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
Occasionally a wine comes along and is completely different. Not only does it impress through its appearance in the glass, its wonderful aroma and fabulous taste but just because it is so different to anything that has come before it. Being different alone is a risky business: you run the risk of appealing only to niche audiences but if you can combine being ever-so-slightly different with beloved and traditional elements: success may be coming your way.
I am, of course, talking about the elements of taste that natural wine brings with it: the unmistakable taste of a long, full grape maceration with skins in white wine. This is an acquired taste and, when combined with zero filtration and no sulfites: this is unlikely to be a product with mass appeal. Taking the individual element of full skin maceration and then creating a “regular” wine is becoming popular practise but rarely does this practise appear in the elite world of German Großes Gewächs. Up until recently, only traditional and typical wines made the bar which makes the St. Nikolaus from Peter Jakob Kühn an exotic exception: hats off to the future-looking VDP Rheingau for approving this wine. It wears its double G with pride and yet sports its own look – like a fashion-lover wearing this season’s must-have accessory and yet remaining true to their individual style, maybe even defining which items next year will become “must-have”
There is very little else comparable in the GG realms – similarly good wines: yes but nothing that tastes like this.
Firstly it’s important to realise that this is a very young wine and it wasn’t really intended to be opened so early – the wine takes a while to fall completely into place but impresses at all stages: from straight-out-of-the-bottle at 8˚C, right through to an-hour-in-the-glass at 15˚C.
Immediately present in the nose is a delicate sense of citrus: mainly lemon peel but also a remarkably fresh aroma of honeysuckle. There is a touch of apple and, running in the background and hints of ripe, yellow apple and plenty of spice: sage, mint, a touch of smoke (possibly hinting at flint) and white pepper.
Straight out of the bottle, the wine plays a set of highs and short breaks between individual phases: it starts with fresh citrus: pink grapefruit and dried citrus peel, this vanishes and is eventually replaced by yellow fruit: yellow plum, apple but nothing too strong. This vanishes as well and is finally replaced by a unique sprinkling of sherbet to finish the wine off with sweetness, a touch of acidity and plenty of Rheingau spice. All the while a yeast-wood note runs throughout and leads into the aforementioned finish.
The highs and pauses are brought a lot closer together – the individual elements run into eachother and the citrus on the attack becomes more defined: thick, freshly-preshed grapefruit juice with lemon and Clementine peel backing it up. The body is also fuller and there are yeasty notes involved now too: lots of apple but nothing sharp (a bit like apple pie with the yeast notes)– there is a small amount of apricot in there and this leads on to the finish which has calmed down a lot and now reminds of rhubarb (unsweetened) – tart and excellently brought into white pepper, sage, mint, thyme and fresh grass.
This wine is very unique and, whilst it does carry a few elements of natural wine, it isn’t necessarily one that only freaks can enjoy. Actually it offers a bright picture of the future of this style of wine: seldom is it done as well as this and never before has it carried a GG logo on the bottle. Priced at around 40€, this wine is selling-out fast so grab it while you can!
Peter Jakob Kühn in the UK
The jewel in the crown of the Nahe Valley is undoubtedly the Hermannshöhle vineyard close to the commune of Niederhausen. It is arguably the Nahe’s best site and, with it’s South-facing, steep vineyards, it soaks up some of the highest numbers of sun hours in the production region. On the headland of a meander, the microclimatic conditions are ideal for both the storage of heat and relative protection from winds and frosts.
The black-grey slate slopes, combined with limestone and volcanic soils are also excellent for the cultivation of vines, particularly Riesling. The Riesling grown here achieves full ripeness with almost-unrivalled complexity and depth, not just in the Nahe region but Germany in general.
The site is operated by a number of wineries, one of which is the Dönnhoff estate in Oberhausen (Nahe). Dönnhoff produces a number of Riesling wines from the site including prestigious sweet wines all the way to its legendary premium dry Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru).
Classically satin gold with a slightly green hue.
Extremely fresh and ripe with green apple, gooseberry, lime juice, grapefruit peel but also a fair amount of vegetation (fresh sage, mint and evergreen forest) right up until a slate-driven, almost smoky note at the end.
Attack of sweetened and lemon juice with a hint of lime cordial and grapefruit peel: all fresh and yet not overly sharp. This leads onto a thick yellow body with green apple, quince and Abate pears. There were some exotic nuances and these paved the way to an expertly worked-in slate finish with a touch of wet rock, and fresh, aromatic herbs. The smoke on the nose came through slightly but was gone in an instant and finished off the whole thing wonderfully.
