I don’t know why, but I found that, during my WSET Level 3 studies, starting with Germany was really helpful. Maybe because the regions are completely foreign to me; the wines not regularly available in my area. Perhaps, embarking on a whole new adventure was the way to jump in. And, now, studying for my Diploma, I find the country calling to me again.
When I first started posting about my studies, I began with an exploration of major German regions via the country’s most popular grape. The kind of “dry” tasting notes, if you will, gave me a good idea of what kind of climate and terroir each individual region has. (See German Riesling: Location Matters) But Diploma studies are so much more detailed.
Indeed, this exploration, though it follows the same path, is going to dive a bit deeper and, for fun and educational purposes, I want to actually experience a few of the wines myself to see if I can actually taste what I’m reading about. Hence, “Taste and Learn.”
Let’s start with the Riesling grape itself. I love this quote from Jancis Robinson about Riesling’s reputation: “Acknowledged king of German vineyards…it must be said, the Germans themselves have made some pretty awful Rieslings at the bottom end of the market that have done nothing for the reputation of their greatest asset.”
Interesting factoid: It is thought, according to Karen MacNeil (The Wine Bible, second edition, 2015), that the grape originated in the Rheingau region of Germany (speculated to be the offspring of gouais blanc and an ‘unknown father.’ Oh my.) Also of note is that this ‘great asset’ of wine-producing Germany only makes up about 23% of the country’s total wine grape plantings.
Ms. MacNeil also provides a great general descriptor for what to expect when tasting Riesling, noting its “refined structure is complemented by the mouthwateringly delicate flavors of fresh ripe peaches, apricots, and melons, often pierced with a vibrant mineral quality, like the taste of water running over stones in a mountain stream.” But, as she also points out, Riesling is a grape that is quite temperamental to its environment. And, as we’ll find out through the tasting, the smallest shift in climate and terroir also shifts those general tasting notes into something more specific.
Riesling, as a grape, is a late budder which is perfect for Germany’s overall cool, continental climate—late budding means it will miss late winter or early spring frosts, which are a major risk throughout Germany’s grape growing areas. But, it is also late ripening, which means it needs adequate sun exposure and warmth, as well as dry autumns in order to ripen as slowly as it pleases and as fully as you, my fellow wine drinker, will want it. So, in the cooler vintages or in sites without a strong moderating influence, Riesling may not ripen fully.
So, it is with that in mind—proper aspect, altitude, soil types—that a) determine where Riesling can grow most successfully in Germany and b) how those aroma and flavor profiles will differ between those regions.
The most notable regions, and the ones I’ll be profiling below are Mosel, Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Baden. To quote Jancis once again, this time from the Oxford Companion to Wine, “In these growing areas, Riesling is selected for the sunniest hillsides, steepest slopes, most sheltered rocky crenellations, and pockets of reflected heat. In such spots, Riesling shows dazzling diversity.”
Let’s take a look at some of that diversity…
Full disclosure: The wines reviewed in association with each region are dry. Since I’m going out of my way to purchase wines, I figure they may as well be wines I have a chance at enjoying and I generally (there are exceptions to the rule) do not enjoy sweeter wines. But, hey, MARKETING FACT: Since the 1980s people aren’t really drinking the sweet wines so much anymore so, now, the vast majority of wines from Germany are actually dry (trocken) or off-dry (halbtrocken). Further, the proportion of trocken wines varies between regions, as those that have a warmer environment will be able to achieve a ripeness of fruit that can balance with the grape’s innate high acidity. For example, dry wine makes up 65% of wines produced in Baden, which is known to be warmer and dryer than other German wine producing regions. Conversely, dry wines only make up 25% of wines produced in Mosel. Makes sense given the climactic conditions, which we’ll review in more detail below.
DID YOU KNOW? Back in the day, sweetness was often used to mask high acidity and bitterness from underripe grapes. As I mentioned, in the coldest vintages, the slow ripening Riesling doesn’t always fully develop. But now (you can probably thank global warming as well as grape grower education on better farming techniques and canopy management), grapes are ripening more fully more reliably, so “hiding” the high acid—is not really an issue any longer.
