Hofgut Falkenstein

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Living in Melbourne, I’ve seldom had the opportunity to drink the wines of Hofgut Falkenstein. Based in a side-valley in the north of the Saar called the Konzer Tälchen, father and son Erich and Johannes Weber produce a range of light and mostly dry Riesling wines bottled not simply by vineyard, but by cask. They farm about 8 hectares of old vines, a portion of which are ungrafted, and adhere to a strict low-yield policy. In the cellar fermentations occur with ambient yeasts in 1000 litre Mosel Fuder.

Despite specialising in dry wines the Webers still label with a Prädikat (Kabinett trocken, for example) and chaptalisation is out of the question, not merely because it’s not allowed for Prädikatsweine but on principle; the practice is redundant for wines of this style in any case. As a rule, a Kabinett trocken will be lighter than a Spätlese trocken.

The Saar is a special place, there’s no doubt about it. There is a feeling of tranquility about the region that makes the Middle Mosel feel almost metropolitan by comparison. Temperatures in the Saar are on average lower than in the Middle Mosel and the rainfall is higher, as a result the wines here are far racier; must weights are lower and levels of acidity are more pronounced. To some palates the Saar offers the purest and most profound expression of Riesling on the planet.

I drank the following two wines recently and stashed another away for lunch on Christmas Day…

2016 Krettnacher Euchariusberg Riesling Auslese
Stunning clarity, pure, tense, tropical accented fruit… incredible detail and length. There is a breathtaking lightness, a coolness, about this Auslese and it only tastes at sweet as some Spätlesen, I am mighty impressed.

2016 Krettnacher Ober Schäfershaus Riesling Spätlese Trocken
The Ober Schäfershaus is a 0.2 ha parcel within the Krettnacher Altenberg that was recently purchased by the Webers. Amongst slate and quartz, you find the basaltic diabas, also found in the Saarburger Rausch. This, more than the Auslese, illustrates what the Webers do best. Flinty and faintly smoky, a whiff of iodine even. Very tense, very elegant. It does benefit from a little air.

The Webers also farm plots in the Niedermenninger Herrenberg, Niedermenninger Sonnenberg and Falkensteiner Hofberg. The wines of Hofgut Falkenstein are imported into Australia by Andrew Guard.

Montille Pézerolles ’04

2004 Pommard 1er cru Les Pézerolles, Domaine de Montille

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Pézerolles is a premier cru in the north of Pommard close to the border with Beaune. Though Pommard wines are typically muscular, the vineyards in the north of the appellation tend to yield a Pinot Noir with considerably more finesse and perfume (Les Grands Épenots being the exception).

The wines of Domaine de Montille are made traditionally; partial de-stemming, 20-30% new oak, bottled without filtration etc… typically pure and terroir expressive… they drink beautifully when allowed enough time to grow out of their austere youth (5 years at least, but Hubert claims 20 years of patient cellaring is most ideal). Hubert de Montille,  a Beaune based lawyer, began his work at the domaine with the 1947 vintage and was among the first to begin bottling his own wines. Domaine de Montille is now run by his son Etienne and has expanded its holdings throughout the Côte de Beaune, and into the Côte de Nuits, considerably over the last couple of decades.

The general consensus with this vintage is that many wines, even at higher quality levels, hadn’t quite enough stuffing to go the distance. While the best wines are very elegant, the less fortunate are brittle and hollow, others austere and tannic. This ’04 was spared such a malady and offers a bouquet of red and black fruits, eastern spice and rose petals… what gets me is that faint aroma of tilled wet earth. It’s Pommard with a drinkability, a satin like texture to the fruit that is more Beaune… or Volnay?

Dr. Loosen Kabi, more than nostalgia…

We’re beginning to see the 2016 German vintage trickle into the country and despite a challenging year, with heavy summer rainfall and significant disease pressure, quality is very high indeed. Reports that I’ve read show unanimous favour amongst Mosel enthusiasts for the open knit, fruity and charming Kabinett wines from this vintage.

I don’t need much of an excuse to drink Kabinett, a night at home alone is all it takes really, and the low-alcohol associated with the style brings an added appeal. I’m also not much of a home cook… so some smoked salmon on rye was very enthusiastically washed down with a 2016 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett the other night. It’s a classically styled, juicy white peach Sonnenuhr Riesling; supremely elegant, refreshing and long.

Ernst Loosen focuses a great deal of energy on promoting powerful dry GG wines from top Mittelmosel sites, particularly those around the villages of Erden and Ürzig, he has however committed to keeping the Kabinett style alive. It’s easy for consumers to forget these elegant and fruity wines when faced with the wow factor of an Erdener Prälat GG for example, but both have their place.

For me, like most drinkers in Australia that have fallen in love with the Mosel, it all started with a Dr. Loosen Kabinett.

