Howard Ripley’s Truly Great German Tasting

On 13 March 2019 Howard Ripley Wines held their biggest ever tasting at the China Exchange in Soho, London. For this tasting, thirty producers’ wines were on show, and I believe that twenty-six of them were actually there to pour for us. I think Sebastian and the team really surpassed themselves this time, giving press and private clients the opportunity to taste dozens of wines from a range of recent, and in a few cases not so recent, vintages, most of which are available to purchase now. There were even one or two 2018 samples to try in a few cases, and it was interesting to hear, for the first time, the producers’ enthusiasm for this vintage. A couple of them called it one of their very best in the past fifty years.

I worked hard for you, to bring a review of sixteen out of the thirty, not bad going for a long afternoon in Soho, but of course these wines are not difficult to taste, certainly easier than the young Nebbiolo tasting a week before, much as I love both. And on that subject, love of these wines, I truly hope the tasting was successful. These wines are more classical than many I drink these days (though look out for Andi Weigand from Iphofen towards the end of this article). But I find German wines, especially Riesling and Spätburgunder, impossible not to love. They shine like diamonds if you select the best in each style. I make no apologies for being evangelical.

JULIAN HAART (Piesport, Mosel)

A few years ago I might have called Julian “up-and-coming” but I think it’s fair to say he’s arrived. He owns just 5 hectares of vines in Piesport and Wintrich. He worked with Egon Müller and Klaus-Peter Keller, and despite remaining close friends with Klaus-Peter he makes classic Mosel. In his eighth vintage, Sebastian suggests that his wines are as exciting as any in the Mosel. Having discovered them in the 2011 vintage, from which I still have some Schubertslay Spätlese, I agree one hundred per cent.

Mosel Riesling 2013 is simple and fruity, as one would expect from an entry level wine, but its class comes through via good acids and a bit of backbone. For this level you get pretty decent length too. Look at the vintage!

Piesporter Riesling 2015 also has lovely fresh acidity, and is tighter, more mineral. For the Wintricher Riesling 2015 we move up a gear (and expect to pay £50 more for a case). It’s rounder than the Piesporter, and has a savoury note, perhaps one might say “sour”, but in a pleasant way that adds interest.

Piesporter Goldtröpchen 2016 is the magnificent conclusion to the J Haart wines on show. The nose is a little surly to begin with but a good swirl brings out grapefruit, soon followed by a whole lot more…nascent complexity from this famous site. On the palate the fruit is just beginning to meld with the slatey minerality which underpins the wine’s structure.

KELLER (Flörsheim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen)

The Keller wines here are what some might call his “lesser” offerings, but in truth these are wines we should not ignore, far from it. If the top wines of Klaus-Peter are becoming both expensive and difficult to source, these wines represent amazing value, evidenced by the fact that some commentators openly rate Von der Fels as, in a good vintage, of the same quality as a GG.

The great thing about the wines below is that they are available in decent quantity. Klaus-Peter now farms around 20 ha, and produces 120,000 bottles a year. From top to bottom, K-P ensures every wine produced fits the estate’s current philosophy: elegance, purity and intensity.

Riesling 2016 might be simple compared to some Keller bottlings, but the quality is exceptional. The fruit is rounded, and even a little plush. For a Riesling, of course.

Riesling von der Fels 2016 is more mineral, and the nose is a little closed. But you sense that under the slate and mineral structure there is a flower about to unfurl. For a dry Riesling at just 12.5% abv, this is exceptional. Don’t be fooled into drinking it too soon, it needs a year or two.

Riesling Kabinett “Limestone” 2017 is a wine I’ve never got round to buying, but I should. It’s a little different. The terroir gives it a brightness and an edge. The fruit is quite ripe, almost like a pure fruit juice, and is surprisingly concentrated.

FORSTMEISTER GELTZ ZILLIKEN (Saarburg, Saar)

This 12 ha vineyard, focused mainly on the Saarburger Rausch, directly above Saarburg, was taken over by Dorothee Zilliken in 2016, and she’s the eleventh generation of the family to run this historic estate. These are classic wines off pure slate with pockets of basalt and quartz, made in a style which demands cellaring. It would be wrong to call them old fashioned, however. They are as bright and fresh as any modern producer, but perhaps potentially a little harder to judge in their youth.

This is an estate which compared their 2018s to their 2005s and 1976ers.

