As the Saar slowly and majestically meanders on its journey North to join the Mosel, it passes several of Germany’s most-famous and prized vineyards. In Wiltingen; Scharzhofberg, in Saarbrücken; Rausch, In Ayl; Kupp and in Kanzem; Altenberg. The rolling hills and sleepy communes perhaps disguise the fact that these are some of the world’s finest vineyards when it comes to the production of white wine, specifically Riesling.
With parcels of vines in many of the above-listed vineyards, Weingut Van Volxem is one of the region’s biggest names. With so much of its vineyard space in Grand Cru (Grosse Lagen) sites, it has one of the largest portfolios of top wines: no less than six top dry wines and a handful of sweet wines sourced from the same sites.
Perhaps it is the Scharzhofberger wines that Van Volxem is best known for: its dry Scharzhofberger is a truely fantastic wine that drinks well young and even ten years later. This legendary site is probably Germany’s most famous vineyard and the one most commonly associated with the Saar region as a whole: whilst part of the Mosel production region and the reliance on slate-soils, Saar wines are often very different to those of the more widely-known Mittelmosel.
However, it isn’t just the winery’s top wines that impress: whereas entry-level estate wines (Gutswein) are the calling-cards of every winery and the ones they makes most money with, several top German producers release dull, lacklustre wines in this market segment. This is not a practise that Van Volxem is familiar with: its “Saar Riesling” and “Schiefer Riesling” (from purchased grapes) wines are both remarkably good and, just like their big brothers, keep for the best part of a decade, if not longer. The secondary tier too is fascinating Alte Reben, Rotschiefer and the Wiltinger-village wines are all very good and offer fantastic value-for-money. It’s even worth mentioning that the winery’s two non-Riesling wines are also some of the best non-Riesling wines from the Saar altogether: the producer’s Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) is a thrilling take on the Devonian slate soils without the piercing acidity of Riesling. It is perhaps only topped by the winery’s Windvogt made of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc sourced from a unique parcel in Wawern with a micro-climatic situation leading to successful cultivation of Chardonnay in what is a cold-climate production region.
The top Riesling wines are so very good though and Van Volxem has so many of them: besides the above-mentioned Scharzhofberger, the winery produces some of the finest wines from the other top Saar vineyards: Ockfener Bockstein, Wawerener Goldberg, Wawerner Ritterpfad, Kanzemer Altenberg, Wiltinger Gottesfuß and Wiltinger Kupp. All of the wines express the sites expertly and yet all of them have a very similar set of winemaking characteristics: The Van Volxem style.
The Van Volxem Style
Whereas many other Mosel and Saar producers opt for medium wines with medium bodies and a high amount of residual sugar, the majority of Van Volxem's wines are dry in style. Again, dry Mosel wines have a recent tendency of wanting to hide their acidity and yet the Van Volxem wines make use of this acidity rather than attempting to hide it behind over-obtrusive fruit. The wines are also fairly unique in colour with a much deeper pigementation than many other producers' products in the region. A spice structure holds the wines together, joined with the acidity, and it leads them feeling rather fuller - perhaps even Burgundian in style - despite being completely different in taste. The dryness is approachable and sometimes hovers close to the beginning of medium or halbtrocken despite never crossing that boundary in the single-vineyard wines. Whereas the winery does produce two Kabinetts, an Auslese and a Beerenauslese, its competence lies with dry wines and they are undeniably stamped with the Van Volxem style - a set of characteristics that exists in the top-wine: The Scharzhofberger P right down to the simplest manufactured wine: "Schiefer Riesling" - this style is even applicable for the winery's fantastic "1900" Brut Sekt - an hommage to the Saar-sparkling wines of the days gone by, where Saar bubbles were favoured over the wines of Reims, Ay and Epernay.
It also belongs to the Van Volxem Style to recultivate historic sites. In 2015 and 2016, Van Volxem has worked together with Mosel producer Markus Molitor to revive the historic Ockfener Geisberg vineyard - the first wines should be available in the 2019 and 2020 vintages.
A selection of recent Van Volxem wines
Purchasing these wines where you live
All of the Van Volxem wines are widely available in Germany and Austria although the top wines from 2015 are mostly sold out already. In the UK, Berry Bros. and Rudd has a good selection of Van Volxem wines (click here). In the US several retailers stock the wines - if you have any trouble finding a retailer, please get in touch and I will gladly assist you in getting hold of the above-mentioned wines.
It’s difficult to think of either Californian wine or New-World wine in general without automatically thinking about Robert Mondavi. Not only are the Mondavi wines some of the most important products to originate from California, but the winery’s story is part of the modern history of wine: few wineries in the New World have had such a sustainable influence on viticulture as this Napa-based producer.
However, it is not necessarily the Napa Valley wines that people associate with this brand but rather the mass-produced wines from other Californian regions: Twin Oaks, Private Selection and Woodbridge are three entry-level sub-brands that operate in the European marketplace and, whereas the wines offer decent quality for a fair price, they are perhaps better suited to everyday drinking rather than belonging to the category of "fine wine".
