Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wine tasting: 30th Anniversary of the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Princess Sabine

Picture: Annette Schiller and Dr. Michel from Domdechant Werner'sches Weingut

The Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim was founded on October 9, 1979 in the Nassauer Hof in Hochheim. It grew out of a series of wine seminars that had been organized by Robert Thust and the Volkshochschule for two years. There, wine friends from the Wiesbaden/Mainz/Hochheim region had come together and had studied wine profoundly during weekly seminars that began with the basics of wine, using the example of Riesling wines from Hochheim, moved to other German grapes and wine regions, and ended with the wines of other European wine regions such as Bordeaux and Bourgogne. When we came to the end of the cycle, the question was: what should we do now? Some of the wine friends, including my wife Annette and myself, decided to stay together and create the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim. Since then, the Weinfreundeskreis meets about once a month for a tasting of or a presentation on wine and also undertakes wine excursions. There is also a group that meets once a month for a Weinstammtisch. Over all these years, the Weinfreundeskreis has been ably managed and lead by its current President Holger Krimmel. Chapeau!!

Picture: President Holger Krimmel

On October 16, 2009, the Weinfreundeskreis met at the Hochheimer Hof in Hochheim to celebrate its 30th anniversary with a special tasting of wines from Hochheim. The Weinfreundeskreis was honored by the precence of the mayor of Hochheim and by representatives of other wine brotherhoods, including the chairman of the association of German wine brotherhoods. The Hochheim winemakers were represented by Dr. Michel from the Domdechant Werner’sches Weingut.

Picture: Annette Schiller being honored as founding member of the Weinfreundeskreis by Holger Krimmel

Hochheim is one of the top wine producing villages in the Rheingau region with about two dozens winemakers. Already Goethe spoke of its distinctive microclimate: '...among the magnates of Rheingau wine, Rüdesheim, Johannisberg and Hochheim, there can be no dispute about rank!...'. The Őchsle tend to be higher here than in other areas of the Rheingau. And it was the English Queen Victoria's (1819-1901) special preference for Hochheim wine that prompted the abbreviation ‘Hock' for all good Rhine wines. But Hochheim is perhaps best known in the U.S. through President Jefferson. This is where Thomas Jefferson, when he was Ambassador in Paris, visited in 1788 and brought vine cuttings back to America to plant in his own vineyard.

Hochheim is about 50 minutes from Frankfurt Airport by S-Bahn. Most of Hochheim’s winemakers sell their wine directly to the consumer at their premise, which is typical for the German wine market, and many operate cosy Gutsausschänke (Restaurants), where you try their wines and eat hearty local food.

Picture: Annette and Christian G.E. Schiller

All wines we tasted were from Hochheim/Rheingau, only Rieslings, not Spaetburgunder or other grapes, although the former is coming up in the Rheingau. We tastes wines ranging from 1976 to 2008 and from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese.

Riesling has a unique ability to convey a sense of place and a natural tension between fruit, minerality, acidity and sugar. All these wines did this perfectly. We started with a Riesling Sekt from Hochheim.


2007 Hochheimer Mussie, brut, Schreiber and Hochheimer Hof

Hochheim has a long tradition of producing fine Sekt. It started 1832, when Ignatz Schweickhardt returned from Reims/Champagne where he lived with his godfather Eduard Werle who later became the owner of the Veuve Clicqout estate. In the following, the production of Sekt in Hochheim boomed. In the middle of the century, for example, a bottle sparkler from Hochheim cost US$ 5 at the Astoria in New York City, 3 US$ more than the Veuve Cliquot. These high-days are long over and all the Hochheim Sekt estates have closed down. Burgeff was the last one and the winery Kuenstler bought the premise and cellar recently.

This is a fine Sekt, bone-dry, made from Hochheimer Riesling in the traditional method to remember the father of Sekt making in Hochheim.

Dry wines

2008 Herrnberg, Kabinett, Weingut Baison

My neighbor at the winetasting felt that the junior chef at the Baison estate was one of the new talents in Hochheim; watch out for him!

Entry-level bottling, very fresh, a bit spritzy, with wonderful minerality and crystalline fruit.

2007 Hoelle, Erstes Gewaechs, Weingut Dorotheenhof

Owner and wine maker Thorsten Dienst is an ambitious young winemaker with a great wine brasserie on his wine estate; highly recommended.

A Erstes Gewaechs wine; Erstes and Grosses Gewächs is a new classification system that aims at making it easier for the consumer to identify premier/grand cru dry wines that can compete with the best dry wines from the rest of the world. See my postings of September 29, 2009 for further background information.

Erstes Gewaechs and Grosses Gewaechs basically mean the same: an outstanding dry wine from a great vineyard (Erste Lage). The term Erstes Geweachs is used in the Rheingau only and Grosses Gewaechs everywhere else. But while Grosses Gewaechs can only be used by a winemaker belonging to the club of VDP wine estates, Erstes Gewaechs in Rheingau is available to any winemaker who can call an Erste Lage vineyard his own. Thorsten Dienst does that.

Dark yellow in the glass, hint of tropical fruit, full texture, less acid than the Baison wine, impressive in its mineral definition and perfectly gauged residual sugar.

2003 Stielweg, Spaetlese, Weingut Kuenstler

Gunter Kuenstler is one of the very best German winemakers. He is one of the two winemakers of Hochheim who have ventured out to the American market (the other one is Weingut Domchechant Werner, see below), benefitting from the increasing popularity of Rieslings in the US and in general in the world.

In the US, his wines are imported by Rudi Wiest, Cellars International, 1780 La Costa Meadows Drive, Suite 201, San Marcos, California 92078.