Campania dreaming…

You don’t have to stray far from Parliament station to find a good Pizza in Melbourne, the gastronomic traditions of Campania (and the rest of Italy, to be fair) have deep roots here… so why is it that the wines are so poorly represented in even the finest wine shops around town? I understand if Taurasi DOCG is not your ideal mid-summer heat-remedy but the region is home to some delicious and food friendly whites. The DOCGs Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo are well-known… but there are delicious wines made from varieties like Coda di Volpe that are as refreshing as they are full of flavour. Goodbye Grigio!

Recent years have seen the planting of new varieties in regions such as the McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills and many of them are from the south of Italy. It’s forward thinking behaviour, to say the least, especially in a warming climate. Fiano appears to have been most successful in South Australia.

At lunch today I enjoyed a 2016 Domenico Nardone Greco di Tufo DOCG. There is much in the way of lemongrass, red apple, pear skin and rockmelon about this wine; generous texture and a pleasant saltiness to round things out. It’s nothing short of delicious and cost me $22 at my local independent food store (they have a very switched on wine buyer named Ernie).

If it means anything, lunch was a tin of anchovies in olive oil, a tub of buffalo mozzarella and half a baguette. I tried to stick to a one-glass-only limit but the heat got to me and I gave in to my thirst.

Welcome Von Hövel!

Imagine my delight recently when I learned that Weingut Von Hövel’s wines have made it to Australia all the way from the Saar. Importer Heart & Soil had a few wines open for a tasting at the French Saloon recently, alongside new releases from Keller, Wagner-Stempel (Rheinhessen) and some very fine reds and whites from Ziereisen (Baden).

Von Hövel is based in Konz-Oberemmel in the Saar (not far from Wiltingen), they own the Oberemmeler Hütte in its entirety and also have holdings in the Scharzhofberg and other well-known sites like the Kanzemer Hörecker; The Hütte site has the same south by south-east exposition as the Scharzhofberg. Maximilian von Kunow took over the estate after his father Eberhard suffered a stroke in 2010. Maximilian has continued the fruity Saar style made by his father but has also introduced dry-tasting Saar Rieslings too.

Both the 2016 Saar Riesling and Saar Riesling trocken are fine examples of their style; clean and bright, elegant and mineral. These are classically light-footed Saar wines and I hope to see them appear on wine bar/restaurant lists over the summer.

The 2015 Oberemmler Hütte GG will divide opinion; there is a fair amount of skin contact here (I initially suspected some botrytis but I am assured that the dry, off-dry and GG wines are fungus free) and the wine is both fruit and tannin rich, plenty of dried apricot, orange rind, black tea etc. A meditation wine indeed, this will very generously reward some cellaring, give it 5-7 years at least and in excess of a decade if you have the patience.

The wine that really grabbed me was the 2015 Scharzhofberger Kabinett. This was supremely fine, filigreed, flavoursome and long and will take years to unfurl. The interplay between sugar and acidity approaches perfection, a stunning Kabinett from a legendary vineyard site. Drink a bottle now and then lay a few down for a another 5 years at least. I will be.

On another note, as I write I am drinking a 2015 Immich-Batterieberg C.A.I. Riesling Kabinett. This is quite simply one of the best value dry Mosel Rieslings I have tried to date. The labelling Kabinett makes a point about chaptalisation. There’s uniform ripeness here, much fruit and spice and bracing acidity. I believe some fruit from the lower portion of the Enkircher Batterieberg makes it in to this wine, joined by some fruit from the Saar too… I could be wrong. I will be drinking this in place of water over the summer months.

not all that is GG is gold.

I was talking with a colleague about dry Riesling the other day. Personally I have little concern for whether or not a Riesling be technically dry, sweet or somewhere in between and though I’ll admit some Auslesen and above are strictly ‘correct time and place’ wine styles, I mostly prefer a little residual sugar*. The broad range of available dry wine styles can easily intimidate and I find some retailers and sommeliers are not very conscious of what they are selling. These wines work brilliantly on the table if applied in the correct setting. What’s more? A growing number of importers have older wines on offer these days.

I tasted two wines recently that continue to play on my mind; a 2011 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf (Ruppertsberger) Gaisböhl ‘G.C.’** and a 2015 Reichsrat von Buhl (Forster) Jesuitengarten GG. The former is showing development beautifully with an intoxicating nose of honey and apricot, medium-full bodied with great tension and incredible length. The latter is initially reticent, firm even, typical of 2015 you have perfect ripeness and brilliant acidity; decant it if that’s what you like to do or preferably wait a few more years, either way it is sublime.

The two producers mentioned below, while both favourites of mine, are very different in their style and philosophy. One is an important member of the VDP, boasting an enviable collection of Grosse Lage sites; the other, with just one Grosse Lage site, has recently left the VDP, proudly renouncing their classification all together. The GG (Grosses Gewächs) concept has really gained traction and this is a commendable achievement for the VDP and its members, what is a shame is that GG is now all people want to buy; it’s like the Grower Champagne fad. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or laziness… not all that is GG is gold.

