Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tasting Notes: German Wines imported into the US by Valckenberg

Picture: Kloster Liebfrauenstift with its Vineyards in Worms, Germany

The editor of the i-winereview, Don Winkler, and I tasted in December 2009 a selection of German wines which are imported into the US by Valckenberg.

Valckenberg in Worms, Germany

With over 220 years of corporate history, Valckenberg is the oldest family owned wine merchant in Germany, being run by Wilhelm Steifensand, a seventh generation descendant. Royal dynasties and many renowned personalities of the times are Valckenberg customers. The Valckenberg headquaters is in the city of Worms.

The wine history of Worms begins with the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. About 1400, the monastery Kloster Liebfrauenstift is founded and the Liebfrauen canons begin cultivating vines in the monastery gardens.

In 1908, Valckenberg released the first German wine brand – “Liebfrauenmilch Madonna”. The export success of Liebfraumilch wines fosters the demand for German wine worldwide. From then on, Valckenberg numbers among the leading wine merchants of Europe. Today Valckenberg has multiple domestic partnerships and is active in 24 countries worldwide.

The focus of Valckenberg’s wine portfolio is on wine makers with a long tradition. It does not include any of the new generation of innovative, young winemakers, for example from Rheinhessen, but relies on well respected, top-level wine makers with a long tradition, sometimes going back several centuries. Many of these wine makers produce world class noble-sweet wines in the categories of Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese as well as Icewine, which are well represented in Valckenberg’s wine portfolio. This wine tasting, however, focused on entry-level and premium wines from these wine makers.

The Tasting

The tasting included both red and white wines. German red wines are increasingly appearing in the international wine market. Of course, given its location, they tend to be not like the fruity red wines we know from warmer countries, but lean and more elegant, with a lot of finesse. 30 years ago, in the international scene, people would not talk about German red wine. But this has changed. Germany now produces red wines that can compete with the best of the world. The share of red wines in terms of production has increased from 10 percent in the 1980s to about 35 percent now in Germany.

The flagships of German wines are of course the noble sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Icewine. There is nothing you can do to prevent these wines from becoming noble-sweet. As a result of the noble rot or the freezing of the grapes, the grapes have such high sugar content at harvest, that it is impossible to make dry wines from them.

With most German wines, however, it is different. Germany being located at the northern border of wine making, the grapes are harvested with sugar content that they can be alternatively fermented in a dry, off-dry or sweet style. It is the winemaker who decides in the cellar if he or she wants to make a dry, off-dry or sweet wine, not mother nature in the vineyard. Thus, all wines ranging from Tafelwein to Auslese can be alternatively fermented as dry, off-dry or sweet wines.

There are principally two ways for making wine sweet that do not have enough sugar. First, you do not let the fermentation run its course and stop it. As a result, you get delicious sweet and low level alcohol wines. Second, you let the wine fully ferment to a normal alcohol level and then add “Suessreserve” which is sterilized juice to achieve the desired level of sweetness. Many of the wines tasted fall into the former category.

Picture: German Wine Regions, German Wine Institute

In addition, the low sugar content in Germany poses another problem, that of low alcohol. Therefore, wine at the QbA level and below are permitted to be chapatalized by law. And this is a routine procedure, as it is in neighboring France for example.

2007, Pinot Noir, Baden, QbA, trocken, Bernhard Huber US$ 37 89 Points

Der Feinschmecker, the leading German food and wine journal, carries in the November 2009 issue an article about German red wine. Its message is that Germany has established itself as a serious red wine country during the past 30 years. Der Feinschmecker portraits 10 winemakers behind this wine revolution. One of them is Bernhard Huber in Baden in the South of Germany. It is not for no reason that he was Gault Millau’s wine producer of the year in 2007.

