I’ve mentioned before that Silvaner is underrated. Almost non-existent outside of Germany and Alsace, the varietal struggles on the domestic market too. Entry-level wines often lack complexity and don’t contain the same aromatic impressions of cheaper Rieslings and aren’t as universally easy-drinking as perhaps a Pinot Gris (Grauer Burgunder). You can read my blog entry about Silvaner here – I am a huge fan of the grape and, given the right terroir, it can produce phenomenal wines – without wanting to exaggerate, it sometimes has the same quality level as Riesling and, particularly when we only consider dry wines, often excels above Riesling in certain vineyards.
Every now and again comes along a wine that proves this and even rarer than that, every now and again comes along a wine that leaves you speechless: I love Silvaner, but even I didn’t know it could be this good.
I’m talking about the 2015 Maustal GG from Zehnthof Luckert – probably the best Silvaner I’ve ever been lucky enough to taste. I’ve tried many of the winery’s products in the past and have always liked their style – creamier, yeastier and fuller and yet remaining featherlight – not many pull this off so well: often creamier wines are left feeling too bold in the glass and this doesn’t always age well when there is a profound lack of acidity – Luckert have done a wonderful job here.
With lemon zest touch and a dash of orange peel, the wine is immediately present in the glass with an almost Burgundian promise on the nose. There is lemongrass, lemon balm, oven-warm brioche and cheesecake on the nose as well as caramel-infused pop-corn. On the palate the wine plays a wonderful game with the drinker: it feels bold for a few seconds: yeasty, creamy, like clotted cream and yet this vanishes into clarity and drive giving the wine an almost ghost-like presence in the glass: the structure is phenomenal and perhaps the only thing more awe-inspiring than the taste. The build-up is spot-on, the body is, and I’m sorry for the superlative here, utterly perfect with buttery complexion and yet this isn’t overdone – there are no slippery, clumsy notes but total composure. The finish is long, smooth and resorts back to its slender self, a touch of cream is left on the tongue and the wine plays out an almost floral, almost zesty swansong before it eventually disappears.
If ever you’ve doubted Silvaner, check this out. The wine is both typical of the Franconian style and yet somehow vastly different as well – bold and yet balanced, chalky and yet refined. Astonishingly good.
Named after what is perhaps the world’s greatest rock album, the wine parallels the album in the sense of being so very different to everything that came before it. Like all Springfontein wines I’ve tried up until now, its true character lies in the detail and the structure, rather than individual elements of fruit or spice.
Made up of barrel-fermented, white-pressed Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay grown all on limestone, the wine is aged in used, small wooden barrels of different geographical descent. The wine didn’t undergo a second malolactic fermentation lending the structure an acidic backbone, something that is crucial to the entire wine’s character.
In fact, I often talk about structure and, in such big powerful wines, it plays an incredibly important role: here it is expertly applied: the attack with its citrus edge (lemon and grapefruit), the body with a touch of stone fruit (white peach and apricot) through to a chalky finish: complete with salt, green herbs and white pepper – this is all held together by the acidic backbone and the constant pulsation of wood: (thankfully lacking the cliché-like vanilla and smoke elements so many New-World whites are dogged with).
This big wine is very different – incorporating a great deal into one wine with the heavy reliance on the two varietals South Africa is famous for, it still manages to impress with elegance and completion. Very much like the Pink Floyd album of the same name, it is ambitious, sometimes absolutely crazy and yet utterly brilliant, wonderfully structured and, once the bottle is empty, it’s time to hit the play button again and open a second one.
Springfontein in the UK
Contact the winery for further availability information
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
Nosiola is an age-old varietal that has fallen out of fashion in Trentino and the other regions in North-East Italy. In the past it was always fermented on the skins in clay amphora. Foradori continues this practise and produces this wonderful, light and yet remarkably fresh wine with perhaps a specialist touch although universally enjoyable.
The wine requires a great deal of air and shouldn't really be enjoyed too cold – use red wine glasses to enjoy this fabulous naturally-inspired wine and don’t leave it in the fridge for too long.
