Monday, January 30, 2012

German Riesling and International Grape Varieties – Top Wine Makers Wilhelm Weil and Markus Schneider at Kai Buhrfeindt’s Grand Cru in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Picture: Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil, Kai Buhrfeindt, Grand Cru Weinrestaurant, Christian G.E. Schiller, Markus Schneider, Weingut Markus Schneider

Weingut Robert Weil produces only Riesling, both in the dry and in the fruity-sweet and noble-sweet styles. It is without any doubt the Rheingau’s flagship winery. It was founded in 1875 and is currently managed and co-owned by Wilhelm Weil. Weingut Robert Weil wines represents at its best what German wine is known for in the world: classic Riesling wines.

By contrast, Weingut Markus Schneider is a new winery, founded only a few years ago. Wine maker Markus Schneider is one of Germany’s shooting stars, who has made himself a name within a short period with innovative, non-traditional wines, in particular new-world-style red wines.

Pictures: Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil, and Markus Schneider, Weingut Markus Schneider; Kai Buhrfeindt, Grand Cru Weinrestaurant

Thus, at the Grand Cru dinner, we had the opportunity to taste the wines of the representatives of two camps: (1) Weingut Robert Weil, 100% Riesling, a world star when it comes to dry, fruity sweet and noble sweet Rieslings, with a long tradition and (2) Weingut Markus Schneider, presenting the international grapes Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Merlot, unknown in Germany a few years ago that can compete with any such wines from anywhere in the world; a young innovative wine maker, producing non-traditional, new-world-style wines in Germany.

These top wines accompanied a delicious menu created for us this evening by Chef Michael Amerswald.

During the evening, I was reminded of a conversation that I had a few months ago with German wine expert Phil Bernstein from MacArthur’s Beverages in Washington DC. The German Wine Society had invited Lindsay Morris, who had done a master thesis about the future of German wine in the US. She argued that Germany should branch out and promote its non-traditional wines, such as red wines, which now accounts for one third of Germany’s wine output. Phil took the opposite position: Germany should not branch out, it should focus on where its comparative advantages are and do what nobody in the world does as well as Germany – produce Riesling.

Kai Buhrfeindt and his Grand Cru in Frankfurt am Main

Over the past couple of years, I have regularly dropped by the Grand Cru Wine Bistro (Weinrestaurant) in Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen district, whenever I was in Frankfurt. There is perhaps a handful of brasserie/bistro type restaurants with a strong wine menu in Frankfurt am Main. Kai Buhrfeindt’s Grand Cru is one of them.

Pictures: Kai Buhrfeindt and Christian G.E. Schiller at Grand Cru Weinrestaurant: Chat Sauvage Versus Peter Querbach – An Impromptu Pinot Noir Wine Tasting with Kai Buhrfeind at His Grand Cru Wine Bar in Frankfurt, Germany

The excellent food, the large, well chosen and ever changing wine list – with about 300 wines by the bottle and by the glass - and the French brasserie/bistro atmosphere of Grand Cru always bring back fond memories of the 3 years which I spent in Paris. The expertise and the passion for wine and food of owner Kai Buhrfeindt – a Staatlich gepruefte Weinnase (a government certified wine nose) - shows clearly and everywhere at Grand Cru.

Wilhelm Weil and his Weingut Robert Weil in the Rheingau

Founded in 1875, Weingut Robert Weil in Kiedrich is the Rheingau’s #1 estate and one of Germany’s best. Four generations and over a century ago Dr. Robert Weil, who was a Professor of German at the Sorbonne, was forced to leave Paris because of the Franco-Prussian War (1870/1871). He subsequently joined his brother August in Kiedrich in the Rheingau and established the Robert Weil winery.

Dr. Robert Weil purchased his first vineyards in Kiedrich and moved there in 1875, when he bought the estate manor from the heirs of Sir John Sutton, an English baronet. A man of vision, he built up the estate by purchasing 2 local wine estates and the vineyards of Count von Fürstenberg. Contacts throughout the world and the production of great wines brought rapid growth to the Weingut Robert Weil.

