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.
The French have Mouton-Rothschild, Italy has Sassicaia and Germany has Egon Müller. Possibly the only world-famous wines to orignate from Germany are those from Dr. Loosen, Robert Weil and Egon Müller – the latter being, by far and away, the most expensive.
The Scharzhofberger site is so synonymous with Egon Müller that, in wine circles, if you say the vineyard’s name, Müller’s wines are the ones you think of despite several wineries owning parcels in what is Germany’s most-famous vineyard.
But it is Egon Müller that is so commonly associated with this slate-soil site in the Saar region (a sub region of the Mosel) and for good reason. The off-dry and nobly sweet wines from this winery and from this vineyard belong to the world’s finest white wines – on a par with top whites from Burgundy – despite being vastly different.
Pale, golden yellow in the glass, the nose of this wine is slightly different to the Mosel and Saar Kabinetts I have tried in the past. There is far lesser reliance on fruit and the mineral aspects: slate, white pepper, fresh herbs are far more prominent. There is fruit in the way of pear, a touch of something tropical (mango, papaya, pineapple) and a decent amount of fresh apple juice. Interesting too is the way the residual sugar is worked into the wine – believe it or not but it is not immediately noticeable – of course this isn’t a dry wine: that is obvious, but the fruit is so composed and worked into the spice structure that it isn’t bright: it doesn’t dominate as is so often the case in Kabinett. The fruit does come through but the slate aromas coupled with a unique sense of smoke and the fresh herbs on the nose run the show leading to a very clean finish – unusual for Kabinett which often remains sweet and syrupy on the palate.
A fantastic Kabinett which presents the soil perhaps better than any other wine of the same classification from this site – composed, clean and remarkably addictable.
Egon Müller wines in the UK
Egon Müller wines in the US
Dr. Bassermann-Jordan is a Riesling winery and its wines are some of the finest in the Pfalz. With its two sister wineries: Von Buhl and Von Winning, they form the Deidesheim Teriffic-Trio: three very different wineries with very different styles all made using grapes from pretty much the same vineyards in the same communes.
Let me present of one Germany's most famous winery's craziest products though: Pithium 2012.
Here you'll find Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Gewürztraminer and it is aged in clay amphoras rather than wooden barrels or stell vats. This lends the wine a unique cloudy, orange appearance which, depsite irritating at first, is quite attractive.
Pithium is one of those rare exclusives lurking in the backrooms of classic Pfalz wineries. Not advertised on the winery's webpage and remarkably hard to locate, this is one of the freak-show wines emerging from the shadows in the darkest corner of a winery's vat room.
Ageing wine in clay might seem new and it is in Germany and Austria's modern wine production however it was the practised approach to making wine in the countries where wine was first made and, in some of them, still is: Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and the like. With a long maceration with the grape skins, the wine acheives a fuller set of aromas and, having not been filtered before bottling and with as little wine-cellar work as required, these remain in the wine for the drinker to discover. Interestingly the grapes are sourced from the Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad, a fantastic Riesling site in the Pfalz.
In the nose is a mixture of floral elements, Belgian Witbier, Brioche and coriander. There is a touch of vanilla but it's kept at bay with by the other notes in the glass.
The wine is a fair amount stronger on the tongue however: a thick acidic approach with cloudy, unsweetened lemon juice, a thick sense of clementine and grapefruit peel. There are definitely notes of fresh hops in the wine and these bring in a sense of white peach (although only the skin aromas) and a touch of banana. The acidity reminds of Belgian Gueze (an acidic style beer from Brussels) and fits remarkably well with the rest of the wine. Long and spicy on the finish, this wine is extremely well executed and offers immediate rewarding drinking - even for those who rarely drink such specialist products.
Whilst it can be very hard to find, this is one of those approachable natural-style wines rather than those that really do have an acquired taste for orange and white-grape-macerated wines. This is the kind of wine that would impress someone who drinks a lot of exotic Belgian beers - similar notes, executed in a similar way.
Dr. Bassermann-Jordan in the US
Dr. Bassermann-Jordan in the UK
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 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)
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.
When you think of the Rheingau, you think of Riesling and when you think of VDP Rheingau, you think of only Riesling. The idea that a member of this elite club might produce experimental wines is out of the question. However, the young team at Hattenheim’s Balthasar Ress continue to push the boundaries on German viticulture. Whereas the winery’s core range does exist around single-vineyard Riesling and Pinot Noir (also typical for the region), they also have a number of not-so-standard wines including this orange.
Orange wine is a relatively new category of wine in Germany. Whereas it is historically of huge importance, most white wine in Germany is not produced in this way and the trend is only just starting to gain momentum. The grapes are initially macerated whole for a number of weeks or months. This leads to wine with an entirely different colour and taste: the bitter elements of grape skin that are usually removed from white wine production remain in the wine, as do many other grape components. A minimal amount of work takes place in the winery and the liquids are bottled unfiltered.
Made using Pinot Blanc, this Rheingauer Landwein is a good example of easy-drinking Orange. Whereas many of the wines, particularly those from Armenia and Georgia are….let’s call it an acquired taste, this wine is enjoyable for the everyday wine drinker too. Reliant more on the winery’s fresh style than the archaic, traditional taste of Orange wine, this Pinot Blanc is more than just approachable: it’s actually both enlightening and enjoyable.
Bright, shiny orange with a cloudy appearance.
Quite a lot to start with but the wine quickly falls into place. Orange zest and grapefruit juice but also a thick sense of ripe orchard fruit. Quince and yellow apple as well as a cider note. Spice in the way of fresh pepper but also green herbs.
First on the scene is pink grapefruit and this passes through orange peel and finally onto cloudy cider: cooking apples and quince really come through on the body and a touch of apple vinegar too. Clean though, compact and remarkably easy to drink: no stone notes that don’t pair with the vibrant and ripe, stored fruit. Thanks to the sharper elements on the finish: salt, a touch of wood and the continued feel of apple vinegar, you are briefly reminded of Calvados. Excellent wood finish that is neither too strong nor lacking a backbone.
I’ve only just gotten into orange wines and this is, whilst perhaps not the most complex I’ve tried, certainly the easiest to drink. It’s both appealing but its simple: actually something that I find fits with Rheingau wine in general. I’m not 100% sure how this wine will age but I’m sure it’ll develop more with time – the wine tastes great three days later and it was opened 12 hours prior to drinking, not chilled.
A great way to get into orange wine and fairly priced too (21€/750ml bottle)
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.
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