Monday, April 1, 2013

German Wine: Tasting with Phil Bernstein of MacArthur Beverages the 2011 Vintage in Washington DC, USA

Picture: Phil Bernstein in Washington DC

For a number of years now, around this time, one of the best German wine retailers in the USA, Phil Bernstein of MacArthur Beverages, has been making a presentation at the German Wine Society (Washington DC Chapter) on the new vintage. This time, it was vintage 2011. He brought 5 flights plus a special treat. All the 5 flights were fruity sweet wines, while the special treat was a flight of 3 Grosses Gewaechs wines – Germany’s ultra-premium dry grand cru wines - from Weingut Gut Hermannsberg in the Nahe Valley.

Aaron Nix-Gomez has also posted about the event:
The 2011 Vintage Tasting of the German Wine Society

For earlier years see:
The 2010 Vintage Tasting of the German Wine Society (Aaron Nix-Gomez)
Phil Bernstein’s Third Annual German Riesling Tasting with the German Wine Society, Washington DC Chapter - Rieslings With a Touch of Sweetness


One of the special features of German wine is that German winemakers traditionally market their wines according to the ripeness level of the grapes at harvest. Well known are the Kabinett, Spaetlese, Auslese predicates, which represent an increasing ripeness level of the grapes at harvest. (Note, they do not represent an increasing sweetness level in the finished wine.) This unusual differentiation allows you to taste wines side by side where everything is equal – winemaker, vintage, grape variety, terroir – but the grapes came into the cellar at different levels of ripeness. We had 2 such flights at the tasting. First, a 2011 Willy Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich at the Kabinett and at the Spaetlese levels. Second, a 2011 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr at the Spaetlese and Auslese levels.

Pictures: Phil Bernstein

We had another flight, where everything was the same, except that one of the two wines came from a special plot in the vineyard. Traditionally, the terroir principle has been on the backburner in Germany. But recently, the terroir principle has moved to the fore, at least as far as Germany’s elite winemakers (VDP) are concerned. In fact, the VDP has introduced a new classification system for German wine that puts the terroir principle at the center, like in Bourgogne. At the same time, the pyramid of ripeness has been moved to the backburner and indeed for dry wines completely removed.

The VDP’s 4 quality levels are (beginning with the 2012 vintage)

• VDP Grosse Lage (cf. Grand Cru in Burgundy)
• VDP Erste Lage (cf. Premier Cru in Burgundy)
• VDP Ortswein (cf. Village in Burgundy)
• VDP Gutswein (cf. Bourgogne régional in Burgundy)

For more on the issue of classifying German wine in general and the VDP classification in particular, see:
Approaches to Classifying German Wine: The Standard Approach (the Law of 1971), the VDP Approach and the Zero Classification Approach
The VDP - the Powerful Group of German Elite Winemakers - Refines its Classification System, Germany

The fourth flight compared two giants of German winemaking, Helmuth Doennhoff and Egon Mueller, or two regions, the Nahe Valley and the Mosel valley.

We started with a flight of Scheurebe wines from Weingut Gysler and Weingut Kruger Rumpf, demonstrating that there is much more than Riesling in Germany.

Picture: Annette Schiller, Ombiasy Wine Tours, Pouring, with German Wine Society Board Member  Marilyn Scarbrough. Ombiasy Wine Tours is organizing a Wine and Culture Trip to Germany in August 2013, see: Ombiasy Wine Tours: Wine and Culture Tour to Germany Coming up in August 2013

Finally, Phil brought 3 Grosses Gewaechs wines of Weingut Gut Hermannsberg along, which gave as some idea about what else is out there beyond the low alcohol, fruity sweet wines. You have to remember that these wines are not fruity sweet because of Mother Nature, but they have low alcohol and high remaining sugar because of the skillfull intervention of the winemaker in the cellar. The fermentation is stopped prematurely and the sugar does not fully convert into alcohol but remains in the wine. Without that intervention, all Kabinett and Spaetlese, even most Auslese wines, would be dry.