Still, it is noted that enrichment is allowed for all levels (Deutscher Wein, Landwein, Qualitatswein) except Pradikatswein. (See Basic Wine Laws and Labels.) For most of Germany, enrichment can be added to up to 3% potential alcohol. Baden, with its warmer climate is the exception to that rule; wines can be enriched up to 2% potential alcohol. NOTE: As mentioned above, due to increase focus on quality, better vineyard management and of course the rise in temperatures, enrichment in general is becoming increasingly rare outside of bulk wine production.
Mosel Regional Overview
Mosel is one of the most northerly wine producing regions in Germany, so you can imagine it is one of the coolest. Therefore, it stands to reason that site selection for grapevine planting is essential to harvest fully ripened fruit. As is the pattern, the best vineyards are found on steep slopes over looking the Mosel river. Additionally, dark colored slate soils found throughout the region absorb and radiate warmth back to the vines.
SOIL FACT: Soils come in a variety of colors—grey, blue, brown and red—and supposedly producers are playing around with how those color differences (and I assume elemental compositions) influence the characteristics of resulting wines. Mosel‘s “Mosaic” of soils, if you will.
As you can see from the map above, Mosel is long and skinny as it follows along and aligns with the Mosel river. It’s broken up into three different sections: Upper, Middle, and Lower Mosel. (Fancy names, no?) It is the Middle Mosel that has the most prestigious Enzellagen (villages) and vineyards:
- Vineyards of note: Juffer and Juffer-Sonnenuhr
- Vineyards of note: Treppchen and Pralat
- Vineyards of note: Himmelreich and Domprobst
- Vineyard of note: Wurzgarten
- Vineyards of note: Sonnenugh
- Vineyards of note: Doctor
- Vineyards of note: Goldtropfchen
I think one of the reasons that the Middle Mosel is known for producing such outstanding wines is because this portion includes the vineyards planted in the valleys of the rivers Saar and Ruwer (both tributaries of the Mosel river). As Jancis notes in the Oxford, the area makes up just about 11% of Mosel’s total growing region, but “their reputation is out of proportion to their surface area.”
Vineyards planted in this area are sheltered by side valleys of these rivers and are situated with south, south-east and south-west aspects—and most importantly at altitude (about 100 m above sea level, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine). Thus, not only are these vineyards protected from rains, receive moderating influences from the rivers, but the overall temperatures are cooler, thus Riesling achieves its richness while maintaining a high level of acidity. (As a note, the map provided in the 8th Edition of the World Atlas of Wine (Jancis Robinson; Hugh Johnson), gives a great visual to how important these locations actually are.)
So it is that Mosel Riesling is (typically) lighter in color, body, with lower alcohol and higher acidity than those from elsewhere. A specific tasting note mentioned in my book is a pronounced floral and green note. While Mosel has a strong reputation for producing sweeter styles of wine in the Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese categories (not to mention winters are almost always cold enough to produce Eiswein), drier wines are increasingly being produced.
Now, I was able to find a good Mosel example in the $20 price range, but it is noted that due to the region’s steep vineyard locations, labor is intensive and expensive. These associated costs along with the the high quality of the region’s wines means that Mosel wines are among the most expensive in Germany. CHEAP FACT: There are flatter sites (around the Piesport area) that are used for producing less complex, inexpensive wines. However, these are typically made from Muller-Thurgau.
FUN FACT: About 20% of the region’s wine is produced by the Moselland co-op in Bernkastel, making it the world’s largest producer of Riesling.
Wine Case Study: Maximin Grunhauser Monopol Riesling 2018
About the Wine:
FROM THE WINERY: “The estate dates back to the 7th century, when it was given to the Benedictine monastery of St. Maximin in Trier. In 1882, it was purchased by an ancestor of Maximin von Schubert, who is the sixth generation of the family to own the Grünhaus estate.
The Ruwer Valley is a tiny tributary that joins the Mosel just a bit downstream of Trier. Although the wines are labeled simply as “Mosel,” the Ruwer has a very distinct style due to its generally cooler conditions and well-drained slate soils.
