The last Monday in August is generally the first of two days tasting in the old pumprooms in Wiesbaden. They are dedicated to the ‘Grosses Gewächs’ or dry, ‘grand cru’ wines produced by the VDP organisation in the previous vintage. The VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) has around 250 members, and almost all the top estates are members. It is therefore a marvellous opportunity to bring yourself up to date on which is happening in Germany, who is on the way up and who is on the way down and just what was the quality of the last harvest.
I flew out on Sunday morning because Caro Maurer MW had very kindly got me involved in tasting in Nierstein on the Rheinterrassen organised by Felix Peters at St. Antony. Together with the famous neighbouring estate of Heyl zu Herrnsheim, St. Antony is owned by the Hanover clothing magnate Detlev Meyer. Meyer had recently acquired some new land up on the renowned Roter Hang (the Red Cliff) which looks east over the Rhine from the estate of Franz Karl Schmitt and with it he had mopped up about 300 bottles of very old wine. Some of it going back well over a century. According to Peters, Schmitt’s was one of the best wineries in Germany before the war. It was that we were going to taste that Sunday.
‘Pour faire la bouche’ were given a taste of the 2012 St. Antony Riesling – a particularly dense and attractive wine, and a 1911 wine from the Hermannshof, owned by the Schmitts. Although the latter was 102 years old, it was still lively, even if it had an unmistakable smell of cep mushrooms.
Wines of this age are always rare, but particularly so in Germany, where, if they were not drunk up during the war, they were either swilled by the armies of occupation or bartered for food in the lean years that followed; but that 1911 was not the oldest, and it was far from being the best.
We then kicked off with an 1893 Nierstein Fläschenhahl Feinste Auslese from Franz Karl Schmitt: an excellent steep site with shallow topsoil. There was also a bit of that ‘cep’ smell, but it was recognisably Riesling with a tingling acidity. 1893 was the first great vintage after the Phylloxera Blight. The grapes were harvested early after a hot summer. The wine was surprisingly powerful.
The 1895 Schmitt Auslese from Fläschenhall, was perhaps not the equal of 1893, but it was not to be written off. It smelled of horseradish and was spicy and cooling on the tongue. Peters told us that analysis had been carried out on these Auslesen, and that in the 1928 vintage, the wines had an average of 15-20 grams of sugar, 10-12 percent alcohol and about 8-10 grams of acidity. So higher in alcohol and lower in sugar than a post-war equivalent, even if they were hardly dry. Today they would be called ‘half-sweet’.
Yields were probably much lower and the wines consequently more concentrated. In the mid-19th century they amounted to just 17 hectolitres per hectare. Today it is likely to be nearer 70.
The 1914 vintage made when German armies were already deep in French and Russian territory, was not supposed to be good, but I enjoyed the Auslese from the chalky Zehnmorgen vineyard, which gave off a little whiff of apricots and ripe apples and had a long tickling acidity. It had eaten up what sugar it had and tasted bone dry.
For me it was the famous 1900 (super-sweet Trockenbeerenauslese from Fläschenhahl) that was a disappointment: but then I think we had a bad bottle.
The 1921 Trockenbeerenauslese was on excellent form, on the other hand. This is another of Germany’s most famous pre-war vintages. It tasted of caramelised apples and had a glorious rich, cooling finish.
Politics should tell you nothing about wine or vice versa, but it is perhaps sad to say that 1933 was such a fabulous year, with a long hot spring and summer. It showed in the Orbel Trockenbeerenauslese from Schmitt. The wine as astonishingly fresh and perfumed even if the finish was disappointingly hot. The Pettenthal and Auflangen (Orbel) from 1934 was also exquisite. Again it smelled of cooked apples and tasted of caramel cream. It was immensely rich, but not cloying. I think it was possibly the best of all the pre-war wines we tasted that day.
