Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2012

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2012 Today I was lucky enough to attend the Riesling & Co World Tour 2012 when they made their pit stop in San Francisco. The folks at Wines of Germany always put on an excellent and enjoyable event which I look forward to year after year. And it was indeed a fun day of tastings. Rieslings across the spectrum, a handful of Sylvaner and Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder depending on the label) and a few miscellaneous sparklers, reds and whites. So what were the standouts?

Well it is fun to catch up with favorites. First up was St. Urbans-Hof from the Mosel (where the picture at the top of this page was taken) and their lineup once again shined. The balance here was impeccable as was the ability for the wines to remain light while retaining such presence and weight. While I’ll be looking for any of these the 2011 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese (~$22) was once again (like the ’09) bedeviling. Next up were Leitz from the Rheingau (again hard to go wrong here but the 2011 Rudesheimer Klosterlay Kabinett is hard to beat at ~$18) and Schloss Schönborn (here the 2010 Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Kabinett, ~$18, stood out). From there it is always nice to talk with Claus Burmeister, the CEO and winemaker at Weingut Heitlinger, who is as engaging and entertaining as they come. Not to mention his 2010 Pinot Blanc was something else. I’d surely recommend it but Claus mentioned he’s in search of a new importer stateside so hopefully that happens soon…

Weingut Clemens BuschNow onto the best part; new discoveries. And boy oh boy did I find a great one today in the likes of Clemens Busch. Their lineup was thrilling from top to bottom. The 2010 Rothenpfad (~$32) was my wine of the day but I am eager to spend more time with their whole portfolio. Hat tip to my friend John Trinidad, the man behind SF Wine Blog, for making sure I didn’t miss this one. They are represented by Dee Vine Wines here in the Bay Area so fingers crossed I can score some soon. When and if I do I’ll certainly share…

And finally what would a day of German tasting be without some aged and sweet wines. My favorites here were the ’89 Spätlese from Brüder Dr. Becker which still seemed fresh, the 2006 Beerenauslese from Weingut Knebel and the 2004 Eiswein from Dr. Fischer. Guessing these are all nearly impossible to find but if you happen to stumble upon them you’ll be happy you did!

I was lucky enough to have Angela join me at this event so you can likely look forward to another perspective soon. But in the meantime what’s your favorite German wine? Leave me a note in the comments below as I’d love to hear…

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2009

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2009
As mentioned in my visiting the Mosel post, a few weeks back I was lucky enough to be invited to a “trade” only event sponsored by Wines of Germany previewing the 2008 Riesling vintage. The event featured 21 German wine exhibitors showcasing their offerings. With a hundred plus wines on offer I made my decision to focus early on. With that there were five highlights I wanted to share:

Wines of Germany: Weingut St. Urbans-Hof

  • Tasting Weingut St. Urbans-Hof – If there is one winery where I was going to taste everything they had to offer it was Weingut St. Urbans-Hof . And taste I did. One thing I learned while at this event, though I intuitively had an idea, was the low alcohol percentage of Rieslings. The offerings here were between 7.5-9.5%. You may want to refresh your memory on Riesling classifications and check out the 2008 vintage report before getting to some quick notes tasting notes on their offerings:
    • 2008 Riesling QbA ($13) – sweet on the nose, not as much on the palate. Lemon flavors with a nice mineral component coming through. A typical light and refreshing example from the Mosel.
    • 2008 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett ($16) – more floral notes and higher in acidity. You are going to want food for this one.
    • 2008 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett ($19) – Much more depth here. Sweeter and more full bodied on the palate this one shows some nice fruit.
    • 2008 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese ($25) – surprisingly not much on the nose. Lemony tart with a great mineral background and abundant floral notes, my favorite of the bunch.
    • 2008 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese ($30) – Described this one as funky on the nose. The palate doesn’t match. Sweet, savory and juicy with a hint of bubbles.Wines of Germany: Silvaner
    • 2007 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Auslese ($45) – Faint on the nose but rich and full on the palate. Overpowering with taste of honey, nuts and candied golden green apples. Guessing this one would last forever and a day.
  • Learning about Silvaner – My first encounter with this grape which is sometimes referred to as the “King Riesling’s Queen”. Silvaner is celebrating its 350th anniversary in Germany this year and was being showcased at the event. These wines traditionally come in a Bocksbeutel , a rounded, flattend brown or green bottle, and were minerally, lemony and high in acid. Glad I was able to experience them but I am not going out to hunt down a bottle anytime soon.

