Every now and again, I return to Dr. Loosen. The wines are notoriously hard to locate in Germany, which is strange because, everywhere else in the world they stand as proud ambassadors for German wine. Whereas the other ambassadors are usually best avoided, the Dr. Loosen portfolio is very good indeed. Actually, it's very good in its own right: the winery's Rieslings are both of very quality and also represent the Mittelmosel astonishingly well. With parcels of land in some of the Mosel's best-known and most-celebrated vineyards, Dr. Loosen is one of the region's most important producers and arguably, Germany's most important exporter.
The Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard needs no introduction but I can provide a basic description nonetheless. This world-famous vineyard is fabulously red in colour thanks to the volcanic soils that make it up. Slate also forms the base soil and, due to this and the high amount of iron in the red volcanic earth, the wines often emerge as very spicy - hence the name "Würzgarten" - literally "spice-garden". With varying angles of steepness, the vineyard is slightly concave, subjecting it to relative protection from wind and long and undisrupted sun hours.
These off-dry wines come into their own a few years after harvest although many are immediately drinkable. 2010 might not have been the Mosel's best vintage but its Kabinetts and some of its Spätlese wines are very fine and offer early and enjoyable drinking.
Bright golden yellow.
The first thing to note about the wine is the high concentration of fruit: there is a lemon juice feel which is sweetened by an essence of honey. After this are many notes of tropical fruits: particularly pineapple and papaya. An underlying feel of apple is in there and this is complimented by slate, white pepper and a green herbal mix: sage, eucalyptus and fresh spearmint.
The attack is driven by the lemon and honey on the nose but it isn't sharp and almost immediately moves onto the apple. This comes through like freshly-pressed apple juice and whilst on the tongue, nuances of white peach, apricot and pineapple poke through. The finish is crisp with an explosion of slate, white pepper, nettles, aromatic herbs, a touch of salt and menthol notes.
A very well put together Kabinett that shows off what this vineyard can really do. As suggested above, there wines are enjoyable when young but also profit from a decade underground. This Kabinett would fit perfectly with spicy Thai food: particularly with seafood - its sweetness wouldn't allow the chilli to steal the show and its fruit would compliment the spice structure in the dish.
Veneto is home to a number of boring DOCs all based on pretty much the same thing: Trebbiano, Corvina or/and Rondinella. It’s difficult to think of a duller production region but perhaps I’m just scarred from all the awful, cheap Pinot Grigio wines I’ve been forced to 'enjoy' over family dinners, in bad restaurants and when I go to parties and the host decided to shop at Aldi to save money.
No, Veneto is home to good wine as well: a decent Valpolicella or Amarone makes up for the millions of hectolitres of grey, characterless and dull wine. But, what if I told you that it isn’t the DOC and DOCG wines you should be looking out for in Veneto? Forget the Supertuscan, its time for the Supervenetian.
Swap Corvina for Carmenere, Rondinella for Merlot and add a touch of regional flair in the way of Marzemino and the picture is vastly improved. I have rarely tasted Carmenere so good, Marzemino so controlled and Merlot so expressive as in the Porcone Butcher’s Reserve from Zio Porco Wines and I have rarely experienced so many things going on with such precision and such awe-inspiring creativity.
But, whilst thinking creatively is a start, actually having the balls to try and the skill to pull it off is completely different. I was expecting to be surprised but not like this: I was expecting the juiciest of juices and the most powerful of power but the most refine of refine certainly wasn’t something I was prepared for.
I always find that cars serve as decent metaphors for wines: imagine Chateau Margaux as a classic Jaguar E-Type, Tignanello as a Ferrari Testarossa and Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Auslese as a Porsche 911. I was awaiting Chevrolet Corvette in this wine: lots of fun but flimsy and held together with plastic: I wasn’t expecting what I got: a Pagani Zonda: crazy, mad, out-of-this-world power and style but with the beating heart of a state-of-the-art AMG V-12. Perhaps that’s testosterone speaking and maybe this sounds like a wine for the man’s man – (I don’t think there’s a better way to describe the winemaker: Marco Giovanni Zanetti (aka Winepunk)) but the classic touch and elegance behind all the power make it universally pleasing whilst exquisite and remarkably unique.
