Monday, October 20, 2014

Inspired Words about Champagne


There have been several books written about Champagne over the past few years and most of them have been excellent. The latest entry is from Australian author Tyson Stelzer, who has delivered a work of great complexity and depth, somewhat akin to one of the great Champagnes he describes in this work. In other words, it's a must!

Stelzer's love of Champagne comes through on every page in this book, be it reviews, photos - which he took - or essays on any number of subjects. It's a major work and above all, it's extremely well organized. All the information and tasting notes in the world wouldn't be worth much if the book wasn't a joy to read and look at, but this one beautifully pleases any reader's needs.

Where to start? Let's begin with the tasting notes, which are among the finest I've ever read on Champagne. Stelzer's words perfectly sum up the distinctiveness that is at the heart of any special cuvée and he writes in such a way to thrill our senses, yet never does he talk down to the reader or write in a snobbish tone.

For example, here is a passage about the 2008 Rosé from the excellent Champagne house, Deutz.

"Capuring a knife-edge balance of breathtaking elegance and alluring fruit presence in vintage rosé is one of Champagne's finest arts, and Deutz has nailed it in this cuvée."

I don't know about you, but after reading that, I want to try a glass!

The 96-point rating that Stelzer assigns to this wine is another tempting factor, of course. Regarding the 100-point scale he uses (there are a precious few 100-point Champagnes in the book, wines that the author describes as "the pinnacle of character, balance and persistence), the author goes to painstaking lengths to determine why one wine is a 92 and another receives 93 or 94 points. There is a table at the beginning of the book in which Stelzer describes his definition of each score from 80 ("horrid") to 100. While I am not a fan of the 100-point scale, as it is a random ranking based on the author (Stelzer writes that one should only buy a 90-point wine if it's cheap), I have to give him his due for laying out his parameters and bringing detailed meaning to his scoring system. It may not be perfect (in reality, no scoring system is), but it's consistent and extremely well done.

Then there are the gorgeous photos that appear throughout the book. They were all taken by the author himself and he's an outstanding photographer. As a photographer myself, I'm always looking for great photos everywhere and I can tell you that too many book these days feature photos (often black and white and not color, due to printing costs) that are merely "good enough"; in other words, they'll do, but the images are not especially sensual or beautiful. That's not a problem here, as Stelzer's photos are a major highlight of this book. Be it a marvelous image of a snow-covered vineyards in the town of Cramant or a charming shot of a pruning cart, Stelzer's images are imaginative and perfectly composed and communicate the striking beauty of this region. In today's visual world, I think it's important to feature high-quality images in a book, so thanks to the publisher, Hardie Grant Books, for doing this.

There are several more aspects of the book I'd like to focus on, especially his selection of producers. Naturally the most famous houses, such as Krug, Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot are included in the book, as are marvelous grower-producers such as Larmandier-Bernier, Jacquesson and Chartogne-Taillet. But Stelzer has also written about some tiny producers that are not well known, such as Emmanuel Brochet, André Clouet and Jacques Picard; I'd like to thanks him for writing about these small producers. I'm constantly amazed at the sheer number of labels in Champagne and while no book can even come close to mentioning them all, the author has given us an excellent cross section.

I'd also like to point out that Stelzer does not automatically assume that great Champagnes are only produced by small houses. Yes, he waxes poetically about such favorites as Jérome Prevost ("some of the finest expressions of pure, single-vineyard, single-vintage Pinot Meunier in all of Champagne") and other celebrated vintners, but he also has much to say about the excellence of Moet & Chandon ("recent efforts have certainly refined the style") and Veuve Clicquot (awarding the La Grande Dame Rosé 2004 a score of 97 points, he writes that the wine "swoops and dives with red cherry and raspberry freshness, and acrobatics of truffles, orange rind, anise, vanilla and kirsch." The wine delivers, in the author's words, " a melodramatic juxtaposition of complexity and freshness.")

There are also some introductory essays that are well written and thought out, especially the one about the nomenclature of the terms Grand Cru and Premier Cru and how these regulated terms need to be updated. Also very helpful are summary tables of the author's highest-rated Champagnes as far as various categories such as Best Rosés, Best Blanc de Blancs, etc as well as the best Champagnes in various price ranges. These tables are very helpful, especially when you consider that most readers will use the book again and again, both for reference as well as a shopping list.