Wines of Germany and Weingut Rappenhof

  • Comparing an ’07 and a ’98 Auselese from Weingut Rappenhof – This winery offered a nice array of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Spätburgunder (see more below) but the opportunity to sample these two Auselese offerings with roughly a decade in between them easily overshadowed the rest. Not often you get to do these comparisons. Here are my notes:
    • 2007 Niersteiner Pettenthal – Full bodied and peachy. Certainly sweet, comes off as syrupy which overpowers some juicy apple flavors that struggle to breakthrough on the palate.
    • 1998 Niersteiner Pettenthal – The age is immediate apparent on the nose with nutty aromas. What was once perhaps syrupy now delivers a carmel flavor on the palate that is accompanied by honey, nuts and apples. Layers of complexity and this one could easily age another decade or three.

Wines of Germany and Dr. ZenZen

  • German value wines and Pinot Noir – In talking with Seb from Megawine while sampling some offerings from Dr. ZenZen and Peter Brum he mentioned that most of the wines retailed in the $7-$10 value range. Of course my curiosity was piqued, doubly so given that a Pinot Noir was included in the tasting. This lead me to wonder if Germany, like Chile, may be somewhere to start looking for a deal on some nice Pinots. My tasting here was inconclusive.

Wines of Germany and Spätburgunder vs. Pinot Noir

  • Spätburgunder vs. Pinot Noir: Did you know that Spätburgunder is Pinot Noir? I learned this on my recent tasting trip in Germany. In talking with Claus Burmeister, the CEO and winemaker of Weingueter Heitlinger and Burg Ravensburg, I asked why he had labeled his as Pinot Noir while others chose Spätburgunder. His take was two-fold: 1) Pinot Noir is the universal term and no one outside of Germany has heard of Spätburgunder so 2) if you are making your wines in an international style for an international market you should label it as Pinot. If you are making a wine for the domestic market in the traditional style it makes sense to use Spätburgunder. I thought this was an interesting dilemma that he framed quite succinctly. By the way, I was very impressed by all the wines Claus had on offer, none sweet, all dry and crisp with lemon, lime and mineral notes backed up with varying levels of acidity. To top it off these wines all retail for less than 10€. I know he was seeking an importer, I’m hoping he found one!

As you can tell I learned a lot. This was a great event. Thanks to my friends at RF Binder for the invite. I look forward to attending more of these in the future. On a closing note, just in case anyone thinks that life as an owner of a small winery is living a dream (like me!) you should see the travel schedule these folks had for this event alone. 14 stops, 9 countries and 3 continents. Ouch! Hope they have enough energy to get back to San Francisco next year…

Wines of Germany: A visit to the Mosel

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Wines of Greece, Wines of Chile, Wines of Germany. Three topics that need tackling, which to do first. As the title indicated Wines of Germany is taking priority for the evening. Why you might ask? I am headed to the Riesling Week 2009 tasting event tomorrow afternoon and decided to get into the spirit a day earlier. You see, on my sojourn to Greece we detoured through Germany on the way home to visit my wife’s sister near Dusseldorf. Given that we were in the vicinity and my brother-in-law happens to own a small parcel of vineyards (more on that later) in the Mosel (formerly known as the Mosel-Saar-Ruher, thanks for the name change!) we had to make the trip. The Mosel region is named after the eponymous “Moselle” river. The area is cooler but benefits during a temperate summer from the heat reflected from the river. Even more so, the south facing slopes are in demand as they receive direct sunlight leading to better ripening for the grapes. Mission accomplished we headed back to the winery in hopes of doing some tasting.

So, two hours on the audubon which is fun in its own right to the land of the steep, hillside vineyards. Though the Mosel is only the th largest wine growing region in Germany it is the one that has vaulted them to international acclaim around the world. The primary grape is, of course, Riesling. There are also spatterings of Muller Thurgau, Elbing and tiny amounts of others. On driving in, the region was certainly a site to behold.

The Mosel: Staffelter HofOn arrival, our first stop was Staffelter Hof. A winery with an immense history; dating back more than a thousand years. This is the winery that tends to my brother-in-laws small parcel among any others. We were scheduled to meet the winemaker but upon arrival he was still out in the fields completing the days work. With some time on our hands we decided to set out in search of my brother-in-law’s parcel of land. I’m glad we did as the experience was very memorable. The air was refreshing as we walked through the vineyards and the views were stunning and watching the winemakers work the land was a sight to behold.