Pictures: Wilhelm Weil and Christian G.E. Schiller at Weingut Wilhelm Weil. I visited Weingut Wilhelm Weil last year and posted about my visit: Visiting Wilhelm Weil at his Weingut Robert Weil in Kiedrich, Germany and Tasting with Wilhelm Weil the 2010 Weingut Weil Wines in Kiedrich, Germany

Today, Weingut Robert Weil is managed by Wilhelm Weil, who owns the winery jointly with Suntory from Japan. 75 hectares under vine, it is one of the largest estates in the Rheingau. The historical manor house, the ultra-modern cellars and the vinothek stand side by side in a beautiful park – the same synthesis of old and new that is reflected in the estate’s philosophy of winemaking. While I visited Weingut Weil in the summer of 2011, major extension works were going on.

Picture: Wilhelm Weil at Grand Cru Weinrestaurant

In 1988, the estate was sold by Robert Weil to the Japanese beverage group Suntory, and his son Wilhelm appointed as estate director. The vineyard area was doubled, and an ultra-modern cellar built. I did not ask Wilhelm, but he is reportedly in the process of repurchasing shares from Suntory.

While we visited Weingut Robert Weil, there was construction work going. “We want to double the surface of the winery’s underground cellar” Wilhelm said.

The Rheingau

It is remarkable: For its entire length of nearly 560 miles, the Rhine flows north with one exception – a 28-mile stretch where the river changes its course. Here, it flows to the west, thereby enabling both the river and the vineyards facing it to bask in the warmth of the sun all day long. This is the Rheingau, one of the medium-size German wine regions. 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.

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’s 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 to take back to his estate in Virginia.

Although the Rheingau is one of Germany’s smaller wine-growing regions, its 3,100 ha (7,660 acres) of vineyards are vastly diverse in their geological makeup. They can be divided into four zones: vineyards in the Rhine, vineyards in proximity to the Rhine, vineyards on the higher reaches of the middle plateau, and vineyards on the heights at the foothills of the Taunus Hills. The Rheingau is dominated by Riesling, accounting for 4/5 of the vineyard area. Pinot Noir accounts for 1/10 and is concentrated around Assmannshausen.

Weingut Robert Weil and Riesling

The vineyards are planted 100% with Riesling. The estate’s dedication to Riesling since 1875 has led numerous observers of the international wine world to regard Weingut Robert Weil as a worldwide symbol of German Riesling culture. A Riesling wine of the 1893 vintage, grown on the Gräfenberg site, made the estate famous. The imperial Habsburg court in Vienna purchased 800 bottles of this wine at a price of 16 gold Marks per bottle in 1900. The 1920 vintage of the Kiedricher Gräfenberg Trockenbeerenauslese is described as a Zeppelin wine, as it was served on board the LZ 127 „Graf Zeppelin” dirigible on its circumnavigation of the world in 1929.

The Top Weil Vineyards: Kiedricher Klosterberg, Kiedricher Turmberg and Kiedricher Gräfenberg

Weingut Robert Weil’s top vineyards all belong to the group of the highlying sites of the Rheingau: Kiedricher Klosterberg, Kiedricher Turmberg and Kiedricher Gräfenberg. Inclination (up to 60 %), exposure (southwest) and the ability of the barren stony soils to absorb heat are the factors that make for three perfect Riesling sites. These conditions, as well as ideal circulation, enable the grapes to remain on the vine for a long time, ripening well into November.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Wilhelm Weil looking at the Weil vineyards

Kiedrich Gräfenberg: Kiedrich Graefenberg is situated on a southwest-facing ridge and a steep cliff with inclines of up to 60 percent. The soil consist of deep and medium-deep stony, fragmented phyllite partially mixed with loess and loam. This combination of barren stony soils, an ideal microclimate, steep inclination and southwestern exposure allows the grapes to hang on the vine for a very long time.

At the end of the 12th century, the renowned site was first documented as “mons rhingravii” (literally, the hill of the Rhine counts) and in 1258, was named “Grevenberg.” To this day, Gräfenberg has remained a focal point. The record prices it fetches at auctions bear witness to the site’s renown.

Kiedrich Klosterberg: The name Klosterberg (literally, monastery hill) derives from “Closterweg,” the old path that ran through this vineyard in Kiedrich en route between the monastery Kloster Eberbach and its mill near Eltville. The shallow to deep stony-gritty soils of the southwest facing site are of Devonian (colored slate) and pre-Devonian (phyllite and sericite gneiss) origin, and are mixed with gravelly loess.