About the only criticism I have with this book - admittedly a minor one - is the inclusion of a few producers that have tasting notes for only one wine. I won't mention the producers here, but a few of them are ranked rather low. I'd understand an entry with one wine if it was highly rated, but for a score in the mid to high 80s, I wonder why the inclusion of these particular vintners.

Other than that small point, I highly recommend this marvelous treatise on Champagne.


The Champagne Guide 2014-2015
Tyson Stelzer
Hardie Grant Books

order here






Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Revisiting BV








Earlier this year, I tasted through several excellent wines from the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley and found that this classic estate is doing just fine, thank you. I thought I would also sample wines from another historic Napa Valley estate, Beaulieu Vineyard, to learn about the status quo of their most famous offerings, their Cabernet Sauvignons.

When you write the history of Napa Valley as well as its Cabernet Sauvignon - the two are forever intertwined - a large part of the story is Beaulieu Vineyard. Established in 1900 by Georges de Latour, the name of the estate, meaning "beautiful place" in French, was given to it by his wife Fernande. De Latour produced some of the finest Napa wines in the early 20th century and was one of the few estates to receive permission to produce wine during Prohibition (much of this was sacramental wine for the Catholic church).

Arguably the most important step for BV - and perhaps for the legacy of Napa Valley as well - occurred in 1938 when de Latour went to France and hired Russian refugee André Tchelistcheff to become his winemaker. Tchelistcheff would introduce new winemaking methods in Napa Valley soon after he arrived, but it was his analysis of a special lot of 1936 BV Cabernet Sauvignon that truly set BV and Napa Valley on a new journey. The winemaker thought so much of this wine, sourced from de Latour's finest plantings, that he had it bottled separately, identifying the wine as Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This would be the first reserve Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Napa Valley and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to taste multiple vintages of this historic wine, even as far back as from the decade of the 1950s. I attended a special tasting and dinner in 2001 at the winery for what would have been the 100th birthday of Tchelistcheff (he passed away in 1994). That day I was able to taste such legendary wines as the 1946, 1953 and 1964 - that was a memorable day, I can tell you! Here were wines that were anywhere from 37 to 55 years old and they were in remarkable shape. These were wines with very good acidity and remarkable balance. I didn't note the power of these wines, merely their harmony as well as beautiful varietal character. (For those interested, there are tasting notes on every vintage of this wine from 1936 to 2005 on the BV website- click on this link).

BV continues today without Tchelistcheff and under new ownership, but Cabernet Sauvignon remains its leading priority. I recently tasted three new releases of Cabernet Sauvignon along with a new offering of Tapestry,  a special blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and several other Bordeaux varieties. Here are my notes:


2011 BV Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) - Bright, deep ruby red; aromas of red cherry, currant, red poppies and a hint of eucalyptus. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Good ripeness, balanced acidity and well integrated oak. Good persistence and length in the finish, this is a nicely balanced wine from start to finish and has good varietal character. This will drink well for 5-7 years. (suggested retail $18-$20)

2011 BV Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) - The grapes for this wine are sourced entirely from the Rutherford District in the heart of the Napa Valley, where the winery has many of its best Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Bright ruby red/crimson edge; aromas of ripe red cherry, vanilla and red plum. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, big finish, balanced acidity and youthful tannins that are nicely styled. The wood notes are a bit strong for my tastes and the acidity seems a bit low, but a fine effort with notable varietal character. Give plenty of time - best in 7-10 years. ($28-$30).



2011 BV Tapestry (Napa Valley) - This is an appropriately named wine, given the varied blend of this wine, which is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. Bright ruby red; aromas of cranberry, red cherry and a hint of cumin. Medium-full with very good concentration. Impressive persistence, good acidity and elegant tannins. Nicely styled with ideal ripeness and balance.While the two Cabernet Sauvignons mentioned above along with the Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon are made for prime rib or a thick, juicy steak, I'd pair this wine with different foods, such as duck breast or veal medallions. Enjoy this over the next 5-7 years - perhaps longer. ($65)



2011 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Now we come ot the latest release of the winery's flagship offering; this is sourced from the winery's finest vineyard on the Rutherford Bench. A blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot (this variety adds color and spice to the wine), this was aged for 21 months in French oak, 94% of which was new. Deep ruby red; sumptuous aromas of black cherry, black currant, cassis and a hint of licorice. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this has a rich, layered mid-palate. Excellent persistence, good acidity, marvelous harmony and nicely tuned tannins. There are oak notes that are evident, but they take a back seat to the perfectly ripe, expressive Cabernet Sauvignon fruit.

