Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Annual “New German Vintage” Tasting of the German Wine Society (Washington DC Chapter) led by Phil Bernstein - 2012 Vintage, Germany/USA

Picture: Phil Bernstein and his German Wines

The annual “New German Vintage” tasting of the German Wine Society (Washington DC Chapter) around February/March, led by Phil Bernstein, is always a highlight for the German wine aficionados in the Washington DC area. Phil Bernstein is very entertaining and knowledgeable about German wine. He knows more about German wine than many of my wine friends in Germany. He is in charge of German wines at MacArthur Beverages, one of the best German wine retailers in the country.

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

Of course, in contrast to the wine consumption pattern in Germany, consumption of German wine in the USA is heavily tilted towards fruity-sweet wines. Accordingly, this year’s tasting – as always – was dominated by fruity-sweet Kabinett and Spaetlese wines. But, as in the years before, Phil paid tribute to the emerging group of lovers of dry wines from Germany and presented 2 “trocken” wines, including a Grosses Gewaechs from super star Klaus Peter Keller.

Pictures: "Professor" Phil Bernstein

There is a red wine revolution going on in Germany. About 1/3 of the German wine production is red wine. Germany is the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world and can compete now with the best red wines in the world, but Phil Bernstein did not go that way. Although he has red wines in his portfolio, he did not present a German red wine.

I know that Phil Bernstein is a Riesling fan and he thinks, Germany should focus more on Riesling (“because this is what they do best”) and less on other grape varieties. But he also included a non-Riesling flight in the tasting, with two most interesting Scheurebe wines.

Picture: The Tasting

Lastly, the tasting ended with an ice wine – a true ice wine, as Phil Bernstein said (with the grapes frozen in the vineyard and not in the fridge, as is legal in some other countries). The about 50 attending German wine lovers were very thankful. Reports from Germany indicate that there will not be any ice wine in 2013, i.e. in next year's "New German Vintage" tasting.

German Wine and Culture Tours 2013 and 2014

My wife Annette Schiller and I were very pleased to see wines of Weingut Klaus Peter Keller, Weingut Doennhoff and Weingut Kruger-Rumpf included in the tasting. Visits of the latter two wineries were among the highlights of the German Wine and Culture Tour 2013 by Ombiasy PR and WineTours, organized and led by Annette Schiller. We will again visit them on the 2014 Tour, as well as, for the first time, Weingut Klaus Peter Keller in Rheinhessen.

Picture: Annette Schiller, Ombiasy PR and WineTours, Phil Bernstein and Christian G.E. Schiller

German Wine and Culture Tour by ombiasy, 2013
Cellar Tour, Vineyard Tour, Tasting and Lunch with Georg Rumpf, Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Nahe Valley, Germany
An Afternoon with Riesling Star Winemaker Helmut Doennhoff at Weingut Doennhoff in Oberhausen in the Nahe Valley, Germany

The 2012 Vintage

2012 has been widely lauded as an outstanding vintage.

Terry Theise: The wines are amazingly dense and full, materially rich in substance, yet not even slightly fat. You’re going to have to call this an outstanding vintage.

Phil Bernstein: Another terrific vintage. Germany has been blessed with good vintages recently. Production was relatively low and the growing season long. It produced wines than are already very approachable now, but also wines than have a good aging potential.

Starter Wine

2012 Doennhoff, Riesling Estate ($18.99)

Terry Theise: So, as always this is from the porphyry site, Oberhäuser Felsenberg and the gravelly site Oberhäuser Kiegelburg, and so it’s a mini-Grand Cru. It’s another in a string of beauties, barely perceptible sweetness, literally incredible class, and in my opinion the single greatest white wine value in the world. And if you want to, you can age it for twenty years or more.

Phil Bernstein: Not dry – not fruity sweet, the perfect balance. This is the best vintage of this wine Doennhoff has ever done.

Pictures: Helmut Doennhoff Receiving the 2013 Ombiasy Group

An Afternoon with Riesling Star Winemaker Helmut Doennhoff at Weingut Doennhoff in Oberhausen in the Nahe Valley, Germany

First Flight

2012 Wagner-Stempel, Riesling Vom Porphyr Trocken ($25.99)

Phil Bernstein: This is a superb producer in the Rheinhessen. While the nearby Weingut Keller gets all the attention, I think Daniel Wagner is giving them a serious run for the money. This is awesome dry Riesling for the money.

2012 Weingut Keller, Westhofener Kirchspiel Grosses Gewaechs Trocken (not available)

Jancis Robinson: Introvert nose and some real structure. Made for the long term. Intense and layered. Far from simple. Citrus on the finish. A little more astringent than the other Keller bottlings at this stage. 12.5% (JR)

An ultra-premium dry wine, i.e. a Grosses Gewaechs. Grosses Gewaechs is a new term in the German wine vocabulary: A Grosses Gewaechs is a dry wine from a Grosse Lage vineyard (which is also a new term). The news is only slowly arriving and being absorbed in the USA, but Germany’s elite winemakers - the VDP winemakers - have introduced a new wine classification system.

Following their colleagues in the Bourgogne, the terroir principle has taken center stage in the VDP classification. Effective with the 2012 harvest, the VDP classification has the following 4 quality layers (In brackets, the equivalent quality classes in the classification system of the Bourgogne):

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

In the new VDP classification system, the top wines are wines from a Grosse Lage vineyard (like a grand cru vineyard in Bourgogne). And if the wine is dry, it is a Grosses Gewaechs. If the wine is fermented in a fruity-sweet or noble-sweet style, it is labeled as Kabinett, Spaetlese or Auslese and Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenausles, according to the sweetness level of the wine. Importantly, in the new VDP classification, the predicates have been relegated to indicators of sweetness (and are no longer indicators of quality).