The rounded and fullness of the wine is astonishing. Fresh as the day it was filled into bottles however with all the sharp edges rounded off and blending into one another. Thanks to this, the age of the wine is expressed with grace rather than tiredness and it helps to pull the whole thing together. Hermannshöhle and the expert winemakers at Dönnhoff make this wine one of Germany’s most important ambassadors – it doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to Riesling.
Enjoyed with the guys over at weinding (click here to check out their site)
Unlike the Mosel, the most famous wines to emerge from the neighbouring Nahe valley are mostly dry. Dönnhoff’s Hermannshöhle GG is one of the most widely available and most sought after Großes Gewächs from the region and yet only one of a few. Schloßgut Diel is also owner of Riesling vines in some of the Nahe’s finest vineyards. Its flagship single-site wine is most probably Goldloch and yet it also produces a handful of other dry wines produced using grapes from Große Lagen. One such site is the Dorsheimer Burgberg.
The clay-rich soil with quartz, slate and pebble components are just part of the reason that this is site is so well tailored to the production of fantastic Riesling. Surrounded by steep cliffs and trees, the micro-climatic conditions of the south-facing slope catch and retain heat aided by the stones in the soil, this heat can be retained offering stable temperatures. The same geographic factors also catch cold air in the winter including mist making the production of Eiswein possible.
Bright gold in the glass.
Very clearly defined: green and yellow fruit. There is a lot in there: banana, pineapple, green apple, gooseberry, apricot, kiwi and white peach. There is a whisper of wood in the background.
Shockingly clear on the palate with an incredible clarity and freshness: the fruit is almost layered with the attack driven by green apples and gooseberry and leading onto a buttery body of the yellow fruit mentioned above. The finish isn’t abrupt but a creamy journey into a touch of wood making a vanilla feeling appear in the wine. The finish is clean – not crisp, just incredibly well-managed by the fruit.
The wine is designed to be enjoyed in a decade or so but there is no reason you shouldn’t open it right now. The clarity and structure is some of the best I have ever found in a dry wine and this is once again proof that Riesling isn’t a one-trick pony. The stone fruit was Sauvignon-Blanc beating and the creamy, buttery texture on the palate felt like aged Chardonnay.
Excellent. There is so much more to Riesling than Mosel.
A few weeks ago, I posted a review of the 2010 non-Erstes Gewächs Kiedrich Gräfenberg only to have to inform you that the wine no longer exists in that format. Feeling a bit guilty about posting a review on a wine that is seldom available, I popped back down to the wine store and purchased the 2011 Erstes Gewächs (the then Rheingau equivalent of today’s Grosses Gewächs).
I was expecting much of the same: succulent fruit and metallic minerals and, whilst these were present in the wine, they were presented ever so slightly differently (click here for my review of the 2010 non-Erstes Gewächs). Gräfenberg is one of both the Rheingau and Germany’s finest vineyards – it consistently yields fantastic wine year after year and this 2011er is no exception.
Green apples and slightly-unripe pear on the nose together with quince and a whole bunch of highland herbs.
The attack is rather sharp at first with lime, gooseberry and green apple. The body incorporates those notes and takes them onto rhubarb and even more pear. This is all rounded off with a big show of Rheingau flair: quartz, metallic aromas, a hint of wood and lots of fresh herbs such as sage and rosemary – there was also a hint at something menthol: spearmint perhaps.
A far more spice-intense wine than the non-Erstes Gewächs, this wine is more ‘Rheingau’ in style. Like Schloss Johannisberg’s Silberlack, this feels like the main characteristic of the wine is the elegantly-presented spice and mineral side. Whilst the fruit is excellent and those green apples really shine through the entire product, the fruit is relaxed, less sweet and more background noise than wine-shaping.
Schloss Johannisberg is one of Germany’s most famous producers. Found in fine wine stores the world over, it is commonly accredited with having invented or indeed first utilised the classic wine classification scheme: it was probably the first producer to create Spätlese wines and, whilst the modern classification laws have changed, its most impressive dry wines still are produced in this way. The winery however uses colouration to distinguish between the traditional categories: Qualitätswein (Gelblack), Kabinett (Rotlack), Grünlack (Spätlese), Rosalack (Auslese), and so on…a clever move when you consider that all dry wines produced by VDP wineries are no longer allowed to carry their Prädikat. Their top dry wine is Silberlack (Spätlese quality grapes) and carries today the illustrious GG or VDP GROSSES GEWÄCHS® title. Before 2012, a handful of vintages carried the Rheingau-specific 'Erstes Gewächs' title.
The Rheingau is very special in Germany. Whereas it is one of three/four specialist production regions for Riesling and pretty much Riesling alone, its wines are rather different. Whereas the Pfälzer wines are all about powerful citrus fruit and the Mosel and Nahe wines about delicate, floral structures, Rheingau has always been about minerality. This makes some Rheingau wines feel a little dated and out-of-flavour but, when a producer does it properly like a handful of them do, Rheingau wines have just as much modern appeal as their compatriots.