A wine of beautiful structure and breeding, this is a classy wine! This is not the most powerful Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon you will find, but to my way of thinking, that is a good thing, as too many examples from other Napa producers are crafted in the "bigger is better" style in order to receive a higher point rating from certain wine publications. Thank goodness that the winemakers have learned the lessons of André Tchelistcheff and have made a wine that emphasizes varietal character and balance over intensity.

The wine unfolds nicely in the glass after 15-20 minutes of breathing and can be enjoyed tonight, although this will display greater complexities with time. Best in 15-20 years. ($130).


How nice that BV has been producing notable examples of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley for so long. Here's hoping that they will be doing the same for another century or two!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Visiting the Rheinhessen


Vineyards at Weingut Landgraf, Saulheim, Rheinhessen (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


After visiting the Rheingau (read here and here), I was excited to see a few producers in the Rheinhessen region of Germany. Both areas border the Rhine River with the Rheinhessen east of the Rheingau. It's a land of rolling hills, not as dramatic as that of the Rheingau, but the wines are often as splendid.

The first estate I visited was Weingau Landgraf in the town of Saulheim; Andre Landgraf is the owner/winemaker. Riesling, as you might expect, is the principal variety, representing 40% of the plantings; however Pinot Noir (12%) and Weissburgunder, a.k.a. Pinot Blanc, (also 12%) are important as well.

The regular 2013 Riesling Trocken is a delight with tropical fruit and apricot aromas, very good acidity and depth of fruit and ideal balance. This has beautiful ripeness and a slight lushness- all of this for just under 7 Euro a bottle, a marvelous value (unfortunately, these wines are not imported into the United States at present).

What's great about the under 7 Euro price range is that a similar wine from the Rheingau costs 10 to 12 Euro a bottle; it may or may not be of better quality. One of the individuals that accompanied me to this tasting was my friend Gerhard Eichelmann, who is the publisher of one of Germany's most thorough wine guides. He pointed out the price difference and value in this wine as compared to a version from the Rheingau; he was delighted with the wine, as was I.

I asked Eichlemann later at lunch about the image of the Rheinhessen compared to that of the Rheingau; I wanted to learn why the Rheingau is so much more famous - and hence is the home of more expensive wines. His answer was a revealing one, that this went back to the days of Queen Victoria, who greatly enjoyed a glass of "hock" (or hoch) wine, named for the town of Hochheimer in the Rheingau. The association was a strong one and Rheingau gained a good deal of its popularity from this.


Two other notable wines at Landgraf - also priced just under 7 Euro a bottle - were the 2013 Weissburgunder Trocken and the 2013 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) Trocken. The former is a well made typical version of this variety, with apple peel, chamomile and lilac aromas, while the latter is even more impressive, with enticing aromas of papaya, red apples and green tea. This has excellent complexity and first-rate varietal purity; this will drink beautifully over the next 2-3 years and is a wonderful value! I tasted only a few examples of Weissburgunder and Grauburgunder while in Germany, but was impressed with the results - perhaps the German producers should look more deeply into planting these varieties.


Then it was on to the single vineyard wines. We tasted several with the best being the 2013 Riesling Schlossberg as well as the 2013 Riesling Holle. The former displays aromas of apricots and golden apples along with a note of honey; offering excellent depth of fruit and persistence, this has beautiful varietal purity and should drink well for 7-10 years. Note that this wine is a Trocken - a dry wine. One of the things that Eichelmann wanted me to remember is that dry German wines age beautifully; everyone know about the sweet wines, but the dry wines from the best sites and years are also excellent cellar candidates. This is an outstanding wine!

The Riesling Holle is also an impressive wine, although in a different style than the Schlossberg, as this is a warmer site. Thus the wine has riper fruit with slightly lower acidity, although the acid levels are fine in this wine. This is a very elegant Riesling that should be at is best in 5-7 years.

Getting back to aging potential for dry German wines, Andre was kind enough to open a 2006 Riesling Schlossberg Trocken that displayed aromas of dried pear with a hint of pineapple and yellow peaches. This had a rich mid-palate and excellent concentration with marvelous balance; look for this wine to drink well for another 10-12 years. Yes, dry German wines can age extremely well!