Baden is the most southerly and warmest German wine-growing area in Germany's southwestern corner, across river Rhine from Alsace. It is known for its pinot wines - both red and white. The Pinot Noir is the most widely grown grape variety in Baden. Pinot Noir is a late ripening grape variety; in Germany it is thus called Spaetburgunder (spaet = late)

An entry level dry red wine with a lot of finesse from one of the giants of German red wine. Light ruby red. Light aromas of cherry, smoke and wet earth. Good purity of raspberry and cherry fruit on a lean palate. Very well made wine with a persistent finish.

Alc. by Vol.: 13.5 %, residual sugar: 0.18 % (1.8 g/l), acidity: 0.53 % (5.3 g/l), 100 % Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

2008, Wuerttemberg Lemberger, QbA, trocken, Graf Neipperg US$23 88 Points

The counts of Neipperg have cultivated vines for over 700 years in the wine-growing region of Württemberg. Karl Eugen, hereditary count of Neipperg, has been responsible for the wine estate since 1984.

The main production area of Wuerttemberg is along the Neckar river between Stuttgart and Heilbronn. Until now, wines from Württemberg have been hard to find in the US. The two red grapes Lemberger and Trollinger dominate. The late-ripening Lemberger probably originated on the lower stretches of the Danube River. During the past decades there has been a steady increase in the vineyard area planted with Lemberger, which thrives in a warm climate and wind-protected sites, not least because bud-burst is early and it ripens late.

A charming entry-level dry red wine from a prominent German producer with a long tradition. Light ruby red. Bright red fruit aromas of cherry and blackberries. Light palate with good concentration of red berry fruit and harmoniously balanced tannins. Long, fruity finish. Good food wine.

Alc. by Vol.: 13.0 %, residual sugar: 0.3 % (3 g/l), acidity: 0.54 % (5.4 g/l), 100 % Lemberger

2008 Silvaner, QbA, trocken, Franken, Castell-Castell US$16 87 Points

The Castell-Castell Estate is situated in the Franken region. Located in the northern part of Bavaria, Franken is geographically situated at a higher elevation east of the more temperate Rheingau. Typically, Franken wine comes in the distinctive, dumpily-rounded Franken “Bocksbeutel” wine bottle. The bottle’s unusual shape dates back to at least the 16th century. The Bocksbeutel may only be used for Franken wines. This wine is not in a Bocksbeutel but in a regular bottle.

This is the only white wine that is not a Riesling in the tasting. Silvaner is a high-yielding white-wine grape, which is extensively cultivated in Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franken. Silvaner tends to be low in acidity. Silvaner is a variety that has a long tradition at Castell-Castell. Indeed, in 1659 Castell planted the first Silvaner vines in Germany

A dry entry-level wine from a low acidity German grape variety made by a renowned Silvaner producer. Light straw color. Fairly ripe aromas of melon and peach note. Clean attack with slight effervescence and fresh, charming fruit on a simple palate. Harmonious finish with an exotic note.

Alc. by Vol.: 11.5 %, residual sugar: 0.7% (7.0 g/l), acidity: 0.57 % (5.7 g/l), 100 % Silvaner

2008 Undone Dry Riesling, QbA, Rheinhessen, US$ 15 85 Points

Rheinhessen is the largest viticultural region in Germany. Every fourth bottle of German wine comes from Rheinhessen, including many easy drinking wines. At the same time, Rheinhessen is among Germany’s most interesting wine regions. This is not because of the terroir, but because of the people. There is an increasing group of young, ambitious and dynamic winemakers who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding wine and not wines in large quantities. One of the two German producers in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2009 --- Wittmann --- comes from Rheinhessen.

The front label cleverly depicts a woman’s torso in an unlacing corset and the back label
suggests that the wine is “unoaked, unadulterated, crisp, dry naked flavor” A wine that is looking to compete with other easy drinking wines like Dr. Ernst Loosen’s Dr.L which is the other of the two German wines in the Top 100 list of the Wine Spectator 2009.

This Dry Riesling is an uncomplicated, easy drinking summer-party wine. Pale straw in the glass. Light, clean fruit with good acidity on the palate. Charming, uncomplicated finish. This wine will pair well with seafood and shellfish, as well white meats.

