Monday, October 12, 2015

The Rheingau and its Terroirs: Tasting with Rheingau’s Elite Winemakers, Germany

Picture: Daniel Deckers from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, Hans Schultz, Professor at Geisenheim University, Wilhelm Weil, Owner of Weingut Robert Weil in Kiedrich, and Dirk Würtz, Winemaker at Weingut Balthasar Ress and one of Germany’s Leading Social Media (Wine) Personallities

There was no discussion about this question: Are the first 12 months in the vineyard or is the following period in the wine cellar the determining factor for the quality of a wine? All agreed: The first 12 months in the vineyard are key to the quality of a wine.

In Germany right now, terroir is the term that excites winemakers and drinkers and not Öchsle, the sugar level in the grape at harvest. Germany is moving to a terroir based wine classification, following the Bourgogne.

See here:
Steffen Christmann (Weingut A. Christmann) and Wilhelm Weil (Weingut Robert Weil) Presented the New Wine Classification of the VDP, Germany
The new (VDP) Wine Classification in Germany: Tasting Weingut Robert Weil Wines from Gutswein to Grosse Lage Wine 

With the objective to shed some light on the initial periode of making wine, and more particularly, on the terroir of the Rheingau, 20 Rheingau elite winemakers organized a tasting of premium dry wines (all VDP.Grosse Lage GG wines), which focused on the various vineyard sites of the Rheingau. Note that only about half of the VDP Rheingau membership joined the tasting.

Pictures: Rheingau and its Terroirs, with Wilhelm Weil

The event (Wir gehen in die Erde und der Sache auf den Grund. VDP.Grosse Lagen. Der Rheingau und seine prägenden Terroirs – We dig into the earth and go the bottom of it. VDP.Grosse Lagen. The Rheingau and its terroirs) took place at Weingut Robert Weil at the eve of the pre-release tasting of the Grosses Gewächs wines in Wiesbaden in late August 2015. Accordingly, the elite winemakers of the Rheingau invited journalists, wine bloggers, sommeliers, wine retailers for an impressive vertical tasting of 20 ultra-premium Rheingau Rieslings. The winemakers were also present and participated in the tasting.

Pictures: The Event

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.

Picture: The Rheingau

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. The soil varies from stony slate at the western part near the villages of Assmannshausen and Rüdesheim to loess, sand and marl in the lower central villages of Geisenheim, Johannisberg, Winkel, Oestrich and Hattenheim. Soil reverts to stony phyllite in the higher central and eastern villages of Hallgarten, Kiedrich and Hochheim. Generally, wines from the lower slopes where the soil is heavier—sandy loam and loess—produce fuller wines, while at the higher slopes where it is more stony and slatey, the wines reflect more minerality, elegance and concentration.

The Rheingau enjoys a distinctly continental climate with cold winters and warm, but not hot, summers. 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.

The Tasting: We dig into the Earth and go the Bottom of it. VDP.Grosse Lagen. The Rheingau and its Terroirs

The tasting was conducted by 4 wine personalities: Wilhelm Weil, owner of Weingut Robert Weil in Kiedrich; Dirk Würtz, Winemaker at Weingut Balthasar Ress and one of Germany’s leading wine bloggers; Hans Schultz, Professor at Geisenheim University; and Daniel Deckers from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, who has written a number of wine historic books.

Pictures: Tasting

The tasting started in the eastern part of the Rheingau, with 4 VDP.Grosse Lage GG Rieslings from the Hochheim Hölle, different vintages, all Weingut Künstler, and ended in the eastern part of the Rheingau with 4 VDP.Grosse Lage GG Rieslings from Rüdesheim Schlossberg, all from 2012, from 4 different winemakers: Kesseler, Leitz, Ress and Wegeler. All in all, we had 20 flights with 4 wines each from the top vineyards of the Rheingau.

For all wines, the tasting took place in 3 steps. Daniel Deckers would begin by talking about the vineyard from an historical perspective, Hans Schultz would then focus on the terroir of the vineyard and Wilhelm Weil and Dirk Würtz would initiate the tasting, in which then everyone could participate, notably the winemakers that were present.

