Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Wines of Up and Coming Winzerhof Thoerle, Rheinhessen

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Johannes and Uta Thoerle

Picture: Rudolf and Christoph Thoerle

Picture: Saulheim, Rheinhessen

Winzerhof Thoerle in Saulheim, Rheinhessen, had invited for the annual presentation of the new wines and I was privileged to participate in this event.


Thoerle is an up and coming winery in the center of Rheinhessen, an area that used to be known for winemakers often focusing on quantity and not quality. Rheinhessen is the largest viticultural region in Germany. Every fourth bottle of German wine comes from Rheinhessen. The high-yielder Mueller-Thurgau accounts for about 1/5 of the vineyards. Unlike in other German wine regions, where monoculture of the vine is the norm, here the many rolling hills are host to a wide variety of crops grown alongside the grape.

Picture: Germany's Wine Regions

Rheinhessen also has the rather dubious honor of being considered the birthplace of Liebfraumilch. At the same time, Rheinhessen is among Germany’s most interesting wine regions. A lot is happening there. This is not because of the terroir, but because of the people. There is an increasing group of mostly young and ambitious winemakers who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding wine and not wines in large quantities. Johannes Thoerle of Winzerhof Thoerle is one of them.

Message in a Bottle

Twenty of those new stars in the wine scene from the Rheinhessen region have created a network of winemakers and have given the group the name “message in a bottle”. Not a lot of words are necessary, just open a bottle of wine from these winemakers and you get the message. It is in the bottle. You do indeed find outstanding wine in the bottles of these winemakers. They are not only colleagues, but they claim to be also friends. When the “message in the bottle’ network was created in 2002, most winemakers joining the network were not yet well established and were trying to work their way up, like Johannes Thoerle. But the message in the bottle group also comprises well established wine super stars, like Philipp Wittmann from Westhofen and Klaus-Peter Keller from Flörsheim-Dalsheim.

VDP Membership?

The crème de la crème of German winemakers are the about 200 VDP members. About 2 dozens of them come from the Rheinhessen area. There is a handful of winemakers who are in line for joining this prestigious group. The Winzerhof Thoerle is always mentioned as potential candidate when you talk to people from the wine industry. At the Thoerle tasting event, one of the guests told me that in his view the winemakers Keller, Dreissigacker and Thoerle were the top three winemakers now in Rheinhessen. Anyway, 4 years ago, Winzerhof Thoerle was not even mentioned in the Gault Millau Wine Guide; in the 2010 edition, Winzerhof Thoerle was promoted to 2 grapes.

Winzerhof Thoerle

Winzerhof Thoerle is a family owned and operated winery in Rheinhessen in the town of Saulheim, with Johannes Thoerle in the driver seat and helped by his parents Rudolf and Ute and his brother Christoph. Johannes joined the winery a few years ago after an apprenticeship, inter alia, with star winemaker Wittmann. The family owns 15 hectares in the Hoelle, Schlossberg and Probstey vineyards in the Saulheim wine region, where they grow mainly Riesling, Silvaner and Burgundy grapes. The historical inn, the “Altes Kelterhaus”, is a cosy setting in which to enjoy a glass of wine, for example at one of the wine dinners that the Thoerles regularly organize. The overwhelming majority of the Winzerhof Thoerle wine portfolio is dry, with both read and white wines on the wine list.

Picture: Winzerhof Thoerle

The Thoerle Wine Classification

Like many other winemakers, the Winzerhof Thoerle has introduced its own wine classification, with different approaches for dry and sweet wines. It follows the new VDP system.

Basically, all dry wines are labeled as QbA (Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete) wines. The level of quality is then expressed by the terroir principle; the narrower the specification, the higher the quality of the wine is.

There are 3 quality levels for dry wines:

Lagenweine – the best wines from one of the three vineyards of Thoerle: Hoelle, Schlossberg and Probstley, with the winemaker, village, vineyard and grape variety indicated on the label.

Ortsweine - the quality level below Lagenwein, with the winemaker, village and the grape variety indicated on the label; there is no vineyard indicated.

Gutsweine – the quality level below Ortsweine, with only the winemaker and the grape variety indicated on the label; this would also include the so-called Literwein, the reasonably priced wine for daily consumption, the kind of house wine.

For sweet wines, the traditional wine classification of Kabinet, Spaetlese and Auslese is followed, and of course, also for the noble sweet wines.

This is all new for the American consumers; they need to be educated. My friends from the German Wine Society in Washington DC usually do not touch QbA wines and only go for the Kabinett and upwards quality levels.

The Wine Portfolio

There are about 3 dozens of wines on the wine list, which is dominated by dry white wines. At the Gutswein level , I found the 2009 Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc very appealing. The Gutsweine tend to be at the Euro 5.50 level. About 1/3 of the wines are red, with a 2007 Hoelle Spaetburgunder “R” the best and most expensive wine (Euro 24.50). The 4 flagship dry Lagenweine are in the Euro 13 to 15 range. 3 sweet wines are in the portfolio and 3 noble-sweet wines, including a 2009 Saulheimer Probstey Riesling Beerenauslese at 215 grams remaining sugar for Euro 29.50. As most producers of premium wines do, the Winzerhof Thoerle complements its portfolio with Sekts, including a 2008 Riesling Sekt brut for Euro 8.90.

The current exchange rates are: 1 Euro = 0.84 BP = 1,23 US$ = 112 Yen = 8.4 Chinese Yuan.

Winzerhof Thoerle, Saulheim, Rheinhessen

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  1. Ortsweine - the quality level below Gutsweine
    Gutsweine – the quality level below Ortsweine

    ..which is the better one?

  2. Anonymous - thanks for letting me know. Is corrected. Christian