Butterfly 2018 is intended as an earlier drinking Riesling, off-dry with around 16-17 grams of residual sugar, well clothed in the Saar’s ample acidity so that it tastes much drier. It is quite mineral as well. This sample was bottled just a week-and-a-half before the tasting and will be released in June, as will the next wine…

Saarburger Alte Reben Trocken 2018 is made from vines ranging from sixty years old to a magnificent 130 years. With 11.5% abv it shows a nice dryness, but for a Saar wine actually seems quite ripe (and 2018 was certainly a year for ripeness). It’s textured and the fruit, from the old vines which have small berries, is very concentrated. Very impressive.

Saarburger Rausch Kabinett 2014, available in magnum for the wise, has fresh lime on the nose and a fine mineral palate. 50g/l r/s and only 7.5% abv, it’s a classic Saar Kabinett with some of that old school rapier-like thrust. Love it!

Rausch Auslese 1999 is also wonderful, and you don’t get to taste a 1999 Auslese at every wine tasting. I was religiously spitting but sometimes I do wonder why! An amazing bouquet has white flowers, apricots and honey just to begin with, along with an ever so tiny petrol note. The palate, sweet yet almost savoury as well, is sublime. Of course, it will get even better, or maybe just different. £113.52 on a magnum, inclusive of duty and VAT, would be money well spent.

Anyone spot the typo in the photo below?

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VON HÖVEL (Konz, Saar)

Max von Kunow now runs Von Hövel, taking over from his father in 2010. He has instituted an organic regime which has benefited the wines, especially those from the most famous Saar sites. The future for this estate is looking good now and it may be an equally good time to revisit the wines.

Hütte GG 2017 is a 5.8 hectare monopole, owned by the estate in its entirety. The wine is dry with lots of savoury character.

I admit I found the bottle of Kanzem Hörecker Grosse Lage 2012 a little difficult to assess, but I did take a shine to Scharzhofberg Kabinett 2014. This wine can be long lived, perhaps not quite as long as Egon Müller’s (when should I pop a 2008 Müller?), but still, this is slatey, almost tannic in its grippiness, and young. Yet it is also pure and fine. Scharzhofberg Spätlese 2014 is even better right now, though. The extra sugars make it easier to judge, and potentially easier to drink early.

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HOFGUT FALKENSTEIN (Konz-Niedermennig, Saar)

This is a new Saar producer for me. Johannes was pouring and he’s the son of the estate’s founders, Erich and Marita Weber, who built up nine hectares mostly in a side valley at the beginning of the Saar. The vines are at altitude taking the force of the cold west winds, giving cool conditions even for the Saar. They are also blessed with old vine stock. All this leads to only one conclusion as to what the wines may be like, and if you add in an uncompromising search for quality, you have an exciting new name. Sebastian told me to visit this estate above any other when I’m next in the region.

Krettnacher Euchariusberg Kabinett 2018 comes from a site which seems almost unknown today, yet I’m assured was famous in the past. In any event, this wine is gorgeous, and also a brilliant reflection of the special conditions here in what was a hot vintage for those at lower altitudes in other regions. If you want a “racy” 2018 Kabinett, this is probably the place to come, when the wine is released in June.

Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Feinherb 2018 is elegant with excellent acidity to balance 20-30 g/l r/s. There’s a crystalline purity even at Spätlese level (though a feinherb, of course), and real elegance. Intervention is almost non-existent with these wines, and so you’d expect them to evolve slowly. However, I found them to be wines one could happily guzzle now, so hard to resist.

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PETER LAUER (Ayl, Saar)

Ayl come clean and say that Florian Lauer is my personal favourite winemaker in the wider Mosel, although that’s not to say that others are not snapping at his heels (not least the five producers which follow him in this article). His estate is relatively small at 9 ha, but he manages to produce a fine selection of wines, including (well, actually his dad made the older museum releases) Germany’s finest Riesling Sekt.

The Lauer estate benefits from some particularly old vines, which are able to reflect the nuance of terroir. I think this is Florian’s true aim. In succeeding he has won praise from the world’s foremost Riesling experts, propelling his estate into the very top rank in a mere decade-and-a-half. We begin with the fizz.

Saar Riesling Crémant Brut 2016 is 100% Riesling and has a lovely line and length, to borrow cricket terminology. Speaking of terminology, Florian is keen to point out that “Crémant” and “Brut” are terms applicable across the whole of the EU, and are chosen here to emphasise the style of wine he’s making. This would more than match most Crémant d’Alsace, and some of you know that I’m a particular fan of two or three of those wines, so I do not say that dismissively.

