The photos in this post are courtesy of Lyle Fass, Chambers St. Wines
Even though I am known as Champagne Rory this time of year I jumped at the unique opportunity to attend a tasting and discussion hosted by Rudi Wiest Selections (Rudi seen left) and Maverick Wine Company at the Custom House in the South Loop. Over 52 dry German wines including Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Scheurebe, and Pinot Noir from 19 producers were presented in a lightening quick and remarkably efficient method. Champagne Rory can sometimes morph into Riesling Rory, and when asked by his friend Laura Maniec to choose a desert island wine (a common question among wine geeks) on her winetalk.typepad.com blog , Riesling Rory showed his German Riesling affinity and replied as such. However, the German Riesling that I love tends to be balanced sweet stuff, the 8 to 9 percent alcohol green flutes from the Mosel, or my absolute favorite producer, Helmut Dönnhoff from the Nahe. Rudi Wiest’s German Dry Wine Tour, in its second year, is meant to introduce a message to restaurant and retail buyers (and market influencers) in 7 american cities; the true expression of German terroir is in the unadulterated dry wines from top vineyard sites and that Pinot Noir from Germany can compete on the world stage.
Germany is one of the truly misunderstood treasures of the wine world. Considered to be the northern most outpost of fine wine making, Germany has a wine tradition as long and rich as any nation in Europe. There are visible reminders of that history today, for example, an ancient Roman press house in pristine condition can be visited in the town of Piesport on the Mosel, and more Roman wine artifacts have been discovered on the Pfeffingen estate in the Pfalz. The next important arbiter of viticulture and vinification after the Romans were the Benedictine and Carthusian monks that proliferated throughout Europe around 1100 AD. The Pinot family of varietals and its various mutations like the Noir, Blanc, and Gris were transported by the Carthusians around this time, and there are records of Pinot Noir in Germany some 300 hundred years before any mention of Riesling. Yet, many of us think that wine from Germany is always sweet Riesling, and sweet wines carry a stigma these days that preclude many Americans from experiencing them.
Rudi Wiest is touring to spread the message that the sweet wine phenomenon is a very recent one. According to Gault Millau The Guide to German Wines,
“Looking back at the last century, one can say that there was a reasonably uniform style that was applied in the fist half of the century: At that time, apart from a small number of naturally sweet exceptions, German wine was usually fermented dry.”
Scientific techniques and modern equipment in the cellar allowed producers to change styles and produce sweet wines on a consistent basis. Chaptilization, or adding sugar to increase alcohol levels and retain fruity sweetness is still permitted in Qba, or Quality wines throughout Germany. The German Dry Wine Tour message speaks to the focused purity of soil expression that occurs in dry wines, and in fact, the majority of discussion as we raced through the 50 plus wines was regarding the loess, loam, red slate, blue slate, limestone, volcanic, iron, sandstone and red clay soils. Manipulation in the cellar through techniques like chaptilization, Rudi preaches, adulterates the quality varietal expression from top sites. Several efforts to organize, classify, and re-classify the wines of Germany may have contributed to quality control, but unfortunately the wine law changes of 1971, 2001, and the designations by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter) to recognize sites as Erstes Gewachs (First Growths) and Grosses Gewachs, (Great Growths) in certain regions do little to clarify expectations for the consumer. So, the tour marches on and people like me are invited to carry the torch of the German dry wine message. A compelling message perhaps, but I took something else from the event; German Pinot Noir may now be carving out an intriguing identity and style (even though Germans have cultivated Pinot Noir for over a thousand years).
At the tasting were 16 very youthful German Pinot Noirs, or Spatburgunders from 2004 to 2006 (including some yet unbottled barrel samples). All were produced in a very precise style with light ruby to orange color, subtle strawberry and raspberry notes, and a green, stemmy structure that may be indicative of youth. Because of that ‘stemminess’ that I picked up from the first Pinot Noirs shown, I wondered about the ability of German Pinot Noir to display fruit expression and potential for harmonious balance. But as I tasted on there were some very interesting and potentially great wines that I would like to revisit in five or ten years. I began to see a continuity to the wines shown and found a sharp contrast to what most American and some Burgundian Pinot Noir has come to be in the very clean and ethereal Pinot Noir of southern Germany, particularly:
Meyer-Nakel Pinot Noir Dry Estate “Blue Slate” Ahr 2006
Rebholz Pinot Noir Dry “Tradition” Pfalz 2004
Rebholz Pinot Noir Dry “vom Muschelkalk” Pfalz 2004
Becker Pinot Noir Dry Estate Pfalz 2006 (barrel sample)
Becker Pinot Noir Dry “B” Estate Pfalz 2005 (barrel sample)
Becker Pinot Noir Dry Grosses Gewachs “St. Paul” Pfalz 2005
Furst Pinot Noir Dry “Tradition” Franken 2005
Furst Pinot Noir Dry Klingenberger Franken 2005
Furst Pinot Noir Dry “R” Gresses Gewachs, Burgstadter Centgrafenberg Franken 2005
Fritz Becker Jr, whose three Pinot Noirs all showed great potential, told us that some of his family’s best vineyards are actually on French soil and that because it was in Germany when the Beckers acquired it, it can continue to be used for making German labled wine. Becker jr. also explained that the choice of wood from the German oak forests, which he says are often passed on as French Barrels from cooperage houses in France, is the most suitable vessel for slowly developing the intricate nature of Pinot Noir.
After conclusion of the tasting I asked Scott Larsen, General Manager and Owner of Maverick Wine Company and local Rudi Wiest wholesaler, as to what he thinks the identity of German Dry wines, including Pinot Noir, can be in the ever more competitive wine market. Through a brief discussion that linked the Riesling and Pinot Noir as delicate varietals that, with care and respect for terroir by quality producers, can transcend all others (at least I think so, and don’t forget that Champagne is in large part Pinot Noir says Champagne Rory) I learned that Scott and Maverick are planning a tasting that features the two varieties for some time in 2008.
German wine is misunderstood indeed and there is much more to offer than libfermilch and sweet Qba wine. Germany offers distinctive wines and traditions that deserve to be mentioned in the conversation of the top wine making regions of the world. I will continue to treasure sweet Riesling from Germany, especially from that Stradivarius maker in the Nahe named Donnhoff, but will also look out for quality dry whites and will seriously follow the development of Pinot Noir from Pfalz and Franken.
Rudi Wiest also recommended a book by German wine authority Stuart Piggot that has yet to be translated to english. I tried to find out more about Piggot and found a few YouTube clips (see next post below).
Panelists from the tasting included
Rudi Wiest – Importer of International Recognition
Felix Buerklein – Franz Künstler Estate
Christoph Graf – von Buhl Estate
Max von Kunow – Hans Wirsching Estate
Hansjörg Rebholz – Rebholz Estate
Fritz Becker Jr. – Becker Estate
Sebastien Fürst – Fürst Estate