This bottling replaces the former Estate Riesling (feinherb), and is produced with fruit harvested from younger vines in both the Herrenberg and Abtsberg vineyards. It is made in the slightly off-dry “feinherb” style, perfectly capturing the exotic fruit and vibrant acidity that are classic characteristics of the Grünhaus estate. The term “Monopol” refers to the fact that all of the Maximin Grünhaus vineyards are wholly owned by the von Schubert family.
TECHNICAL INFO: 100% Riesling harvested from Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg and Abtsberg, where soil types include Red and Blue Devonian slate. According to the winery, vineyards are “practicing organic,” but not certified. Harvest was conducted with selective hand picking.
WINE DETAILS: Must Weight: 87 Oechsle (20.9 Brix)
Vinification: Native yeast fermentation in stainless steel tanks.
8.4 g/L TA
Price: $22.99 (wine.com)
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: Pronounced aromas of honey, lemon, petrol, baby’s breath, green apple, almond, apricot, peach, and gooseberry.
Palate: This is a slightly off-dry wine with high acid, light overall body, medium level of alcohol, and pronounced intensity of flavors. Flavors mimic those mentioned above, but I do get a bit more of that green apple and an addition of green grass or fresh cut green herbs (perhaps coriander). There’s also a notable steely or stony characteristic. The finish is medium (+) in length.
Conclusion: The slight RS is masked by the high acidity. At the time of the tasting, I am not sure how much RS is actually present, but on the palate, it’s certainly not distracting or cloying or sticky. Fresh fruits are the primary aromas and flavors with those kind of tertiary notes just lingering in the background. The finish is medium (+)—this, if anywhere, is where you may notice the RS just slightly sticking to the center of your tongue with the faint flavor of apple juice; and the racing acidity causing tingling in your cheeks. But actual flavors do subside at a medium (+).
Balanced, yes. Length falls short. Complexity—I would say so given some of the tertiary notes here. And certainly there is intensity. Very good. Drink now. Not intended for long-term bottle aging.
Rheingau Regional Overview
Rheingau is all about quality over quantity with yields coming in much lower than average for Germany.
With its southern aspect, it’s just a tad warmer than its southern neighbor, Rheinhessen, and certainly more warm than the northern Mosel. As Jancis notes in the Oxford, the “critical” differences one can find between Rieslings within the Rheingau are due to its various soil types, proximity to the Rhine river (and its moderating influences), and elevation.
The best vineyards are typically found mid-slope amongst the steepest slopes, providing just the right angle to receive moderating influences (frost reduction, temperature increase due to reflection of sunlight and warmth) from the Rhine river (which is much wider here), but far enough away to avoid humidity that can lead to fungal disease—namely grey rot AKA: un-noble rot. Hah. But it’s also noted that given the right location and conditions, botrytis can successfully form here (that’s the noble kind of rot), and the region is noted for its botrytized sweet wines made from Riesling.
Soils range from sand, loam, and loess on the EAST SIDE and sandstone on the WEST SIDE.
The region is also kept warmer due to the protection of the Taunus Mountains to the north, which shield cold, northerly winds. So it is that this slightly warmer environment creates Rieslings that are fuller bodied and riper than many others in the Mosel.
It may come as no surprise, but I’ll say it out loud anyway: in Rheingau, white wine rules and Riesling is king. The majority of wines are in a dry style and FUN FACT: the country-wide trend for producing drier styles of wines arguably started in the Rheingau.
As a Spatbugunder Side Note: On the WEST SIDE near Assmannshausen (see map above, where the river heads north again), Spatburgunder is the cool kid.
FUN FACT: Rheingau was once the home of the German aristocracy and the term “Schloss,” which is found in many of region’s winery names, translates to “castle” or “manor.” And, in fact, most of Rheingau‘s wine production comes from estates. Names you may know: Schloss Johanisberg, Schloss Vollrads, Hessische Staatsweinguter Kloster Eberback (this last is actually a large, state-owned estate).
Wine Case Study: Robert Weil Estate Riesling Trocken 2018
About the Wine:
FROM THE WINERY: Founded in 1875. Wilhelm Weil, the great-grandson of the estate’s founder.