The Grosses Gewaechs wines are the top notch dry wines of Germany’s elite winemakers, i.e. those winemakers that belong to the VDP. Grosses Gewaechs is a new category of wines introduced a few years ago with the view of pushing super premium dry wines.

Germany’s 2011 VDP Grosses Gewaechs – Grand Cru - Wines Released. Notes from the Pre-release Tasting in Wiesbaden, Germany 
German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Flight #1 Scheurebe

2011 Gysler, Scheurebe Halbtrocken, Rheinhessen – $15 (1 Liter)
Alcohol 11.5%.

A nice, interesting entry level wine in the liter bottle. Easy to drink and very reasonably priced.

Terry Theise: "(no discernable sweetness) SOMMELIER ALERT! Less recherché than ‘10, less exotic than ‘08, a simple drink-the-living-f***-out-of-it quality; Clint says pink peppercorn and this is the shady balsam-y side. It goes to the party but is a little diffident, it hardly knows anyone, but when it sees you it bursts into an incandescent grin."

My hunch is that this wine was not stopped, but the “halbtrocken” sweetness was achieved by adding sweet reserve. In fact, for entry level wines I very much favor this approach over stopping the fermentation. That gives the wines a bit more backbone.

2011 Kruger-Rumpf, Scheurebe Spätlese, Nahe
Alcohol 8.5%.

One of my favorite producers in Germany. George Rumpf has taken over from his father Stephan Rumpf, although Stephan remains very active. The winery is about an hour away from Frankfurt in the Nahe Valley and also includes a lovely wine tavern, where we regularly go for dinner, when in Germany.

Attack of citrus, honey, kiwi, mango on the nose, playful and vibrant with mineral notes on the palate, long finish. Scheurebe is less acidic and rounder than Riesling. This is a classic fruity sweet Scheurebe, with a noticeable remaining sweetness.

Pictures: In the Vineyard with Georg Rumpf

Visiting Georg Rumpf and his VDP Weingut Kruger-Rumpf in the Nahe Region, Germany
Wine Maker Dinner with Stefan Rumpf at Weinstube Kruger-Rumpf in Muenster-Sarmsheim, Germany

Flight #2 Doennhoff versus Egon Mueller

Both Weingut Doennhoff and Weingut Egon Mueller are Riesling giants. Snooth, the popular wine web site, recently put together a list with their top 10 Riesling producers in the world and both Weingut Doennhoff and Weingut Egon Mueller are on the Snooth list.

2011 Dönnhoff, Riesling, Gutswein, Nahe – $19

This is a “Gutswein” (Estate Wine) – an entry level wine in the classification of the VDP. A Gutswein is made with grapes from anywhere of the winery’s vineyard holdings. One step up in the quality ladder of the VDP, the village name would also be on the label and for the Erste Lage and Grosse Lage wines also the specific vineyard.

The 2011 Dönnhoff, Riesling, Gutswein, Nahe was named in Eric Asimov's NY Times article "Wine's Sweet Spot is a $20 Bill" as a top value: "Dönnhoff is one of the great Riesling producers. The estate riesling is a blend of grapes from several different sites and offers more than initially meets the eye. Poured directly from a chilled bottle, it seems gently pleasant and lightly sweet at first. But as the wine warms up, its elegant nature becomes apparent, and a richness and rocky minerality emerge."

Picture: At Weingut Doennhoff

2011 Egon Müller, Scharzhofberger Kabinett, Mosel – $55
Alcohol 10%.

Scharzhofberg is one of the most famous vineyard sites in Germany, likely to have originally been planted by the Romans. Situated in Wiltingen, removed from the Saar in a side valley and facing south, its slopes are quite steep, with a 30–60% grade, and high, at 180-280 meters elevation.

Notes of green apple, pear, a bit of petrol on the nose, a light-bodied wine, very harmonious sweetness acidity balance, mineral finish. Phil Bernstein felt that this was what a classic Mosel Kabinett should taste like. I concur.