In stark contrast to these wines are those produced in the company’s home in Oakville, Napa Valley. Not only are they some of the world’s best-known bottles but also a major cornerstone in international wine altogether. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominate the winery’s parcels of land and the jewel in the crown of these vineyards is the to Kalon site, shared by Robert Mondavi, its Rothschild-Partner-Project Opus One and grape-grower Andy Beckstoffer. Perhaps one of California’s most important and indeed finest vineyards, it is a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, with a few rows of Sauvignon Blanc vines. The winery is also in possession of some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs vineyards in the neighbouring region of Carneros – their closer proximity to the Bay and the Pacific climates serve as prime growing conditions for Burgundy varietals.
However, it is Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc that makes Robert Mondavi the relevant winery it is today: some of the USA’s finest and most-famous Cabernets and Sauvignons leave the cellars here.
The winery’s relationship with Sauvignon Blanc is unique and also one of the key reasons that the varietal is so widely-planted in New Zealand’s Marlborough: amongst others, it was Robert Mondavi who persuaded the Spence brothers to plant and market the grape on New Zealand’s first Sauvignon-Blanc winery (these days trading under the name of Matua). He also rebranded Sauvignon Blanc in the States: whereas the varietal mainly celebrates good press and favourable reviews in Europe, stateside it was popularly considered as cheap, relatively-uninteresting wine. With a rebranding to Fumé Blanc, the wines were a success: Fumé Blanc is synonymous with the Mondavi brand and the term is still used by the winery and several other producers in California, the rest of the New World and even in Europe.
Perhaps however, the estate is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, as are most of the large and famous Napa producers. From its Napa winery, Mondavi create a series of wines based on this varietal: a general Napa Valley wine, a Stag’s Leap District-sourced wine, an Oakville-sourced wine and the flagship Reserve to Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc 2014
This Sauvignon, with a minimal amount of Sémillon, is a luscious and fruity take on this popular style. Rather than the gooseberry and stone-fruit domination that is so often the case with New-World Sauvignon, the wine takes on a creamier feel with plenty of wood in the background. The fruit structure is made up of silky grapefruit (without the bitterness) and plenty of tropical fruit: mango,papaya and banana with a wonderful, aromatic herb finish made up of a touch of vanilla, a dash of cloves, plenty of almonds and a touch of white pepper.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The entry-level Napa Cabernet is a wine that drinks well both young and after a few years in the bottle. With a rich uptake: Cassis, blackcurrant and plenty of red plum, the wine impresses with an impressive volume. With a sense of freshly-ground coffee and a light peppering of festive spices, the tannins are still firmly in place but the wine is still remarkably open.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
The 2013 Entry-Level Napa Cabernet starts in very much the same way: Cassis, red plum and blackcurrant but carries a youthful sense of forest fruit in there as well: blueberry, wild strawberry and even a dash of cranberry slips into the body. The wine is fuller in general with a riper feel: the fruit is thicker and yet doesn’t overwhelm. The wine is finished-off with big tannins that hint at a long lifetime. On the finish is espresso, finest tobacco and a touch of leather. This wine is undoubtedly a value-for-money masterpiece in a region otherwise well-known for hefty price tags.
Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Interesting in the Oakville wine are the different fruit phases: not only are Cassis-notes, Blackcurrants and black cherries present here but they each occupy a brief spell in the wine’s attack. With a creamy-confectionary feel on the body and a decent amount of espresso, the finish is slightly peppery and wonderfully round – whereas this wine is likely to remain in the drinking window for a decade still, it is easily approachable now.
Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Again, the approachability of such a young Napa Cabernet is what impresses most about this wine right now. Not only are you treated to the full array of black and red berries in the other wines but they are still in the primary fruit phase lending the wine a fullness and a slightly sweet sensation that leads into a composed and rather fragile body. The finish is toastier than the 2010 and the overall feel is slightly more compact than the less-expensive Napa Valley wine.
Robert Mondavi Reserve to Kalon Vineyard 2012
The 2012 To Kalon is far more composed than the other Cabernets in this list. Its fruit is present and yet ever-so-slightly closed: this is a wine intended for later on. A present acidic backbone runs through the wine, pairing excellently with the sharper notes of the cherry and blackcurrant in the initial fruit. With stable tannins on the finish, the wine expresses a reserved power – however, despite a general closed feel, it is still approachable – in stark contrast to other premium Cabernets from other parts of the world at this young age. I am looking forward to trying this wine in the future.
Finding these wines where you live
Seldom do you come across a series of wines that is both so very different and yet astonishingly good. Naturally-inspired wines with little-to-no winery refinement are rare finds and many of them are very….let’s call them specialist.
Natural wine is likely to remain a niche product for the remainder of its recent spell of popularity but the individual elements used in the creation of natural wine are most probably going to remain: new/rediscovered methods of producing wine to bring out certain elements of flavour and character: zero refinement, longer time on the skins, a longer period on the lees, less filtration, reduction of sulphates in the final wine, aging in clay amphora rather than wood or steel: these practises look set to remain and have revolutionised white wine in central Europe.
