A JUNE TASTING OF GERMAN
June 28, 2001
The "theme" of this event,
sponsored by the top American firm importing German wines, "Cellars
International," was to demonstrate the (high) quality of a range of wines
from four producers.
Sptburgunders -=- Pinot Noirs
1998 Von Buhl Sptburgunder Sptlese
Showing a mahogany color, this had a wonderfully complex forest floor
fragrance. Winemaker Frank John explained that Von Buhl, a famous Pfalz
estate, grows its Rieslings in limestone soil, while Pinot Noir is cultivated on
a chalky soil. Made from ten to 12 year old vines, it's a three wine
blend. One batch was fermented at elevated temperatures, a second batch
was fermented slightly cooler and a third batch was not de-stemmed and had a
pre-fermentation maceration. All was matured in oak, about 50-60% new
barrels. Mostly French cooperage was employed, though I understood Mr.
John to mention something about Austrian wood.
1999 Dr. Heger "Ihringer Winklerberg" Sptburgunder
This wine showed a mushroomy, somewhat earthy note along with some
woodsy elements. I was not impressed initially, though having another
sniff after the set of white wines made this a more interesting glass of
wine. The vineyards, not far from Alsace in the Baden region, were planted
in 1951! Its low acid made this, for my palate, a less stellar wine,
though Heger gives it his Drei Stern (3 star) designation.
1999 Franz Kunstler "Hochheimer Reichestal: Sptburgunder
Mr. Kunstler says he read an old British wine company's price list which
offered a "Red Hock" wine (wines from this particular area were often
sold as "hock," referring to Hochheim, a town near Wiesbaden.
Many Rheingau wines, of which Hochheim is considered a part, were similarly sold
as "hock." Kunstler decided to gamble and so he planted Pinot
Noir on a site about one kilometer from the confluence of the Rhein and Main
rivers. He attempts to pick the fruit when it's got 13-14% potential
alcohol, hoping to avoid having to add sugar to the juice. In this regard
he does a green harvest. A cold soak, pre-fermentation maceration of three
days is employed, the wine being fermented on its skins for about 10 days.
Twelve months in wood, half of it new (mostly Troncais, with some Alliers and
Nevers barrels) gives the wine a nice vanillin note.
I can't say any of the three challenge the very best Burgundy wines, but they
were of good quality. Unfortunately these sell for approximately $40,
twice what they registered on my sensitive Taste-O-Meter.
FLIGHT # 2
WEINGUT REICHSRAT VON BUHL
Mr. Frank John, winemaker
1996 Von Buhl "Blanc de Noir" Sekt
Winemaker Frank John explained his production of "Methode
Champenoise" sparkling wine. "It's the same as for Champagne
except that we pick the grapes a bit riper and don't need to chaptalise (add
sugar) to the must (juice)." There's a "chalky" sort
of element to the fragrance of this wine. It's not as crisp or bracingly
acidic as most Champagne, but very nice. Unfortunately it costs more than
top non-vintage Brut Champagnes we have.
1999 Von Buhl "Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad" Riesling "Groes
"groes gewchs" refers to a top vineyard site. It's a German
classification based on the French "grand cru" and "premier
cru" classifications. In the Rheingau you'll find wines labeled as
"Erstes Gewchs," or "first growths." To confuse us,
the Pfalz and Hessen regions use the term "Grosses Gewchs"
In the Rheingau it carries a legal definition and applies to wines that are dry,
off-dry or sweet. In the Pfalz and Hessen regions the term has no legal,
government sanction. The wineries spearheading the movement for the usage
of this term apply it only to dry wines and only to wines made of Riesling,
Pinot Blanc or Pinot Noir. While these wines, explained Mr. Frank, are
picked at "Auslese" levels of sugar, the wineries will not label them
as "Auslese" wines. Instead, these wines will be designated as
"Sptlese Trocken." They prefer to reserve the
"Auslese" designation exclusively for wines with substantial residual
This wine was quite good. It has a touch of sweetness, but correspondingly
high acidity for balance. "It shows the soil and microclimate,"
said Frank John. "The 'output' of our vineyard is on display
here...chalky soil, a rarity for Riesling in our region."
