There are probably four major names in the production of German wine and their wines are sought after in every country: the winerys' labels are immediately recognisable and their wines, some of the world’s best: Jos. Joh. Prüm, Egon Müller, Robert Weil and Keller. Whereas the previous two deal mainly with sweet wines, Keller’s strength is universally applicable: consistently producing some of Germany’s finest dry wines and also some of its finest sweet wine too: much like Robert Weil in fact.
The producer's single-vineyard and prestige cuvees are sold out, year after year, including the Hubacker GG. It serves as one of the producer's calling cards: world-famous and, arguably, one of the world's best-priced fine wines.
The Hubacker vineyard is defined by its limestone soil however, when the wine has aged a little, those chalky notes are restrained leading to a puristic take on dry Riesling: yes the soil plays a role in the wine but it doesn't define it solely as is sometimes the case in Rheinhessen. It's fair to say that this wine is probably a bit young and yet the key to good wine is that it can be enjoyed at every stage of its lifetime - this wine delivered on all levels.
With a brief hint of gooseberry on the attack, the only chalk-element of the wine is noticeable: creamy and, until the body picks up, intensely smooth. When the body kicks in, you all-of-a-sudden realise why people go crazy about this wine. Fully ripe stone fruit: sweet apricots, yellow plum and a decent helping of yellow peach. There is a thick sense of pear in there as well that gradually picks up momentum until the finely-spiced finish takes the reins: vegetative notes with nettles, green herbs and perhaps a hint of green pepper: you would be forgiven for thinking this wine grew on slate rather than chalk thanks to a smoky feel to the finish.
A true stunner, priced at around 50€, it certainly isn’t cheap but it impresses immensely and is, undoubtedly, one of the world’s finest dry, white wines, much like its bigger and vastly-more-expensive brothers.
Keller in the US
Keller in the UK
The most famous European red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Syrah and Grenache. What if I told you that Blaufränkisch (Lemberger) belongs in this list? Blaufränkisch is AT LEAST as good as expressing terroir as Pinot Noir and, particularly when from Burgenland, has just as much depth and complexity as Merlot. But all that comparison nonsense is not what I'm here for. This wine is awesome in its own right, regardless of any other factors and Weingut Heinrich is one of Burgundland’s best and better-known producers making the wine even more of a highlight.
Sourced from the Leithaberg DAC, a small appellation inside of Austria's Burgenland, the wine was spontaneously fermented and aged in used 500 litre wooden barrels for 18 months.
Deep cherry red with a salmon pink hue.
There is Cassis on the nose but it is neither crude, nor dominant. A far-more complex compote of tannin-strong berries are in there as well: cranberry, wild strawberry and redcurrant work excellently together with ripe red plum to produce a forest-fruit feel, complete with the woody notes of the trees. Dark chocolate and a deep sense of wood run in the background with slate, the blackest of pepper and a touch of espresso.
On the attack it's all red and black fruit although not overly sweet: ripe, red plum with cranberry and hints of Cassis and the other berries but nothing brash, nothing jammy or over-ripe. The body is complex but appealing with red apple, plum, pomegranate and this leaks onto a salty, peppery, slate driven finish devoid of the chocolate first expected. There are smoky notes that, combined with the salty finish accentuate the low level of residual sugar: this wine is as dry as it gets: sure, you can go drier but you risk losing the fuller fruit and placing the tannins in the foreground.
Remarkably full of character but not imposing, the wine is proof that Austria's Burgenland belongs to the finest red wine production regions in Europe. Blaufränkisch should be so much more of a thing than it is but perhaps I shouldn't tell too many people - this stuff is affordable, in stark contrast to the majority of European red of a similar quality!
As Germany’s warmest wine producing region with the highest yearly temperatures and most sunshine hours, Baden seems to be the perfect place to grow Pinot Noir and any other red varietals for that matter. Baden accounts for about half of the total Spätburgunder production in Germany and its reds are widely available all over the country. Usually simpler in style, Baden wines are often very expressive of the ground they are grown in and certainly reflect the warmer climate towards the Southern end of the Rhine.