Flight #3 Willi Schaefer Kabinett and Spaetlese

2011 Willi Schaefer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Kabinett, Mosel – $25
2011 Willi Schaefer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Spätlese, Mosel – $35

Willy Schaefer wines have attracted an almost religious following. At the same time, it is a very small winery with only 4 hectares, producing 3000 cases of wine. Thus there is never enough wine. Terry Theise: “It is hard to put a finger on exactly what it is that makes these wines so precious. There is a candor about them that is quite disarming. They are polished too, but not brashly so. They are careful to delineate their vineyard characteristics, and they offer fruit of sublime purity. They are utterly soaring in flavor yet not without weight.”

Interestingly, the Spaetlese was less sweet than the Kabinett. Why was that? The grapes that were used for the Spaetlese were riper and sweet than the grapes that went into the Kabinett. The obvious answer is that Willi Schaefer let the Spaetlese ferment longer so that more of the initial sugar was converted into alcohol. As a consequence, the Spaetlese should have a higher alcohol content. But according to the label, it doesn’t. Both the Kabinett and the Spaetlese were stopped at 8% alcohol. The other option is that rounding accounts for the missing link, i.e. the Kabinett has 7.8% alcohol and the Spaetlese 8.3%. In fact, the Spaetlese had more weight on the palate, suggesting that the alcohol content was higher. Two alternative explanations come to mind: First, the Kabinett was in fact also a Spaetlese, but declassified. Second, the increased sweetness was generated by adding sterilized juice (sweet reserve), which is legal and common practice, in particular to fine tune the sweetness level in the finished wine.

Flight #4 - Schäfer Fröhlich, Bockenauer Felseneck

2011 Schäfer Fröhlich, Bockenauer Felseneck, Riesling Spätlese, Nahe – $32
Alcohol 7.5%.

2011 Schäfer Fröhlich, Bockenauer Felseneck, Riesling Spätlese, Gold Capsule, Nahe – $44
Alcohol 7.5%.

94 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate:  Sappy nectarine and white peach are enthrallingly infused with floral and herbal essences as well as a striking black raspberry note (seemingly replete with seedy crunch) in Schafer-Frohlich’s 2011 Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Spatlese gold capsule, which was rendered from must actually a little lower in Oechsle than that which informed the corresponding 'regular' Spatlese. It does harbor higher residual sugar, but thanks to imponderable factors -- acid and extract being nearly the same -- tastes less sweet. (Frohlich says he anticipated finding further lots that distinguished themselves as meriting blending into a wine of gold capsule designation, but in the final analysis there was only this one.) A custardy rich texture delightfully supports mid-palate hints of nut paste, but levity and juiciness plus piquancy of pits and seeds ward-off any sense of confection in an enthrallingly dynamic, mouthwatering finish. Look for at least a couple of decades of delight. 'It took four weeks just for this just to get started fermenting,' notes Frohlich by way of suggesting the challenge and risk involved in spontaneity, 'so you can’t let yourself become nervous. But then, if it’s perfect material' -- and in this case, botrytis-free -- 'you don’t need to be. This wine though is pretty much at the limit of richness you can achieve with healthy grapes or ferment spontaneously.'

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Tim Froehlich, Weingut Schaefer Froehlich, in Mainz

Flight #5 - Fritz Haag, Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr

2011 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Spaetlese
2011 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Auslese

At the beginning of 2005, Oliver Haag took over from his father Wilhelm Haag. Following apprenticeship at various well-known vineyards, such as Helmut Dönnhoff and Weingut Karthäuserhof (Ruwer) Oliver studied at Geisenheim College (Fachhochschule), graduating with a diploma in oenology. With 14 hectares under vine, production is 10.000 cases, all Riesling.

