Friday, December 3, 2010

Christian G.E. Schiller Leads Tasting of US-American Wines in Hochheim, Germany

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller in Hochheim, Germany, Presenting American Wines from the East and West Coast to the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim

The Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim asked me to lead them through a tasting of US-American Wines. I bought some of the wines from importers of US-American wines in Germany, bought some of the wines myself in the Washington DC area and brought them over to Germany and was provided with the Dr. Frank dry Riesling directly from the Wine Estate in the Finger Lakes region in New York State.


Hochheim is at the eastern edge of the Rheingau, well know around the world for its Riesling wines. Moving from Hochheim to the west, the fairly flat, dimpled landscape evolves into progressively steep slopes. It is a quietly beautiful region, rich in tradition. Queen Victoria's enthusiasm for Hochheim's wines contributed to their popularity in England, where they, and ultimately, Rhine wines in general, were referred to as Hock.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Annette Schiller and Gunter Kuenstler, Hochheim's Top Winemaker

The third President of the USA - and notable bon viveur - Thomas Jefferson visited the Rheingau in 1788 and wrote that the wine of the "Abbaye of Johnsberg is the best made on the Rhine without comparison … That of the year 1775 is the best." He also referred to the Rheingau Riesling as the "small and delicate Rhysslin which grows only from Hochheim to Rudesheim". Impressed by the quality of the Rheingau Riesling wines, he bought 100 grapevines in Hochheim to take back to his estate in Virginia.

The best winemaker in Hochheim now is with any doubt Weingut Kuenstler. Its founder, Franz Kuenstler, who died earlier this year, was a founding member of the Weinfrundeskreis Hochheim. Weingut Kuenstler is now being owned and run by Gunter Kuenstler.

What we Tasted
Here are the wines we tasted.

Sparkling Wine

2005 Domaine Carneros Taittinger Sparkling Brut, Napa Valley, California

White Wine

2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Beringer, 13,5 %, Napa Valley, California
2007 Chardonnay, Woelffer Estate, 12,5 %, Long Island, New York State
2008 Chardonnay, Walter Schug, 14 %, Carneros, California
2008 Riesling , Dr. Konstantin Frank, 12 %, Finger Lakes, New York State
2008 Riesling Eroica, Dr. Loosen and Chateau St. Michelle, 11.5%, Washington State

Red Wine

2006 Norton, Horton Vineyards, 13 %, Virginia
2007 Merlot , Woelffer Estate, 13 %, Long Island, New York State
2007 Pinot Noir, Walter Schug, 13,5 %, Sonoma Coast, California
2006 Pinot Noir, Joseph Drouhin, 14,5 %, Oregon
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Robert Mondavi Private Selection, 13,5 %, California
1990 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spottswoode, 13,4 %, Napa Valley, Cailfornia
2006 Zinfandel, Grgich Hills, Grgich Vineyards, 14,9 %, Napa Valley, California
2008 Cabernet Franc , Jefferson Vineyards , 13 %, Virginia

Wine Producer US

The US accounts for about 400.000 hectares of the world’s total vineyard area of about 7.000.000 hectares, in other words, 7% of the total. When you talk Europeans about American wine, they always mention three wine growing areas, California, Oregon and Washington State. True, there is wine made in Oregon and Washington State, and, in fact, in all other American States, but it is California, which accounts for 90% of America’s vineyard area. Washington State is small compared with California, with 4% of the total each, about the same vineyard area as New York State (with Long Island and the Finger Lakes being the main areas). Oregon is tiny in terms of wine making, at less than 1% of the United States’ total. Living in Viriginia, when I am in the US, and being a member of a Virginia wine meet-up group, I of course also had to present my home state. But Virginia is also tiny, wine accounting for under 1 % of the total.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Janine I., Hochheim's Reigning Wine Queen

Strong German Touch

Obviously, the tasting had a stong German touch. Beringer was founded by the German brothers Jakob and Friedrich Beringer. Walter Schug, one of the fathers of California Pinot Noir, was born in Assmannshausen in the Rheingau and moved to California with his German wife Gertrude after having received his formal training as winemaker at the Geisenheim wine college and after having worked for several years as winemaker in Germany. Woelffer Estate on Long Island was founded by the German Christian Woelffer; in the vineyard and the cellar, the German Roman Roth is the driving force. He even produces in New York State a wine that would be called “Schiller Wine” (blend of white and red grapes) in his home region Wuerttemberg. Eroica is a joint venture of Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington State and German star winemaker Ernst Loosen. Dr. Konstantin Frank immigrated from a German speaking part of the former Soviet Union into the US. His grandson Fred, who is currently in charge, studied winemaking in Germany and speaks perfectly German.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Holger Krimmel, President of the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim

Stong American Component

There was of course also a stong Ameriican component. Norton is the only American grape variety that can produce high quality wines. Robert Mondavi is the father of the American wine revolution. Spottswoode is one of the leading American producers of organic wine. Mike Grgich is one of the winemakers, whose wine beat the French wines in the famous 1976 tasting in Paris. Finally, the last wine was made in the vineyards, where President Thomas Jefferson had unsuccessfully tried to grow wine several centuries ago.

Picture: Signpost in Hochheim for President Jefferson's Visit in Hochheim

For those, who can read German, I had prepared a power point presentation, which can be obtained from me upon request; just send me an e-mail:

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  1. So how were the American wines received by your group?

  2. The American wines were very well received by the group. I think their favorites were the Dr. Frank Riesling, the two Pinot Noirs and the Zinfandel. I was personally very much impressed by the 1990 Spottswoode, which was amazingly fresh, with a never ending finish.

  3. Christian,

    Thank you for including the Dr. Frank Riesling in your tasting.

    Frederick Frank
    Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars

  4. Here is an article (in German) in the Hochheimer Zeitung about the tasting.