The Reserve Sekts are magnificent, truly on a whole new level. Florian was showing two. Reserve 1987 had around 30 years on lees with zero dosage. It is just a massively complex wine, with far too much going on to list at length, but expect to be guided down a gentle path towards caramel, coffee and walnuts. Reserve 1991 is somewhat fresher and may appeal to those who find the complexity of the ’87 just too much. Mind you, I still got a little bit of leather…

Saar Riesling Fass 16 is a delicious entry-level Riesling, simple but fruity, and elegant, all for less than £100/case. The next three wines, however, all grosses gewächs dry wines, are a significant step up (in both quality and price).

Saarfeilser Fass 13 GG 2016 is clean, dry, elegant and with real texture. Unusually for Lauer (and for the region) this comes off gravel soils.

Schonfels Fass 11 GG 2016 is from the Lauer family’s oldest site. It has a stony and peppery intensity right now, which age will lead into a deeper complexity.

Kupp Fass 18 GG 2016 is from Ayl’s most iconic vineyard (back in the day known as the Ayler Kupp, but these days the VDP prefers to stress the vineyard names in order to affirm their “Grand Cru” credentials). It’s even more strongly mineral, but floral too, the most approachable of the three, I’d say, at this stage.

On the subject of the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP), it has just published a directory of its members, via Dielmann Axel Verlag. This new book, titled simply “VDP Grosse Lage – The Book” was published in an English Language version in January 2019, £38.61 from a well know web site.

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CARL VON SCHUBERT/MAXIMIN GRÜNHAUS (Mertesdorf, Ruwer)

This 34 hectare estate, once the site of a monastery dating back to 966AD, has been in the von Schubert family since the nineteenth century. Carl’s son, Maximin, is now in charge of things, along with winemaker Stefan Kraml. This is a contigious estate, the vines occupying one strip of land, including the old monastic sites delineated for their potential quality as Bruderberg, Herrenberg and Abtsberg (the last being reserved for the abbot’s wines). This was one of the first German estates I focused interest on back in the 1990s.

Maximin Riesling 2017 is made from bought in grapes originating with neighbours, and is dry, and considering the care with which it is made is seriously cheap.

Maximin Riesling Alte Reben 2016 shows a bit more depth from older vines and an extra year in bottle. The Ruwer style here, cool climate yet with acidic fruit intensity, begins to show.

Abtsberg GG 2016 is a “now we’re talking” wine. With 12% abv, it has good structure, more length and you sense it needs time before complexity and elegance will flourish.

Herrenberg “Superior” 2010 has an almost surprising 11% alcohol and sugars are around 15 g/litre, well hidden of course. I used to buy this cuvée quite often, and tasting this reminds me I should do so again. In my experience it ages wonderfully, and although you get nice differentiated peach and gooseberry (ripe) fruit, with it comes an almost dusty minerality.

Herrenberg Kabinett 2016 has a more citrus line of acidity. It’s a light and summery wine at 7.5% abv. The acidity is balanced, and I will readily admit I can quite easily drink these young. Few wines better suit lunch in the garden when the sun is shining, as it is today.

Spätburgunder 2014 is our first red of the day. Anyone with a fabulous memory may recall that I always seem to have good things to say about the Grünhaus red. It may not be the most complex, but it does reflect what for German Pinot is a different sort of terroir. It has cherry fruit up front, but a savoury side as well. This 2014 shows a nicely rounded wine after a few years age, but it is still grippy, with bite.

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FRITZ HAAG (Brauneberg, Mosel)

The first of the Haag brothers here, Oliver, runs his famous estate with 20 hectares on the famous Brauneberg slate, with fortuitous holdings in the Juffer. Oliver manages to reflect this auspicious terroir at every level, from GG through all the prädikats, making his wines some of the most sought after in the Mosel.

Juffer GG 2015 Is a top class dry Riesling expressive of a vintage where quality is good but yields were down up to 10% in the Mosel. So there’s concentration and potential from this great site.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr GG 2015 is extremely mineral, and holds all the promise of vines grown on the famous “sundial” segment of the Juffer, which no doubt many others like me will have ridden past going downriver from Trier on the wonderful Mosel cycle trail.