Picture: The Wines

Here are the 20 vineyards and winemakers:

Hochheim Hölle Weingut Künstler
Walluf Walkenberg Weingut Toni Jost
Martinsthal Langenberg Weingut Diefenhardt
Kiedrich Gräfenberg Weingut Weil
Erbach Hohenrein Weingut Knyphausen Weingut Jakob Jung
Erbach Siegelsberg Weingut Knyphausen Weingut Jakob Jung
Erbach Marcobrunn Weingut von Oetinger
Hallgarten Jungfer Weingut Prinz
Hallgarten Schönhell Wein- und Sektgut Barth
Östrich Lenchen and Rosengarten Weingut Spreitzer
Östrich Doosberg Wein- und Sektgut Schönleber Weingut Kühn
Mittelheim St. Nikolaus Wein- und Sektgut Schönleber Weingut Kühn
Schloss Vollrads Schlossberg Weingut Schloss Vollrads
Winkel Jesuitegarten Weingut Allendorf
Johannisberg Schloss Johannisberg Weingut Schloss Johannisberg
Johannisberg Hölle Weingut Johannishof Johannes Eser
Geisenheim Rothenberg Weingut Geheimrat Wegeler
Rüdesheim Berg Rottland Weingut Johannishof Weingut Leitz Weingut von Mumm Weingut Balthasar Ress
Rüdesheim Berg Roseneck Weingut Leitz, Weingut August Kesseler
Rüdesheim Berg Schlossberg Weingut August Kesseler, Weingut Leitz, Weingut Balthasar Ress, Weingut Geheimrat Wegeler


It was a very lively tasting.

As mentioned earlier, all agreed: The quality of a wine is determined in the vineyard and not in the cellar.

Controversial, however, was the role of the winemaker. Should the producer be only a “servant” in helping the terroir to express itself in the wine (the position of Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil) or should the producers be more aggressive and be an “amplifier” or perhaps be an “interpreter” of the vineyard (the position of Peter Jakob Kühn, Weingut Kühn)? Does the vineyard have a soft voice only and you need the winemaker as an “amplifier” so we can hear what the terroir wants to tell us? Or does the vineyard have a strong voice and the best what the winemaker can do is to move to the back and let the terroir speak. And what is terroir really? Just the objective factors like soil type, sun exposure, steepness of the slope etc. or is the winemaker part of the terroir?

Picture: Annette Schiller, ombiasy PR and WineTours, and Paul Truszkowski, Wine in Black

Picture: Guiseppe Lauria, Gault Millau Deutschland WeinGuide

Picture: Michel Bettane, Leading French Wine Critic, Joel Payne, Gault Millau Deutschland Weinguide, and Fred Prinz, Weingut Prinz

Picture: Madeleine Jakits, Der Feinschmecker, and Ulrich Sauter, Falstaff Deutschland

Picture: Sascha Speicher, Meininger Verlag

Picture: Peter Seyffardt, Diefenhard'sches Weingut and Cecilia Jost, Weingut Toni Jost

Picture: Ulrich Allendorf, Weingut Fritz Allendorf, and Stephan Reinhard, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

Picture: Caro Maurer, MW

Caro Maurer, MW, defined terroir as the “homeland” (“Heimat”) of the wine, including the winemaker. “I cannot taste the vineyard” she said. Winemaker Peter Seyffardt referred to a research project of the Weinbauverband Rheingau, which has established a link between specific soil types and aromas in the wine.

Supporting the position of Caro Maurer, winemaker Peter Jakob Kühn said “The man is part of the terroir”. Does spontaneous fermentation (in the cellar) reinforce the terroir character of a wine or conceal it. Very important also: What is the role of remaining sweetness in the wine? Can fruity-sweet and noble-sweet wines have a terroir character? Overwhelmingly the answer was that sweetness in the wine conceals the terroir character of a wine.

Pictures: Slides of Hans Schultz (Soil, Sun, Water) and Daniel Deckers (History)

Hans Schultz reminded us that there are 7 different soil types in the Rheingau. Also, the planting density has an impact on the root formation and thus on the minerality of the wine. The color of the soil impacts the temperature above the ground. The ability to handle rain water also differs from vineyard to vineyard; some are better for wet vintages, when fast water drainage is preferred and others are better for dry vintages, when it is import to keep the small quantity of water that there is in the vineyard. Finally, against the background of climate change, terroir is not a static but a dynamic concept. What is an excellent vineyard now might become a difficult vineyard in the next 50 years.


Thanks for a most entertaining and educational event to the 20 elite wine producers of the Rheingau, who organized the tasting.

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