I attended the Kuenstler autumn 2009 wine tasting at the Kuenstler estate in Hochheim. See my posting of October 2, 2009. The founder of the Weingut Kuenstler, Franz Kuenstler, has been a member of the Weinfreundeskreis for many years since its beginning.

A deep orange color, a fairly boisterous style with some botrytised grapes used, I guess, plenty of spice on the nose and a broad, rich palate, citrusy with a balanced dryness, the wine reminded me of a Chablis.

1994 Kirchenstueck, Spaetlese, Weingut der Stadt Frankfurt

Weingut der Stadt Frankfurt is one of the larger wine maker in Hochheim, owned by the City of Frankfurt; it tends to produce good wines that are served at official occasions in Frankfurt am Main and in the restaurant in the mayor’s office to the general public; if you stand before it, on the left side of the “Roemer”.

A aged wine with a light sherry tone.

Off-dry wines

2008 Koenigin Victoriaberg, Kabinett, Weingut Koenigin Victoriaberg

Koenigin Victoriaberg is exclusively owned by a winemaking family that has its winery not in Hochheim but about 30 km away in Mittelheim.

Light, off-dry, spritzy wine, hint of tropical fruit, nice sweetness/acidity play in the mouth.

2005 Berg, Kabinett, Weingut Schreiber

Schreiber is one of the winemakers in the Rheingau who have started to grow Merlot, reflecting the impact of global warming and adjusting to the new realities.

Schreiber also manages the wine estate of the catholic church of Hochheim and produces first class wines at reasonable prices.

Kabinett on the label, but possibly a Spaetlese that was demoted to broaden the wine portfolio, off-dry, honey and caramel on the nose, mineral and well crafted.

2006 Hoelle, Erstes Gewaechs, Weingut Rebenhof

Weingut Rebenhof is known for its special, including cultural, events at the winery. The Rebenhof is one of the few wine estates in the Rheingau that has a long tradition of biodynamic winemaking.

Also a Erstes Gewaechs from a non-VDP winemaker. The wine is from a specific area of the Hochheimer Hölle, which is 100 % Tonmergel (marly clay), citrus and green apple, long finish and a hint of sweetness on the palate, Erstes Gewaechs wines can have up to 12 gram remaining sugar per liter and this wine probably is very close to the limit.

Sweet wines

1996 Kirchenstueck, Spaetlese, Weingut Himmel

Emmerich Himmel is one of the (relative) newcomers in Hochheim. His wine estate has 5.5 hectars, including the best vineyards in Hochheim. He took over from his parents about 25 years ago, who had sold their wine in bulk. Since then, he has been increasingly producing outstanding wines, of which 80 percent are Rieslings, the remainder Spätburgunder (10%) and Weißburgunder (10%).

Earthy and complex, with a great balance and, at the end, a bite that gives the wine extra interest, coupled with a charming sweetness.

1990 Reichestal, Spaetlese, Weingut Schaefer

Weingut Schaefer is gaining increasingly international recognition, but does not export any of its wines. Last year, the first prize in the dry category at the Best of Riesling Competition was awarded to the 2007 Hochheimer Kirchenstück Spätlese from Weingut Schäfer. See my posting of ; I also reviewed the winemaker Josef Schaefer in a blog posting on September 29, 2009.

Almost 20 years in the bottle, an aged wine, but still fresh. Great fruit, fine acidity, ripe without being overly sweet, and totally winning.

1985 Reichestal, Auslese, Weingut Kuenstler

This was the first in a series of 3 sweet Auslese wines, all made by the Kuenstler estate, when Franz Kuenstler was still in charge of wine making at the estate. These were all his wines.

Dark-yellow in the glass, balanced, nectar-like wine enchanting the nose with ripe apricot, peach and honey; a firm acid profile balances the wine’s sweetness, yielding a deep, lingering finish.

1983 Kirchenstueck, Auslese, Weingut Kuenstler

Exciting fullness of fruit, hugely rich with a honeyed, almost oily texture from the late-harvested, botritysed grapes, but showing a strong acidic backbone and an obvious minerality.

1976 Kirchenstueck, Auslese, Weingut Kuenstler

Picture: Franz Kuenstler introducing his wine

Franz Kuenstler presented this wine personally; he reminded us that 1976 was an ideal year with perfect winegrowing conditions throughout the whole growing season until harvest; we all stood up and raised our glasses to honor the wine and its creator.

The wine is still fresh, intense, with plenty of personality, hint of lychee on the palate with white peach and earth, a masterpiece of harmony and acid integration, exciting and assertive finish.

1976 Reichestal, Beerenauslese, Weingut Kyritz

Picture: Mrs. Kyritz introducing her Beerenauslese

Mrs. Kyritz, the wife of a Hochheimer winemaker Kyritz, is also a member of the Weinfreundeskreis and I remember vividly one of the first tastings of the Weinfreundeskreis, which took place in the beautiful old Kyritz cellar; unfortunately, the Kyritz couple had to stop making wine a few years ago.

Dark brown in the glass, strong taste of honey on the palate, paired with tropical fruit, lush nectar, ripe peaches and an almost sinful mouth feel, was harvested with 130 gram Oechsle and has 135 gram remaining sugar and 7,5 % acidity.

1999 Domdechaney Trockenbeerenauslese, Domdechant Werner’sches Weingut

This is the other internationally well recognized winery that sells its wines all over the world. Its owner Franz Michel, is one of German wine’s most engaging personalities.

Dark brown, orange blossoms on the nose, taste of honey on the palate paired with tropical fruit, very rich and expressive, that golden glow seems to go right down your throat, beautiful wine, both in the glass and the mouth.

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