy enjoying these wines to spend time doing a full organoleptic analysis.
Clos Sainte Hune 1997
Yellow apples, ripe pear, and peaches on the nose and palate. A soft minerality and just a hint of petrol apparent on the bouquet. Vanilla, burnt sugar, eucalyptus, and grapefruit notes as this wine opens. An elegant, beguiling wine.
Clos Sainte Hune 1999
Tighter and more focused than the 1997. Steely with notes of lemon, lime, and grapefruit along with the classic petrol aromas on the bouquet. As it opens, orange peel, beeswax, and some spice notes. This wine would be amazing with lobster or other shellfish.
Clos Sainte Hune 2001
Wow, just wow. Petrol, lemon peel, and minerals on the nose. Rich, unctuous, and multilayered, this is easily one of the best rieslings I’ve ever tasted. Long, full finish with some unusual notes, saddle leather being one of them. Peaches and pineapple notes balance the acidity. This is a world-class wine.
Clos Sainte Hune 2002
Yet another fabulous wine. Much more minerality than the other vintages. Notes of peach, pear, and nectarine along with nice acidity balance this wine perfectly. Another stunningly-good wine. There is almost a chalk-like quality to this wine. Quite complex.