Brauneberger Kabinett 2016 was slightly difficult to judge – there might have been a tad of reduction perhaps, but although you’d think this a step down (and it is half the price of the previous wine), it has some of the hallmarks of the vintage, generally higher acidity and lower alcohol. This makes it more like the leaner Kabs of old, which I like.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese 2012 is an increasingly rare example of a commercially available Auslese from this vintage, where the higher prädikats were made in much smaller quantities. An elegant Auslese, quite fresh with no heaviness, beautiful balance.

SCHLOSS LIESER (Lieser, Mosel)

The other brother, Thomas Haag, owns the estate of the rather dark and imposing schloss on the opposite bank to Bernkastel, a little way upstream from Kues. His vineyard now totals 23 ha, in 180 different plots. With all due respect to Oliver, it is Schloss Lieser which pushes Lauer hardest in the subjective world of German Riesling I inhabit.

Schloss Lieser Kabinett Trocken 2013 is an example of a style I only ever buy from Thomas Haag. This ’13, from a generally less lauded vintage  (by the generalists who generalise) screams lime and grapefruit. In this cool vintage the acidity is pronounced, for sure, but the wine has a savoury and saline twist as well, which for the acid hound gives it genuine interest. And the acidity is softening a little.

Niederberg Helden GG 2012 is a dry wine from a riper year. It has a creamy texture and strong minerality, with the (relative) weight and bone structure to carry it. It’s a favourite vineyard for me, ever avoiding the obvious when possible. I say that, but although it lacks general fame, it is probably Haag’s best site. It rises almost gently for the Mosel, to the top of the hill, with the higher parts being fairly flat, if only in comparison to the norm. The vineyard’s majestic sweep is best seen driving towards Lieser from the southwest. As a result, Helden has good water retention and avoids drought stress in a hot year. The fruit from it always has a touch of exoticism, if constrained by its slatey corset.

Schloss Lieser Kabinett 2013 is a true Kabinett, 8% alcohol, with quite ripe, lifted, fruit, mouthfilling acidity, and at this stage a decent amount of concentration, making it so utterly moreish.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2012 tastes sweeter than some Spätlesen, in part because the acidity has diminished with time. This is very impressive, and for me, verging on “spectacular”. It’s lovely, and so long as well.

WILLI SCHAEFER (Graach, Mosel)

Christoph and Andrea Schaefer now run this domaine, and Andrea was on hand to pour. Their small 4.2 ha estate comprises vines in Graach’s two famous sites, from which the five wines on show were drawn. I used to buy these wines quite often but I seem to have stopped in recent years, for no explicable reason. I appear to have done so just as Willi Schaefer has been receiving greater acclaim than ever, especially in the most recent two or three vintages.

Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2016 was poured from magnum (about £50 each) and it’s a brilliant, classy, classic Kab with perfect balance, showing superbly even now from the large format, but I’d be in no hurry whatsoever. It is said, so the whispers go, that the following vintages are even better.

Graacher Domprobst Kabinett 2014 is another classic wine, elegant, delicate and precise. It has a zippiness to it, showing nice lemon-lime acidity, with an equally delicate floral bouquet.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2014 has a little more weight, as you’d expect, and a bit more texture. Longer too. Graacher Domprobst Spätlese 2018 (to be released in June) is quite bright, but at this stage is driven by the fruit ripeness of the warmer vintage. The potential for a mature wine of considerable richness for the prädikat is all there.

Finally, Graacher Domprobst Spätlese 2011 showed the greater complexity of just a little more age. There’s minerality and a saline twist, complex and a little savoury as well as a little sweetness. A wine to pair with duck.

JOH. JOS. PRÜM (Wehlen, Mosel)

There’s not really a lot I need to say about Prüm. I may have left them out in my listing of subjective favourites, Lauer and Thomas Haag (not forgetting Julian Haart), but you should know that I own a lot more Prüm than any other German producer. These are, as the Ripley team states, “the benchmark” for Mosel wine, by which we measure all the rest. They also retain a focus on the prädikat wines, eschewing the popular move to dry Riesling in their home country. It is partly for this reason that they have such a loyal and admiring following in the UK. Katharina Prüm is now slowly taking over from her father, Manfred, but there are no signs of change in the estate’s century-long traditions.

All of the JJ Prüm wines, at whatever level, benefit from, even demand, good long cellaring to show at their very best. They deserve that degree of respect. They also benefit from being given air. Open them as if they are a red wine, and don’t serve them over chilled.