In Northern Baden, many producers favour the Burgundy grapes, white and red, and are thought to be the driving force behind Germany’s “Pinot Revolution” – the increasing popularity of all wines based on Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling), Auxerrois, Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder) and, of course, Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).
Blankenhorn is a popular producer in the Markgräflerland - one of the most southerly parts of Baden. Famed for its low-acid Chasselas (Gutedel) white wines, it is also seen by many as one of Baden’s better producers of Pinot Noir and a new(ish) movement has seen the winery experiment with putting wine produced from the better, older vines into Barriques, true to the way most top end Burgundy is made a few hundred kilometres to the South West.
Bright translucent red with a pink/violet hue.
Lots of fresh Cassis on the nose with a whole compote full of fresh forest fruits: blackcurrants, wild strawberries, redcurrants and even some lovely cranberry. This is a lovely toasty, woody vanilla in the nose too.
The Cassis on the attack is very composed but also rather sharp and sweet – it quickly gives way to a forest fruit-driven body with an underlying vanilla edge. The finish is smoky, reminds of high-quality tobacco and the oak is very exquisitely done.
An astonishingly ripe and well-made Pinot Noir whereby, despite being the defining characteristic of the wine, the Barrique touch is worked-in rather than worked-around. Seldom do German Pinots work so well with so much wood. This is a great wine for game, lamb dishes and even more powerful roast beef dishes thanks to the fuller flavour from the wood.
Van Volxem is undoubtedly one of Germany’s finest and most famous wineries. It is, of course, famed for its single-vineyard Riesling wines in the wonderful Saar valley but alongside these products and a handful of estate, varietal wines, the company also produces a fantastic sparkling wine: 1900 Riesling Brut.
There was a time when sparkling Saar Riesling was just as sought-after as Champagne in Germany: unfortunately, these days are long gone and only a few producers still make sparkling Riesling of the highest standard. The motto of Van Volxem is that only prime grapes (from the coldest parts) are used in the making of this wine: fully ripe grapes from high-quality vineyards on the steep slopes of the Saar Valley. The wine spends a long time in the bottle before being released for sale and some of the base wines are also aged in oak before the second fermentation begins: what happens is that a fantastic ripe and not overly-sour sparkling Riesling emerges: far more delicate than a great deal of other wines produced in a similar way and far more drinkable thanks to the balanced taste.
Straw gold with a compact mousse.
The wine gives off a citrus and stone fruit aroma but also the feel of freshly-baked fruit loaf: there’s also a unique smoky feel too.
The attack is surprisingly youthful: fresh citrus in the way of lime and lemon but also pink grapefruit and sprinkling of stone fruit: particularly peach. The body is rather creamy and the finish both floral and mineral-laden: slate, smoke and a touch of wood for elegance. The finish is long and the fruity notes stay on the palate for a while after swallowing.
A Riesling Sekt with class is Van Volxem’s 1900: easy to drink, delicate and elegant with all of the notes of classic, high-quality bubbly but a unique Saar-like feel: if you know the still wines of Van Volxem, the feel of the base wines is to be expected although the minerals are not as pronounced – the final effect is a wonderful sparkler that offers much better value for money than the majority of Champagne’s available in this price bracket (25-30€).
Chianti is a complicated affair: either sour and off-balance or luxuriously elegant, it can be hard to know what to expect when opening a bottle. Much like with most things though, spending a couple more of your pounds, dollars or euros has an effect.
Another thing that makes a difference is exactly who makes it: when the name of Tuscany's and perhaps Italy’s most famous producer is printed on the label, the chances of receiving a clumsily-mixed, basket-bottle-style wine are greatly reduced.
Known for their Supertuscans Solaia and Tignanello, Marchese Antinori make a number of DOC and DOCG wines all over Tuscany. From the fantastic (and fantastically affordable) Montepulciano and Montalcino wines through to the Toscana IGT ones, Antinori has a wine for everyone. Alongside these wines, Antinori create a handful of Chiantis: the simplest being from their Santa Cristina Marque. In the middle of the road is the famous Pèppoli: a classically elegant Chianti Classico DOCG which I reviewed a few years back (click here).