TECHNICAL INFO: 100% Riesling harvested from flatter sites in Kiedrich and Eltville where soil types are a combination of loam, loess, slate. According to the winery, vines average 25 years average age. The vineyards are sustainable; grapes were picked via selective hand harvesting.
WINE DETAILS: Must Weight: 88 Oechsle (21.1 Brix)
Vinification: Fermented and matured in large, neutral oak casks
7.6 G/L TA
7.9 g/L R.S.
Price: $24.99 (wine.com)
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: Medium aromatic intensity of almond, salt, butter (popcorn?), lemon, lime, grapefruit, wet stone, steel, white nectarine, white peach, blossom, a bit of pastry?
Palate: Just a tad off dry. At the time of tasting, I’m not sure how much RS is in here. There is high acid, medium alcohol, and an overall light body, and I feel there’s just a touch of texture to the tongue (perhaps there was some lees aging or a bit of time with the skins). Flavor intensity is medium (+) intensity and all the notes above apply, adding just a bit of white pepper here too (not a typical marker, but i do taste a bit of a spice kick). The finish is medium in length.
Conclusion: Definitely not as aromatically intense as the expression from the Mosel, but that being said, I did find, once again, that the high level of acidity offset any sweetness from the RS, so again, you don’t ‘really’ notice it until the tasting is over. However, the finish was a solid medium, and I was left with less lingering in flavor than that from the Mosel. I will still, however, give it a tick for complexity because I definitely think there may have been some lees contact and (maybe) even some (old) oak influence (lending to that kind of spice in the back of the palate). Good wine. Drink now. Would not recommend for long-term bottle aging.
Nahe Regional Overview
Situated between Mosel and Rheinhessen, Nahe is made up of a relatively small number of vineyards, mainly small estates, that follow the Nahe river and are protected by the Hunsruck Mountain. Thus the region is home to many geologically distinct areas and, as germanwines.de says the Nahe is home to “the entire rock cycle,” including igneous (volcanic), sedimentary (sandstone, clay, limestone), and metamorphic (slate).
The region has climactically distinct pockets as well. Again, I’ll borrow a line from Jancis who describes in the Oxford, “The general climactic tendency is to warm as the Nahe meanders downstream. Excellent ventilation, low precipitation, and balmy autumnal temperatures, in addition to the steep, southward inclination of vineyard slopes, offer ideal circumstances for late-ripening Riesling.” But it is noted that due to the protection of the Hunsruck hills (to the southwest from which the Nahe river flows), Nahe, as a whole, has mild overall temperatures and low annual rainfall.
Where it’s warmest: EAST SIDE, especially those vineyards on the south-facing banks of the Nahe (further north), where vines can benefit from the moderating influences of both the Nahe and the Rhine rivers. Soils here are a mixture of slate and sandstone, which also assist with warmth.
To read Jancis’ description of the Nahe in the Oxford, it seems that some of the most obvious evidence of Germany’s Flurbereinigung is found in this region. Flurbereinigung refers to vineyard reconstruction that involved the consolidation and reconstruction of several small, fragmented vineyards in order to increase efficiency—such as mechanization in some places—and thus reduce the cost of viticulture. So when she speaks of steep, terraced slopes that line the “geologically dramatic stretch of the river,” I imagine that those terraces are a result of that reconstruction.
When it comes to wine, white wine rules and Riesling is the leader of the pack, but is actually only representative of about 28% of the region’s total plantings. That’s because on less severe slopes with deeper, more fertile soils, the region can create high volumes of inexpensive wines from Muller-Thurgau as well as Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder.
(As a footnote, Dornfelder is the most planted red wine grape variety but….red wine grapes made up under a quarter of plantings.)
Back to Riesling: Because of the region’s slightly warmer temperatures, Riesling from Nahe is slightly less acidic than Mosel, with riper fruit flavors and a fuller body (though less so than Rieslings from the Rheingau and Rheinhessen regions).