Johannes Landgraf, Weingut Becker-Landgraf (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Then it was on to visit Andre's brother Johannes at Weingut-Becker Landgraf in the town of Gau-Odernheim. The best wines here are labeled with the J2 marque, this signifying Johannes and his wife Julia, who is a large part of the success at this estate; the home page of the website mentions how these two work in a "joint relationship and decide jointly what is good for us and our wines."

We tasted so many impressive wines here- this was a true highlight of my trip in Germany. Again, I loved several wines other than Riesling; especially nice was the 2013 Weissburgunder + Chardonnay Trocken with its red apple, melon and lilac aromas and excellent persistence. This has very good acidity and is quite delicious! Eichelman told me before this visit that he has been recommending to local producers that they plant Weissburgunder and Chardonnay together- here was first-rate evidence that this blend can be excellent!

Grauburginder and Weissburgunder are also excellent at this estate. The entry level Grauburgunder Trocken from 2013 is an excellent wine that combines very good acidity along with a distinct minerality and excellent persistence - this is a lovely wine. Even better is the 2012 Weissburgunder "Muschelkalk" - this term refers to the limestone soil that vines are planted on. Offering excellent depth of fruit and a ripe, lush approach, this is a stylish wine that should drink well for 7-10 years. 

Landgraf also produces Pinot Noir - this grape is known as Spatburgunder in Germany - and this is an important part of his production. I tasted three examples and had positive notes on each of them, with the most impressive being the 2010 Spatburgunder Roensberg, made from a single vineyard. Displaying a beautiful garnet color with aromas of caradmom, dried cherry and a hint of soy sauce, this has a rich mid-palate and excellent complexity. My experience with Spatburgunder is rather limited, but I have tasted some nice examples with good varietal character, but none like this. Burgundian-like, this has impressive persistence and well as varietal focus; I estimate this being in peak condition in 10-12 years; this wine is a wonderful example of the quality level of German Spatburgunder!





Jurgen Hofmann, Weingut Hofmann (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


My final visit in the Rheinhessen was at Weingut Hofmann in the town of Appenheim. Proprietor Jurgen Hofmann is a very engaging individual and you sense from being around him for even just a few minutes that he is a curious man, one who wants to learn and experience a lot. 

That is certainly reflected in his lineup of wines, which is one of the more varied I've seen from a German producer. Riesling is offered, of course, but there's also Scheurebe, Weissburgunder, Gruner Silvaner and most interesting for my tastes, Sauvignon Blanc. "I keep telling German producers to plant Sauvignon Blanc," Hofmann told me. "We have the perfect climate."

I sampled two examples of Hofmann Sauvignon Blanc, each being quite expressive. The 2013 Trocken has classic cool climate aromatics - gooseberry, papaya and green tea - and lip-smacking acidity. This is a lovely wine with bright fruit and a nice combination of zingy acidity and varietal spice; I couldn't help but think of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and that's quite obviously the intention of Hofmann here, as he has given this wine the nickname of "the little kiwi", complete with a cute illustration on the label.

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc "Laurenzikapelle" is even better, this one richer on the palate with a longer finish. The aromas here vary from the above wine, displaying notes of spearmint, melon and green tea; medium-full this has brilliant complexity and varietal character. This is a seamless wine, one in which all the components work beautifully together. I truly had no idea that there were examples of Sauvignon Blanc from Germany that tasted like this. This was one of the two or three best wines I sampled during my time in the country's wine regions.


So a wonderful time in Germany, exploring the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in the Rheinhessen and Rheingau. I will return soon, most assuredly.


My thanks to Gerhard Eichelmann for his insight and for helping arrange my visits in the Rheinhessen. Also a big thank you to Marc Buth and his wife Josefine for their hospitality and graciousness as well as their help in organizing this trip.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Visiting the Rheingau - Part Two


 (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


This is part two of my report on my visit to the Rheingau in early July; part one dealt with Georg Breuer and Leitz. This post is about my time spent touring and tasting wines at two other celebrated estates, Weingut Robert Weil and Weingut Staatsweinguter (Eltville).


Weingut Robert Weil, located in the town of Kiedrich (very near to Eltville) is regarded not only as one of Germany's greatest wine estates, but also one of the world's. In his book Deutschlands Weine 2014, author and one of the leading authorities on German wine, Gerhard Eichelmann lists Weil as only one of four wine estates from the Rheingau as a five-star producer (his top rating). (Eichelmann also rates Leitz and Georg Breuer - two producers I profiled in my previous post - in the same category; the only other Rheingau five-star producer in Eichelmann's book is Weingut Peter Jakob Kuhn).