Alcohol: 11.5% Residual Sugar: 0.8% (8 grams per liter) Acidity: 0.67%, 100% Riesling

2008 Riesling trocken, QbA, Pfalz, Bassermann-Jordan US$ 20 87 Points

The Jordan family started wine growing in the 18th century. Friedrich von Bassermann-Jordan was the author of the seminal work on The History of Wine growing. Today, it is Germany’s largest privately owned Wine Estate.

The vines for the Riesling trocken are planted on the slopes of the Rhine valley in the Pfalz region. The slopes are south-east facing and contain a lot of sandstone in the soil.

The label on the bottle is somewhat classic in style with a modern twist: An illustrated woman is nude beneath a transparent dress.

A young and fresh dry Riesling summer picnic wine of a famous German wine estate with a long tradition. Pale lemon straw in the glass. Lightly aromatic with mineral notes on the nose. Fresh, crisp attack on the palate with light effervescence and refreshing acidity. Lasting, pleasant finish

Alc. by Vol.: 12.0 %, residual sugar: 0.51% (5.1 g/l), acidity: 0.83 % (8.3 g/l), 100 % Riesling

2008, Charta Riesling, QbA, Rheingau, Weingut Johannishof US$ 22 91 Points

Weingut Johannishof is owned and operated by the Eser family, who can trace back wine growing to the year 1685. Weingut Johannishof was a Winery for Value by Wine Spectator in 2007.

The Rheingau runs from east to west parallel to the Rhine’s 20 mile deviation from it’s northern course, about half an hour away by car or train from Frankfurt am Main. The vineyards line the slopes between the protective Taunus hills and the heat-reflecting surface of the Rhine.

This is a Charta wine. The Charta Association was founded in 1983 by a group of leading producers in the Rheingau with the aim of promoting the dry style in German winemaking, in response to the sweet wave of the 1970s. The Charta Association has established strict regulations as to how these dry wines are to be made, including low yields, a minimum alcohol level of 12 percent and the use of 100 percent Riesling grapes. The grapes cannot have been affected by noble rot. These dry, high-quality Charta-approved wines are bottled in tall brown bottles embossed with a double Romanesque arch.

A dry high-quality Charta Riesling that would go well with slightly spicy Asian food. Medium Straw in the glass. Pleasant aroma of ripe yellow peach and summer melon. Very flavorful attack of summer fruit—apple with strawberry notes--with good balancing acidity. Nice long finish.

Alc. by Volume: 11.5 %, residual sugar: 1.15 % (11.5 g/l), acidity: 0.78 % (7.8 g/l), 100 % Riesling

2008, Two Princes Riesling, QbA, Nahe, Salm-Salm US$ 15 86 Points

Schloss Wallhausen is one of Germany's oldest wine estates. Prinz zu Salm, the estate owner and current president of the VdP (Association of Prädikat Wine Estates), can trace his family tree back to 932 and his vineyards to 1200. “Two Princes” P2 is the signature wine of Prince Michael and Prince Constantin zu Salm-Salm, members of the 31st and 32nd generation of winemakers at Schloss Wallhausen.

The Nahe vineyards are scattered among the fields and orchards of the Hunsrück hills and the Soonwald forest along the Nahe river, situated between the Rhine and Mosel valleys.

Affordable easy drinking wine from one of Germany’s oldest wine estates with a light sweetness. Light gold in the glass. Flavours of tropical fruit with a crisp finish.

Alc. by Vol.: 11.0 %, residual sugar: 2.81 %(28.1 g/l), acidity: 0.76 % (7.6 g/l), 100 % Riesling

2008 Baron K’, Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau, Baron Knypenhausen, Eltville US$ 17 89 Points

The Knyphausens have been wine growers since 1818. Their estate in Eberbach, however, dates from 1141, when it was founded by Cistercian monks from Eberbach monastery. Today the estate is managed by its present owner, Gerko Baron zu Knyphausen supported by his five sons. This is another wine from the Rheingau region.