Then came a 1937 Heiligenbaum from Franz Karl’s wicked brother Gustav Adolf. Gustav Adolf made very famous Trockenbeerenauslesen before the war, and we can assume they were pure as the Nazi authorities took a very dim view of adulteration. After the war, however, Gustav Adolf resorted to malpractice and was even sent to court. He was declared bankrupt in 1993.
1937, however, was possibly the best year of the Third Reich, and even the chancellery of the teetotal Hitler stocked up on it with a massive order from the State Domaine in Oppenheim. There must have been some botrytis, because the wine smelled massively of apricots. It was wonderfully concentrated and long.
The next Trockenbeerenauslese was the legendary 1945 and from Kehr and Fläschenhahl, and once again from Franz Karl. In 1945 the spring was very cold and a late frost froze the buds off the vines and killed the German POWs in their camps along the Rhine. The old men and women who brought in the harvest can’t have picked more than a bunch or two per vine. The result was something extraordinarily unctuous, smelling of fresh figs and tasting hugely sweet. It is sixty-eight years old and will keep for decades yet. Beside it the 1942 Auslese from the Rehbach vineyard tasted weedy and smelled fungal.
Those wartime wines were remarkable given the lack of men, herbicides and equipment, but the immediate post-war wines were also miraculous: there weren’t even any foreign slave labourers about. In 1949, Germany officially split in two and the Federal Republic took power in the west. The Beerenauslese made from the Kehr vineyard that year was one of the best wines of the run: pastry, a bit of mushroom, dried apricots (botrytis), dried herbs, wonderful structure that dappled its way backwards and forwards over my tongue, cooling, powerful and long.
We leapt a decade over the economic miracle to the 1959. I suspected the wine had had a new dose of sulphur, it was bright, and well-structured, but a little short on acidity.
The first wine from Heyl zu Herrnsheim was the 1971: a lively, pear-scented Spätlese from the Brudersberg. The year is famous for the new German Wine Law which ran so many small ancient sites together, abolishing hundreds of sonorous names. Zehnmorgen disappeared, Fläschenhall became part of Hipping etc., and to add insult to injury, it created the misleading ‘Großlagen’ such as ‘Niersteiner Gutes Domtal’, where vineyards from all over the region were able to cash in and make indifferent wine under the banner of ‘Nierstein’.
From 1978 to 1993, the dreaded Flurbereinigung began in Nierstein. Originally a measure favoured by the Nazis, it was meant to rationalise estates and make them easier to cultivate by planting rows up and down, rather than on the traditional terraces. Driving in that afternoon, I had seen just how drastic it had been in Oppenheim and Nierstein. Just one little bit on the crown of the cliff had been spared.
I didn’t like the 1982 Kranzberg Spätlese from Heyl zu Herrnsheim either much: it smelled of coffee and chicken stock cubes, but the 1993 Orbel Spätlese from St. Antony was something else. This reeked of peaches, honey and lavender and after twenty years it was immensely powerful.
We returned to the eighties with the 1988 Brudersberg Spätlese Trocken from Heyl zu Herrnsheim. I remember these wines as babies. It was the time of Charta in the Rheingau when wines were made bone dry but were terribly thin and unbalanced. You appreciated their efforts but the results were hard to love. By 1993, they had clearly worked it out: the Brudersberg Spätlese Trocken was naturally a bit strong, as the sugar had been fermented out, but it had a nice aroma of tobacco and dried herbs. Better still was the Spätlese Trocken Ölberg from St. Antony with its smell of blackcurrant leaves, great concentration and acidity.
Now came the off dry ‘Halbtrockens’: first Heyl zu Herrnsheim’s 1991 Pettenthal Spätlese with creaminess, balance and length and a touch of earthiness that was perhaps the hallmark of the winemaker Peter von Weymarn. Then the 1992 Pettenthal Spätlese Halbtrocken from St. Antony, which was all power.
After an ungainly 1997 Brudersberg QbA Trocken from Heyl zu Herrnsberg, we went on to three 2003 Grosses Gewächs wines – fermented dry in the style of French grands crus. The Pettenthal from St. Antony was slightly hot, but the other two: Brudersberg from Heyl and Orbel from St. Antony were wonderful – the Brudersberg soft in its attack while the Orbel had a more muscular approach.