Their prized Chianti carries the company name though: Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva.
Made of 90% of some of Tuscany’s best chocolately Sangiovese and some of the ripest Cabernet Sauvignon this side of the Atlantic, the wine is aged in French and Hungarian oak for a year before spending another twelve months ripening in the bottle.
Thich cherry red with an almost syrupy appearance. The hue is brownish and rather clear.
Underneath the initial tone of rather potent oak there is an immense amount of hidden fruit waiting to be picked out. Black cherry and blackberries characterise the fruit part of the nose and offer up some more exotic tones as well.
Initially, the fruit attack feels rather overwhelming and yet it develops into an incredibly well-blended concoction of black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberries and blueberries with, thanks to the oak, a vanilla undertone. There’s chocolate, licorice and even some espresso in the body and the finish is long and, whilst rewarding, rather strong: the oak is both very present and yet it really feels very much a part of the wine's structure which is clearly set-out from the attack until long after finishing.
A beautiful drop of Tuscan wine: both classically fruity, chocolately and racy, it brings with it a decent amount of structure and elegance making this age-old production region’s produce seem rather modern. The oak is the wine’s swansong and the combination of that much excellent black fruit together with the wood is both rare and a reason to try the wine at all.
The flagship wine for the world-famous, Northern-Spanish producer Torres, Mas La Plana is a Cabernet Sauvignon varietal produced in the Spanish region of Penèdes inside Catalonia. Produced using grapes grown in a small vineyard comprising of only 29 hectares, Mas La Plana was an idea put into place in the late 1970s: a Spanish wine that would compete with the world-famous Cabernet-dominated clarets of Haut-Médoc and its various appellations - something which it managed to achieve in the 1980s at various blind-tasting events.
Today Mas La Plana might not be a world-leading Cabernet but it is certainly one of Spain's better classic-varietal reds. Priced at around £35-40 or 45-55€ it certainly isn't cheap - however, when you consider wines that score similarly from the Bordelaise, it does offer phenominal value-for-money and an excellent excursion into the wines of this little-known production region.
Deep purply-red with a pinkish hue and a rather oily consistency.
The nose was very classic-Cabernet and yet its fruit offered considerably more ripeness than is otherwise found in this grape: lots of Cassis to start with followed by some lucious plum. Blackberry was also rather prominent with some leather, tobacco and coffee-like aromas at the end.
To start with, the Cassis and blackberry attack felt sharp but, by the time the body came into play, it was beautifully-textured with a silky, structured feel and a varietal of red and black berries were excellently worked into the wine. The fruit was probably sharp at the start through its relative youth and whilst the tannins and spicy elements on the finish (toasty-oak, vanilla and tobacco) were very fine, a few years in the cellar would almost certainly lead to a finish fitting for the luxuriously-smooth body.
An absolute cracker: not quite as elegant as the likes of Margaux or Pauillac, it wasn't as big and bold as those Napa and Stellenbosch powerhouses that many other Spanish vintners try to replicate: decent and yet vibrant, classic but cool, Mas La Plana is undoubtedly one of the best-priced Cabernet Sauvignon varietals out there to originate from Europe - perhaps offering competition to Bolgheri rather than Bordeaux. Unfortunately I drank it a bit too early (a reoccurring problem of mine) which lead to the fruit on the attack being a little too strong. In five or ten years, this will be a 100€ Bordeaux-beater, no question!
Fantastic Mendoza climate on the flats and north-facing slopes of the Andes run by the French sounds like a good thing.
It is - Clos de los Siete is a project in the Uco Valley comprising of 850 hectares of mixed vineyard produced under the watchful eye of Michel Rolland: the man behind several Châteaux in Bordeaux.
The wine itself is made up of Malbec (more than half), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot and the vines themselves grow between 1000 and 1200m above sea level ensuring a cool climate full of sun for utter ripeness and mineral components thanks to the colder evenings.
Very thick plum red, almost opaque with a cherry-coloured hue.
