A Small but Focused German Tasting
I’m responsible for the German section of WBTL, and its recent publication was a signal to begin work on the next. My first duty is to take a close look at the 2014 vintage, but I also wanted to look at some producers which are not yet discussed in the guide. Because the organising principle is to present quality rather than quantity, hundreds of producers are not included. This places some responsibility on our shoulders to keep a close eye out for those who ought to be. So: I was looking at some of the cheaper wines in the ranges of well-known producers, and at wines made by some up-and-coming winemakers. The results were mixed: there were no bad wines, but very few which lit the soul.
This, I should add, was not as easy a task as it might sound, and I decided that I could use some help. Since 2002, I have been part of a small tasting group in London which meets monthly and tastes blind. That would not, however, be a helpful procedure when my idea was to assess the group of wines to see which producers if any I should follow up for the guide, not to rank the wines in some point-scoring manner. Therefore, we would all taste each wine, make notes (in my case, quite detailed ones), and then discuss them one by one. I bought a mixed dozen of 2014 Rieslings from The Wine Society, brought them to about 11 degrees centigrade, and colleagues then poured their glasses three at a time. We then settled down to the task.
In Germany, 2014 was a somewhat mixed vintage, reflecting the vagaries of the weather. On the whole, the wines are light and fresh, although there are, of course, some delectable sweet wines. A rule of thumb is that the lower the alcohol level, the sweeter the wine. The wines we were tasting ranged from 8% to 13% – it is clear how important was the order in which we tasted them.
Below you will find tasting notes on each of the 12 wines. As a short-cut, the primary result of this tasting is that I will be taking a closer look at the wines of Tyrell in the Mosel and Louis Guntrum in Rheinhessen.
- We began with a Niersteiner Oelberg Riesling spätlese (i.e., late-harvest) trocken (i.e., dry – but this can be variable) by Louis Guntrum, at 13% the driest of the lot. This is from Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest wine-growing region, and for years a region predominantly devoted to quantity rather than quality. It is now, however, notable that there are a number of younger wine-makers, such as Konstantin Guntrum, who are putting new life into their estates and producing increasingly good wines. This particular wine had a light and flowery aroma; in the mouth it showed very ripe fruit with just enough acid to keep it from being limp. The finish was of a good length, and on that basis I decided to try it again later. (£11.95)
- The next wine was a Deidesheimer Riesling trocken at 12.5% from Mittelhaardt, the best part of the Pfalz. The producer was Weingut Dr Bürklin-Wolf, for decades one of the great names of the Pfalz, and certainly one of the producers already in the guide. The grapes are from young vines growing in great vineyards; grapes from the older vines go into some of their great wines. This wine has a light, young and fruity nose which is quite lovely. On the palate it was fruity with nice acid and a good length, although it seemed in retrospect a touch watery compared with the Spindler wine which follows. I liked the edge of minerality. (£11.50)
- The Forster Riesling made by Heinrich Spindler in the Mittelhaardt is 12% – it can be described as either very fruity or half-dry (halb-trocken), whichever you choose. The label is silent on the subject. The fruity and floral mouth was nicely balanced with sparkling acid, and it was rather rich and weighty, but not very complex. A nice lunch-time wine. (£11.50)
- The fourth wine was Hochheimer Kinchenstuck Riesling Kabinett, made by Künstler in the Rheingau, which is 12%. It was a very pale yellow, pétillant, flowery on the nose, and with lovely fruit on the palate. It was balanced with nice acidity, which kept it from tasting like fruit juice. It was big in the mouth for this level of German wine and, in sum, was very nice. Künstler is already in the guide. (£13.50)
- 5) With the Mittel-Mosel’s Schloss Lieser Riesling Kabinett Trocken at 11%, we begin a gradual ascent into increasingly sweet wines. One of the major German wine guides, the Gault & Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2016, named the relatively young winemaker Thomas Haag wine-maker of the year for 2015, and on the basis of this wine, I see no reason to disagree. It has a lovely, complex nose, which was slightly savoury. On the palate there was brisk acid with lots of fruit and minerality, which really developed in the mouth. It had good concentration, and for me was the best wine of the evening. The producer is already in the guide. (£12.50)
- Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett trocken at 11% is also from the Mosel. It is fruity with an edge of minerality, which developed a touch of sweetness in the mouth. It’s a Tuesday lunch wine – light and nice but not very thought-provoking. (£11.95)
- With the Josephshöfer Riesling Kabinett, von Kesselstatt at 9.5% we make a small leap up the sweetness ladder. From the Mittel-Mosel, the wine has a somewhat restrained fruity nose, with brisk acid and a fruity sweetness on the palate. This producer is in the guide. (£12.95)
- Erbacher Macrobrunn Kabinett, Langwerth von Simmern is from the Rheingau and has an alcohol level of 9%. This is a delicious wine with a lovely complex nose; it has a palate that is sweet though not syrupy, with just about enough acid for balance. This producer is in the guide; their Maximin Grunhäuser wines are spectacularly good. (£12.95)
- Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, Willi Haag ascends to 8.5%. This wine did not have a particularly pronounced nose, but what there was primarily floral, with some fruitiness finally emerging. It was sweet with, initially, some nice acid, but the latter faded a bit. It had nice flowers and fruit, but I did wonder whether it had enough acid to keep it going for too many years. However, for those who like their Riesling young and floral, that shouldn’t matter. This producer is in the guide. (£10.95)
- Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett, Dr Loosen, 8%. Erdener Treppchen is one of the great vineyards in the Mosel and the producer is run by one of the most internationally famous of German winemakers. They make a range of wines, some of which are truly great. This one is uncomplicated. It has a rather muted nose, and is sweet with just about enough acid to balance it. It’s a nice glass of wine, but without much personality. The producer is in the guide. (£13.50)
- Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberger Kabinett, Tyrell, 8%. For me, this was one of the very pleasant surprises of the tasting. I had never before tried their wines against others of roughly the same type. The nose, which had a very distinctive aroma of my grandmother’s crab-apples, was as light as spring water. It was sweet but with a shot of medium acid all the way through which balanced it wonderfully. It had a very persistent finish. I will certainly follow up the producer for the guide. (£16.00)
- The final wine was the Wiltinger Kupp Riesling Kabinett, von Othegraven, the third wine which came in at 8%. This is from the area of the Saar River in the Mosel region. This was an unabashedly sweet wine, but it had plenty of acid to balance it. The palate was not straightforward, but had, unusually, orange notes without the citrus aspect. It was an intense wine. The producer is in the guide. (£13.50)
Overall, of these 12 wines I liked best those from Schloss Lieser, Langwerth von Simmern, Tyrell, and von Othegraven.