The first thing you notice on the nose is that this immediately reminds of red wine: there are red fruit notes, a sense of wood in there and this is backed-up on the palate as well. There are also dried petals on the nose, a decent sense of acidity and black tea.
A fabulously complex, if not sharp attack with plenty of notes: grapefruit, pomelo and green apple but this turns into a thick body with rhubarb, unripe apple and even a touch of something pickled: gherkin, possibly even Sauerkraut. Quick on the finish with a dry kick and a lovely chalky undertone.
A unique wine and a very rewarding drinking experience. Priced at around 35€, this wine is one to be treasured by specialists and lovers of natural-style wine. Perhaps a little too unique for regular wine drinkers, even a novice will appreciate the attention to detail though.
Foradori in the UK
Foradori in the US
The new VDP classification makes sense and nowhere does it make more sense than with dry wine. Unfortunately though, the middle level - Ortswein (commune wine, the German equivalent of Villages-AOC) has been, in my opinion at least, a bit disappointing up until now - rarely have the Ortsweine that I have tried in the past been noticeably better than the phenomenal quality that most Gutsweine (estate wines) are able to offer. It's not just a noticeable jump in quality you're supposed to expect but a different wine entirely - one that shows off the terroir of an individual part of a production region rather than the region as a whole.
My suggestion was rather using the middle category as a "soil wine" - many wineries already produce Gutswein with the name of the soil in the wine's name: "Schiefer Riesling" or "Grauburgunder Muschelkalk".
Thankfully though, this wine was able to prove to me that the Ortswein level does make sense and that such wines can be unbelievably good. The new series of Villages wines from Balthasar Ress have only been on the market for a few months and, as of yet, I've only tried this one - a wine made of grapes sourced solely from the vineyards in and around Rüdesheim.
With a distinct but honest note of nectarine on the nose and the faintest touch of apricot, the mineral structure props up the fruit with unique pulses of yellow apples and background notes of salt, quartz, granite and fresh green herbs.
On the palate the wine is delicate at first and the fruit comes through in a reserved way: nothing strong and sharp to take away focus from a mineral game in the background: rock competing with the fruit to remain perfectly in balance and then eventually delivering an acidic punch that immediately makes you want to take another sip. Excellent stuff - unbeleivably addictive and it makes the wine feel drier than it is.
Whereas Weingut Balthasar Ress has always been in the top half of the Rheingau Premier League, with this wine (and the very good 2015 Gutsweine I might add), they've already qualified for the Champions League. If their GG and Große Lagen sweet wines are as good as some journalists are suggesting, they might even have won the tournament this year.
Fabulous stuff. Costs around 15€
Balthasar Ress in the UK
Balthasar Ress in the US (CA)
Rheinhessen is a mighty beast. Churning out a massive amount of Germany’s supermarket shelf-filler, a rare diamond shines out of the region only rarely. Whereas Dreissigacker, Wechsler and co. already experience a great amount of publicity, recently another winery has taken me by surprise: Becker-Landgraf of Gau-Odernheim.
J2 – Julia and Johannes produce an attractive portfolio of wines that impress from the first sip. From the entry-level Gutswein (estate wines) right up to the fabulous single-site bottles, the wines combine a modern approach to winemaking with a healthy lug of unmistakeable Rheinhessen touch: genuinely impressive wines with universal appeal.
One such wine is the entry-level Weißburgunder-Chardonnay – a wonderful Pinot Cuvee that really makes the most of both varietals whilst being able to expertly represent the region as a whole.
An alluring golden yellow in the glass, the wine immediately reminds of ripe yellow pears on the nose. Alongside a few hints at green herbs and freshly-cut grass, a rewarding sense of joghurt is present behind a touch of stone fruit and a hint of something more tropical: banana, mango and passionfruit.
On the attack is a brief flirt of citrus: perhaps grapefruit more than anything else but it moves straight onto pear, apple and yellow plum before eventually settling on a creamy, chalky structure with an addictive sweet undertone. Dry finish with a slight white pepper decoration.
Very good. Priced at around 8€, fantastic value for money.
