Monday, January 4, 2010

German American Wines: (1) Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, (2) Eroica, (3) Woelffer and his Schiller Wine

I was born and grew up in Germany. For the past 26 years, I have lived in the US, on and off, in the greater Washington DC area. Over this period, I have discovered wonderful American wines, both from the East and the West Coast. I have continued to drink German wines, although at times, I have been disappointed by what I found in the shelves of the American retailers. And I have discovered a number of German-American wines. These have taken different forms. I will discuss three forms. This is the first article in a series.

First, the most extreme, I believe, is blending of grapes grown in America with grapes grown in Germany. It seems unusual, but it happens.

The second form is a joint venture of an American and a German wine maker, using American grapes.

Third, there are a number of winemakers in the US who make their wine in the US with American grapes, but who have learned how to make wine in Germany. They came to the US some years ago, are settled in the US and produce American wines, but you can see the German roots in the wines.

For each of the three categories, I will discuss one wine or winemaker.

German American Blend: NV Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Pacific Rim Winemakers

Pacific Rim Winemakers is a new undertaking of Randall Grahm who made a name for himself with the easy-drinking wines of the Santa Cruz-based company, Bonny Doon Vineyard. I find the wines of Pacific Rim Winemakers excellent. They only make Riesling.

Pacific Rim Winemakers also sells a NV Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. This wine is an intercontinental blend, made of wine from the US and Germany. 80 percent of the grapes come from the Columbia valley in Washington State and 20 percent from the Mosel valley in Germany, selected by the German wine maker Johannes Selbach. Because it is a true German/American product, the label cannot show the vintage but has to say NV.

I had a bottle of the wine recently with my daughter Dorothea and my son Benjamin in Concord, New Hampshire. We ate Maine Lobster and T-Bone Steak and had the wine with the Lobster. It worked very well with Lobster. It may also work with Asian food. There is a geisha on the label that underscored the wine’s affinity for Asian foods.

Our tasting notes: Light straw-color with a greenish glint of brass; attack of petrol and green apple on the nose; oily texture, legs; hint of tropical fruit and spices on the palate; mouth-filling, dry and acidic; lasting finish.

Here are notes of the winemaker: To make our Dry Riesling, we pick our grapes relatively early (21-22.5 Brix). The Riesling juice is fermented at cold temperatures for 30 days and then aged in stainless steel tanks. We leave our dry wines sur lie (which means that we keep the wine on the yeast lees to increase the mouthfeel of the wine) post fermentation for five months and we stir the lees once or twice a week. We use no oak and no malolactic on this wine — it's as pure and unmanipulated as it gets. For our Dry Riesling, we blend 20% of German Riesling wine — selected by Johannes Selbach in the Mosel region — to 80% of our Columbia Valley Riesling. The German Riesling lends great depth and acidity, as well as low alcohol.

Joint venture of an American and German winemaker: Eroica

The Eroica is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle, the huge Washington winemaker, and Dr. Ernst Loosen, the eminent Riesling producer from the Mosel region of Germany. The wine is made at Chateau Ste. Michelle from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley.

Picture: Ludwig van Beethoven

Eroica was launched in 1999. Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica is supposed to reflect not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration.

Founded in 1934, Chateau Ste. Michelle pioneered European vinifera grape growing in Washington State and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the Ste. Michelle label since 1967. The Dr. Ernst Loosen Estate in the Mosel valley has produced fine Riesling for over two centuries. It is one of the top German wine estates.

They make three kinds of the Eroica. The regular, dry Eroica, an ice wine and a Single Berry Selection. The latter is made in the traditional German Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) style, for which the Mosel valley is so famous, and is one of the few TBAs in North America. This wine is made in very limited quantities and has scored a 98 in the Wine Spectator.

German winemaking in America: Woelffer Estate and Schiller Wine

The Woelffer Estate is one of the top wine estates on Long Island, New York State. It would not be what it is today without the two Germans Christian Woelffer, its founder, and Roman Roth, its wine maker. I have written about them in my German Winemakers in the World series. Among their wines, I found the

Grandioso Rose 2008—39% Chardonnay, 32% Cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot

This is a “Schiller”. Winemaker Roman Roth knows how to make Schiller from back home in Germany. Schiller is made by blending red and white grapes before fermentation. It looks like a Rose, but it is not, at least not in the French tradition. You can find Schiller only in the region of Württemberg in the south of Germany. The wine got its name from the verb “schillern”. The verb “schillern” means “to scintillate”. “Schiller” is thus a wine with a scintillating color, reflecting the fact that the wine is a blend of red and white grapes. In the past, Schiller used to be a Gemischter Satz wine, but to my knowledge nobody does it any more. Today, Schiller is a blend, but not a field blend. See my posting of August 12, 2009

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller at Woelffer Estate

The Grandioso is a blend, but not a field blend, shinny pale in color, the aroma is full with fresh lime, papaya, and some raspberry notes, the mouth-feel is crisp, elegant and austere, lip-smacking acidity and beautiful yeast notes ensure a vibrant finish.

This series of German American wines will continue.

Schiller Wine – Related Postings

Wine ratings: Two American/German wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 wines list for Washington State 2009

German Wine Basics: Schillerwein – A German Speciality

Wine Tasting: Woelffer Wines from Long Island, New York State

Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth, USA

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