This was my first experience with the wines of Robert Weil and it didn't take long for me to understand the reason for the high praise. Every wine here, from the basic Riesling to the most exquisite single vineyard offering, is beautifully made with great varietal purity. There is a definite thumbprint with these wines, as they all feature bright fruit with very good acidity- these are vibrant wines. Yes, the style is quite high tone in nature, so that approach is a winning one with both consumers and many critics, but I mention this if only to explain some of the appeal of the wines.

Here are notes on some of the wines I tasted during my visit, arranged from least to most expensive (as well as in terms of large to small production numbers):

2013 Riesling Trocken - This is the entry level wine at Weil; it is categorized as a gutswein (the winery brochure lists this category as "corresponding to the domaine"). Made entirely from Riesling from a few of their best single vineyards, this has delicate peach and apricot aromas with very good acidity - a hallmark of the cool 2013 vintage, one that German winemakers are delighted with - and balance. This actually has just a slight touch of sweetness, but you'd never notice it, when paired with roast chicken or a similar dish. Very tasty and a fine introduction to the Weil style of Riesling. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

2013 Kiedricher Riesling Trocken - This is an ortswein, a village wine; the grapes are entirely from three of the winery's vineyards in Kiedrich. Beautiful aromas of yellow peach, kiwi and peony. Medium-full, this has beautiful varietal focus, excellent complexity and a distinct mineral note (this increases as you start to taste the more limited single vineyard wines). This is dry and will drink well for 5-7 years.




Oak casks at Weingut Robert Weil (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


2013 Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling Trocken - This wine is an Erste Lage, a single vineyard that in this instance, the winery compares to a Premier cru (as in the classification of Burgundy in France). While the first two wines described above are fermented and aged in steel tanks, this wine is aged in large casks. The belief here is that this causes a bit of micro-oxygenation in the wines; this along with added texture from the addition of oak, increases the wine's complexity. Beautiful aromas of apricot, lilacs, lemon rind and chamomile. Medium-full with very good concentration; rich mid-palate and a long finish. Distinct minerality with a light nuttiness in the finish. Excellent balance of all components. Outstanding wine- enjoy now or in a decade.

2013 Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Trocken "GG" - This Grosse Lage wine is made from Weil's finest vineyard, located just behind the winery. The GG stands for Gross Gewachs, basically meaning Great Growth - think of this as a Grand Cru. GG is a relatively new descriptor for German wines to help identify the greatest vineyards in the country. 

Very enticing aromas of yellow peach, apricot and orange roses - it's difficult to take your nose out of the glass with this wine! Medium-full with excellent concentration; an explosion of fruit on the mid-palate. Outstanding persistence; long, long finish. Ideal harmony, great varietal purity, lively acidity and a light minerality. This wine was also aged in large casks. Outstanding wine - this may be a classic! Best in 7-10 years, though it may age longer.




2013 Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Spatlese - Aged in large oak casks, as are all the single vineyard wines; Aromas of tea leaf, apricot pit, yellow peach and eucalyptus. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Long, long finish with a light, pleasing touch of sweetness. Outstanding complexity; great purity. Delicious! Lovely now - this will age for 10-12 years.

2013 Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Auslese - Beautiful aromas of ripe apricot, yellow peach and mango. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, with layers of flavor. Long, long finish with great persistence; moderate sweetness. Outstanding complexity and balance; this has great finesse and elegance and great varietal character. A great dessert wine! Best in 12-15 years. 




Kloster Eberbach, Eltville (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


After seeing the glistening modern technology at Weil, it was quite a change visiting Kloster Eberbach in nearby Eltville. This site was established in 1136 by Cistercian monks, who produced wine at this facility. While there is a state of the art winery located not too far away, the barrels and press used by the monks for centuries are still present and can be seen on a tour of the Kloster.

At one end of this property, there is a tasting room where today's wine from the Staatsweinguter can be sampled. The Staatsweinguter is the state winery; this particular one is known as Hessische Staatsweinguter, as this particular state in Germany is the Hessische (there is also a state-owned winery at Assmannshausen; this known for Pinot Noir).