Kiedrich Turmberg: Since the founding of Weingut Robert Weil, the Turmberg site was always considered one of the estate’s top sites, second only to Gräfenberg. The name Turmberg (literally, tower hill) derives from the surviving keep (central tower) of the former castle Burg Scharfenstein. The archbishops of Mainz had the fortress built on the steep crag northeast of Kiedrich in 1160. With it, the Rheingau sovereigns hoped to secure the eastern flank of the Rheingau as well as the important trade route that ran from Eltville to Limburg and Cologne. Turmberg lies on the slopes of a steep, slaty crag. Its stony-gritty soils consist primarily of phyllite mixed with small portions of loess and loam.

With the wine law of 1971 and its amendment of the vineyard register, numerous traditional vineyards, like Turmberg, were incorporated into other sides. In 2005, the Turmberg parcel was reinstated as an individual vineyard site consisting of 3.8 ha (9.4 acres). It is solely owned by Weingut Robert Weil.

Markus Schneider and his Weingut Markus Schneider in the Pfalz

Weingut Markus Schneider is in Ellerstadt in the Pfalz. Markus Schneider learned how to make wine at Weingut Dr. Buerklin-Wolf in the Pfalz from 1991 to 1994. His father - Klaus Schneider – had grown grapes for many years as a member of the local wine cooperative, before leaving the wine co-operative and founding his own winery in 1990, with the view of setting up a winery for his son Markus. For years later, Markus took over and 1994 was the first vintage made by and bottled under the name of Markus Schneider. In the following years, Markus Schneider increasingly shifted to making blends, based on international grape varities, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Merlot, that were a novelty for Germany.

Innovative Wine Labels and Wine Names

At the same time, the wines were marketed with non-traditional, modern labels and wine names; these wines became increasingly appealing for young and hipp wine consumers. Markus Schneider markets all his wines as QbA, without any reference to the predicate level (that have been dominating German wine classification for decades) and without any reference to the vineyard(s) were the grapes come from (moving away from the terroir principle that has become increasingly important for trational German wine producers).  Here are some of Markus Schneider’s wines: Blackprint, Rotwein Alte Reben, M Spaetburgunder, Tohuwabohu, Chardonnay, Riesling and Kaitui.
A Shooting Star

In 2003, Markus Schneider was voted Newcomer of the Year by the Feinschmecker and in 2006, Discovery of the Year. Within only a few years, Markus Schneider had shot to the top echelons of the German wine industry and established a solid position. Since 2007, Weingut Markus Schneider is in the 3 (out of 5) grapes category of Gault Millau.

Pictures: Markus Schneider

The Vineyards

Markus Schneider owns and leases vineyards. In addition to warmer vineyards in the valley around Ellerstadt, Weingut Markus Schneider also owns/leases vineyards in higher and cooler regions on the edge of the Haardt Mountains. The approximately 50 hectares of vineyards spread over the following varieties: Weiße Rebsorten: 30 % Riesling, 8 % Weißer Burgunder, 5 % Grauburgunder, 5 % Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Rote Rebsorten: 12 % Spätburgunder, 12 % Blauer Portugieser, 10 % St. Laurent, 5 % Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Mitos.

In the Wine Cellar

Markus talked a bit about how he makes his wines. He likes concentrated, fruity wines with intense aromas. Markus told us that he achieves this through strict yield limitation, late harvest and vineyard work focused on the physiological maturity of the grapes.

Markus Schneider: „In the wine cellar, natural must concentration with traditional methods is important. For rosé and red wines, this is achieved through juice reduction of up to 40%, using the saignée method. In addition, red wines are very slowly fermented using traditional mash fermentation, which last  for premium wines up to 3 months. The maturation takes place in traditional wooden casks and barrique barrels.“

„White wines are vinified with long maceration times (up to 48 hours). The maturation takes place until up to the bottling in the spring in stainless steel tanks, oak barrels and barriques. My white wines remain in contact with the fine yeast until shortly before bottling in order to achieve a complex aroma spectrum.”

Weingut Markus Schneider Wine Portfolio

Here is an overview of the wine portfolio of Weingut Markus Schneider:

Rosé Cuvée Saigner Medium Dry Rosé St. Laurent, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

Ursprung Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Portugieser, Cabernet Mitos

Blackprint Merlot, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Mitos, Cabernet Dorsa

Rotwein Alte Reben 100% Portugieser

M Spaetburgunder

tohuwabohu Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot






Kaitui 100% Sauvignon Blanc.

