Following our masterclass with Olivier Humbrecht MW and tasting through his extraordinary collection, we haven’t been able to forget the wines from the Grand Cru vineyard of Rangen de Thann. These are wines that are overwhelmingly dominated by their terroir, with an abundance of mineral tones over and above fruit-forward flavours. Decanter’s Andrew Jefford describes the Rangen vineyard as “the ultimate terroir wine“, and it has even been nicknamed by many as “the Montrachet of Alsace”. Delving into the records, this special site has a fascinating history with vintage records dating back to 1186.
According to documents from Murbach Abbey, by 1272 the Rangen hillside was entirely planted with vineyards and by 1291 “Rangenwein” had become renowned across the region, with records describing it as “the warmest and most violent wine of the region”. By the 1500s the planting of non-noble varietals was prohibited and anyone who violated this law was punished and their vines immediately uprooted. It seems astonishing that even so early in its history the vineyards were protected and renowned for producing only the very best. Even at this time, wines that carried the “Rangen” label could not include any wine from outside the region.
Following the Thirty Year War in 1646 the vineyard was revived and protected by guardians appointed by the Magistrate of Thann to watch over the grapes throughout the season. The Thirty Years War was not the only war the vineyard has been involved in. It was part of the frontline between the Germans and the French during World War I and was mined and bombed during that period. Post the World War, up until the early 1970s the vineyard was largely neglected prior to replanting by the Schoffit and, later on, the Humbrecht families, bringing back the past glories of this exceptional site. Rangen was classified a Grand Cru vineyard in 1983 and awarded appellation Grand Cru status in 2011. It is the only vineyard in Alsace that is entirely classified as a Grand Cru.
The Terroir of Rangen
Just looking at the towering vineyard it is easy to see that this site has potential. Rangen is Alsace’s most southern vineyard and has a unique soil composition of highly mineralised volcanic soil (unlike any other site in Alsace). With its south-facing steep vineyards, the vines get incredible sun exposure and the dark reddish-brown soil heats up like a furnace. All these elements help the grapes reach high levels of phenolic ripeness whilst the altitude of 350 to 450 metres means the vines are some of the most late ripening, with the harvest often taking place 2 – 3 weeks after the start of the harvesting period in Alsace. The altitude and poor soils also protect the acidity in the wine, togetherproducing some of the longest-lived white wines ever made.
The Flavours of Rangen
Olivier Humbrecht has just 5.5 hectares in total of the Rangen vineyard and produces a Riesling (2.5 hectares), Pinot Gris (2.5 hectares) and a Gewurztraminer (0.5 hectares) from this site. The vines are aged between 78 and 99 years old and produce tiny yields producing some incredibly vibrant and long-lived wines.
In its youth the Riesling remains very austere and dominated by mineral aromas – schist-like, lots of smoke, gunpowder aromas and a distinct salinity on the palate. The palate is incredibly taut and linear with a very long length.
The Pinot Gris and the Gewurztraminer have very little of the terpene profile you would expect from these grapes – again dominated by the smoky, earthy mineral tones. Unlike the Riesling there is a lush mouthfeel in the mid-palate, more consistent with the Pinot Gris compared to the leaner, more linear Riesling.
The Gewurztraminer has a wonderful smoky, peat-like nose with plenty of ginger spice and a flinty minerality. Again there is more texture with the Gewurztraminer having as many tannins as a red Burgundy and a slick glossy textural richness. This is one of the most complex Gewurztraminers you are ever likely to taste.