Detail of Steinberg Vineyard, Eltville (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


The Staatsweinguter produces wines from several excellent vineyards in the Rheingau, including Rauenthaler Baiken, Erbacher Marcobrun and Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, but arguably the most famous is Steinberg, close to the Kloster Eberbach. To say this vineyard has a great deal of history would be an understatement - it was planted in 1239! In the 18th century, walls were built around the vineyard to protect the vines from wild boar and also to act as a wind break. It is the site of some of the greatest German wines over the centuries; this is a monopole of the Staatsweinguter, who proudly call it "Germany's Clos Vougeot!"

Adjacent to the vineyard is an architecturally stunning winery, one of the most up to date and beautiful in the country. A free tour of the winery is available and wisely, the proprietors hand you a glass of three different wines at various stops of the tour. Again, all of this is free - very nice touch!



Detail of new winery at Steinberg (Photo from Kloster Eberbach website)



Here are notes on a few of the best Staatsweinguter wines I sampled during my visit:

2013 Steinberger Riesling Trocken - Aromas of apricot, yellow peach and lilacs. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Good length in the finish, round and clean with very good Riesling character. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years.

2013 Wiesbadener Neroberg Riesling Trocken - Beautiful aromas of yellow peach, lilacs and a hint of tropical fruit (mango). Medium-bodied with very good varietal purity; very good acidity and a light minerality. Nicely made with very good complexity. Enjoy now or over the next 5 years.

2012 Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg "GG" Trocken - Intriguing aromas of spearmint, peony and white peach. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, very good acidity, light minerality. Lovely varietal purity and very appealing - this is quite dry and is delicious! Excellent to outstanding quality. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years - perhaps longer. 

2011 Steinberger Riesling Spatlese - Very floral aromas with notes of yellow peach, magnolia and a hint of apricot. Medium-full with very good concentration. Light sweetness, with lovely balancing acidity and very good complexity. Lovely varietal purity as well as finesse. Excellent. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years.


___


In the next post, a visit to producers in the Rheinhessen.













Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Visting the Rheingau - Part One


Vineyards along the Rhine River across from the town of Bingen (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


It had been far too long a wait, but I finally made it to Germany to visit wine regions. I had been on German soil, so to speak, dozens of times, but it was always to connect to a flight to Italy or back home to Chicago. How nice then that in early July, I was able to land at the Frankfurt airport and head to the baggage claim after having my passport stamped, instead of connecting to another flight!

I visited two regions over the course of three days, the Rheingau and the Rheinhessen, both named for their proximity to the Rhine River. This post will be part one about my time in the Rheingau; I'll write about my experience in the Rheinhessen soon.

While the Rheingau is one of the most famous and certainly one of the very best in terms of wine quality, it's also one of the smallest. The region's vineyards are situated just north of the Rhine River, taking a west to east orientation along the river. The large cities of Wiesbaden (north of the river) and Mainz (south) are at the far eastern boundaries of the region.



Vineyards at Johannisberg (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


The towns that give their names to the most celebrated wines of the Rheingau are quite famous in their own right, names such as Johannisberg, Eltville, Erbach and Rauenthal, to mention just a few. The primary grape here - as it is throughout much of Germany - is Riesling, though the village of Assmannshausen, near the junction of the Rhine and Nahe rivers, is well known for its Pinot Noirs. Some estates also produce smaller amounts of Grauburgunder- aka Grauer Burgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).

I visited four producers during my brief stay. Here are notes on two of these producers and the wines I tasted (I will profile the other two producers in my next post):

Georg Breuer (Rudesheim) - This outstanding estate, founded in 1880, has been owned by the Breuer family since the early 20th century. I met with Theresa Breuer, the granddaughter of Georg, who managed the firm for several decades. 

The wines here are very clean with admirable varietal purity; I was quite impressed with the 2009 Grauer Burgunder, which seemed much younger than five years old. This was a example of this variety with very fine texture, something not seen in most examples. The 2011 Spatburgunder is a pleasant wine with attractive wild cherry and iodine notes; though not meant for cellaring, this is a fine choice for the next 2-3 years.

Of course, it was the Rieslings that stood out here. Especially nice is the 2013 "Charm" Riesling, sourced from grapes from both Rauenthal and Rudesheim. This is a wonderful, absolutely delicious entry level Riesling with notes of white peach, lilacs and a touch of honey. There is very good acidity - a trademark of the very fine 2013 vintage, so this should retain its freshness over the next 3-5 years. It's also a wonderful value, priced at 9.50 Euro; this was a welcome sight, as quality Riesling is not inexpensive to produce, especially in this area.