Wine Case Study: Donnhoff Estate Riesling Trocken 2019
About the Wine:
100% Riesling harvested from Oberhauser Felsenberg (which contains volcanic soils) and Kieselberg (slate soils)
The wine was fermented in combination of stainless and used large oak
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: Medium (+) aromatic intensity: white peach, white nectarine, agave nectar, blossom, lychee, passionfruit, apricot
Palate: With a medium level of alcohol, this is still an overall light-bodied wine, and there is that touch of texture similar to what I experienced in the Rheingau, but minus those pastry and popcorn notes. The wine has medium acidity, and I’m not getting that lingering kiss of R.S. like I did with the above two wines, so I’m calling this wine dry. Flavor intensity is pronounced—much more pronounced in the mouth than on the nose, and I’m getting a lot more tropical notes here than initially suspected: pineapple, mango, passionfruit, grapefruit, pomelo (in addition to those notes listed above). There is a perfume of fruit and florals that linger on the palate, for an (arguably) long finish, but again without any lingering sweetness.
Conclusion: While I found the wine balanced, with a good level of intensity, and an (arguably) long finish, the place where I struggled was whether I’d actually call this wine “complex.” So, I’ve determined this is a very good wine. Drink now. Not recommended for long-term bottle aging.
Rheinhessen Regional Overview
Rheinhessen is the largest wine producing region in Germany, both in terms of production and yields. The overall climate is relatively warm and dry, as it’s sheltered by various mountain ranges like Hunsurck (southwest) and Taunus (north).
The majority of vineyards are planted on warm, fertile valley floors, ideal for production of high volume, inexpensive wines. In fact, it’s noted that Libfraumilch originated from Worms in the southern Rheinhessen. Libfraumilch is a cheap kind of “bulk” white wine of Qualitatswein level, made medium-dry, predominantly from Muller-Thurgau (Riesling, Silvaner, and Kerner, are also used). Grapes for Libfraumilch must come from either Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Rhenigau, or Nahe (but, as stated, the majority tends to come from Rheinhessen as well as Pfalz). But, as the Atlas states, “these (Libfraumilch wines) are but distant memories, all but obliterated by the exciting developments of the last two decades.”
The area most associated with quality within Rheinhessen, and specifically quality Riesling: Rheinterrasse—a stretch of steep-sloped vineyards on the west bank of the river (Rhine) where a third of the region’s Riesling grows. Here, the east facing aspect of the vineyards means warm morning sun; proximity to the Rhine river means moderating influences that lead to warmer evening hours as well as warmer autumns than those further away from the Rhine. Thus the hours of ripening each day, as well as the region’s overall growing period, is extended and Riesling can ripen more fully, resulting in fuller bodied wines.
The most famous vineyards of the Rheinterrasse are those found in the Roter Hang (translation: “red slope”), which is distinguished by its Rotliegenden soil—an iron rich red soil consisting of clay, slate, and sandstone, which produces Riesling with TASTING NOTE: smokey notes.
In case you can’t tell, white grapes dominate, with Riesling as the most planted variety and Muller-Thurgau now falling second. There are also notable plantings of Silvaner, Grauburgunder, and Weissburgunder. Dornfelder is the most planted red wine grape variety.
It’s important to note that bulk production still dominates, with a majority of bulk production coming from merchant houses; whereas quality production is predominantly achieved by small estates and even co-ops.
Also of note, per the Atlas, Rheinhessen still actually makes a higher proportion of medium-dry to medium-sweet wine than other German regions today (exception, of course, is Nahe and Mosel), but “the best new wave wines are dry whites with both precision and substance, mostly made from Riesling, now the region’s dominant grape.”
I’ll also add this footnote (because it feels like a footnote in my text) that Wonnegau in south Rheinhessen, which too benefits from its proximity to the Rhine river, produces high-quality Riesling and Spatbugunder. (Although the Atlas gives it more gravitas, stating, “This small area has gone from a dull backwater in farming country to the most extraordinary concentration of wine and vine craftsmanship.”—May be worth exploring a bit more…)
Wine Case Study: Wittmann Estate Riesling Trocken 2018
About the Wine:
FROM THE WINERY: Owner Philipp Wittmann looks for natural balance in the vineyards, in order to slow the ripening process and harvest grapes that have fully developed flavors, but are not overripe and still have moderate must weights. All of the Wittmann estate’s vineyards are certified Organic by Naturland, a German certification organization for Organic agriculture. The vineyards have also been certified Biodynamic by Respekt Wine, an organization based in Austria.