Oliver Haag: “Our residual sweetness classics. Highly selected wines, which reflect the strength of our growing area. In hardly any other growing area are such wines harvested that have concentrated fresh fruit and intensity, coupled with delicate lightness. These wines have the potential to be laid down for 30 to 40 years. Such multiply selected wines with low alcohol can only be harvested from fully ripe Riesling grapes. Ideal as an aperitif or to accompany desserts – or even more heavily ripened - they then also go with various game dishes. But they do not always have to be drunk with food; nicely cooled these wines always promise to be a real delight.”

Add on: 3 Grosses Gewaechs Wines from Gut Hermannsberg

Gut Hermannsberg was originally known as the Königlich-Preussische Weinbaudomäne Niederhausen-Schlossböckelheim (the old Staatsdomain Nahe, in popular parlance), and was founded in 1902 on a picturesque hillside close to the Nahe River. Toward the end of the 20th century, the domain became privatized. In 2009, Jens Reidel and Dr. Christine Dinse discovered the winery and immediately recognized its enormous potential. They acquired the tradition-rich wine estate and changed the name to Gut Hermannsberg, derived from one of their finest Riesling sites, the monopole vineyard Hermannsberg. The estate includes 30 hectares of vineyard sites. Operations Manager is Karsten Peter. Gault-Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2013 chose Karsten Peter as Rising Star of the Year!

Picture: Gut Hermannsberg and the Nahe River

2011 Gut Hermannsberg, Traiser Bastei Grosses Gewächs, Nahe
Alcohol 13.5%

Aaron Nix Gomez: “The nose was captivating with more ripe floral aromas and sweet spices. In the mouth there was focused weight before the flavors became creamier in texture. There was some ripeness to the fruit, integrated acidity, and a mouth which follows the nose. Really quite nice.”

2011 Gut Hermannsberg, Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube Grosses Gewächs, Nahe
Alcohol 13.5%

Aaron Nix Gomez: “There was an initial musky complex nose with stone note then it tightened up with air. The aromas are evocated of the indigenous fermentation. In the mouth there was brighter, tighter fruit, perhaps tighter as it progressed, tart acidity, and apple like flavors in the finish. Clearly in need of age.”

2011 Gut Hermannsberg, Niederhauser Hermannsberg Grosses Gewächs, Nahe
Alcohol 13.5%.

Aaron Nix-Gomez: “The nose was floral with a subtle perfume and sweet spice. There was white fruit in the mouth with focused acidity before the flavors expanded in the mouth. There was vibrant acidity on the tongue and a slate like finish.”

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Visiting Georg Rumpf and his VDP Weingut Kruger-Rumpf in the Nahe Region, Germany

Wine Maker Dinner with Stefan Rumpf at Weinstube Kruger-Rumpf in Muenster-Sarmsheim, Germany

Germany’s 2011 VDP Grosses Gewaechs – Grand Cru - Wines Released. Notes from the Pre-release Tasting in Wiesbaden, Germany 

German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Approaches to Classifying German Wine: The Standard Approach (the Law of 1971), the VDP Approach and the Zero Classification Approach

The VDP - the Powerful Group of German Elite Winemakers - Refines its Classification System, Germany

Steinberger Riesling 1893 from Hattenheim in the Rheingau, Germany to San Francisco in California, USA

Tasting with Wilhelm Weil the 2010 Weingut Weil Wines in Kiedrich, Germany

Winemaker Dinner at Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl in Deidesheim, Pfalz, Germany

In the Steinberg, Eberbach Abbey, Rheingau, Germany

When Americans Drink German Wine - What They Choose

German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Visiting Weingut Josef Leitz in Ruedesheim – Johannes Leitz is Germany’s Winemaker of the Year, Gault Millau WeinGuide 2011

Hanging out with Rheingau Winemakers: Dirk Wuertz, Desiree Eser, Alexander Jakob Jung, Hansi Bausch and Christian Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany

A Pinot Noir Star: Visiting August Kesseler and his Weingut August Kesseler in Assmannshausen, Germany

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