Blackcurrant red-purple (although you’d be excused for saying black) with a pomegranate-coloured hue.
The note is big on red and black fruit to start with: lots of blackcurrant but also redcurrant and blueberry. There is an undeniable high concentration of Cassis which leads onto a spicy structure hinting at tobacco smoke and even….dare I say it, bacon?
Powerful on the attack with all of the fruit promised on the nose, the wine’s berries aren’t inexcusably sweet: the body quickly picks up on pepper and the smoke in the nose making it large and powerful without being a slippery, forgettable jam-like thickness. The oak is important but not defining. The tannins suggest long-term drinkability but they’re not in the way of enjoyment now.
A well-made wine like no other: classically elegant with a unique sense of power that is both harnessed and yet fully-explored. The varietal trio is a treat and the complexity, despite strength, is the wine’s defining character. Priced at 35-40€, it's a fantastic buy and not just a must-try but an entirely new style of wine waiting to be discovered.
There are wineries that produce a few decent wines and a whole bunch of mediocre ones. Even some of the biggest and finest names in wine produce a handful of dull bottles with little appeal other than the name and yet Markus Molitor doesn’t. Alongside some of the best value-for-money in German wine, I’ve never tried anything from Molitor that isn’t, at least, fantastic. From the basic entry-level Riesling through to the ***Goldkapsel wines, Molitor is host to an impressive portfolio and is fast becoming one of both Germany and the Mosel’s most important names – all that without the VDP!
This rare dry Auslese is sourced from the little-known Herrenberg vineyard in Niedermennig close to Konz where the Saar and the Mosel meet. Unfortunately, Molitor no longer cultivates vines here so the bottles that are still out there in the shops are the last ones making them rather rare and yet, typical for Molitor, completely affordable even still.
Clear satin gold.
The nose immediately reminds of freshly-pressed apple juice made using the apples growing in your garden. There is a hint of quince and also lovely ripe pear with a slight touch of stone fruit: perhaps peach but it isn’t really that defined thanks to the wine (still) being very closed.
The attack is of awesome quince juice – that really expensive stuff that costs about the same as wine and fresh apple pie: the apples are so solid and juicy that it seems a shame that they are still so closed inside this prematurely-opened bottle. The finish is impressive and combines both slate and mint with a splash of eucalyptus oil.
The potential enclosed in this wine is heartbreaking – heartbreaking that it was opened so soon. I reckon this wine needs another five years to open up completely and yet it still offers more than impressive drinking right now. If you have a bottle or two of this, please don’t be tempted to open it now: Auslese trocken is getting rarer by the day and this wine isn’t even close to entering the drinking phase just yet. To find a simile, it's like a beautiful symphony orchestra playing your favourite Debussy piece....behind closed oak doors, half a kilometre away.
Whereas the majority of English wineries release their wines to retailers directly, a handful have a small production run that they chose to allocate the limited edition bottles themselves. One such winery is Sussex’s Hoffmann and Rathbone. The small estate is home to three wines, all of which were first made using the 2010 harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – the three varietals also grown in Champagne.
Aged for 44 months, this 100% Chardonnay is a sign of good things to come from this up-and-coming winery in a very exciting part of the country and possibly the ideal location to grow sparkling wine in England at all: Sussex. I was lucky enough to get hold of the first release 2010 wine through a small retailer in Germany, for information on purchasing this wine, please contact the winery directly here.
Pale straw yellow in the glass with a very fine perlage.
The wine reminds of high-quality lemon juice on the nose, there is also a Perry note to the wine with hints at both ripening pears and green apples. A toasty brioche note is in there as well and it is complimented by a faint sense of oak.
The wine is quite sharp on the attack with lemon juice, grapefruit and a hint of orange peel. This moves onto a body of orchard fruits: particularly green apples and it reminds of French cidre or English Perry on the body – thick in fruit although the finish is remarkably well pulled-off, hinting at oak but also making those typically yeasty sparkling wine notes very calm and collected.