One series of wines heavily influenced by such practises are the NUMEN wines of Johannes Zillinger. The Austrian winemaker produces a handful of wines, all of which are very much in the spotlight in the German-speaking world: from the entry-level VELUE series, right up to the frankly experimental REVOLUTION wines, the entire portfolio is an attractive and appealing set-up.
There are four NUMEN wines and I have tried all of them except for the Fumé Blanc, something I attempt to change at the ProWein expo in a few months time. Below are my tasting notes on the other three wines in the series.
Johannes Zillinger NUMEN Riesling 2012
This pale, lemon yellow wine is clean and explicitly delicate on the nose but with a promising lemon juice aroma coupled with fresh, just-ripe, yellow fruit: yellow plums, apricots and a touch of quince against a mineral background with plenty of wet rock and fresh herbs. On the palate, the wine starts with an electric zing: the freshly-pressed lemon juice coupled with the sweeter edge of lime and this leads onto a thick, however remarkably elegant body of apricot and yellow plum. Perhaps a touch of litchi makes it into the show and the whole thing is rounded off by a strong but, by no means harsh, finish bringing the freshness and completing the clean-cut approach to the wine. Fittingly, this Austrian Riesling is bone-shatteringly dry furthermore accentuating the delicate, razor-sharp refreshing character of this young wine.
Johannes Zillinger NUMEN Grüner Veltliner 2013
With a deepset golden-yellow appearance in the glass, this Veltliner is rewardingly zesty on the nose: plenty of lemon peel with a sense of stone fruit lurking behind: white nectarines and petals hint at dried fruits. On the attack the wine is lead by a wonderful lemon and gooseberry feel: this moves into a clean-cut body with a remarkably crisp and slightly sour finish – the wines changes over time and eventually the racing acidity is tamed by an ever-expanding sense of fruit. Clean and very dry, the Veltliner taste only comes through after half an hour in the open bottle: a touch of pepper joins the show but nothing too dramatic.
Johannes Zillinger NUMEN Chardonnay 2013
This Orange wine is one of the easiest drinking oranges I have tasted. Initially quite hard and a tad closed, after a brief spell in the decanter, the wine impresses just as much, if not a tad more, than the above-mentioned Grüner Veltliner. Produced in much the same way, however without the addition of sulphates, this is a pure, natural wine, with little-to-no cellar work at all. To start with is the unmistakable nuance of curry plant, cumin, aniseed and a whole host more. This, paired with a ripe sense of orange juice and a touch of caramel reminds of Seville marmalade and candied peel.
After a while in the decanter though, the typical white wine notes pick up: rather a richer, riper take on chardonnay than the green-defined wines of Chablis, this is full in character, hints at yoghurt but never goes there and eventually lands on a pure, clearly-structured wine with decent, ripe cooking apples and a beautiful background hint of Calvados. Bone dry, lusciously long finish.
Finding these wines where you live
The VELUE series from Johannes Zillinger is available in the UK via Winestyle (click here). The wines are widely available both in store and online in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Bliss Wine is the US partner for Johannes Zillinger, click here for more information. For more information on finding these wines where you live, please get in touch and I will assist you in doing so.
The birthplace of the illustrious Spätlese, Germany’s culinary capital and the spiritual home of Riesling, the Rheingau already has a few feathers in its cap. Many of those feathers might have come from the VDP eagle which soars over the Rheingau more often than it does in any other German production region: nowhere do you find the VDP logo as often as you do in the Rheingau.
The region might represent only a tiny part of German viticulture when it comes to the amount of wine produced but it is one of the country’s most important production regions, on a par with Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, when it comes to the importance of the wine that is made there. Whereas the Mosel is world famous for its sweet wines, it's the Rheingau’s dry wines that are some of the finest white wines in the world.
I remember reading a discussion about how the Rheingau region had lost its flair: this was at the time when the new VDP classification came into force (2012): all of a sudden huge Mosel names started releasing dry wines grown on well-known vineyards with the GG logo on the label. This, alongside the rise of Rheinhessen and the omnipresence of the Pfalz and Nahe, put the Rheingau into the shadows a little. Rheingau winemakers openly discussed the problems the region had: too traditionalist, too old-fashioned, not-attractive enough to new drinkers – plans were put into place, changes were made and I am pleased to be able to present a reinvented Rheingau: a region bursting with youthful innovation and home to a hundred new styles of wine.
One of the most exciting wines to emerge from the region in recent years is Schloss Johannisberg’s Weisslack – I’m referring to a wine that costs about 12€. Important though is the producer and their relevance in the region: Schloss Johannisberg is one of Germany’s most famous wineries: the inventor of the Spätlese and the world’s oldest Riesling winery – the fact that Schloss Johannisberg realised a change was needed is proof enough that this region required a refit. Its entry-level Gelblack is a fabulous wine: a typical old-world style Rheingau dry Riesling and, whilst this is appealing to a wine drinker, it often feels a touch dusty, a little over-complicated for a new drinker. Weisslack is different though: no wood, cleaner, more driven, a screw-top, fresher, skinnier and not-at-all-dusty: it tastes like a young wine from the Pfalz rather than a Rheingau wine although it does have a telltale Rheingau spice structure to it - it was created for restaurants and modern gastronomic ventures.