Initially, I was confronted with sweet black cherry, a decent amount of red plum and sweet raspberries. This eventually gave way to notes of blackberry and even very subtle strawberry. Vanilla and tobacco smoke were to pick-out too.
The attack is personified by sweet red berries and black cherry – blackberries, raspberry and blackcurrants eventually evolve into tones of chocolate and bay leaf with pepper never being far off. The sweet tannin finish combined with fresh red fruit reminds of Cranberry.
A very good wine in this price category (10-15€) but also in its own right. With the bright fruit it's undoubtedly South American but the discretion together with those tannins make it undeniably French too. Fantastic with lamb, game, steak (good steak), mushroom-based meals and much more.
There’s a dangerous similarity between the look of this bottle and another right-bank Bordeaux wine and, unlike in most other similar cases, there’s a reason for it this time. One of Bordeaux’s biggest names in wine, Christian Moueix, has a fair amount to do with the creation of this claret – the maker of the legendary Château Pétrus of Pomerol.
Saint Émilion is, in some parts of the world, a household name – some of the world’s best Merlots are found here and this wine, sourced from vineyards all over the appellation, is a premium-end, special-bottling for one of Germany’s oldest and most traditional wine dealers, Carl Tesdorpf of Lübeck– now a part of Europe’s largest wine merchants: Hawesko.
Plum red with a clear, purple hue.
The first thing you notice about this wine is the fruity-floral perfume of the Merlot and the way it declines and eventually gives way to a mineral body – a key factor in determining the difference between cheap and good Merlot – the belonged to the latter category. With big notes of Cassis and sweet red berries in the way of raspberry, the fruit body was fairly lively, juicy but this lead into a nutty aroma of hazelnuts and almonds and eventually onto wood, fresh smoke and vanilla.
The big fruit promised on the nose came through a lot more subtle that I was expecting it to. The cassis was enclosed in rounded but present tannins that brought lots of wood and vanilla out in the wine creating a very smooth body. There was a reassuring amount of acid (although brief) and the finish was crisp, refined and very smooth – despite there being a vast array of bitter tannins, they were astonishingly well worked into the wine so that all that really remained was a faint sense of vanilla, decorated by raspberry – however, this too was very laid back.
Obviously drunk way too young, I should’ve had the patience to keep this one for a bit longer. It’s probably the only experience I’ll ever have with this winemaker as, even though I’m a fully-fledged wino, I’ll never spend 3000€ on a bottle of Merlot, even if I were a millionaire. The wine was however very well made if not a little requesting of unique character that would really set it apart from many other Saint Émilion wines in a similar price bracket. Perhaps the mellowness of the whole thing was the point and, if discretion was the aim, then it was pulled-off pretty well.
Available only here from Carl Tesdorpf
This is a wine that I reviewed many years ago but never bothered to upload onto this blog because I was of the impression that it was only available for sale inside of Germany. Through an unexpected burst of networking on Twitter this afternoon, I have soon realised that this and several other wines from Markus Schneider are available for purchase in the UK.
The Schneider family has been active in the wine world for a number of centuries and, in a region (the Pfalz) where tradition and ‘old-fashioned’ Deutscher wine has reigned for decades, Markus Schneider has thrown the rule book out of the window. Although some single varietal and traditional wines do emerge from the estate such as the fabulously Pfalzy Rotwein Alte Reben - made entirely of very traditional Portugieser, the bottles making the wine headlines are huge, complicated cuvees blending both Germanic viticulture heritage with the popular grapes of France: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah – otherwise pretty much unheard of in German winemaking. If the composure of Germanic varietals such Dornfelder, St. Laurent, Portugieser and French vines isn’t complicated enough: newly-crafted varietals also make their way into final wines: Cabernet Mitos (Cabernet Sauvignon x Blaufränkisch (Lemberger)) And Cabernet Dorsa (Cabernet Sauvignon x Dornfelder) to name but a few.
The advantage of using such a plethora of varietals is that German red can sometimes appear thin and by expertly adding a splash of power (from the French grapes) you get a composite taste bringing with it the best of both worlds. The newly-crafted varietals were created especially to carry the notes of Cabernet Sauvignon but make it able to grow properly in the weaker German sun. One such wine is Black Print – Markus Schneider’s flagship made of St. Laurent, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Mitos and Cabernet Dorsa.