Bright, bold gold.
The nose was rather full: lots of yellow and green fruit. Particularly apples, pears and quince. Stone fruit was in there too and so was exotic pineapple and mango. There was a lovely herbal feel as well paired with white pepper.
The attack was rather sharp: driven lemon juice but also ripe apple and pear. The quince note took over the body of the wine which occasionally hinted at peach and banana. The finish was a wonderful mixture of fresh herbs (particularly thyme) and white pepper. This carried on for a while and made for an excellent swansong for the bold yellow fruit.
For a wine approaching four years of age, what was most astonishing was that the wine showed almost no age whatsoever. It could’ve been just filled and I wouldn’t have noticed. Nevertheless, despite feeling closed on some notes, it was surprisingly open elsewhere. Its boldness might indeed be an acquired taste but mixed with that precise yellow fruit and unforgettable finish, this is a wine that is likely to get better in the next five years or so.
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.
Von Winning have sprung to success since the renaming of the winery a few years ago. This Deidesheim VDP winery is famed for its production of both Riesling and the entry-level varietal-specific wines it produces.
Its single-vineyard Rieslings are often handled with new wood in the cellar leading to an absolute unique style of wine. A few copycats have followed suit and still the Von Winning wines are the best in the category – Riesling and fresh oak is a very unique mix and, being completely honest, an acquired taste.
Deidesheimer Kalkofen is a walled vineyard which is planted with Riesling vines which are up to 60 years old. The soil shows traces of once being a coral reef and, like in all of Deidesheim, has a huge impact on the taste of the basis wine.
The wine gives off a woody note from start to finish and yet it doesn’t feel imposing. Alongside these heavy notes of freshly-sawn wood come citrus notes: particularly lime and grapefruit but also a touch of stone fruit: peach perhaps. Gooseberry and a variety of other green fruits are also in there. The wine also feels a bit smoky.
The attack is fresh and carries notes of lime, lemon peel, green apple and grapefruit. The body is actually fairly open for a GG of this age and contains lots of juicy yellow fruit: nectarine, banana, peach and a few other bits and pieces. The finish is of smoke and wood and it still either feels a little too young or completely off-balance – I’m guessing this is due to the age though.
The wine is unique, like all of Von Winning’s single-vineyard Grand Cru Riesling wines. However the worry is that: whilst the wood will demise over time making the wine more approachable, how much of the luscious fruit will it take with it? I suspect this wine will enter its prime drinking phase in the next 3-5 years. After that, I can imagine both wood and fruit will vanish leaving just acidity and that petrol note so commonly associated with Riesling behind. That wood is an interesting take but it does take away a lot of what makes Riesling so good – it actually felt more like a Chardonnay.
89+ Points (but don’t leave it too late)
The new VDP classification might seem complicated and is certainly disputed but in some cases, it just works. Whilst it has only been in place since the middle of the last decade, one winery has been doing it for the best part of three: Dr. Bürklin-Wolf in the Pfalz. Their top two tiers of wines aren’t named GG but G.C. (Grand Cru – the international equivalent of Grosse Lage) and P.C (Premier Cru) instead of Erste Lage. Like other VDP wineries, they also create Village (Ortsweine) and Estate (Gutsweine) wines.
The producer is one of the biggest names in the Pfalz when it comes to Riesling alone: with vines in some of the region’s most prestigious and highly-valued vineyards, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf is not just a major player in the Pfalz but in the entire German wine world. This Grand Cru wine is sourced purely from Riesling vines in the Pechstein vineyard in the commune of Forst. The South-East-facing vineyard is characterised by the black topsoil derived from volcanic rock.
Pale, bright gold.
Fresh lime, green apple, peach, banana and smoky wood.
On the attack, thick lime juice and lemon peel but also waxed green apples and then a body of exotic, sweet fruit: banana, kiwi, pineapple and then a nice, rounded, mellow finish of pepper, wood and a hint of smoke.
Bürklin-Wolf’s are some of the strongest Rieslings from the Pfalz and, whilst the power was to detect on the attack and in the body, the finish was long and almost delicate rounding off the wine making it very easy to drink. The aging was evident and yet not half as developed as I would have expected. The body with all its sweet fruit makes the wine feel less dry and uniquely oily: less fluid somehow but it’s a lovely touch and makes the otherwise determining acidity take a background role. One of the most underrated vintages, in this wine, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf managed to create a fantastic wine.
This will keep for another ten years at least if you still have a few bottles lying around.
US: Buy Dr. Bürklin-Wolf wines here.
UK: A small selection of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf wines are available here.
-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