It isn’t just Schloss Johannisberg though: the new Gutsweine (estate wines) from the Rheingau producers have all been spruced up a bit: the ever-relevant Georg Breuer range has retained its freshness, the wonderful wines of Spreitzer have cleaned up their act too: mineral-driven, clean, compact wines with freshness at the forefront of drinkability. Of course the upper-echelons of a winery’s portfolio still retain individual elements of traditional Rheingau character but even here, the wines have been to the gym: look at the 2014 and 2015 Grosse Gewächse from Allendorf and Balthasar Ress: addictively drinkable Riesling with focus on staying slippery: aerodynamic wines that fit perfectly with almost any dish imaginable despite losing nothing that makes Rheingau wine fantastic.
Let’s forget Riesling for a moment…
Riesling is what the Rheingau is best known for but some of the most interesting and thought-provoking wines to have emerged in the last few years are made from Pinot Noir. Whereas this varietal isn’t new in the Rheingau, the wines in the last few years are not just more drinkable but fabulously modern too. Peter Perabo of the Bischöfliches Weingut Rüdesheim is one of Germany’s most gifted Pinot Noir artists: the winery’s Pinots are some of the region's finest and all of them combine both the German take on Pinot Noir and the international appeal of this sometimes (particularly in Germany) problematic grape.
Likewise Chat Sauvage is making some wonderful Pinot Noir from some of the finest sites for this varietal in Germany. Odder still is their reluctance to produce any Riesling at all: favouring Chardonnay as a white varietal and yet these wines aren’t gimmicky or Chardonnay-worshiping wood-bombs but excellently crafted Burgundy-like wines with an exquisite drinkability and, compared to the wines they are modelled on, astonishing affordability.
A natural touch
The rise of natural wine is undisputable. Whereas 100% natural wines are likely to remain a niche-market product: having regular wines influenced by natural-wine characteristics is a welcome addition to a winemaker’s toolbox: long grape-skin maceration, leaving wines on the lees for longer than necessary, aging in clay amphora or no filtration for example. Two wineries in the Rheingau have impressed with surprisingly drinkable wines using exactly these practises: Balthasar Ress and Peter Jakob Kühn. In the case of Peter Jakob Kühn, the dry Rieslings from Grand Cru vineyards have more than just a background natural-wine feel to them: long grape maceration is noticeable in both the Sankt Nikolaus GG and the Doosberg GG wines. Balthasar Ress has recently endeaved to extend the amount of time some of their Rieslings spend on the lees with three wines aptly named: 18, 32 and 42 according to the number of months they matured with their yeasts. Not only that, Balthasar Ress produces an orange wine made from Pinot Blanc – actually one of the only orange wines that you could suggest might achieve unilateral appeal: it might indeed be a niche-market product but it isn’t too specialist that it might scare adventurous drinkers away.
It isn’t just still wine experiencing a revitalisation: three of Germany’s finest Sekt producers operate in the Rheingau: Schloss Vaux, Sekthaus Solter and Bardong. All three make some of the nation’s finest sparkling wine both out of Rheingau wines but also those imported from other production regions. Schloss Vaux has been at the forefront of German sparkling wine production for more than a decade and its single-vineyard line is a wonderful expression of how Rheingau Riesling and Pinot Noir works fantastically in powerful sparkling Cuvees. Sekthaus Solter too is one of the nation’s most decorated producers of bubbly and has some rather interesting Cuvees in their portfolio: with some of the region’s best sparkling-intended vineyards at their disposal, the producer’s fine wines continue to impress.
Perhaps most interesting is Bardong with its tendency to leave wines in the bottle for a long time before release. It uses both Riesling and the Pinot grapes to make Sekt from some of the region's best sites for growing grapes intended for the production of sparkling wine. It isn’t just
Sekt-houses that are making fabulous wine: some of the region’s wineries are also creating fabulous sparkling Rieslings or Pinots and one producer in particular is preparing a sparkling wine sourced only from its Grand Cru vineyard: Schloss Johannisberg – their first Sekt in decades.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the "reinvented" Rheingau is that it is still ever-changing: whereas a lot has been done, the region shows no sign of slowing down in its progressive approach to winemaking. The days of restrictive governing bodies and a traditionalist VDP-leadership are over: whereas the VDP still enforces traditional practise and typical Rheingau wines are in its sights, its talons have released slightly and its member wineries have a little more room to play with than they did before: will we see Chardonnay Grand Cru sites in the near future? Probably not but we will see a whole host of new wines emerging from one of Europe’s most important production regions: the often overshadowed and yet utterly appealing Rheingau.
Some wines to try
Finding these wines where you live
Many of these wines are available in the United States and United Kingdom. All are widely available in Germany and most in Austria and Switzerland.
If you'd like assistance in finding these wines where you live, please get in touch and I'll gladly help you find a handler/distributor in your region.
