My beloved Koehler-Ruprecht

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It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this… but I’ve recently been enjoying the 2016 Kallstadter Kabinett trocken at my local wine bar and it’s reminded me of  why Koehler-Ruprecht is one of my very favourite wine estates.

Stuart Pigott and Hugh Johnson’s ‘Wine Atlas of Germany’ (1995) boldly states that “Nobody in Germany makes better dry Rieslings than Bernd Philippi.” Obviously you are free to make your own mind up on this matter and since that book was published many estates in Germany have evolved considerably and now produce dry Riesling wines of exceptional quality even if they historically produced sweet wines.

The estate is based in Kallstadt, just north of Bad Dürkheim, and is the most important landholder in the Saumagen site. They also produce single site Riesling from the nearby Steinacker; these are also of very high quality. Annaberg and Kreidkeller are the two other sites. Koehler-Ruprecht also cultivates Spätburgunder as well as other white varieties seen on both sides of the Rhein and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown.

Saumagen is German for stomach, I haven’t yet visited but a topographical map indicates that the site is indeed (at least vaguely) shaped like a pig’s stomach. Saumagen is also a famous dish from the Pfalz; a sow’s stomach stuffed with meat, potatoes and vegetables.

The elevation of the Saumagen site means that the harvest occurs a little later than in other nearby vineyards and is conducted in a series of passes sorting grapes for the various predicates. These are destined to be bottled as Prädikatsweine and therefore chaptalisation is not practiced at Koehler-Ruprecht. 

These are not wines concocted for simple drinking pleasure… I find them very deeply moving. If you concede to the indulgent and thoroughly individual style of these wines you will be generously rewarded. They pair a shapely succulence with finesse, structure and fine acidity. They boast many layers of flavour within their rich textures and maintain remarkable balance.

[edit] An email from Koehler-Ruprecht forwarded to me by a friend in the UK had this to say:

Before bottling, the wines need to taste the expected way:
Kabinett: lightest by taste of the three
Spätlese: most elegant of the three
Auslese: the most complex of the three
Something with an R on it has the plus taste of the Spätlese or Auslese

I thought this summed it all up fairly well, so I opted not to paraphrase.

Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts after up to a full day on skins before the wines are aged in a variety of casks (Halbstück, Stück and Doppelstück) for nearly a year. Most of the Riesling wines are fermented dry, but some residually sweet styles are produced and are delicious. The Auslese trocken ‘R’ is released after six years of age. These are the wines for which this estate is famous. They are paradoxically powerful and yet fine and are capable of ageing very gracefully. ‘RR’ is something of a rarity.

In 2009 Koehler-Ruprecht was purchased by American investors however Philippi was retained as CEO and also winemaker until the young and very capable Dominik Sona took the helm. Philippi divides his time between Koehler-Ruprecht and his endeavours in Portugal (started with Werner Näkel and the late Bernhard Breuer) and other estates around the world (South Africa, China etc).

From Koehler-Ruprecht, the Kallstadter Saumagen Kabinett trocken is a consistently beautiful wine. It’s also very affordable. Though the village level Kallstadter Kabinett trocken alone is a bargain, the single vineyard wine possesses an added layer of intrigue. It’s almost multi-coloured in aroma, bright, floral and very fresh.

The Auslese trocken ‘R’ is a real thing of beauty. The 2008 was deeply coloured, rich and high in dry extract. It’s a beautiful wine. The 2009 Auslese trocken ‘R’ by comparison shows more finesse, there’s a little more tension about it but it’s no less layered and flavoursome. Incredible length.

Koehler-Ruprecht has become one of my very favourite producers of Riesling in Germany. At Riesling Downunder 2018, after a long day pouring wines (and still recovering from the previous nights Riesling Riot and late night bottle of Schoelhammer) the glass I chose to relax with was from a bottle of the 2009 Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Auslese trocken ‘R’.

Only the Rieslings are available in Australia at present, but of some the estate’s Spätburgunder is already on its way over. I’d like to quickly note that I have deliberately not elaborated on the fact that Koehler-Ruprecht left the VDP in 2014; I think the decision shows integrity, but I try not to dwell on it too much. 

Koehler-Ruprecht is imported into Australia by Cellarhand.

Official Site: www.koehler-ruprecht.com

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.