TECHNICAL INFO: 100% Riesling harvested by hand from estate-owned vineyards around the village of Westhofen. It is fermented with native yeasts and matured in large, neutral oak casks.
7.1 g/L TA
4.0 g/L R.S.
Price: $20.99 (wine.com)
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: Medium aromatic intensity: lemon, apple, nasturtium, agave, blossom, peach, nectarine, apricot, mango, lychee
Palate: This is a slightly off dry wine (again, there’s just that nagging bit of sweetness that lingers on the tongue during the finish)— wine with high acid, medium (-) body, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) flavor intensity speaking mostly of tropical fruits: mango dominant, getting a bit of pineapple and passion as well; citruses like orange and grapefruit, nicely balanced with the more floral’d honeys (agave, nasturtium). The finish is medium (+) in length.
Conclusion: This is a very well balanced wine. Though the intensity is somewhat lacking on the nose, it more than makes up for it on the palate. Primary fruits are well integrated with floral notes, and there is a kind of stony minerality here on the palate not sensed on the nose. Again, i wonder about the category for complexity and the finish, though lovely, does fall short of long. So based on WSET criteria I determine that this is a good wine. Drink now. Not intended for long-term aging.
Pfalz Regional Overview
Pfalz—it is Germany’s second largest wine producing region and, due to the protection of the Haardt Mountains to the west (an extension of Alsace’s Vosge Mountains) it is also the driest and sunniest part of the country. “Almond blossom in early March, as well as citrus orchards—obvious signs of an almost Mediterranean climate.” (the Atlas) So it is that Pfalz is the only German wine region where drought can be a problem.
The most renowned vineyards are absolutely those found in the Middlehaardt (around Bad Durkheim, Wachenheim, Forst, Deidesheim and Ruppertsberg in the northern part of Pfalz, which the zoomed-in map above shows pretty clearly). In Middlehaardt, the south or east facing steeply sloping vineyards in the foothills of the Haardt provide both maximum sunshine as well as a shield from winds. Soils here vary greatly and include limestone, sandstone, basalt, and clay. Producers, supposedly, play around with these soils, claiming different characteristics dependent on soil type.
South of Middlehaardt, the area called Sudliche Weinstrasse has more fertile sandstone soils, thus has traditionally been known more for inexpensive wine production (dominated by merchant houses). However, it’s noted that, there’s been a recent increase in quality specifically in Spatburgunder, Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder. (Quality wines are dominated by small estates and co-ops.)
Riesling, however, is by far the top grape grown, making up about a quarter of total area under vine. In fact, FUN FACT: Pfalz has more Riesling than any other region in the world. (According to the Atlas.) Due to warmer temperatures, Rieslings from Pfalz are slightly fuller-bodied with riper flavors than those from Rheinhessen—especially those coming from the renowned Middlehaardt.
Other white wines of note: Muller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder, and Weissburgunder.
It’s important to note that, due to the warmer temperatures, red wine grapes are quite successful in Pfalz, with red wine production accounting for about 1/3 of total wine production. Dornfelder leads the red wine pack but Spatburgunder is slowly catching up.
Wine Case Study: Burklin-Wolf Riesling Deidesheimer 2017
About the Wine:
Price: 20.99 (wine.com)
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: Medium (+) aromatic intensity: petrol (straight away), lemon, blossom, roses, honey, apricot, peach, nectarine, a grassy note (warm, wet)
Palate: This is a dry wine, with medium (+) acid, medium (-) body, and a medium level of alcohol. Flavors are pronounced. While they certainly speak to the aromatic notes above, I’m adding white cherry, and ‘pink lemonade,’ as well as lemon grass, lime zest, and a touch of cardamom as well. Again, I’m experiencing a small touch of texture. (PS. I think this may be my fav of the bunch.) The finish is long.