I’ll let you into a small secret. If I was offered a visit to Prüm or DRC, neither of whom I have ever visited, I’d choose Prüm…shhh!

Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2015 is a good example of a wine that is still a little closed, and some consequently find the estate’s wines hard to read young. Some people prefer to stick to the Wehlen wines at this level, but I think that would be wholly misguided. This is a classic wine merely needing time.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2015 is a wine which illustrates how Prüm seems to truly excel at this prädikat. It’s not over sweet, like some modern versions in the age of global warming. It’s young, but more open than some (than the Kabinett). By way of contrast, Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2012 has a touch more maturity, but great purity. It still needs time.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2010 is just beginning to show its potential. There’s a little petrol developing on the nose, and all it needed was to be a little warmer, and to be given a bit more of a vigorous swirl in a good glass, to be broachable now.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2007 was a stupendous way to finish with JJP. It comes from Prüm’s most lauded site, perhaps, the other sundial just downstream from Bernkastel. The wine is quite gentle for Riesling, maybe “majestic” is a better choice. It’s certainly an elegant, smooth, Auslese, not yet fully mature but for most, drinking very nicely if pressed to open it. At least it gives an indication as to just how great this estate’s wines can be. I think it also shows the benefits of a long growing season which stretched into autumn, which always assists the Mosel’s slow burners.

DÖNNHOFF (Oberhausen, Nahe)

We finally move away (Keller excepted) from the Mosel and for our only Nahe estate today we select the best, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff. Helmut Dönnhoff started to build the estate’s reputation through the 1970s, so that today it is probably the estate known by more people who are interested in German wine than any other, except perhaps that of Ernie Loosen. Today, the Dönnhoff estate is run by his son, Cornelius. There are 180,000 bottles of Dönnhoff wines to go around the world, and every one is of high quality, whether sweet or dry, generic or from the finest grosses gewächs site. Some of the lesser known sites here can be marvellous bargains.

Roxheimer Höllenpfad Trocken 2017 comes from an aptly named site which kind of  translates as “half way to hell”. It is a steep, hard to work, vineyard on red sandstone and it is very bright in the mouth and exhibits an interesting savoury, almost salty and certainly soily flavour. I like it because it’s a bit different. It does make some people sit up, though.

Kreuznacher Kahlenberg Trocken 2017 hails from a slightly better known site. It is also mineral and saline, but more so. The soils here are mainly loam with a bit of quartz. I’d say it is tighter, or “stricter”.

Norheimer Dellchen GG 2013 is a dry Riesling with a little bottle age. The soils here are volcanic, with slate. This makes the wine very fresh, with lifted acidity, but again it shares with the Kahlenberg a tight structure.

Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese 2013 has both freshness and (within reason) a touch of sweetness. A very fine Spätlese.

The cream of the crop here was Oberhäuser Brücke Auslese Goldkapsel 2011. We are in a vintage which produced some remarkable sweeter wines. This one is both rich and zippy at the same time, probably the best Auslese of the day. Lemon, honey, herbs and so much more. You can have twelve half bottles for a touch less than £350. It may not be cheap but compare that to wines from some other regions.

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WITTMANN (Westhofen, Rheinhessen)

Philip Wittmann heads up an estate which certainly me and my friends feel is as good as the best in the region. Quality has almost certainly been taken to a new level since conversion to biodynamic viticulture in the mid-2000s. Four wines were shown.

Weisser Burgunder 2017 is our first non-Riesling white wine of the day. It’s beautifully fresh with a little stony texture. I’ve often reiterated recently that I’m drinking more and more Pinot Blanc as a food match in the warmer months, and you should try this classy example to see why I’m keen.

Riesling 2017 is quite steely, a good restaurant choice, I think, though I might actually go with the Weisser Burgunder myself. When we move up to Westhofener Riesling 2017 we do notice the difference. It’s effectively the “village wine” if following the Burgundian model. It comes from the younger vines in the Morstein “Grand Cru”. The fruit is given six-to-ten hours of skin contact (depending on which block is being vinified), fermentation being in traditional old oak vats. It has great structure.

Aulerde GG 2016 is from one of Philip’s four top sites, a “Grand Cru” of great presence and class. Structured with a fine backbone and the acidity to give a long life, it has the fruit too to keep going for years, long enough for the acidity to yield to it eventually.