Whilst the attack and body might seem sharp at first, it does make the wine very refreshing and suggests that it will keep for five years or so. The fruit consistency is very agreeable and, whilst it might not quite achieve elegance à la Ridgeview or Nyetimber, it does again prove that English sparkling wine is on the rise. This is a winery to watch out for - in my opinion this is going to be one of the big players once the production levels rise and it certainly deserves to be up there. I've heard good things about the 2011 vintage and am looking forward to trying something.
Robert Weil is one of the Rheingau’s best-known producers. Alongside the fabulous wines from its and some of the Rheingau’s best individual vineyards, the winery is also famous for its basic Gutsweine and Ortsweine sourced, in the case of the former from fruit all over the region and, in the latter, the grapes that grow around Kiedrich.
Its most famous product and the one it receives most admiration for is the dry Grosses Gewächs from the wonderful vineyard of Gräfenberg in Kiedrich. Whereas the wines have only been labelled as either Erstes Gewächs or Grosses Gewächs for a few years now, Riesling fermented from grapes grown in the vineyard has been a highlight of the Weil assortment for decades. This dry Riesling is a perfect example of the potential this vineyard can offer in good years and with a few years in the cellar.
Unfortunately, this exact wine isn’t made anymore – only GG (dry Grosse Lage) and Grosse Lage wines can be found and they’re a tad more expensive – some of the priciest Grand Cru in all of Germany in fact. Nevertheless, a few bottles are still hanging around and it does have certain parallels with the new GG wines in terms of style and fruit.
White Gold – light sense of peachy colour.
Lots of orchard fruit on the nose: Nashi pear, golden delicious apples and a hint of quince. Behind that is a touch of petrol, a hint at stone fruit and a whole lot of metallic minerals.
On the attack is sweet lemon juice and this goes onto some nice nectarine body. The body slides into a long, smooth finish which touches on metal and rock and yet never quite gets there. The smoothness is unparalleled for a dry wine with this much acidity: it simply slips down hitting every imaginable yellow fruit along the way. Despite its acidity (which isn’t unpleasant in the least), the wine is very easy to drink and dangerously moreish.
A true Rheingauer: lots of mineral structure and it holds the wine together. However the individual notes of minerality are seldom on main stage – they prop up the fruit which takes a foreground role and shapes the wine.
German Pinot Noir is a mixed business – there are some fantastic wines out that at least rival the decent stuff from Burgundy. Whilst top-par might still be a few years away, the best German Pinot is just as good as some of the stuff that fetches hundreds of euros in France, however it costs only about half the price.
Not all Pinot is good though, in fact the vast majority is worth forgetting – whilst the wines could never be labelled as bad: their international appeal is low: they're often clumsy and sometimes feel unripe. They fulfill a purpose though: people buy them in supermarkets and they offer decent value for money.
The wines that stand out often come from producers that are pretty much only bothered with the Pinot varietals: seldom do Riesling wineries create excellent Pinot although it does happen, just not so often. In Germany’s Baden and Ahr valleys are where Pinot Noir is at its most focused. Whereas a handful of Pfalz wineries do create excellent Pinot Noir, I genuinely believe the best wines come from the Ahr and Baden.
One such winery that has recently sprung to attention is the Huber winery in Malterdingen. Alongside a handful of entry-level, varietal wines, the producer is famed for its single-vineyard Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) wines. This Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder as it is locally known) from the Hecklingen vineyard of Sommerhalde is one such wine. The vineyard is at the foot of the Black Forest which offers some of the finest limestone and iron-laden soil in all of Baden.
Cherry red – translucent.
Lots and lots of fresh red berries on the nose: Cassis is very prominent but so too are a whole compote of forest fruits: wild strawberries, blackcurrant and raspberry but also cranberry. There is a toasty, earthy aroma on the nose that reminds slightly of smoke.
This youthful wine starts with tart and refined black and red berries. The sharper notes of Cassis and blackcurrant are the most noticeable and they slowly lead on to a body dominated by raspberry, cranberry, strawberry and even watermelon. The finish is rather long, contains a touch of chalk, a hint of smoke and a typically-German earthy bite.
