Today, we conducted a tasting of German wines for the trade. It was really nice to see all of the young sommeliers/wine professionals who came to the tasting. (I would like to greatly thank Warren Shon, Fritz & Agnes Hasselbach & Theo & Johannes Haart for helping assemble the various wines).
To start off this casual, “introductory” seminar, we thought it important to point out the 13 anbaugebiete (winegrowing regions) of Germany & in an effort to keep discussions as concise as possible, we would be only discussing 4 today–the Mosel, Rheinhessen, Nahe & Franconia.
The first topic of discussion was the extreme growing conditions Germany historically experienced over the years. In fact, until recently (essentially pre-1988), the wineries were lucky if they had 2 or 3 “ripe” vintages out of every 10. This meant in many cases, as long as the weather permitted, longer hang time was needed & therefore the grapes would get more physiological maturity at lower potential alcohol levels. This, has been one of my real fascinations with the wines from Germany, especially in terms of compatibility with foods.
Then, we discussed how ALL wines could be produced sweet to dry depending on what the winemaker wanted to do, whether the wine is sparkling, red or Riesling. The point being NOT all German wines are sweet.
We then discussed sugar & its relationship to wine in Germany. Sub-topics included Öchsle, süss reserve, residual sugar & chaptalization.
Silvaner–is a less heralded grape variety. Historically, it provided the “core” for the German “country” white wines such as Liebfraumilch, for the masses to consume, both locally & abroad. Culinarily, my wife & I discovered while in Alsace one year, Silvaner is a grape variety whose neutrality & pli-ability allows it to work with a surprisngly wide spectrum of foods. Furthermore, its delicate aromatics accent & connect well with fresh herbs. Hans Wirsching excels with this grape variety & his is certainly worth checking out.
Scheurebe–to help the plight of so many UN-ripe years, German scientists continually experimented crossing grapes vines, hoping to get some kind of Riesling nobility, but with earlier ripening times. The Scheurebe (Samling 88) was one of the 2 most popular. Created in 1916 by Dr George Scheu, this cross of Riesling & a wild grape variety can offer riper, rounder plumpness we like with intriguing black currant, grapefruit qualities. Again, Hans Wirsching produces stellar renditions.
Muller Thurgau–yet another of the more popular grape crosses (Riesling & Madeleine Royale) created by Herman Müller in 1882. Fürst, as we tasted today, produces by far the most interesting rendition I have tasted from Germany. It is also incredibly diverse with foods, because of remarkable etherealness & minerality. Paul Fürst (2003 Gault Millau “Winemaker of the Year”) has but 1 hectare planted of this grape variety & in red sandstone soils.
Riesling–in comparison, we decided to taste a DRY styled Riesling from the town of Piesport & Reinhold Haart. (Theo Haart–2007 Gault Millau “Winemaker of the Year”). As this wine deftly showcases, Riesling in this case has rounder, seemingly riper acidity. Riesling is also a conduit of a vineyard’s “terroir”. Furthermore, as we will see later in this tasting, there is so much more to consider within the Dry category.
Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)–Pinot Noir (& Pinot Blanc) is gaining in popularity & notoriety in Germany. In the 1990’s, we saw Meyer Naekel from the Ahr region; Heger in the Baden region & Fürst in Franconia as the leaders. From my point of view they are still the leaders of this highly fickle grape variety, although some might a case for Becker from the Pfalz region as well. Still, I think when you try a Fürst Klingenberger or Schlossberg designated Pinot Noir, you will better know, that German Pinot has “arrived” on to the world class stage.
We also had a brief discussion of the different quality levels of German wine–Tafelwein, Landwein, QBA & QmP (including Kabinett, Spätlese & so on). We also briefly discussed the VDP organization & how it unofficially greatly helps drive wine quality, since the wines we were sampling today were from VDP estates.
The second flight we tasted consisted of 2 wines from the same red slate soil, the same vintage & the top echelon winemaking of Johannes Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch. (Johannes carries on the high tradition of what his father, Fritz, established at this domaine). One of the wines is a 2013 Estate Riesling Trocken (dry) & the other labeled as 2013 “Jean Baptiste”. The Dry Riesling lists 13 degrees alcohol & the “Jean Baptiste”, which I would say is Feinherb in style & registers at 10.5 degrees alcohol. Just another opportunity to discuss weight, physiological maturity, residual sugar & alcohol levels.
We originally wanted the third flight to showcase “fruity” style Riesling (therefore some residual sugar) from the same vineyard–Kabinett & Auslese in oechsle measurement. I was hoping to do so with wines from Bert Selbach at Dr F. Weins-Prüm. Because Bert is a direct descendent of the iconic Prüm family, he has sensational vineyard holdings including parcels in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, & Domprobst, Ürziger Würzgarten & Erdener Prälat. Furthermore, we really like how ethereal & airy Bert’s Rieslings are. They are light like no other AND completely showcase the vineyards’ terroir & soul. Lastly (& probably most importantly business wise, his wines are so darn remarkably priced for what you get in the bottle). Sadly, as it turned out, I forgot to bring the wines & we ended up instead using a Kabinett, a Spätlese & a Gold Kapsule Auslese, although all from Dönnhoff, EACH from a different vineyard. Even so, one could readily see the difference in must weight, extract, physiological ripeness, intensity & power as we went up the oechsle ladder. The icing on the cake, was that we got to taste lots of Dönnhoff wines!!!! How often does that happen?
Our intention for the next flight was to show what happens to a DRY, Cru quality wine with bottle age. So, we served 2 DRY Rieslings from Dönnhoff, a 2001 “Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg” Spätlese Dry & a 2012 “Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg” GG (Grosse Gewachs–Germany’s attempt at Grand Cru). Nothing shy or wimpy in this flight! OMG. For those questioning if Riesling is a noble grape variety, you should have tasted these! We also briefly discussed the main criteria for GG wines, so tasters could better understand & appreciate what was in their glass.
The next flight showcased 2 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett wines from Reinhold Haart–a 2012 & a 1991. The goal was to show tasters how apparent sweetness levels change to a more tactile creaminess with bottle age. Furthermore, the mineral comes soaring back to the forefront & the acidity integrates so much more harmoniously. Just on another note, I hope it reminded all, that the Haart wines young or old, Kabinett or Spätlese are from a vineyard which is of Grand Cru quality, BUT also he is as good of winemaker as there is from anywhere in the world.
The final flight was again an opportunity to taste a young versus an older wine, in this case 2012 & 1996 Spätlese, each from the Nackenheimer Rothenberg vineyard & Weingut Gunderloch. Here is another winery which produces superb wines, which WAY overdelivers quality for the price! In 2012 when I was last there, this vineyard was on track to ripen 2 to 3 weeks earlier than Haart in Piesport, so I can find the wines to be more forward, young & old. BUT, I also find the innate stoniness from the red slate greatly butresses the acidity to make it so much brighter & fresher. This carries through the wine with age too. I find the stoniness so much more exotic, provocative & thankfully different than that of the high toned, floral, minerality of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wines. One can definitely end the meal in an uplifting way with the 1996 Spätlese.
And, as we summed up things at the end, we talked about all of the variables offered in today’s tasting–differences in grape varieties, soils, winemaking, residual sugar levels, alcohol levels, acidity, minerality, dryness/sweetness AND young versus old, just to name a few. Now, just imagine the possibilities one can have pairing with foods!!!!
Thank you to all who came.
One learns….to ask better questions….& thereby continuing to learn.