Buy in the UK
It’s all good and well putting Riesling in new oak but Sauvignon Blanc is an entirely different kettle of fish. I know that the Americans have been doing it for decades but, in Europe, it’s fairly rare.
Talking of rare, Sauvignon Blanc is rare in Germany. It’s becoming more popular and the German climate really makes the most of the green notes in Sauvignon Blanc – perhaps slightly fuller in body than those of the Loire valley but with the same, important, vegetative structure, mostly avoiding the peach and nectarine overdose you get in Marlborough.
Deidesheim’s Von Winning have a unique signature in German viticulture: they age their prestige wines in new oak giving them a very unique feel. Many don’t like it, some even suggest that it makes the wines undrinkable but I think it’s a nice touch: there are enough wineries in Germany making clear-cut, straight-edge Riesling, why shouldn’t Von Winning do it differently?
But we’re not talking about Riesling and cold-climate Sauvignon can be notoriously hard to pair with wood. Bearing in mind that this is probably Von Winning’s flagship product, this unlikely pairing is noticeable in this wine. Don’t get me wrong, the wine is great and very unique, it’s just a tad….confusing.
Gooseberry is quick on the scene and it hints at white peach although never goes all the way. There are some green apples and even a touch of green bell pepper on the fruit side but this is abruptly killed off by the new wood: hardwood, eucalyptus and fire smoke.
Reserved in the way of fruit, the peach turns into petals and the gooseberry is much lighter than the nose suggests. The new oak isn’t as dominant on the body as it is in the nose and brings with it smoke, vegetative elements of fresh herbs and, combined with a buttery slipperiness when the wood comes in, it feels creamy and calm rather than bold and brash. The finish is crisp and the wood lingers on the tongue.
The wine is remarkably unique. The Fumé wines of California work entirely differently and make use of the fuller fruit and ripeness. The colder touch fits nicely to the wood but the entire composition is an acquired taste. If you like Von Winning’s approach to winemaking and you like German Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is ideal for you – a true Einzelgänger, sticking a middle finger up to the rulebook…and that with a VDP eagle on the neck’s foil.
Brauneberg is one of the most famous parts of the Mosel region, with its Juffer vineyard, its wines make up some of the finest in Germany. The Mosel, best-known for sweet wine, is also home to fabulous cold-climate dry wine and, with the right winemaker at the helm, it can often overshadow some of the region’s world-renowned sweet wines. Whereas the residual sugar in sweet wine works well with the Mosel Riesling’s acidity, it is possible to create remarkably expressive dry wine utilising the slate soils and their expression to work with the acidity and Riesling-style rather than the naturally-occurring sugar alone.
Stefan Steinmetz, winemaker at Weingut Günther Steinmetz has recently gained a great deal of attention for the small Mittelmosel winery. The wines have impressed critics over the past few years and his wines are no longer just an insider tip but rather some of the most important pieces of the Mittelmosel puzzle. Alongside this “basic” Ortswein (village/commune wine), the winery’s single-vineyard wines are fast becoming Brauneberg and Mosel flagships.
Pale, satin gold.
The first thing I noted in the wine was freshly-cut grass. This was remarkable prominent and helped the yellow fruit on its way: apricot and yellow plum. Perhap a deeper-set sense of peach was there too, as was a hint of tropical fruit: mango, pineapple and, to a lesser degree, kiwi as well. Citrus peel (grapefruit and orange), definitive slate and aromatic herbs complete the nose.
Immediately clean on the palate, the attack contains the orange peel and hinted at grapefruit juice but, before the full flavour was unleashed, the wine moved onto the yellow fruit promised: elegant Mirabelle and a touch of sweet apricot. The finish, dry and slate-style flirted with mint before remaining in the mouth for a crisp, dry finish.
A very clean and compact, well-made Riesling. With the attention to detail in this village wine, it makes one want to try the single-site wines of the same winery. With vines in some of the Mosel’s best vineyards and a new partner project with Weingut Dr. Hermann in the legendary Ürziger Würzgarten, the future looks very bright for this small, family winery.
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)
-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