The fruit was still in its infancy: a few years in the cellar might round off that sharpness (although I found it gave the wine some character). Unfortunately though, the finish wasn’t half as rewarding as the rest of the drink: something was missing – oak perhaps? Everything else about the wine was worthy of the Grand Cru quality the wine proudly boasts– the finish let the wine down in my opinion however the winery caters for a whole host of styles and it is refreshing to see a winery making high-quality Pinot Noir without just copying the guys in Burgundy. The driven fruit however is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a German Pinot.
For me a perfect wine is one where character is shown and yet all important aspects are covered: balanced fruit and acid but also minerals: spices and then it all needs to be pulled off with a package that feels right – however, laboratory perfection isn’t ideal either: such wines are usually lacking in character. To shorten this story. Kühling-Gillot’s Pettenthal is a wine that consistently offers fantastic drinking and, like all good wines should, varies from year to year despite maintaining the qualitative parameters of what make a wine good.
This single-vineyard Großes Gewächs from Weingut Carolin Spanier-Gillot comes close to that perfection I look for. Not only that: the wine is affordable and organic. I’ve been looking at Rheinhessen fairly intensively over the last few weeks and can say that this is easily the best wine I’ve tried – still this isn’t just about personal preferences.
The winery is currently operated by Carolin Spanier-Gillot and has been in family control for generations. Pettenthal is one of the company’s finest vineyards and also one of the steepest in Rheinhessen offering South-facing slopes that soak up the sun for as many hours as is annually possible.
The nose is rather delicate to start with: stone fruit in the way of white peach but also lime, yellow apples and a hint of menthol herbs.
The initial feel is a clean one: the attack is slow and, whilst acidic, defined by yellow fruit: apples, pears and quince but also lemon peel and juice. The finish is slightly sherry-like and a background hit of wood.
A delicate wine with almost perfect balance and appeal on all levels. The acidity is a bit heavy for the feel of the rest of the wine but it does offer a touch of character and hints at the 2010 vintage which was well-known for acidity in 2010. If you’re drinking Rheinhessen Riesling, Kühling-Gillot is a name you can’t ignore.
It was time to make a return to my beloved Rheingau: the true home of Riesling. Rather than the fragrant, balanced wines of the Mosel and the sour, acid-driven wines of the Pfalz, the Rheingau is all about spice and minerals. Riesling is pretty much the only varietal that grows in the Rheingau (although a splash of Pinot Noir is made in and around Assmannshausen) which makes the winemakers there experts with the stuff.
Prinz von Hessen is one such winery: based in the picturesque commune of Johannisberg, the producer makes a whole host of wines based on Germany’s favourite grape. One such product is the interestingly named “Dachsfilet” – literally fillet of badger. Don’t worry, there are no tender cuts of game meat in the wine: it simply refers to the individual parcels of land within the Dachsberg vineyard from which this wine is made.
And what a wine it is…
Satin gold with a faint green hint – very youthful despite its age.
The nose is buzzing with citrus: lemon juice, grapefruit, orange peel and lime. There is also gooseberry and a faint feel of wet rock in the background: it’s very nice though.
On the attack is lemon, grapefruit and rhubarb. This is wonderfully tart and excellently leads the wine onto a body of stone fruit: particularly peach but also citrus and red fruit (redcurrants and raspberry). The finish is long, smooth and a peppery rock note appears but slides gently back into place.
With 12.5% alcohol by volume, I’m guessing this wine comes fairly close to dryness but the thick fruit suggests a higher level of residual sugar and it feels a bit like a Mosel Kabinett at times – there is no declaration on the bottle which suggests it is probably “feinherb”. With that extra thickness, a lot of the harshness so commonly associated with Rheingau wine is taken away which leaves this bottle refreshing and addictively drinkable.