ANDI WEIGAND (Iphofen, Franken)

Andi apprenticed with one of my favourite German winemakers, Hanspeter Ziereisen, in Southern Baden. He then muscled in on his family’s small vineyard and now works eight hectares at Iphofen. His neighbours are 2Naturkinder, well known as producers of German natural wines, and Andi is following a similar path. He is one example of the exciting revitalisation of vineyards in less expensive (to buy vines) parts of Germany, and of the trend for more and more exciting young producers to be seen on export markets. These are wine bar wines par excellence, but of course worthy of your table at home just as much.

Scheurebe “Der Wilde” 2018. The “Der Wilde” range are estate wines made fresh and lively for more or less immediate consumption. Scheurebe performs this task very well on the keuper soils around Iphofen, where citrus-fresh acidities are highlighted through the gypsum content.  It has a lovely flowery bouquet but the palate tastes quite dry. It tastes much “cleaner” to me than the commercial versions of this grape which were ubiquitous in the 1980s.

Silvaner “Der Wilde” 2016. Silvaner seems to be having something of a renaissance in Franken, where it has always been a speciality, especially a renaissance among the young naturalistas. Its lively acidity seems to suit low, or zero-sulphur wines. That said, I’m more of a fan of Silvaner (and indeed of Alsace Sylvaner) than most people. Some do find the acidities troubling. Here you get a bit of straw on the nose, a bit of spring hedgerow, but basically its a simple wine full of the joys of “glou“.

Silvaner “Der Küchenmeister” 2017 is next level. The vines average 45 years old and the wine is aged a year in oak, bottled unfiltered. It has an extra dimension, which includes a more savoury, gourmet, element. It’s also quite open.

Silvaner “Die Kalb” 2017 is made in the same way as the previous wine but comes from one of Andi’s best vineyards. Right now this is more closed than the “head chef”, more raw and herbal. I’ll bet this will be a cracking wine in a few years.

Andi was at Raw Wine London, but I enjoyed tasting with him in the relative quiet of the China Exchange. However, it was a shame his table was, at least during the hours I was there, a lot less busy than those of the usual “stars” of a Howard Ripley tasting. This is a great young talent, full of passion. His transformation of the family estate has the full support of his father, Werner, rather like the Renner sisters have the support of their father, Helmuth, in Burgenland. I strongly applaud Howard Ripley placing faith in such a talented young winemaker from Franken.

WEINGUT JÜLG (Schweigen-Rechtenbach, Pfalz)

Weingut Jülg is located about as far south in the Pfalz as it is possible to get without being in Alsace, and as with their neighbour Fritz Becker, they have vineyards within Germany, but also in France. The old monastic sites sloping down towards the abbey church at Wissembourg would almost certainly be classified “Grand Cru” were they owned by French producers. These sites make up 50% of the Jülg vignoble. 

The French connection is further enhanced because current young winemaker, Johannes Jülg, did a stint at Domaine des Lambrays, in Burgundy. Mind you, as at Becker, there is an interesting differentiation between the reds here, as we shall see.

Two whites were shown, both examples of how well the other “Pinot” grapes grow just inside Germany, in this part of the Pfalz. Grauburgunder 2016 is simple but fresh Pinot Gris with definite varietal flavour, and decent acidity for a wine from this grape with 13% abv. Weissburgunder Sonnenberg 2017 is a step up, being from a fine single vineyard. Plump, stony and lemony.

Spätburgunder 2015 is the tasty entry level red, but still from reasonably old vine fruit. Spätburgunder “R” 2013 is a reserve wine, grapes coming from the French vineyards (which are always bottled under German wine law, in Schweigen). It is palish in colour but has a much bigger bouquet and super fruit. There’s still a little tannin, even at five-and-a-half years old. It’s a warning not to assume German “Pinot Noir” can be consumed young at anything above the basic level.

Pinot Noir 2013 is so labelled because it is made from French clones, and it is a chance for Johannes to put into practice what he learnt in Burgundy. What he learnt was to search for elegance and complexity more than merely fruit. Seeing a mix of new (50%) and second use French oak, this wine retains its fruit, but also shows a little savoury meatiness. It has an elegant cherry bouquet and the fruit on the palate is super smooth, with equally silky tannins. It still has a bit of structure which suggests ageing it further, but with food it might open now.

I’m forever in the bad books of Jülg for not paying them a visit when I was in Schweigen, but I did have lunch in their restaurant. Truly home-cooked, hearty, food and a wonderful atmosphere (seemingly full to bursting with locals), I will surely go back, after making sure I taste some wine beforehand.