Second Flight

2012 Kruger-Rumpf, Scheurebe Spaetlese ($24.99)

Terry Theise: I happen to have learned these grapes are a mixture of Würzburg and Alzey clones. There’s a piece of otiose information with which you can bamboozle your wine friends. As often this wine’s a lot like Riesling with chef’s-special-sauce, some mix of papayas, vetiver and sage; slinky and slithery but not as id-suffused as the kinky `11. Don’t know Scheurebe? It’s why you can ignore all but the very best Sauvignon Blancs, because this grape does much the same dance, but far better.

Pictures: In the Vineyard and at Lunch cum Tasting with Georg Rumpf during the 2013 German Wine and Culture Tour

Cellar Tour, Vineyard Tour, Tasting and Lunch with Georg Rumpf, Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Nahe Valley, Germany 

2012 Darting, Duerkheimer Fronhof Scheurebe ($17.99)

Terry Theise: You could surmise this is a spicy Grüner Veltliner with residual sugar; there’s some Scheu-typical sage, but it’s subtle all in all, more apple and grapefruit than overt cassis, but `12’s fülle and spice are there, and the wine is long and dense, if not especially kinky.

Phil Bernstein: The wines of Weingut Darting are honest wines at good prices. This wine, at less than $20 is a very good deal.

Third Flight

2012 Selbach Oster, Zeltinger Schlossberg Kabinett ($24.99)

Terry Theise: ZELTINGER SCHLOSSBERG is mineral to the MAX! I think it's time to give this vineyard its due: it's a great Grand Cru site, fully deserving the status of a Wehlener Sonnenuhr or Erdener Prälat. The pity is most of it is worked by the small growers of Zeltingen, amoung whom standards aren't particularly high. Flavors are borealis of slate, buttressed by lime and grassy aspects. Mosel-apple is present but discreet. Medium bodied. If you love Mosels for their cussed Mosel-ness, grab these wines and hang on for dear life!

2012 Merkelbach, Uerziger Wuerzgarten Kabinett #11 ($18.99)

Terry Theise: From an old, steep vineyard planted “some time before the war,” and of course ungrafted. The wine is again not only flawless but actively and tangibly perfect. Tingly brilliant and with gauzy cirrus lightness, but this “flyweight” (as Schildknecht calls them) is both infinitely more complex and will live many times longer than bigger, more ostentatious wines. Absurdly vivid slate and sassafrass.

Fourth Flight

2012 Willi Schaefer, Graacher Himmelreich Spaetlese ($37.99)

Terry Theise: Utmost purity of apple and slate, and the solidity and charge are remarkable. I don’t remember Mosels like these. As dense as paperweights yet as transparent as glass. Himmelreich comes Celtic word for "small hill"; later the name received its Christian meaning - "kingdom of God". It’s a very steep, perfectly southwest facing site of pure blue Devonian slate. It produces elegant but powerful Rieslings with a huge potential for ageing.

Phil Bernstein: Willi Schaefer is one of my favorite German winemakers. His son has taken over and is maintaining the extraordinary quality level of his father. Willi Schaefer wines age very well.

2012 Selbach Oster, Zeltinger Schlossberg "Schmitt" ($52.99)

Terry Theise: In steel this year; not deliberately, just logistics, what was available at which time. But this wine has everything, an herbal aloe fundament of Schlossberg, fabulous mintiness and an absurd equipoise of richness and cut; as digital as Dönnhoff ’s Hermannshöhles, it resolves into a verbena-like finish that starts sweet and gets more green-tea like as it spreads and glows. Schmitt is a micro-parcel in Schlossberg. It is steep and has a perfect southern exposure, and it's subsoil is deep of crumbly, broken slate, mixed with organic matter and loam. The vineyard is more distant from the Mosel and gets less of the effect from the wide water surface but sits smack behind the church and the warm bodies of the village houses beneath which radiate warmth back into the vineyard (a privileged situation akin to that of the Bernkasteler Doctor).

Fifth Flight

2012 Weingut Keller, Westhofener Kirchspiel Spaetlese ($59.99)

Interestingly, Phil Bernstein presented two wines (in the first and fifth flights) that came from the same vineyard, made with grapes probably harvested at the same sweetness level(Spaetlese). But one was fermented to dry and was a Grosses Gewaechs, an ultra-premium dry wine (first flight), and the other was stopped so to produce a sweetness level in the Spaetlese category (fifth flight).

Phil Bernstein: You can see two takes on the same wine.

2012 Doennhoff, Norheimer Kirschheck Spaetlese ($41.99)

Terry Theise: This vintage is dancing, giddy, pretty and snappy; the girl has her wits about her, and will, with impeccable charm, tear you a new one if you misbehave. Signature flavors run towards cherry blossom and lady-apples. The oldest recorded vineyards of the Nahe are located in this part of Norheim. Kirsche means "cherry", so the old name of the site suggests that wild cherries grew among the vineyards. The soils of the purely south-facing site are composed largely of grey slate, mixed with sandstone.

Pictures: Tasting with Helmut Doennhoff at Weingut Doennhoff

An Afternoon with Riesling Star Winemaker Helmut Doennhoff at Weingut Doennhoff in Oberhausen in the Nahe Valley, Germany

Final Wine

2012 Selbach Oster, Zeltinger Himmelreich Eiswein ($89.99)

Terry Theise: Picked 12/12 at 8-below zero Celsius; poised and articulate and as focused and clear as Selbach’s Eisweins always are; a verbena liqueur, nervy and quivering and divine. Zeltingen's Himmelreich is a site with variable exposures and steepness, but the best of it offers "1er Cru" quality in a green-apple and kiwi style, more fruit driven than mineral.


Thanks Phil for a very educational and entertaining tasting.

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