An off-dry attractive party wine showing very good concentration of fruit with a spicy finish. Medium yellow Straw in the glass. Light ripe apple and pear aromas. Excellent balance with brisk acidity and concentrated, fresh apples. Crisp finish.

Alc. by Vol.: 9.5 %, residual sugar: 2.65 % (26.5 g/l), acidity: 0.72 % (7.2 g/l), 100 % Riesling

2008 Maximin Gruenhaeuser Herrenberg, Kabinett, Mosel, C. von Schubert’sche Schlosskellerei US$29 89 Points

The estate was first documented in 966. The Schubert family purchased it in 1882. Since 1982, Dr. Carl von Schubert has managed the estate's vineyards. The Schlosskellerei von Schubert estate is more commonly referred to as Maximin Grünhaus. The wines of Maximin Grünhaus are reputedly some of the greatest of all Germany, and certainly dominate the Ruwer along with those from the Kartaeuserhof estate.

A sweeter style low-alcohol Kabinett wine from a a renowned German wine maker with a good mix of sweet fruit and brisk acidity. Medium Straw in the glass. Lots of floral and mineral notes on the palate, coupled with green apple and melón. Finishes clean with light fruit notes.

Alc. by Volume: 8.5 %, residual sugar: 4.13 % (41.3 g/l), acidity: 0.84 % (8.4 g/l ), 100 % Riesling

2008 Piesporter Goldtroepfchen, Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt US$28 89 Points

In 1999, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt celebrated its 650th anniversary. In 2007 it was a Winery for Value by the Wine Spectator.

In the Mosel area, vines are planted on the magnificent slate slopes lining the valleys of the rivers Mosel, Saar and Ruwer. The steep rocky vineyard of Goldtröpfchen above the town of Piesport is one of the most famous vineyards on the Mosel.

A sweeter style low-alcohol Kabinett wine from one of the most famous vineyards on the Mosel. Medium straw in the glass. Floral aromas of morning jasmine. Full-flavored attack of lush pear and apple fruit with good acidity and an amazingly long finish.

Alc. by Vol. 8.0 %, residual sugar: 4.9 % (49 g/l), acidity: 0.79 (7.9 g/l), 100 % Riesling

2008 Serrig Schloss Saarstein, Riesling, Kabinett, Mosel, Schloss Saarstein US$ 16 89 Points

The Saarstein estate is a prestigious monopole site on the Saar river, a tributary of the Mosel. The vineyards are steep and located directly along the river, allowing for morning fog to cool the grapes and allow for slow, healthy maturation. The grapes for this Kabinett wine grew in the heart of the steep Saarstein monopole site.

A deliciously refreshing sweeter style low-alcohol Riesling Kabinett wine. Medium straw in the glass. Aromas of white flowers, minerals, ripe pear, and a note of lime zest. Very flavorful attack of beautifully balanced fruit and acidity. Finishes long with sweet apple notes.

Alc. by Vol.: 7.5 %, residual sugar: 5.13% (51.3 g/l), acidity: 0.94 % (9.4 g/l), 100 % Riesling

2008 Graacher Himmelreich, Spaetlese, Riesling, Mosel, Carl Graff Collection US$ 17 89 Points

The Carl Graff Estate was founded in 1860 and acquired by P.J. Valckenberg in 1969. The wine is from a single vineyard site, Himmelreich situated around the village of Graac ---very steep slopes with southwest exposure; elevation 110 - 260 m; soil of pure slate.

A lovely classic low-alcohol sweet style Spaetlese from the Mosel. Light in color. Still bubbling a bit in the glass. Spice and flowers on the nose. Petillant attack of stone fruit with very good acidity and good depth of fruit on the palate. Pleasing and crisp finish with noticeable sweetness.

Alc. by Vol.: 7.5 %, residual sugar: 6.3 % (63 g/l), acidity: 0.83 % (8.3 g/l), 100 %

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Wine tasting Notes: Woelffer Wines from Long Island, New York State, US

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