Takatuka 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Chardonnay

Vet Rooi Olifant South African wine; joint venture with South African wine maker

Wining and Dining with Kai Buhrfeindt at Grand Cru

This was a spectacular evening with the outstanding food of Chef Michael Amerswald and the spectacular wines of Wilhelm Weil and Markus Schneider, all very well orchestrated by Kai Buhrfeindt.

Pictures: Chef Michael Amerswald and Kai Buhrfeindt

Steinbutt/ Kalbskopf/ Nüsse

Markus Schneider, Kaitui 2011, Sauvignon Blanc, QbA

The Markus Schneider Kaitui is a tribute to New Zealand which is well known for its Sauvignon Blanc. Kaitui means Schneider in the language of the Maori. Markus Schneider: “This is a very early bottling. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and also (starting with this vintage) also on large oak barrels.” A very fruity, lush, very much new world style Sauvignon Blanc.

Rote Beete/ Rauchschinken

Weil, Kiedricher Turmberg 2007, Riesling QbA

A Lagenwein (premier cru) – dry; the Turmberg consists primarily of phyllite mixed with small portions of loess and loam, which accounts for the pure minerality in the wine. The 2009 Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling Trocken made it to the Wine Spectator Top 100 wines for 2010 (2009 vintage). Wilhelm Weil: “The wine was fermented in stainless steel and large oak barrels. A perfect food wine.”

Skrei/ Schwarzwurzel/ Blutwurst/ Ravioli/ Beure Blanc

Weil, Kiedricher Graefenberg 2002, Riesling 1. Gewaechs
Weil, Kiedricher Graefenberg 2007, Riesling 1. Gewaechs

Graefenberg is the top vineyard of Weingut Wilhelm Weil. Wilhelm Weil: “Gräfenberg is the only site in the world in which grapes of every quality category – including Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese – have been harvested every year without exception since the 1989 vintage.”

Wilhelm Weil: “2002 was an average year, a bit on the cool side. By contrast, 2007 is view as a vintage of the century.” The 2002 showed a lot of minerality and was very fresh. Intense peach notes in the finish. The 2007 was lush, oily and ripe, but already showing some hints of aging.

Kalb/ Kohlrabi/ Kartoffel/ Trüffel

Markus Schneider, Merlot 2009, QbA trocken
Markus Schneider, Syrah 2009, QbA trocken

The Merlot and the Syrah: Both very concentrated, fruity, new-world-style wines, with intense aromas.

Stuart Piggot included the Syrah 2009 in his List of 2011 Favorites under the category innovation of the year:
Innovation des Jahres: 2009er Syrah "Made in Germany" vom Weingut Markus Schneider.

"Die Rebsorte Syrah ist ein neuer Import aus dem französischen Teil des Rhônetals, der nur dank der Klimaerwärmung bei uns Einzug halten konnte. In Übersee wird er meist als "Shiraz" vermarktet, und der erste Rotwein aus dieser Sorte des Pfälzer Jungwinzer-Phänomens Markus Schneider hat eher die Üppigkeit eines Überseeweins. Hier geht es jedoch selbstbewusst um "made in Germany". Der Duft des Weins (29,50 Euro ab Hof, Telefon 06237/7288) verbindet warme Aromen wie reife Brombeeren, Bitterschokolade und Gewürze mit kühler Kräuterfrische. Trotz des Riesenkörpers schmeckt man den Alkohol kaum, und die Gerbstoffe wirken fast wie Kakaopulver auf der Zunge. So etwas gab es noch nicht "made in Germany"."

Weißer Canache/ Tonka/ Ingwer/ Orange

Weil, Kiedricher Graefenberg 2005, Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel

A sweet-style Riesling Auslese. While 70% of Weingut Robert Weil’s wines are fermented dry, the reputation Weil wines have in the world are due are to a large extent to the world class fruity-sweet and noble-sweet Rieslings. Robert Weil’s top botrytis wines are sold today at extremely high prices - they are among the most expensive in the world. The current world record (in 2006) is held by a 1999 Weil Trockenbeerenauslese, at DM 5.000 (EUR 2500).

This is a prime example for what kind of fruity-sweet and noble-sweet Rieslings Wilhelm Weil is able to produce. Intense and rich, long finish.

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