This is the second part of my article on the tasting held at Fare (Old Street, London) on 15 April, where Newcomer Wines and Vine Trail previewed the wines of ten producers from Alsace and Germany. Here we have the five German producers at the tasting. If you have not yet read Part 1 covering Alsace, follow the link here.
Whilst Alsace is at least a single region, albeit one with diverse terroirs, as we found out in Part 1, Germany in this case offers us wines from a far greater geographical area. The five producers covered come from Rheinhessen, Würtemburg, Baden, and two from the Mosel. Still, as with the Alsace producers, these importers are lucky to be able to import some pretty hot names, from the youth of Olympia and Hannes at Roterfaden to the wisdom of Rudolf and Rita Trossen. If I allow myself the subjective feeling that those two stood out here (for different reasons), all five are people I’d love to visit and whose wines I would buy – and in fact I already have bought and drunk the Schmitt wines, both in the UK and in Germany. It is here that we shall begin.
BIANKA & DANIEL SCHMITT (FLÖRSHEIM, RHEINHESSEN)
Fewer than 100 wine producers in Germany are certified biodynamic by Demeter, and the Schmitts are in that select group. But although biodynamic for a decade, they go further, reminding us that they make wine “just from grapes”. Their Natúr wines (see below) are bottled with no added sulphur. Their 16 hectare domaine is at Flörsheim-Dalsheim. It’s funny that at one time the Rheinhessen Region used to be considered a place to find commercial wine of little interest to connoisseurs, but nowadays there are fewer more famous villages in Germany. Klaus Peter Keller is a neighbour.
Natúr Riesling 2017 is the “entry” level. The wine is whole bunch pressed and spends a year in old 1,200-litre oak. As I already explained above, there’s no added sulphur. It’s slightly cloudy as they don’t fine or filter either, but it has delicious natural fruit combined with rounded acidity (ie it’s not sharp). It’s very lively and extremely moreish.
Natúr Müller Thurgau 2017 is made from Germany’s great workhorse grape of the later post-war period, except of course that “great” isn’t a word many would associate with the variety. Yet today we are seeing truly excellent versions on our shelves (let’s not forget from New Zealand via Hermit Ram as well, another country where Müller Thurgau was once ubiquitous).
The bouquet is fresh and almost (but not quite) exotic, and I reckon quite a few people with experience of MT might be fooled. It’s quite avant-garde. Fifty percent of the grapes see six weeks on skins and the other half are whole bunch pressed and go into old oak for around a year. Where it differs from the sugar water we remember Müller Thurgau producing is in its nicely balanced acidity and greater weight of body. This makes it especially food-friendly, it’s not a particularly light wine. The adventurous should give this a go.
Rosé 2017 is a blend of four varieties: (Blauer) Portugieser, Merlot, Dornfelder and Pinot Noir. All the juice is free run and it goes straight into big 2,400-litre oak casks (although Bianka and Daniel do work with amphora for some cuvées – look for Orpheus if Newcomer Wines have it). It’s one of those lovely dark rosé wines which almost become a light red, and as such is versatile. Chilled, it has refreshing lifted fruit and a very tasty sour cherry finish, making it an ideal summer red, or pink (whatever) to go with light dishes.
Natúr Spätburgunder 2016 – Wow! What a nose!. Passionfruit…on a red? Given four weeks skin contact and then a year in 600-litre oak, this is a super fresh natural wine, fairly high in acidity but extremely refreshing (just 12% abv). Whilst in the past I’ve complained that a lot of German Spätburgunder gets chugged too soon, this is another wine for summer drinking, pure joy.
Monsheimer Riesling Natúr 2016 – This was the most complex of the wines on show. The grapes were harvested late and after a week on skins were transferred to barrique for twelve months. There is a dominant floral character, but also something quite tropical (mango and kiwi fruit), a little wet stone minerality and, finally, a hint of petrol. So whereas I’d be happy to drink the other wines now, my intuition suggests this one might like to rest a while in a nice cool cellar.