There was 2004 Grosses Gewächs Brudersberg from Heyl and a 2008 Orbel from St. Antony, of which I marginally preferred the Orbel and a remarkable Orbel (St. Antony) from the difficult 2010 vintage, which had taken a year to ferment. Peters had lowered the sugar to the limit (9 grams) and somehow reduced the acidity from a massive 13 grams to eight.
We finished off with five 2012s, the last two being ‘Große Lage’ wines, which are half-sweet. There was a truly lovely Pettenthal from Heyl zu Herrnsheim.
The real fun and games began at ten the next morning: 418 wines to taste over two days. I managed 341. I suppose if I had missed lunch, coffee and refused to talk to my neighbours I might have tasted them all. As it was I managed all the Rieslings and all the Pinot Noirs.
I will note only the top-scoring wines: those that would merit four Decanter stars or above.
The whites were all 2012, and the majority of the reds 2011. It was a very good vintage for white wines, but a fairly short one, so that there were virtually no Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen. I am told there were some Auslese Goldkapseln, so top Ausleses, but probably not many. Here and there I got a whiff of botrytis, but I think there can have been very little. On the other hand for dry, Grosses Gewächs, 2012 was an almost perfect year, as there was enough sugar in the grapes to produce rounded balanced wines, but not so much to cause headaches during fermentation.
The vintage seems to have favoured the northern appellations – in particular the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer; but not so many Mosel growers present their wines for the tasting (although this is improving) because classic Mosel wines are not bone dry, as stipulated by the VDP.
The reds came from 2011 or before. The 2011 vintage was excellent, although there were some reds from the much more difficult 2010. If there were no sweet wines to speak of in 2012, there were huge quantities made in 2011 and some very good ones from the previous vintage.
Newcomers who have impressed me this year: Friedrich Fendel, F B Schönleber, August Eser (Rheingau); Battenfeld-Spanier (Rheinhessen); Lothar Keßler (Pfalz); Seeger (Pinot Noir – Franken).
Herman-Löwenstein, Hatzenporter Kirchberg. One of the rare wines that seemed to have a whiff of botrytis (pineapples), but maybe it was a terroir character. The fruit was slow to emerge but very delicate and playful, a delicious Mosel wine.
Willi Schaefer, Graacher Himmelreich. Hint of oatmeal on the nose; apples and peaches, maybe even white peaches, some CO2, I see this becoming quite lovely in about five years.
Dr. Loosen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Slightly earth, lovely smell of cooked apples, lots of fruit on the palate, very delicate, filigree finish where the trickles out from the core; lovely wine.
Fritz Haag, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Some citrus on the nose, lovely delicacy of expression, classic Mosel prettiness, elegance; some apple fruit, very lyrical.
Fritz Haag, Brauneberger Juffer, Some earthiness, some citrus, some evident CO2, citrus again on the palate, all subdued now but coming slowly to the fore. This is a wine you could talk to for hours.
Dr. Loosen, Ürziger Würzgarten, Spiced pears, cloves, citrus, apples; lovely structure. It suddenly flips and becomes all ethereal lightness – wonderful.
Grans-Fassian, Trittenheimer Apotheke, Enchanting nose of granny-smith apples; there is a really captivating intensity here, power; maybe not very typical. A truly mighty wine – I can think of no better medicine.
Grans-Fassian, Leiwener Laurentiuslay, Golden delicious apples, very fresh, very appealing; very up-front in style: all sap and power.
St. Urbans-Hof, Leiwener Laurentiuslay, Grapey, apples, pears; a lot of fresh fruit here; quite forward, but with delicacy too and a Mosel prettiness. It has a lovely , seemingly endless finish.
Karthäuserhof, Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg, Bit of cat, apples, earthy; lovely slate intensity, very long and impressive. Massive length.
Von Kesselstatt, Oberemmeler Scharzhofberger, Pear, but the nose is reticent, some powerful acidity, lots of oomph! This is her best wine here.
Von Hövel, Oberemmeler Scharzhofberg, Pear again (fruit of the year), fresh and lyrical, restrained but pretty, the structure is superb.
Von Othegraven, Ockfener Bockstein, slightly meaty (sulphur); pears – lovely apple and pear fruit; some citrus, great thumping power on the palate with a huge, Wagnerian finish.
St. Urbans-Hof, Ockfener Bockstein, Bit of caramel, lovely pear-like fruit; creamy, a wine that sings – super.
Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken, Saarburger Rausch, One of those wines that you hope will live up to its vineyard name – ‘rush’ – and it does, creamy at first, but then that ‘high’ – the power. The taste is like licking the inside of a pear. The ‘rush’ is in the huge power of the finish.
August Kesseler, Rüdesheimer Berg Schloßberg, medicinal nose, cooling, announces its craftsmanship straight away, restrained for a modern Hock – not a Zeus – but a beautifully conceived wine.
Künstler, Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland, It was news to me that Gunter Künstler from Hocheim was making wine in Rüdesheim. It was mute on the nose (young yet), but there is masses at work below the surface; above all you note the great thrusting power. This is the Künstler we knew and loved.
Fritz Allendorf, Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck, Pineapples and oatmeal, quite creamy, a mighty Hock with a throbbing finish, like the opening bars of Siegfried’s Death March.
Friedrich Fendel, Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck, Nervous nose like a crisp, frosty day, very mouth-filling, with a superb development on the palate; rapier-like – Great Hock!
Schloß Vollrads, Schloßberg, Some earthiness, some pineapple; lovely classic Hock.
F. B. Schönleber, Mittelheimer St Nikolaus, Very striking nose, really quite breathtaking – rich cooked apples, huge palate and a wonderful finish. New one on me.
Josef Spreitzer, Mittelheimer St Nikolaus, Maybe not quite the equal of Schönleber, but an impressive performance. The second time I have admired his wines.
August Eser, Oestricher Lenchen, Bit of oatmeal, very attractive, excellent structure, power and length. Will reward keeping.
F B Schönleber, Hallgartener Schönhell, Oats again, again a marvellous balance. To keep.
Diefenhardt’sches Weingut, Martinsthaler Langenberg, Slightly catty; big full wine redolent of rosemary and lavender; glorious length.
Baron Knyphausen, Erbacher Siegelsberg, Very attractive nose, a little like coffee, on the lean side, but nonetheless attractive, very playful finish.
Detlev Ritter und Edler von Oetinger, Erbacher Hohenrain, barley sugar, big and mouth filling, structure, a bit of sweetness here, but it will fade over the years.
Baron Knyphausen, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Pears, Band-aid, on the palate this seemed an absolute classic Hock, long and luscious.
Jakob Jung, Erbacher Hohenrain, Bit of caramel here, brimming with force, pretty acidity cuts through it, rises to a crescendo.
Künstler, Kostheimer Weiss Erd, Nose of pears, big, concentrated and delicious, a mighty wine.
Dönnhoff, Norheimer Dellchen, Apples, very lyrical, superb mouthfeel – what a master! Slightly peppery.
Dönnhoff, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, I had taste this before in London and thought it the man of the match, it is incredibly intense, with a huge impression of pears.
Gut Hermannsberg, Schloßböckelheimer Kupfergrube, The name of the estate has got shorter, but the wine is longer. Quite flinty now, but behind there is lots of fruit character and huge staying power.
Schäfer-Fröhlich, Schloßböckelheimer Kupfergrube, Bit of wet sheep (what’s in a name?), quite earthy, soft at first but with lots of class. Finishes earthy.
Dönnhoff, Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg, Classic limes and white peaches aroma: shudderingly good.
Schäfer-Fröhlich, Bockenauer Felseneck, Earthy again, tarry and dense, this has a strong terroir character, but it is also long and distinguished.
Emrich-Schönleber, Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen, Goethe was informed that Monzingen made the most powerful wines in the Nahe, and this is evidence: parsnips on the nose, but power that seems all rolled up into a ball – a Lazarus wine (two poets).
Emrich-Schönleber, Monzinger Halenberg, This does not have the Monzingen parsnip character, prettier on the nose, more lyrical and delicate; has a lovely tickly, flirtatious finish.
Kühling-Gillot, Niersteiner Pettenthal, Pretty fruit and impressive structure, the best of the Pettenthals. Second best – St. Antony, then Gunderloch.
Staatliche Weinbaudomäne Oppenheim, Niersteiner Ölberg, The best of the Ölbergs after Kühling-Gillot: caramel.
St. Antony, Niersteiner Orbel, Going through a difficult stage, but its potential is in its structure and a very pretty finish.
Wagner-Stempel, Seifersheimer Höllberg, This is a strikingly lovely wine, very fresh with a fine structure.
Wittmann, Westhofener Aulerde, Some coffee on the nose (as on several of his wines), a very powerful wine with impressive acidity.
Wittmann, Westhofener Morstein, very pretty nose, even prettier wine, gorgeous in its broad Wonnegau idiom.
Battenfeld-Spanier, Nieder-Flörsheimer Frauenberg and Battenfeld-Spanier, Hohen-Sülzener Kirchenstück, two noteworthy wines: consistency and power from a winemaker on the up.
Achim-Magin, Forster Pechstein, Rye bread and fresh pears, big and rich, long tickling finish, a little acidity oozing out, lovely.
Bürklin-Wolf, Forster Pechstein, Quite mute, some peaches (yellow) on the palate, needs time, very promising. Bürklin-Wolf the best of the Deidesheimer ‘Bs’ this year, followed by von Bühl.
Bürklin-Wolf, Forster Jesuitengarten, Barley sugar and pears, lovely mouthfeel, cooling, long, and seemingly delicate.
Achim-Magin, Forster Kirchenstück, A-M very impressive this year. Pears and incense, big and luscious from the best vineyard in Forst, slightly covered in baby fat, huge palate, peppery finish.
Bürklin-Wolf, Forster Kirchenstück, Figs (von Winning also), has a wild fig character, very delicate play on the palate, a little spice too: caraway.
Bürklin-Wolf, Forster Ungeheuer, The ‘Monster’, but not a big monster, this has a beery, yeasty smell, but a pretty structure behind.
Münzberg, Lothar Keßler & Söhne, Godramsteiner Münzberg ‘Schlangenpfiff’, seems woody, apples and very cooling fruit. New to me.
Fürst, Bürgstädter Centgrafenberg, Very nervous on the nose, like frost. Intense palate of white peaches.
Horst Sauer, Eschendorfer am Lumpen, (what happened to the ‘Lump’? One of the most evocative names in German wine) Slightly catty, very intense, pears, cats again, very long.
Of the big, big charities in Würzburg, none appealed much this year. Of the three I liked the Staatlicher Hofkeller best.
Ahr 2011 unless otherwise stated.
Meyer-Näkel, Neuahrer Sonnenberg, Some cat, raspberries, has good grip – will last – the raspberry taste pervades as does liquorice, long tarry finish.
J J Adeneuer, Ahrweiler Rosenthal, Strawberries, very luscious gooey strawberries, has an opulence to it: a hedonist’s wine.
Meyer-Näkel, Dernauer Pfarrwingert, Raspberries again, again with grip, this is a big wine that needs more time. It will develop very well.
Fürst, Klingenberger Schloßberg, Caraway, spice wine from the Master: spices and brown bread. Very long.
Seeger, Leimaner Herrenberg 2010, From the difficult vintage and a new name, one of the best Pinot Noirs in the tasting.
Originally posted by Giles MacDonough on http://www.macdonogh.co.uk/wineandfooddiary.htm
2nd September 2013