Ornellaia is pretty much a household name. Those lucky enough to have tried the winery’s flagship Bolgheri immediately recognise the wine to be one of the most important producers of the (relatively) newly-declared DOC on the Tuscan coast. However, priced at over a 100€, the wines aren’t intended for regular drinking but rather for special occasions.
Thankfully the winery produces both a second and a third wine: “Le Serre Nuove” and “Le Volte” respectively. For those with a stack of money left over, the winery’s “Masseto” Merlot is one of Italy’s and Tuscany’s most expensive wine – unfortunately, I’ve never tried it but it is claimed to be one of the world's best Merlots.
Last week (26.10.2016), I was lucky enough to check out the last few vintages of the second wine: Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, a Bolgheri wine made using the younger vines of this already young estate. The wine is a Bordeaux blend with a slightly different mixture, according to the vintage.
Vertical tasting is always a great way to taste the gradual aging of a wine and the direct comparison between the vintages. We tasted the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014 wines with a few other special products from the Tuscan producer during the course of the afternoon.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2007
40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot
A racing acidity runs through this 2007 Bolgheri. Alongside the red berries brought in through the Merlot, a wonderful structural acidity and robustness is built around this by the higher-than-usual Cabernet Sauvignon percentage. The tannins fall into place behind the bright red fruit: cranberry, wild strawberry and rhubarb and, on the finish is a fuller sense of toasted wood and a touch of liquorice.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2008 (decanted)
55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot
The red fruit in the 2008 Serre Nuove comes through in the form of sweet berries which, together form a compote feel: sweet strawberry, dried plum, blackcurrant and redcurrant lead onto a floral feel in the body of the wine which is finished off with a sprinkling of festive spices and an encasement of robust but smoothed tannins.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2009
54% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
The ripest and most pleasurable wine of the tasting, the 2009 Serre Nuove is at its optimal drinking stage right now. With some of the ripest Merlot fruit in a Tuscan wine I’ve tried to date, the wine felt big, grand and, being perfectly honest, a bit like a 1990s Bordeaux. Despite the fruit still being remarkably fresh: blackcurrant, Cassis, cranberry and lots of excellent red plums, the spice structure was excellently incorporated into the wine: plenty of lovely leather aromas, a dash of espresso and even a touch of cocoa. The tannins were nice and smooth and, paired with an enchanting background acidity, the wine made for excellent drinking
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2010
45% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Unfortunately the bottle at the tasting wasn’t in optimal condition. I’ll update this review if I get the chance to try the wine again.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2011 (decanted)
57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc
The 2011 Serre Nuove has a huge potential. A wonderful sense of liquorice lingers in the background behind notes of blackcurrant and blueberry. Still compact, the wine isn’t quite ready for drinking right now but hints at the direction the 2011 is going to take: classic, large, fruity: a stunner. A wonderful smoky aroma is introduced with the tannins which makes the wine rather seem a touch mysterious. Look out for this wine in the future.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2014
50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot
Still in the primary fruit phase, the 2014 shows off a wonderful array of bright and sharp red berries: Cassis, blackcurrant and even, thanks to a sense of acitiy, a touch of grapefruit and rhubarb. The tannins are slowly falling into place and the wine’s youth makes it refreshing.
Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia 2014
70% Sauvignon Blanc, 16% Vermentino, 8% Verdicchio, 6% Viognier
It’s lovely to try a refreshing new style of white wine from a red wine region. Tuscan white has always been a bit of a disappointment to me in the past and yet this Sauvignon Blanc cuvee more than makes up for it. With a hint at the exotic fruits in the body, the wine manages to retain some of the green notes that make Sauvignon Blanc so interesting: gooseberry, green apple and lime lead onto peach, arpricot and even a touch of pineapple. The finish is salty, hints at wood rather than relying on it and wine feels clean and compact.
Ornus dell’Ornellaia 2011
100% Petit Manseng
Big and thick on the uptake with dried plums, raisons and a whole host of tropical fruits, this wine’s botrytis aromas are in the foreground and, particularly the dried pineapple and mango aromas partially cover up a profound sense of new oak: vanilla and coconut. Long and thick, the wine reminds of well-made Sauternes although is already wonderfully drinkable. Caramel, clotted cream and and honey are worked into the wine expertly making making it a very rewarding drink.
You'd think that, as a keen wine drinker, I should keep my mouth shut about this but, after all the years of drinking more Riesling than mineral water, milk and every other wine combined, I am still fully perplexed for this very simply reason:
Riesling is far cheaper than it should be.
I know why people don't buy Riesling: most of the world thinks it is always syrupy-sweet and most Germans think that it is overly acidic. Riesling does have a higher amount of acid than most grapes but modern wines, particularly the dry ones, don't have an unpalatable amount of acid, nothing to break open the heartburn tablets for and, imagine this for a second, acid in wine is good: it pairs well with many different cuisines and is an important part of both the structure of a wine and a crucial part of its ability to carry flavour. The mis-conception that Riesling is always sweet is also pretty much true if you only visit supermarkets and smaller wine stores outside of Germany or Austria. However, the majority of Riesling sold in Germany is dry and these wines are beginning to emerge in other countries (finally).