1999 Von Buhl "Deidesheimer Mushhle" Riesling Sptlese Halb-Trocken
With about 14-15 grams of sugar per liter, this medium-dry white shows
good fruit and is rather substantial on the palate, owing to about 13%
alcohol. Quite good.
FLIGHT # 3
WEINGUT DR. HEGER/WEINHAUS HEGER
property was founded many years ago by Dr. Heger, a physician who was often paid
in wine, vineyards or, eventually, vineyard work. Today there are two
firms, "Dr . Heger" accounting for some 15 hectares of vines, while
Weinhaus Joachim Heger comprises some 19 hectares of vines, all in the Baden
Mr. Heger is quite a fan of Sptburgunder and Riesling.
1999 Dr. Heger "Ihringer Winkelerberg" Riesling Sptlese
Riesling Trocken ***
Mr. Heger explained that this comes from a rather sunny patch of
vineyard land and the soil is of a volcanic nature. While Riesling is a
minor variety in the Baden region, Heger's production of this grape tallies to
some 20% of his total output. Made only a few minutes' ride from Alsace, I
found this to be a bit more elegant than many Alsatian Rieslings. Heger
exposes about one-third of this wine to wood.
1999 Weinhaus Heger Pinot Gris Kabinett Trocken
Grown on chalky soil, I found a slight earthy or mushroomy note to this
Pinot Gris (Grauer Burgunder on the labels for Germany, but labeled as Pinot
Gris for our market). Heger says the stony soil allows him to tell people
he's "stone rich," adding, "unfortunately it's only
stones!" This wine is done only in stainless steel and the must is
1998 Dr. Heger "Achkarrer Schloberg" Pinot Blanc Sptlese Dry
Grown on volcanic soil on a particularly warm site, Heger used 50% new
oak barrels for this excellent Pinot Blanc. All the lot was matured in oak
and the wine underwent a full malolactic fermentation. Heger stirred the
lees (spent yeast) every two weeks to create this smoky, toasty, vanillin, rich
dry white. Though it's not cheap in its home market (about 34DM or $15 at
the winery), this arrives here for a retail price of $40, making it a wine for
those in a lofty tax bracket. The wine has a lovely fruit note of ripe
pear and apples to go with the vanillin elements of the oak.
WEINGUT FRANZ KNSTLER
Gunter Knstler joined his father in this Rheingau winery in 1988, assuming
full control of the place in 1992. The winery is just a short drive from
Frankfurt and only a few minutes from Claus Bonifer's insurance company offices
in Wiesbaden (Claus is a famous wine aficionado). Knstler has some 26
hectares of vineyards, producing 85% Riesling and 15% Sptburgunder.
Gunter says "We make wines for the future," striving for cellar-worthy
One of the people in the crowd tried to pin down Mr. Knstler as to which
vineyard site is his favorite. He didn't fall into that sneaky little
trap, however, saying he didn't have a favorite.
1997 Franz Knstler "Hochheimer Stielweg" Riesling
Here's a wine that definitely shows a slatey, stony note to its
fragrance. Knstler describes it as "combining elegance,
finesse and power." Half the wine comes from 50 year old vines, the
other half from 20 year old vineyards. Fifty percent is vinified in
stainless steel, the rest in wood. Quite a good wine!
1999 Franz Knstler "Hochheimer Hlle" Riesling Auslese Dry
Here's a hell of a wine! Cultivated on a patch of clay soil,
Knstler wants only fully ripened fruit with NO botrytis (the "noble"
mold that contributes a honeyed note to the wines). This is a big,
powerful, deep, amazingly complex wine. Knstler picks late,
usually in November for this bottling. "This," he explains, "is
like dancing on the edge of a knife." The fragrance and flavors
show ripe, peachy fruit. Obviously, the man can dance!
(Parenthetically, I had purchased a bottle of one of these when visiting the
winery in 1997. We drank it last year and, at about 8 years of age, this
was an incredibly good bottle of wine.)
1999 Franz Knstler "Hochheimer Kirchenstck" Riesling Sptlese
Knstler "declassified" this wine downwards from
"Auslese" status to "merely" a Sptlese! Some might
say that's "cheating." The wine is incredible, showing fabulous
fruit, with great finesse on the palate. Sweet, yet crisp. Here's a
wine you can stash for five or ten more years without giving it a second
WEINGUT FRITZ HAAG
representative of a competing importer told me his boss had been to Germany
earlier this year and tasted the wines of many estates. "The 2000s
are all defective." he said.
