German wine has it hard.
Not only are the names of the wines unpronounceable for about 95% of the world’s population, its flagship products are so poorly understood or mislabelled that only a select few know what is hiding behind the brown glass and olde-worlde label.
Riesling? Isn’t that the sweet, sour, floral stuff that your Nan drinks?
I won’t go down the path of defending Riesling, it can do that on its own. I will however defend the labelling. In the past I have hinted at the simplification of German wine classification and the VDP and its members have done a good job – it still seems a little over-complicated for some but…..and I mean this seriously: why are international consumers so willing to split Bordeaux into appellations and yet are not prepared to do this with German wine?
In Bordeaux there are a whole host of styles from white to red to sweet. All of these wines are described with a theoretical map, varietal-compositions are hotly-discussed and we even talk about tertiary aromas and how they define the wine in the glass. Burgundy is even worse. It is incredibly complicated and we are forced to split not only the Côte de Nuits from the Côte de Beaune but from the hundreds of AOCs within. On top of that we then separate between Villages, Premier Cru and Grand Cru – you can study Burgundy your entire life and will still come across an AOC you’ve never heard of before.
I named only two of the French production regions and yet the world seems to only want one generic German style – “Rhein Riesling”.
Winemakers often argue that German wine is too complicated: too many names, too much information on the bottle….too much German. Whilst I’ll admit that Le Montrachet Grand Cru sounds nicer than Scharzhofberger Grosse Lage, in effect it is exactly the same information being portrayed here: even better in fact: the German label even tells you whether the wine is dry or not and which varietal it is you are drinking.
And yet people will argue that this is too complicated, too “unsexy” and yet I think we should embrace this: people often enquire about English translations for “Spätlese” or “Auslese” – when was the last time a French producer thought about translating “Grand Cru” or “Vielles Vignes” – we should relish these German words and enforce that they become part of international wine lingo like “Reserva”, “Classico”, “American Viticultural Area” and the like.
I am sometimes genuinely of the impression that German wine should continue being German: bowing to consumer demands is a very unsustainable business: consumers are notoriously non-loyal.
So crack open a bottle of Geheimer-Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan Deidesheimer Hohenmorgen VDP. Erste Lage Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese and thank the heavens that it isn’t called “Rhein dessert wine” – there is no culture in that.
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