But this isn't about Riesling's struggle against mainstream mis-conception, rather a simple fact: Riesling is worth a lot more than the price most of us pay for it. Decent Chardonnay is a great deal more expensive and seldom as good as Riesling - I know this is an objective statement but, it's true as well: take a ten euro Riesling and a twenty euro Chardonnay and....the Riesling is nearly always the better wine.
Riesling has the ability to impress: I have converted hundreds of Chardonnay drinkers to Riesling and hundreds of Pinot Grigio drinkers onto Riesling as well: they always have the same objections and then, when it is in their mouths and finally swallowed, they are forced to agree with me and I'm not talking about expensive wines here. Actually Riesling has such a wow factor that I've converted drinkers of only the driest wines to actually try and like sweet wines and off-dry wines made of Riesling.
But, Rieslings struggle against false or unimportant interpretations isn't new and a handful of bloggers and wine journalists have been trying to combat it for years. There is however a huge argument in favour of Riesling and that is quite simply the value-for-money factor: aside from a handful of wines from Alsace and sweet wines from Rheingau and Mosel (and one dry wine from Rheinhessen), Riesling is nearly always completely affordable and I'm not talking about average quality wines here. Ten euros is going to get you a very good wine in Germany, twenty euros and you're looking at world-class white wine....think of what you'd pay for that in France or the USA.
1) Nearly all Riesling is good
Yep, that's not a lie - nearly all Riesling (particularly the dry ones) are good, 80% are even very good. You can't say that about any other varietal (apart from perhaps Grüner Veltliner). Seriously: there are very, very few bad Rieslings out there: yes, the supermarkets stock extremely cheap Riesling however most of these are drinkable and more than half are actually enjoyable. Whether dry, sweet, cheap or premium: Riesling is always a treat.
2) Riesling is the best food wine
There is a Riesling for any food dish - actually I'll be posting more on this point in the next few weeks but, for now, I challenge you to think of a dish that you can't pair with one form of Riesling. Like Asian food? Always Riesling. Seafood? Again, Riesling is your best bet. Steak, burger, pizza? Riesling is always a good choice - imagine being able to choose a bottle of wine at a restaurant that fits with everyones' dish? I can't think of another varietal that can offer that.
3) Compare the value-for-money factor with other wines. Riesling always wins.
Take a 200 euro Pauillac, a 200 euro Pommard and a 200 euro Cabernet from Napa - nothing will come close to the value for money factor in a 20 euro Riesling. Of course, the wines are very different but, if you were to assign the same price per quality to Riesling as you would to the above-mentioned wines, Riesling would cost 200 euros or more. Don't believe me? Check out the scores of the best Rieslings from every major wine critic and those of the Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa wines....now do a quick internet search to find out how much they cost. Don't forget to pick up your chin from the desk once you're done.
4) Riesling ages gracefully
Dry Riesling ages better than white Burgundy and some sweet Rieslings are pretty much eternal. Provided that the wines have good corks, sweet wines can be enjoyed 50, 60 and even 100 years later. Dry wines can age 15-30 years and, thanks to the acidity (see I told you it was a good thing), they always retain a certain freshness. Whilst investment buyers might only choose a few select wines from the most famous wineries in the rarest forms, most Riesling ages very well regardless of cork or screw-top. To describe how Riesling ages is like describing how beef tastes: there are so many different aromas and characteristics that come with so many wines - they are all remarkably different but they all have the ability to age.
5) There are very few poor vintages
Whilst a top vintage is just as rare as in the other regions (although strangely becoming ever-so-common), the "bad" Riesling vintages seldom create low-quality wines. Actually, in the entry-level category for winery-made products, the level of consistency is unparalleled in Europe. Riesling always pulls off a decent show - whilst the premium dry and nobly sweet rarities are noticeably different between the vintages, it is still rare to find a bad or disappointing wine.
6) You can drink Riesling when you want
Maybe not all people agree with this point but I'm going to make it anyway: Riesling is fabulous at every point in its development: from fresh-in-the-bottle to pre-historic: Riesling is always enjoyable. Whilst some of the sweeter wines do lose a bit of, let's call it "zing" in middle-age, they are still perfectly palatable throughout their lives: you can wait or you can drink it now: you don't have to wait for ripeness...but you can...if you want: it really is completely up to you!
7) It wasn't always this way
There was a time when Riesling wines from the Mosel and Rheingau regions cost just as much and sometimes even more than the famous products of the Domaines and Chateaux of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Again, I challenge you to check that fact out. In the late 19th and 20th Century, Riesling from the Rhine regions and its tributaries (commonly referred to as Hock back then) was some of the most expensive wine in the world and was one of the most important German exports: these days machinery and automobiles have taken this title but it all started with wine - some of Europe's oldest and most profitable wine merchants were (and still are) based in Germany's Hanse-Städte: they used to export millions of litres of Riesling all over Europe and the wines were so sought-after that they often auctioned for much higher amounts of money than the French wines of the time did.