Wilhelm Haag, at the helm of the family estate since the 1957 vintage admitted
the 2000 vintage was the most difficult he's experienced. Yet he said
while the wines he made are not "exceptional, they are very good
2000 Fritz Haag "Estate Riesling" Halb-Trocken
This had nice fruit and was correct in every way, though not especially
stunning. Of course, it was following Knstler's work of art!
2000 Fritz Haag "Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr" Riesling
All of Haag's vines are on a slate soil, contributing to the lacy, racy
notes in his wines. Of course, it helps to have a master winemaker,
too! Haag seemed proud of the fact his wine has but 7.5% alcohol,
something virtually all California winemakers would never dream of
bottling! This shows excellent fruit and delicacy on the palate. Off
dry and yet crisply acidic and bright.
2000 Fritz Haag "Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr" Riesling Sptlese
Wilhelm Haag says the harvest amounted to about 60% of its normal yield
in 2000. Maybe that accounts for this wine's finesse and refinement.
Bright and floral, with hints of a smoky, almost gun-flint note.
2000 Fritz Haag "Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr" Riesling Auslese
Haag explained the Auslese typically comes from a special part of his
vineyard, a place which gets some early morning sun. The wine is absolutely
stellar! Plenty of fresh, fruity and floral Riesling aromas with a fine
balance of sugar and acidity. Not the least bit "shallow."
And it certainly is not defective!
"Noble Sweet Wines"
2000 Fritz Haag "Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr" Riesling
The importer had been strong-arming Mr. Haag on their flight from
Chicago to San Francisco, pressing him to ship more bottles of this to the
United States. Two "hard heads" battling it out, Haag agreed to
ship 24 375ml bottles and six 750ml bottles. Importer Rudi Wiest exclaimed
"Twelve 750s!" and Haag shouted back "Six!!"
I can understand Mr. Wiest's desire for as much of this as Herr Haag can
offer. Showing the usual deft balance of fruit and acidity, Haag explained
that in this vintage, "...to make a Beerenauslese you was called
'crazy'." This guy, then, is crazy. Like a fox.
1999 Franz Knstler "Hochheimer Hlle" Riesling "BA"
"This vintage is a gift," explained Gunter Knstler, adding
"It's the best vintage of the last decade. We had really dried out
berries with a must weight of 140!" The wine is rich, concentrated
and yet not cloyingly sweet. The contrast between it and the preceding
wine show clearly the difference between Rheingau and Mosel wines.
1998 Dr. Heger "Ihringer Winklerberg" Riesling "TBA"
I can see how some people are impressed with the sugar, sweetness and
intensity of this sort of wine. It is darker in color than the others in
this flight of wines. I can't say I'm a fan, finding some nutty and
slightly oxidized notes in the fragrance of this. It is certainly quite
good, but the oxidized notes recall some Vin Santo wines of Tuscany more than
fine German dessert wine.
1998 Von Buhl "Forster Ungeheuer" Riesling "TBA"
I found a
slight piney or resiny note in the aroma of this wine, but the flavor is
absolutely extraordinary. Winemaker Frank John told about his cellar
assistant being wary of "crushing" or "pressing" juice out
of the raisined fruit they'd collected.
"It takes about four weeks of careful selection to have enough grapes or
raisins to make this wine. We got a yield of 120 liters (about 31 gallons)
from a ton of dried grapes!"
Note: a "normal" yield is about 150+ gallons of juice from a ton of
I didn't hear how many 375ml bottles of this will arrive here, but at
$175-$200 a 'copy,' I can't imagine there's a crowd lining up to buy this.
Price aside, the wine is fabulous!
Kudos to Rudi & Brent Wiest of Cellars
International for their tireless campaign to bring German wine into the
consciousness of merchants and restaurateurs around America. In a world
full of Chardonnay and Merlot, these guys are swimming mightily up a stream full
of high alcohol, high oak wines. Also a "thanks" to wine wizard
Tom Elliott for this tasting.
THE MASTER CLASS TASTING OF 2002
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