The Mosel: Snowmobiling As we roamed about looking for his plot it became clear that there was two ways to cultivate this land. It all depends on how far you want to separate the vines. The Mosel: Plow Sledding Looking to get just a bit more yield from the vineyards? Ouch, you have some manual labor on your hands. Make it too narrow to get any power machinery between the rows and you are riding a sled (see picture on the left). This sled has a tow cable that is attached to a tractor on top of the hill. Sit on the sled and the crank starts to pull the tow cable in and the plowing begins. Want it a bit easier? Spread it a bit wider. Ahh, automated bliss. Instead of a sled, think snowmobile. A nice easy ride up the hill. On the flip side, the narrower the rows the more grapes you can get from a parcel. Take your pick, I’m tempted to side with taking a lower yield and making the labor a little easier. Does that make me lazy? Per wikipedia, the Mosel required “nearly seven times more man hours are needed here than in more flatter terrain such as the Médoc”. The main reason here is that you have to work the vines horizontally rather than vertically to prevent yourself from traipsing up and down a hill all day. Couple that with the plowing methods and that renders the modern trellising system useless.

The Mosel: The VineyardsThe Mosel: A view from the vineyard That aside, we continued the search for the family plot. A 40×25 piece of paradise. As we roamed about I learned that in return for letting Staffelter Hof tend to the land and pick the grapes he received some discounted wines… not a bad deal. Wonder if I can get someone to come tend the vines in my backyard, any takers? While walking about I noticed a few things. The first that struck me was the drainage/sewage system that was in place to handle runoff from the storms that make their way to the area. I failed to capture a picture that shows these tiered, liked the vineyards, quickly escorting the water to the river giving it minimal opportunity to run over the land. As you can see from the above slideshow, the terroir here is largely rock and these rains would quickly wipe away whatever nutrients are present. The second thing I noticed was the size of the parcels. No mammoth estates here. Just small parcels of land side by side. Perhaps owned by the same winery, perhaps not. Very neat, except for the difficulty it created in tracking down the one we were in search of. That said, eventually, as you can see from the picture (me left and my brother-in-law Christoph right) we did track it down. Needless to say, I know what to get Christoph come next Christmas!

The Mosel: Staffelter Hof Are return to the winery was more successful than our initial visit as we were able to find the wife of the winemaker, Gundi (middle), who welcomed us and gave us a tour of the facility and sat us down to so some tasting. The first wine was the 2007 Alte Reben Riesling Spätlese trocken , translates to roughly “old vines”, which retails for £12. An excellent wine, nice fruit on the front of the palate with minerally finish that gave me flashbacks to handfuls of rocks in my hands as we stood in the vineyard. The second wine was the 2006 Barrique Rotweincuvee, a blend of three German reds. The winery has this to say; “The varieties Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder and Regent come together in our cuvée “Drei Farben Rot”; a dry red with fruity aromas. Be prepared for a wonderful suprise.” It retails for £14 and is produced in extremely small quantities, approximately 500 bottles per year.

As we were tasting the 2nd offering Gerd (right) returned from the vineyards. He was clearly spent after a long days labor but was courteous enough to spend some time with us before having dinner and getting on with his evening. During our conversation I learned Staffelter Hof farmed about 8 hectares, equivalent to 20 acres, which placed them squarely on the larger side of wineries in the Mosel. They produced about 75k bottles or 6,000+ cases annually. Of these 90% were white and 75% were Riesling. Another interesting note was around the generational aspect of these family wineries. Gerd’s son, Jan Matthias (left), who I did not meet as decided to continue the family’s legacy in the wine business. After studying in New Zealand and Australia he has returned home and is involved in the wineries operations today. It appears this scenario is becoming less of the norm as Gerd mention he has been unexpectedly acquiring vineyards from local winemakers that are retiring and have no one to carry on the tradition. Lastly, he also mentioned that red was making a comeback in the region. Apparently ages ago the area was predominantly planted with red. In the late 19th century nearly all of these vines were replanted to white wine grapes and just recently has it began to claw back some space in the vineyards. At Staffelter Hof they’ve been working with reds since 1998.

So, will I see some Staffelter Hof wines tomorrow at the Destination Riesling tasting? Stay tuned to find out. In the mean time, what is your favorite wine from the Mosel?