8) Riesling isn't necessarily cheap to make.
Whereas a great deal of European and New-World vineyards are fully-mechanised. A great deal of those in Germany (particularly those where Riesling is grown) aren't and probably never will be. High-altitudes, steep slopes and slippery floors make the planting, caring-for and eventual picking of Riesling grapes quite a job. Not only that: German employment guidelines for the pickers are some of the strictest in Europe and German vintners pay some of the highest wages in the world for seasonal pickers. Also, being so far North, German winemakers (again, particularly with Riesling regions), there is a large element of risk in the production of Riesling: hail, not-enough sun, too much rain, fewer natural predators for pests, frost and many other factors make producing Riesling a far greater risk than many other varietals and, in the regions where it is produced, it can be very unrewarding to make wine at all: yields are low, crop loss is high and winemakers are in a constant battle against nature to make a living.
9) Riesling expresses its 'terroir' more than any other varietal.
Whereas you can train yourself to taste the soil upon which a wine has grown, Riesling is one of the best wines to discover this in. Whether slate or limestone, quartzite or volcanic, it is nearly always present in the glass. No two Rieslings taste the same and, due to the simple fact that most German wine is sourced from a particular region (usually comparatively small to those overseas), the wines often stay true to the form that nature chose for them: regardless how many separate vineyards' grapes are used in them. Whereas all regions have a variety of soil types and differing climates within them, Riesling wines are often shaped by the place they were grown in - whereas Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also express terroir well, Riesling does it best.
10) There's not as much of it as you think there is.
German wine and the word Riesling are synonymous: think of Germany and you think of Riesling. Because of the customer's mis-conception that Riesling is sweet and too acidic to consume, winemakers have been forced to plant other varietals - wine tastes change and, whilst Riesling crops have remained stable in the last few years, the varietal occupies less of Germany's vineyard space than it used to (in %). In fact, compared with other regions, German wine production is tiny: in Bordeaux alone there are over 120,000 hectares of vineyards. In Germany there are around 102,000 hectares, only about 22% which are covered by Riesling vines (source).
But perhaps things are changing. Riesling has never attracted the same attention as Bordeaux and Burgundy (particularly in the important emerging markets). This will undoubtedly change though and the nation's new wave of young winemakers is likely to have an effect on the demand both overseas and inland. the German Wine Institute, Generation Riesling and the VDP are doing a great job in promoting the varietal and prices have risen slightly in the last decade.
Unfortunately though, 2016 looks like it is going to be a disastrous vintage: weather, pests and a whole host of other factors mean that there will be far fewer 2016 wines than in the vintages beforehand. Stock up on 2015 Riesling (one of the best vintages ever) to make sure you don't miss out.
It might sound like a cliché, recommending Rosé wine with your summer and it probably is but, let’s be honest, Rosé can be so good. It combines the best of both words: the freshness and crispness of white wine and the fuller, redder notes of, well, red wine.
The problem is with rosé though, is that it is sometimes so badly made: sickly sweet, messy and sticky. For that reason, many so-called wine experts ignore the stuff. Well that’s their problem: there are hundreds and thousands of well-made rosé wines all over the world and, if done properly, some of them can even compete with white and red wine. Of course, the world’s most famous and arguably best pink wines come from Provence in Southern France. These wines represent the pinnacle of rosé winemaking. The only problem is that they’re rather expensive and some of them, and I’m sorry for saying this, kind of take the interestingness out of rosé – for me, rosé needs to be fun and fruity and….kind of unserious: it needs to be easy-drinking, pour-it-down-your-throat kind of stuff rather than the stuffier world of white and red wine.
So here I have compiled ten German rosés, all of which offer fun, fruit and yet a high-quality feel. All of them are very different from one another and you’ll notice a number of styles: from clean cut, bone dry, to bonkers, out-of-this-world wine with residual sugar, the craziest pink colour you’ll see in wine and a whole lot of fun.
Because, let's be honest, that's what drinking pink wine is all about.
Finding these Wines where you live
As ever, I'm more than happy to assist you in finding these wines where you live. All of them are widely available in Germany and can be found with a quick internet search. The vast majority are available in Austria and Switzerland and a handful in other European countries. If you'd like me to help you in tracking down a bottle you can purchase near you, let me know and I'll gladly assist you.
A few weeks ago I was shocked by some comments I heard. I asked about the wines of a certain Saar winery and was immediately hit with a lecture about how people who know about wine don’t drink such products: apparently the wines have no style, are dull, are overpriced, can be found in every supermarket and are only popular because of a certain celebrity lurking in the background.
I was a bit shocked because I’ve always liked the wines. Sure, I agree that the entry-level stuff is available on every corner but, as a supermarket wine buyer, I don’t see that as a problem: the wines are always sold at a respectable price and neither the winery, nor the prestigious VDP institution is harmed by this. Quite the contrary in fact: the availability of entry-levels wines in supermarkets is a general sales boost and a kind of dangling bait hook for the consumer: “hey, you like this? Visit your local wine dealer and ask for our premium wines.”