WEINGUT ROTERFADEN (VAIHINGEN/ROßWAG, WÜRTEMBERG)
Olympia Samara and Hannes Hoffmann farm just two hectares of vines at Roßwag, which is about 30km from Stuttgart in the far northwest of the Württemberg Region, almost in Northern Baden. Olympia has previously worked with the relatively unsung great winemaker of Burgenland, Claus Preisinger, whilst Hannes had a very interesting career with Dirk Niepoort before the couple began to make wine for themselves in Hannes’ native country. These wines are quite special, and I don’t think many will have tasted anything quite like them in Germany, let alone forgotten Württemberg.
Riesling 2017 – The grapes for this cuvée, from a mix of 45-y-o and younger vines, grown on rare blue limestone, a hard rock that won’t shatter, ripen fairly quickly so they are harvested early. Before fermentation the grapes rest on skins for a week, and afterwards age in mixed old oak (300 litre and 600 litre barrels) on lees for ten months until bottling. The wine is very fresh and fragrant because of the early harvesting, but the grapes are placed in a vertical press, and pressed very gently, with no separation of juice. The must is allowed to oxidise a little, which makes the wine stable so that no sulphur needs to be added. A good food wine, with presence.
Endschleife Riesling 2017 – Like the wine above, the vines here grow on dry stone terraces ripening with the reflected sun and night time heat retention. The difference is that this wine comes from the oldest part of the vineyard and so has an extra intensity which warrants a higher price. The grapes are cooled for a week before pressing into 300 litre oak, with bottling in December/January (so it sees a little longer on lees). There’s a more mineral mouthfeel and more depth, signifying a wine which requires time to blossom…but it’s all there.
Pinot Noir 2017 – This red is fermented, after destemming, for three-to-four weeks with just gentle pushing down of the cap merely to keep the surface moist. It then also sees ageing on lees for ten months in 300-to-600 litre barrels, generally around four years old. It has a fleshy cherry bouquet and whilst the acids are quite prominent, it complements the fresh nose nicely because the fruit is ripe.
Lemberger 2016 – Lemberger is none other than Austria’s Blaufränkisch, and is something of a Roterfaden speciality. The regime is exactly the same as for the Pinot Noir. It has a lovely bright colour and a lifted, scented, floral nose. This combines nicely with the palate which has cherry fruit but an additional touch of earthiness in the texture. A sommelier friend of the couple described it as having “a solid earthiness with angel’s wings”. Olympia was rather taken with that. Me too. There is also an old vine Lemberger which wasn’t shown.
The wines here are all nice, but I’d go Lemberger as a point of difference if you have a choice. Otherwise, grab anything with their distinctive labels.
ENDERLE & MOLL (MÜNCHWEIER, BADEN)
Sven Enderle and Florian Moll are one of Germany’s most interesting winemaking duos. Their five hectares in the Black Forest make them small, but there are many smaller. This is why it amazes me that they rarely get more than a tiny mention in German wine books written in English when they are said, by some, to make the best Pinot Noir in Germany. They use what some may call “Burgundian methods” (both Florian and Sven worked in that region), and this includes getting their barrels from Domaine Dujac. However, these are not copycat Burgundies, as the terroir is different, with complex sandstone and limestone soils and a microclimate resulting from the forest and mountains to the east.
It’s worth noting here that the wines are classified as “tafelwein”. This is not primarily because they are biodynamic and “natural” wines, but because Sven and Florian don’t want higher alcohols. As we shall see with the reds below, they aim for transparency, and an almost ethereal quality results.
Weiss & Grau 2017 – a blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). The wine has a genuine freshness that is very appealing, and this combines with a little grip, texture and weight. There’s colour too, and it all comes from slow extraction of whole bunch juice in the basket press used for all of the E&M wines. Fermentation is in stainless steel.
Muschelkalk 2017 – this is a varietal Pinot Blanc/Weissburgunder off pure limestone, coming in at a refreshing 11.5% abv. You get the immense brightness which comes from the limestone, with some texture from the skins, but for me, this is the kind of wine where the terroir comes through. If the main deal here is the reds, this wine shines.