WEINGUT ZIEREISEN (Efringen-Kirchen, Baden)

The Ziereisen estate lies a (long, well 4km) stone’s throw from the Swiss border, and some of their vines do actually overlook Basel. Hanspeter and his wife Edel were not there to pour on this occasion (though family friends managed ably to deputise). That was a shame because they are two of my favourite people in German wine. In fact the aforementioned young friends told me that they are even more fun in their own home. Their wines are wonderful, and noting my subjective approach to favouritism, they certainly make as good red wines as anyone in Germany (top three, if not top, position at the very least).

Ziereisen has 19 ha of vines, all on slopes somewhere between 200 and 450 metres above sea level. The vines are partly protected by forest, but they are subject to the winds which blow north through the Belfort Gap, near Mulhouse. This ensures a long and cool growing season and slower ripening, usually resulting in wines of great elegance, whatever the grape variety. Winemaking can be summed up in one word: gentle. A little new wood is used, usually near to 10%, perhaps 20% for the top wines in a suitable year. This use of new oak has been considerably reduced over the years.

Huegumber Gutedel 2016. Hanspeter is famous for his reds, but we begin with a white. I overheard someone say they had never tried Gutedel, but it is none other than Chasselas (as it is called in France and Switzerland’s Vaud, and Fendant in the Valais/Wallis). It begins light and dry, but slowly some complexity builds.

Steingrüble Gutedel “Unfiltriert” 2014 has even more presence, with genuine mineral complexity and a stony/herbal and slightly salty mouthfeel, lean but I mean that in a good way…not an ounce of unwanted fat to mask the purity. It has almost a year on lees in large wood. This single vineyard is a high density planting, with 10,000 vines to the hectare. It is a terroir wine, and trust me, it is hard to find a better version of this unfairly maligned variety. I’d call it “stunning”, but I know you’d laugh. But you pays your money, as they say. And you can pay way more than £117/6 for a mediocre Swiss Chasselas…I know.

Spätburgunder “Tschuppen” 2015 is the Pinot to go for here if you want value. It doesn’t have the complexity of the finer Pinots (Rhini and Jaspis), but it does have the urgency of lovely fruit, which drives it.

Spätburgunder “Rhini” 2015 is off limestone with a fair bit of sand, in a site protected from those winds we mentioned. Although this cuvée can often see more new oak than the norm at Ziereisen, it is not what you’d expect. It has a somewhat haunting elegance, with lifted soft red fruits on the nose. But that does belie a structure which is built for ageing. It’s a really fine wine that tastes delicious now, but will transform itself in the cellar.

Syrah “Gestad” 2015. This is a great wine with which to end a German tasting. There cannot be a better German Syrah, and I say that emphatically as those of you with little faith snigger on the back row. It both looks and smells like Syrah, and some would say like a Côte-Rôtie. It has a bouquet perfectly split between plummy fruit and a developing savoury nature, though not approaching the full bacon sandwich by a long way. The palate has tannin…acidity…and POW! Fruit! Oh, and 13.5% alcohol. If I’m honest I would place it in olfactory terms exactly where it happens to be geographically: somewhere between a Côte-Rôtie and a Syrah from the Swiss Valais, where I might add you can find some very good Syrah.

As I said more than five-and-a-half thousand words ago, this was a brilliant tasting. Almost without exception, great wines. The standard of winemaking in Germany is universally high, though you need to like Riesling, I guess. I genuinely don’t get why some people don’t. But more than that, the number of truly thrilling wines is always higher than at most tastings, too.

What needs to be done to give these wines a much bigger audience, I’m not sure? One could argue that the future lies with the young iconoclasts, similar to those who have helped pull Austrian wine into the 21st Century. Yet in Germany we don’t need to smash the idols. The top estates making classic wines are doing their job better than ever. I’m rarely in favour with just plugging away, but in this case, maybe that’s just what we need to do.

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About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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1 Response to Howard Ripley’s Truly Great German Tasting

  1. amarch34 says:

    These were the wines which first got me into wine generally, I still love them and you have inspired me to open a Haag Kabinett 09 this evening. Schaefer was a regular buy for me, like you I need to get back in there. I was a big fan of Weigand at RAW as you know and it is good to see one of the big firms take a chance on a young producer like that.
    I really need to go back and find out more about the new generation, I have been promising myself to do so and I must act rather than promise.
    Very jealous of this tasting, great write up, cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

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