One of my favorite wines at Breuer was the 2012 Rudesheim Estate Riesling with its inviting yellow peach and apricot aromas (classic Rheingau perfumes) and ripe, almost lush fruit. The wine has lovely complexity, with just a hint of sweetness and very good acidity; look for this wine to drink well for 7-10 years.



Kellerwelt (tasting room) at Breuer


Then it was on to the single vineyard Rieslings at Breuer. The top wines for me were the 2011 Rauenthaler Nonnenberg, a monopole of Breuer and the 2011 Berg Rottland Auslese. The former is designated as Trocken, meaning dry. (This descriptor has been used in conjunction with the praedikat designations of Kabinett and Spatlese, e.g., in the past, but will now be listed by itself,  if at all - see final section of this post below for further explanation).

The Nonnenberg Trocken offers the classic yellow peach and apricot aromas along with a hint of magnolia and has a very rich mid-palate and excellent complexity and a long, long finish. Here is a beautifully precise Riesling that truly speaks of the local terroir - this should age beautifully for 10-12 years.


The Berg (berg simply means "hill") Rottland Auslese has classic Rheingau aromas of apricot along with some tropical notes of mango along with flowery nuances of magnolias and lilacs. Medium-full with excellent concentration, there is also a delicate honeyed character on the palace and in the finish. This has outstanding complexity and a lengthy finish that has moderate sweetness, as there is very good acidity that cleans the palate. This is an outstanding sweet wine which can be enjoyed now, but will reveal greater complexities in 10-12 years.

I also loved their 2006 Brut, a blend of the Pinots - Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. Most people don't realize that Germany is the world's leading producer of sparkling wine, known as sekt; fewer still realize that most of these wines are made from grapes imported from other countries. Of course, these sparkling wines are for supermarkets; they do not reflect much, if any, character.

Thankfully, there are producers of sparkling wine in Germany that make wine according to the classic method, where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. This is an excellent sparking wine of impressive complexity, very good persistence and style. Quite dry, this is beautifully made and will be a pleasure to drink for the next 3-5 years.




I also enjoyed the wines of Leitz, a small cellar located in Rudesheim, managed by 50 year-old Johannes Leitz, who has been at the helm here since 1985. Today, the firm has 40 hectares (100 acres) of vineyards of some of the most prized sites in the Rheingau.

The first wine I sampled here was the cleverly titled Eins-Zwei-Dry from the 2013 vintage. A trocken Riesling, this is a straightforward and charming wine; Letiz explained the name by telling me that he wanted his customers know that Riesling can be dry (and that he produces one). It's tasty, with simple charms and at 8.50 Euro, it's nicely priced.

The best wines here are quite rich with a distinct minerality that the finest German Rieslings are known for. A first-rate example of that at Leitz - at least for me on this occasion - was the 2013 Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling (trocken). This particular site is at the far western end of the Rheingau where the river turns north; the vineyard has a southwestern exposure and sits just a few hundred feet above the river banks.

Along with beautiful aromas of peach, there is also a strong note of flint, derived no doubt from the blue slate soil. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this has rich minerality, big persistence, very good acidity and excellent complexity; this should drink well for 7-10 years.

Even better was the 2012 Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Spatlese, a wine with only 8% alcohol. Offering intriguing aromas of petrol, guava and honey, this is a bright and delicious wine with a rich mid-palate, very good acidity and a lengthy finish with just a hint of sweetness. This should be in fine shape for 10-12 years more; in my opinion, this is a classic, first-rate Spatlese.

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One of the things I learned on this trip was the recent shift as far as labeling German wines. The trend is to move away from the Prädikat designations of the 1971 German wine law; now wines would be named by quality level - entry level, commune (town) wines and finally single vineyard wines (lage). Of this last category, the absolute best vineyards, basically the Grand Cru would be known as Grosse Lage, with a few select wines being classified as Grosses Gewächs (G.G.) - great growths.

Also the term trocken is written on some wines, while not on others; the belief here from producers is that if the wine is not a Spatlese or Auslese, it is dry. Thus in their mind, their wine would not need the term trocken. Yet some producers believe it should be written on a label. 

It's all a bit confusing, even for some Germans that closely follow their country's wines. Hopefully this will all be straightened out soon.

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Next post on the Rheingau: Robert Weil and Staatsweinguter