That is exactly what I did back then.
The winery in question is Von Othegraven, one of the Saar’s most important producers: a stone’s throw from Egon Müller, Van Volxem, Forstmeister-Geltz Zilliken, Peter Lauer and many other fantastic producers. Von Othegraven belongs in this club in my opinion and I was really shocked when I heard that a handful of people think the opposite is true.
So, here I say it: regardless of whichever TV personality stands behind the Kanzem winery, regardless of the fact that you can find the entry-level wines in many supermarkets, regardless of the fact that some people refuse to accept this blatant truth: the Von Othegraven winery is a producer of fantastic wines and, in one market segment specifically, one of both Germany and the Saar’s frontrunners: Kabinett and Spätlese Feinherb from Grand Cru sites.
The wines drink excellently from day one and, whilst this is the case with a few other entries in this category too, this characteristic runs throughout the entire portfolio rather than only being applicable to one or two wines. They grace with age but represent excellently drinking at every stage in their long lives which is a rare treat with many winery’s best products entering drinking five to ten years after bottling (and in some cases, much longer).
Even the aforementioned entry-level wines are well made, full of Saar character and, true to the spirit of this part of the world, realistically priced. The dry wines from Grand Cru wines are good as well: the Illustrious Größe Gewächse are very enjoyable indeed: the flagship Kanzemer Altenberg GG is, for me at least, one of the Saar’s best. However, I still regard the winemaker’s sweet wines as being far superior but, let’s face it, that’s normal in the Saar region and the Mosel in general as well.
So, last night, whilst enjoying a bottle of the basic VO Riesling, I decided to dig up some tasting notes of the Von Othegraven wines I’ve tried over the years. I’d call it “best of VO” but I haven’t tried all of the wines in all of the vintages so here are a few random wines from the Kanzem winery that I recommend you try.
Finding Von Othegraven wines where you live
In the UK, the Wiltinger Kupp Kabinett is available through www.thewinesociety.com however, for a full range, contact the guys www.thewineryuk.com. In the USA, it can be a little harder to find the wines but some of them are available. Visit www.skurnik.com for a comprehensive range and information about shipping in your state.
The wines are widely available in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For further information about getting hold of these wines where you live, get in touch and I'll gladly help you.
www.von-othegraven.de - the winery's official website
www.grosserring.de - The Grosser Ring's website (VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)
www.moselfinewines.com - comprehensive information and tasting notes for VO wines
Nowhere does the argument in favour of cold-climate white wine make more sense than in the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer valleys. In both sweet wines and indeed dry ones, the mineral notes sucked out of the slate soils together with the delicate fruit on display can only occur in such a place.
The Mosel region has a wide mix of styles and characteristics. In the Saar Valley, modern wineries are making waves alongside traditionalist institutions. The old powerhouses of Bernkastel-Kues, Erden, Wehlen and Traben-Trabach carry on producing their world-famous wines next to exciting newly-revived prime vineyards operated by some of the world’s finest up-and-coming new winemakers.
The rise of Dr. Loosen internationally has also assisted the region in gaining importance. Frequently labelled as a dusty old part of the world that makes only sweet wine, Ernie Loosen and his team have catapulted both Mosel and Germany back into the limelight of wine drinkers the world over.
In Germany itself, one winemaker seems to be gaining more importance every day: Markus Molitor. His estate has grown and grown for the best part of a decade and some of his wines are even members of the elite 100-Parker-Point club.
The revived Van Volxem and Von Othegraven estates in Wiltingen and Kanzem on the banks of the Saar are also contributing to the success of the region, especially in the way of dry wine.
And yet, the reason most people know of the Mosel is thanks to producers like JJ Prüm, Egon Müller, Karthäuserhof, Maximin Grünhaus and the like. They still make those wines that made the region famous and the popularity of such products is still as relevant as it always was – recent auctions both nationally and international even suggest that the popularity for such products is growing.
Particularly interesting for the consumer however is the simple fact that tasting these world-class wines is completely affordable. The best Mosel wines seldom cost more than 30€ for a regular 750ml bottle. Perhaps the Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerauslese and Eiswein bottles might exceed this price but, in terms of dry wine and Spätlese, sometimes even Auslese – there is nothing that is not affordable from the Mosel region.
This is a shock really when you consider how difficult it is to produce Mosel wine. Excessive moisture, unreliable summers, unpredictable precipitation and very cold winters are just part of the problem. The steepness of some of the slopes makes harvesting incredibly difficult at times and mechanised help is pretty much impossible for most of the region.
However, measuring the quality of a wine on its price is usually a mistake and, in terms of discussing the quality of the wine as a product alone, irrelevant. The Mosel production region is unique and, despite reliance on one varietal, unbelievably diverse - that is what makes it so special!
I have compiled a list of 26 wines than I think define the region. All of them offer astonishing money for value, are widely available and offer a great deal of diversification. I will add to this list over time and am more than happy to hear your suggestions (just comment at the bottom of the blog entry).