Pinot Noir 2017 – The first thing you notice is that this is pale. It’s that transparency I mentioned which makes this quite different, and appealing. The fruit has a pleasantly sour edge which gives the wine a more savoury quality, and there’s just a little grip too. Even at this level it’s impressive, but approachable.
Liaison 2016 – is also Pinot Noir, and is also pale, and alcohol is (as with the wine above) a very restrained 12.5%. The fruit comes from older vines on both sandstone and limestone, hence the name. 2016 was a less warm vintage here in Baden. This cuvée sees its ageing in Dujac barrels and is concentrated with great cherry fruit depth, but the overall impression is of opacity and clarity, making a wine of presence, but equally, elegance as well.
Other wines I’ve enjoyed from this pair are a fun Müller Thurgau, and an amazing Spätburgunder Rosé, both of which Newcomer has had in the past. Enderle & Moll should be far better known outside of Germany.
THORSTEN MELSHEIMER (REIL, MOSEL)
Reil isn’t the best known village on the Mosel, but then neither is Kinheim where our next winemaker comes from. Thorsten has been in charge of this two-century-old estate since the mid-1990s, and he’s been fully Demeter Certified biodynamic since 2009. He has 11 hectares under vine, eight of which are on the slate/quartz soils of the Mullay-Hofberg, which is down river from Taben-Trarbach and Enkirch, and consequently off most detailed maps of the Middle-Mosel Region. Nevertheless, the terraces here, which Thorsten has had to restore, are as steep and formidable as any on the river.
Ancestral Rurale 2017 – what a marvellous way to start here, with a 100% Riesling vivacious sparkler made by the Ancestral method. It fermented incredibly slowly (in wood) so was bottled in early May last year, where it has been ageing on its undisgorged lees. It is beautifully clean, fresh and precise. There is no added sulphur and no reduction. Simple but amazing stuff in that context. Expect apples with ginger spice, a crown cap and around 10.5% abv.
Mullay-Hofberg Riesling Kabinett 2015 – A traditional, classic, Kab with around 35g/l residual sugar backed by good acidity and only 8.5% alcohol. A very slow fermentation stopped around Christmas 2015. It has a delicate floral bouquet, the fruit being rounded, quite exotic, and everything is nicely in balance. It has the presence to go with mildly spicy dishes.
Lentum 2015 – This is a Riesling which fermented for an incredible three years in old fuder (Lentum meaning slow one). It has a broader mouthfeel than the Kabinett, is effectively dry with lime and grapefruit on the palate. A much more serious wine, which would accompany a very wide range of dishes, depending on how adventurous you are prepared to go, although the wine seems young still.
Vade Retro 2016 – is also a Riesling Trocken, a fully natural wine with no additives. Its darker colour hints at the style, which is deliberately oxidative. This is the fifth vintage for this cuvée which is aged in barrique without skin contact and it is already garnering a reputation from those who are happy to see a bit of experimentation in what can be a very conservative region (though one which you know I love). The bouquet of baked apple I find really appealing. It has very low pH, so there’s less need for any sulphur addition. It’s still recognisably “Riesling”, but just very different. Thorsten also makes orange/skin contact Riesling too.
Goldlay Riesling Beerenauslese 2017 – There are not a lot of Demeter-Certified sweet pradikat wines in Germany. This beauty has a golden colour with a bouquet redolent of long summer sunshine. There’s a fair bit of botrytis in this 2017, but picking was in fine weather and the grapes were very ripe. Triage by an experienced team involves a special small bag for the berries with noble rot. Only 200 litres were made of this honey and lemon linctus syrup with intense citrus acidity, all bottled in halves. One to squirrel away.
RITA AND RUDOLF TROSSEN (KINHEIM-KINDEL, MOSEL)
I’ve know the Trossen wines for a few years, but I’ve only drunk a few because they do sell out very quickly. As with Enderle & Moll, the Trossens are a bit of a cult producer, perhaps even more so. I always had a mistaken belief that they were further down river, but their vines are broadly between Erden and Kröv, and annoyingly I’ve cycled past them without knowing. Not that I imagine you can just pitch up here.