Conclusion: Well balanced with a good level of intensity on both the nose and the palate. The fruit flavors, ripe in nature, are well balanced with the more earthy tones and spices. And all of those flavors do linger—both on the palate and on the brain. Where I struggle (I guess this is a theme with these wines) is again with whether I’d call the wine complex. It’s not that it’s simple, but I’m wondering if it qualifies as complex. There’s not a lot of what you’d call secondary notes and certainly not any tertiary (here I think petrol falls in the primary category). So, again, I’m going to say that this is a very good wine. Drink now. Not suitable for long-term bottle age.
Baden Regional Overview
According to germanwines.de, Baden is the southernmost and third largest wine producing region in Germany. The Oxford notes that it is the longest wine region in Germany—stretching over 250 miles from north to south.
As the Oxford states, “Germany has been profiting more from climate change than any other wine country, and it’s southernmost region, Baden most of all.”
The main vineyard sites are on the east side of the Rhine river. Opposite Alsace, Baden, too, benefits from the rain shadow of the Vosges. This, coupled with the more southerly latitude makes Baden the warmest, sunniest, and driest wine region in Germany.
So it is that here, red wine rules the roost, with Spatgurgunder as the most planted single variety. In fact, my text notes that Spatburgunder from Baden is considered amongst the country’s best. The varied soils and microclimates allow for a range of stylistic expression. The coming from the steep, south-facing slopes in the foothills of the extinct volcano Kaiserstufhl, that produces the fullest-bodied wines, said to have high alcohol and complex, smokey ripe fruit flavors. Conversely, cooler climate regions with more calcareous soils will produce a red wine with more acidity and delicacy.
It’s important to note that 60% of Baden is planted to white varieties, the most significant being Muller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder, and Weissburgunder. The reason: The warm, dry climate allows for successful production of high volume, inexpensive white blends based around Muller-Thurgau. However, quality Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder and Chardonnay are on the rise. And though Riesling plantings are small, high-quality, fuller bodied examples are produced at all Pradikat levels. Which is why I included it in this round up. But for my case study…Surprise!
Wine Case Study: Bercher Spatburgunder Jechtinger Eichert Erste Lage 2013
About the Wine: Bercher Spatburgunder Jechtinger Eichert Erste Lage 2013; Deutscher Qualitatswein trocken
Appearance: pale garnet
Aroma: Medium (+) aromatic intensity: black cherry, black and red plum, bramble, blackberry, hint blueberry, wild strawberry, rhubarb, red currant, chocolate, cedar/charred wood, smoke/toast, damp forest floor, and some kind of (almost sulfuric) funk.
Palate: This is a dry red wine, with high acid, medium tannins, medium body, and medium alcohol. The flavor intensity comes in at medium (+): same notes as above. The charred wood and chocolate come on a bit strong at first. Fruits maintain a youthful ripeness—red plum, black cherry present with a bit of tartness. There’s also an over-arching ‘juiciness,’ reminiscent of cranberry juice that just acts as the circumference of the wine flavors. That slight bit of funk is still present, but adds depth and intrigue—not a distraction.
The finish is medium (+) in length—arguably long, with that juicy overtone lingering.
Tannins are soft, plush, adding good structure to the mouthfeel, neither drying the palate nor overwhelming the experience. They’re consistently that light-level of plush from start to finish. And I wonder if there’s just a touch of RS that’s helping with all this plushyness.
Balanced fruit flavors are highlighted by that fresh acidity; the subtle tannin structure provides a backbone to the wine and also counters the acid. Intensity of aromas and flavors were all evenly dispersed between fruit, oak, and age, which is a good argument for complexity. And, as I’m typing, I’m realizing that the finish is, indeed, long, with those bush berry flavors still talking to me.
Conclusion: Because of the notes above, I do have to say that this wine is an outstanding wine. I will also note that I think it can age further in bottle. This wine is already nearly 8 years, but is only now just starting to show some of those tertiary characteristics (chocolate, forest floor, and assumedly that ‘funk’) and the acid is just as strong as a freshly picked piece of fruit. There’s enough tannin holding this wine together at the seams that, although soft and plush right now, would probably integrate further with age. This is an exciting wine.
More Info: I purchased the Bercher Spatburgunder Jechtinger Eichert Erste Lage 2013 on wine.com. Price: $41.99. Would I purchase this again for my own pleasure, not associated with study material? Yes.
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