There are a few things in life I can’t say no to. I’m a Riesling man through-and-through but I fall weak at the knees to oak-aged Chardonnay – particularly big Californian wines or something smooth from Australia. On the look-out for a decent Chardonnay from either of these countries or even something fabulous from Burgundy I was unsuccessful: the German retail scene doesn’t do a lot of Burgundy (I suppose because the entry-level I can afford is qualitatively very similar to home-grown wines). However, the salesman in my wine shop of choice on that day asked if I’d like to try something German that had spent time in Barrique.
And what a wine it was: not cheap (18€ almost) but everything I was looking for. Made by Pfälzer winery Meßmer, this Chardonnay made using grapes grown only on the VDP Grosse Lage (unfortunately only for Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir) Burrweiler Schloßgarten is aged in Barrique barrels before bottling for release adding a unique complexity whilst unusually not removing any of the fruit content.
Germany’s Pfalz is probably best known for high-quality Riesling, fortunately however it is one of the most diverse production regions with a whole host of specialties and varietals. Weingut Meßmer is one of the Pfalz’s finest wineries when it comes down to the Pinot varietals: alongside a handful of Chardonnay and other exotic wines, their core line exists of the three Burgundy grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The Schloßgarten vineyard is characterised by a high level of limestone in the soil: perfect for the cultivation of Chardonnay.
Bright white gold.
Lots of fresh fruit on the nose: lime, peach, banana, pear and eventually a thick sense of oak and vanilla.
The initial attack is one of racy citrus: lots of lime cordial and a hint of lemon peel but also a great deal more fruit which shows up in the form of yellow fruit: peach, apricot, banana, pineapple and so much more. This gives way to a smooth vanilla and oak sensation that rounds everything off. The smoothness is unparallel – it feels buttery and extinguishes the fruit capably keeping the whole thing in balance.
A fantastic wine regardless of its origin: often enough people (including myself) say things like “a good wine when you consider it comes from Germany”, this Chardonnay doesn’t need that introduction: this is a Chardonnay with world-class character: it completes on a level playing field with Californian, Australian and French wines that easily cost twice as much (if not more).
There’s a catch though, they’re not making it anymore – apparently they want to continue putting white grapes in Barrique but wish to do this with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc rather than Chardonnay. Such a shame...
Nationally regarded as one of the country’s best red wine production areas, the Ahr is a miniature spec on the face of world winemaking. Its 520 hectares of viticulture are dominated by Pinot Noir (62.2%) and many speculate that the best Spätburgunders of Germany are made in the Ahr Valley.
Situated in Rheinland-Pfalz, the Ahr valley’s Southern Slopes are protected by the Eifel Mountains close by. With an average yearly temperature of 9.5˚C, it has a Mediterranean-style microclimate that is perfect for the cultivation of red grapes and particularly those that thrive in cooler environments.
Meyer-Näkel is one of Ahr’s biggest names and although they produce some wines that retail for well over 50€ a bottle, they also have a range of entry level reds that are moderately priced between 10 and 15 euros. This wine is a simple Qualitätswein simply named “Spätburgunder 2010” and is aged in large oak barrels for around six months. With 13.5% alcohol by volume, this dry, attractively-packaged wine is a simple Spätburgunder that greatly reflects the region's potential.
Cherry red, clear, browny hue.
Big notes of fresh cherries greet the nose and other wild and sour berries are in there as well. Gooseberries, blackberries and even a refreshing burst of sweet raspberry are also to detect but these are expertly combined with a mild sense of acidity.
The taste is dominated by sweet-sour cherry and a milder, more-rounded sense of raspberry. There appears to exist a faint sense of vanilla which takes the sour edge off of the berries . Although wood isn’t too far off, it is somewhat overshadowed by a slight sense of earth in the wine and fairly powerful minerals. The finish is long and is characterised by the lightly balanced acidity in the red fruit.
Not just a great German wine but a good wine altogether. A real feeling of grandeur is expressed by the wine from the elegant packaging right up until the finish of the last sip. Although there are better Pinot Noir wines out there for the same money, this is a superb example of just how good German red wine can be. Although fairly pricey in comparison to other Spätburgunder wines from the same country, the wine still represents good value for money and makes a perfect companion to game dishes
-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