The Trossen vines are on steep weathered slate which helped keep phylloxera at bay, so many parcels remain ungrafted and around 100 years old. The reason their wines have such a cult following may be in part because they have been biodynamic since 1978, before most German growers knew the word and methodology existed. Their Purus wines are natural wines which are bottled without added sulphur (as well as unfined/unfiltered).
I lose track of the Trossen wines, the cuvées I have being different to those below, but these here are all “Purus” wines, all unsulphured, and all 100% Riesling.
Purellus 2018 – What a treat to try this, the first commercial vintage of the Trossen petnat. It’s 100% Riesling, bottled last December with a tiny bit of residual sugar. The bottle will be cloudy from the lees and the bouquet is full of exotic fruit. It has a softness, and an umami character, on the palate but doesn’t lack acidity. A young woman called it “savoury”, to which Rudolf countered “what do you mean by savoury?”, which I think caught her off balance. I wasn’t going to interrupt her, but I think it has a kind of hint of soy, and added to the texture/mouthfeel from the lees, I think maybe that’s what she meant. I made a note not to use the “s” word.
Eule Purus 2016 – is Riesling, 11.5% abv, with a faint prickle on the tongue, which adds to its dry mouthfeel. Aged for an extra year (over the 2017 below) it is really lovely, with a long finish. Yes, I know “lovely” is a lame choice of word, but if you allow yourself to savour (not savoury!) the wine, you may well come to a similar adjective.
Eule Purus 2017 – Eule comes from those very old pre-phylloxera, ungrafted, vines. The 2017 has a little more acidity over the ’16 but I don’t think it lacks any of the depth of that wine. Give it another year if you can resist, though I’m sure it deserves longer.
Pyramide Purus 2017 – We are up to 12.5% alcohol here. The Pyramide site has vines around 35 years old on grey/blue slate, facing south and southeast. The grapes are whole bunch fermented in stainless steel before ageing for eleven months. There’s more depth of colour and good depth to the nose. The palate has a delicious bitter or sour touch on the finish which makes the wine stand out. In a sense it seems hardly “Riesling”, and more perhaps an expression of the site in this unadulterated form?
Madonna Purus 2017 – This, like Pyramide, is a steep slate vineyard with grafted vines on American roots, and is also 12.5% abv. It’s similar in colour too, but this seems to me more mineral. The acidity is so well judged for ageing, and that mouthfeel and texture is so agreeable that whether to keep it or drink of its raw energy is a difficult choice, the former perhaps being the sensible option…but still.
Schiefergold Purus 2017 – To me, this is the complete wine. The vineyard is the neighbour of Madonna, but is incredibly steep, and we are back to those really old ungrafted vines. The grapes go into small, 350-litre, stainless steel fermenters, the process taking a long, slow, eight months. Ageing takes a further eleven before bottling. There is depth of fruit and there is the structure to age for a long time, which is what I’d do with it in this case, although it was a wonderful feeling tasting it…I could easily have drunk quite a lot of the bottle. It’s a wine which pretty much made itself, and I can’t help but feel that this shows.
I got a great thrill meeting Rudolf, which I’m sure he was unaware of and perhaps it would have made no impression if he knew. He does seem deeply thoughtful, maybe not so easy to get to know. But his wines are stunning, and I just want to get to know them better and better. They are not easy wines, but therein lies their attraction for the lover of fine Riesling. They seem almost as if the wines can think and ponder for themselves as they silently contemplate their slow evolution. The wines I tasted certainly live up to their name: Purus.
Thus ends Part 2. When a tasting is really good it leaves an impression long after, like a great film, book or concert. This was one such tasting, surely proving that many of the wines of Alsace, and Germany, deserve much wider recognition outside of and beyond the always supportive wine trade. If you trust your importer, and both Newcomer Wines and Vine Trail have chosen very well, you can’t go wrong. I hope you will consider trying some of these.