Wittmann, Rheinhessen: Outstanding quality right from the ground up, Weingut Wittmann is based in Westhofen in the Rheinhessen’s Wonnegau district. This producer shares a lot of crus with Keller and the two are often compared; frankly they each have quite an individual style and I love both. The 2015 Morstein GG is a paradox, it seems to be built from pillars of solid rock, but then drinks with such finesse even as a young wine. It’s a shame the other crus are rarely seen on lists in Melbourne. I’m itching to pull the cork on a 2007 Aulerde GG we have in the cellar.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfalz: Koehler-Ruprecht have a style that is all their own and they work with admirable integrity. Typically opulent but never at the expense of balance; if light and fruity Mosel Kabinett is normally your drink then don’t say I didn’t warn you. Koehler-Ruprecht left the VDP recently in order to continue bottling their dry Rieslings with Prädikat and the higher must weights obviously achieve richer and more complex results***. The Saumagen vineyard of Kallstadt is their primary source of high quality fruit and the top wines are held back by the estate for late release; the 2008 Kallstadter Saumagen Auslese trocken ‘R’ is a standout example of what heights can be achieved in the Mittelhaardt and makes me hungry for game.

*which is why talk of dry and off dry Mosel Riesling will wait till another day.
**rather curiously, Bürklin-Wolf use the abbreviations P.C. and G.C. for premier and grand crus respectively, rather than the German Erste and Grosse Lage; odd considering that they were instrumental in establishing the VDP classification.
***the decision to leave the VDP and to continue to bottle dry Prädikatsweine is reflective of Koehler-Ruprecht’s firm standpoint against chaptalisation which is permitted for dry Qualitätsweine and dry wines in the VDP classification.

A strong case for terroir!

Heymann-Löwenstein

There can be few, if any, winemakers in the Mosel with as inimitable a style as Reinhard Löwenstein of Winningen. As the address suggests, Bahnhofstrasse 10 is right by the train station; the impressive art nouveau house built in 1888 was joined recently by a giant concrete cube containing the winemaking facility and the two buildings are joined underground by the cellar. All manner of design concepts are employed here, including Fung Shui and Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

Winningen is in the Lower Mosel, just outside the city of Koblenz. The climate here is warmer than in the Middle Mosel and the wines somewhat sturdier. It is here, primarily from the Uhlen site, that these wines are made. He also has holdings in the Röttgen, other Winningen sites and in Hatzenport further upstream. Reinhard divides the Winninger Uhlen into three unique terroirs: Blaufußerlay (blue-grey slate), Laubach (dark chalky slate) and Roth Lay (red, quartzite laden, silty slate). Heymann-Löwenstein cultivates 14.5 ha in total.

For all intents and purposes the wines of this estate should be treated and drunk as dry wines even if they are not ‘legally trocken’. Reinhard harvests late and must weights are at the higher level, some must oxidation is deliberately encouraged, fermentations occur naturally, and the juice is settled, not fined, before racking into one of his many Doppelstück where they remain until the following harvest. The resultant wines are a truly cerebral drinking experience; they are far from ‘classic’ Mosel, but this doesn’t detract one bit from their quality. Only noble sweet wines are bottled with a Prädikat here.

The Roth Lay and Laubach I enjoyed recently are not current release but from the 2014 vintage. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that one of these sessions included a bottle of 2007 Prager Kaiserberg Riesling Smaragd from the Wachau; ‘gilded’ and ‘beguiling’ were among the ostentatious words thrown around the table. Last year, visiting with my father (who was most impressed), I had the great fortune of tasting the 2015 Heymann-Löwenstein vintage while still in barrel. The 2016 wines I am yet to have the pleasure of encountering.

There’s a distinctive and very tactile ferrous nature to the wines of the Roth Lay portion of the Uhlen site. The wines are deep and multi-layered and the aroma to me is somewhat ochre, or red-toned. This already drinks beautifully, with intensity, with grace; full, firm and yet gleaming, quartz like. The Laubach I found to have a refined opulence about it with a fairly exotic, yellow fruit touch, it continued to evolve, kaleidoscope-like, over the course of dinner and drank thoroughly well with duck… I was however in special company and not really taking notes. ‘Blaufußerlay’ I haven’t tasted in over a year but I find it the most delicate or discreet of the three.

The Heymann-Löwenstein Schieferterrassen Riesling is not to be scoffed at and if you happen upon the very fragrant Pinot Noir vom Schiefer (made in collaboration with Hanspeter Ziereisen of Baden) then do not pass up the opportunity to drink a bottle.

Reinhard Löwenstein is a fiercely opinionated man, however as one listens to him speak, you get the impression that his views are formulated very intelligently. If his wisdom alone is not enough then let his wines do the talking, they make a strong case for terroir! I’ll get to the punchline because I’d like to make a point. When it comes to ‘dry’ Riesling of this pedigree I find comparisons with white Burgundy (often made by journalists) to totally debase their value.