A deep purple with hints of royal blue, very dark – Black is a good word to print on the label.
There’s a lot going on in this wine and the fruit notes are very large, full of a variety of berries but extremely smooth at the same time. With blueberry, raspberry, cassis, sour cherry, cranberry, blackberry and even strawberry to detect, there is a delicious (if not overcrowded) aroma to the wine which pretty much defines its character. Vanilla, wood and spicy pepper are also to find although mainly hidden behind big, big fruit.
Although the fruit is as big on the tongue as it is on the nose, you get a sense of equilibrium. The classic cassis and plum of the Cabernet is there but it brings with it the rounded red cherry and raspberry of Dornfelder as well as a sweet compote which screams Merlot. The vanilla is also there in the taste and once the fruit attack drops off a little, a well-crafted body of tannin completes the experience. The wine is dry but, thanks to the fruit, is sweet and silky right through to the finish – alcohol is also an important part of the taste and can be felt thoroughly throughout the drinking.
This is a one-of-a-kind wine, one you have to try whether you like that kind of thing or not. What I particularly like about it is that it’s a red wine for people who enjoy a great variety of wines but don't want to decide: Tuscan, Bordeaux, German, New-World and Burgundy all in one glass – a bit too much at times but a unique and positively interesting experience nonetheless.
As the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir, Germany's reds can usually be split into two categories: those which are an acquired local taste and a cheeky gimmick and those which offer serious international potential. Through my experience with this varietal, I've noticed that wines from the Ahr Valley and Baden's Markgräflerland and Kaiserstuhl are probably those which deserve the most credit abroad. Those from the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and northern Baden are pleasant but often not refined enough to make for real competition against Burgundy - they are often too tart, too clumsy and posses a rather unique mineral composure which sometimes allows wine to feel unripe - of course, in these production regions too there are exceptions and some local terroir-defined wines are also very good.
As the recipient of the most sun hours in all of Germany as well as the highest annual average temperatures, it’s not hard to see why the Kaiserstuhl (literally the emperor's seat) is so well known for its production of red wine. With Baden being the only German wine-growing region thought comparable to those of Northern France and Austria (by the EU), it’s also a major market player inside of Germany – most wines are affordable and the region hasn't been over-institutionalised by the notorious VDP despite it being the country’s third largest production region.
Holger Koch is a wine-producer with his winery in the Kaiserstuhl and produces wines based only on the Pinot grapes which is very typical of Baden and the varietals that many critics claim grow best there - an opinion that I share. This wine is the entry level Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from 2009 and was produced using only a steel tank fermentation and storage. It was made using grapes from a variety of vineyards in the region.
With a light and subtle cherry red and a translucent conker-brown hue, this really looked like Pinot Noir – I've seen far too many dark Pinots recently from Germany with tones of purple and pink making me immediately suspect a large amount of Dornfelder in the final cuvee (a crude and unrefined varietal I really don’t like). This was also lighter in colour and looked much more like the wines of Burgundy than a lot of the other Pinots available in Germany.
Classic Pinot fruit and composure at all times, no undefined, unusually bright fruit usually found in Baden Pinot but comprised cherry, cassis and perfectly balanced by stone and earth tones with a decent sprinkling of pepper.
With the fruit attack being dominated by comprised, sweet, sour and juicy cherry, the fruit eventually faded into smoky and earthy mineral notes that were very finely composed. The finish was short and crisp and didn't linger for too long – a very well-made wine.
I’ve always been keen on separating German reds between Spätburgunder and Pinot Noir with the former being undeniably and actively German and the other being a more classical approach to this difficult varietal. Holger Koch has created a Pinot Noir with this wine and it feels like one with international appeal rather than for locals or tourists – it tastes like qualitatively high wine and, whilst the character isn’t particularly noteworthy, this is a prime wine for taking-on entry-level French and American Pinot Noir in the worldwide marketplace. Perfect with venison but also on its own, it makes for pleasurable drinking.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry