The second instalment of Howard Ripley’s Germans was presented at Middle Temple Hall Yesterday, comprising the dry whites and reds, with a few strangers thrown in for good measure (one of which was my Wine of the Day!). I don’t profess as much expertise in German wine as I might with some wine regions, but I hope my notes are of some value to those who couldn’t make it.
There is still a sense that British lovers of German wine have quite a conservative attitude to the dry whites. I can understand both sides of the argument. I love the lower Pradikats for their poised perfection, wines which seem to express a side of the Riesling grape which pretty much no one else can replicate and which, for me, finds its apogee on the steeply slated slopes of the Mosel, (Saar and Ruwer). I’m at one with those who lament their apparent passing, in the search for the supposed sophistication of the dry.
Yet I can also appreciate the dry wines, exemplified none better than Philipp Wittmann’s Morstein (Rheinhessen) which I wrote about at the “Wimps” lunch recently, one of my white wines of the year so far.
What was going to be interesting at this tasting, regarding the 2014 Grosses Gewächs whites, was whether they were going to be ripe and balanced. On the whole the wines clearly managed this, for my palate, though I do prefer a touch of acidity and texture. The people at HR certainly believe that the wines, as the year has progressed, have begun to show “better and better”.
Of twenty-three white wines the first thing to note is that you get what you pay for. The top wines were clearly, for me, the ones to buy if you can afford them (and, of course, grab quick enough in some cases). The two Keller whites (Kirchspiel and Hubacker) showed potential and demonstrated class, as did Hermann Dönnhoff’s Hermannshöhle (the Dellchen was a bit tighter for me and less easy to assess, but I was tasting very early in the day).
Of the less exalted bottles, wine number one always appeals to me, and I know from experience that it keeps very well – von Schubert’s Abstberg Superior. My discovery this year has been Julian Haart (Mosel), and I enjoyed both the Piesporter Goldtröpchen (good value) and the slightly more expensive Wintricher Ohligsberg, though with the caveat that the latter, to my pleasure, had something of a note of young Champagne on the finish, minus the bubbles of course. The wines of Thomas Haag at Schloss Lieser continue to impress my own tastes, and Schäfer-Frölich, though the Felsenberg strangely had a hint of Sauvignon Blanc gooseberry on the nose (a lot of wines seemed to have clearly defined grapefruit and lime). Of course, those two producers can’t be termed “less exalted”, but they are by and large affordable, for now.
The German reds were a mix of 2013 and 2012, and were not consistently to my Spätburgunder taste. But again, there were wines I liked a lot. The not too expensive Schloss Lieser 2012 had a nice colour and softish cherry fruit, and my first ever taste of von Schubert’s 2012 was a pleasure (though I’ve a long history of appreciation when it comes to the white wines from the Grünhaus). I also like Ziereisen, having enjoyed the Jaspis Alte Reben Pinot, Syrah and Tschuppen already this year. But the 2012 Schulen won out among the less expensive of their wines, the Rhini (which I think sees about 30% new oak) being worth the considerable premium.
Another new name which impressed, and which merits a particular mention, is Daniel Twardowski. I admit I’d never heard of this producer, though the price suggests I clearly should have. My tasting note included the banned phrase “…young Burgundy” (sorry).
I enjoyed the Kellers (Dalsheim Bürgel and Flörsheim Frauenberg), and was also impressed by Thomas Studach’s wine from Graubunden, but the wine of the tasting for me was fellow Swiss couple, Daniel and Marta Gantenbein’s Pinot. Someone remarked that the nose was better than the palate. This might have some truth, but in honesty I liked both and the bouquet, after all at the very least 50% of the pleasure with this grape, was amazing. A masterful wine. But it was also, by a good way, the most expensive wine on show yesterday. Not more than a couple of years ago it used to cost around £30/40 retail. Now the (much higher) price is almost immaterial, tracking down odd bottles being close to impossible (though I do know someone who proudly owns a personal allocation, lucky man). If you can afford £350 in bond, give it some thought. Some years ago we put on a dinner at The Ledbury where Gantenbein Chardonnay and Pinots were put up against some pretty good Burgundy, and with age they held their own.
A few general observations. Many of the reds were pretty pale. This is no sign of a lack of quality, and who wants their Pinot Noir to look like Syrah, but there were occasional wines which on the day seemed a little thin, and often these were also of lighter hue. Will they be wines to drink fairly soon?
I also need to be educated in Pfalz reds by someone. I often find these wines the hardest to like with the one (very big) exception of Friedrich Becker down in Schweigen (who Stephan Reinhardt calls “not really representative”). His vineyards are not only “pretty much in France”, some of them actually are, if I recall correctly. You’d expect this warm region, at least in German terms, to produce reds I’d like, and in 2015 I’m not sure it’s because everything is over cropped and machine harvested, nor because Dornfelder is still the most planted red variety. There may be a tendency to dark, over oaked Pinots, but, as I say, I need a few lessons here.
It’s also worth noting the labelling of these German reds. Some producers stick religiously to Spätburgunder, whilst others go for Pinot Noir. I’m not sure there is any consistency with this (size/age/type of wood used etc). Whichever the case, I find the production of this grape in Germany completely fascinating and absorbing, especially seeking out the different terroirs (slate, limestone, clay, volcanic etc). And I think we in the UK do need to look forwards rather than conservatively backwards in appreciating the quality of red wines Germany is producing. The sixteen German reds on show today were a privilege to taste, probably the most I’ve done in one go.
Naturally Howard Ripley doesn’t have all the best wines (I missed the J&B tasting, lacking the stamina for both), but they do have a brilliant selection and unrivalled knowledge (which makes them my choice for an overview). Other producers I’ve been drinking of late whom I think offer great value include the whites of AJ Adam (Dhron, Mosel) and a very inexpensive red from Thörle (Rheinhessen – Saulheimer Kalkstein 2012).
As a final note, it’s worth remembering that Howard Ripley will attend the VDP Auction next week (and indeed the Bernkastel/Mosel, Nahe and Rheingau Auctions), and they offer customers the opportunity to bid for the rarities up for grabs there (contact HR for more information). As always, far greater insight on these wines than I am able to give can be found on http://www.moselfinewines.com .