(more) praise for von Hövel

I’ve been delighted each and every time I’ve had the good fortune of tasting these wines. Von Hövel’s Saar Rieslings have not been present in the Australian market long and I would really like to see their presence grow.

Though a decent portion of von Hövel’s wines are made in the classic ‘fruity’ style, a drier style has become an important focus since Max took up the reins in 2010. Additionally, the estate’s holdings have more that doubled since then.

2016 Saar Riesling Feinherb
The interplay between natural sweetness and brilliant acidity in this wine is a ‘case in point’ example of what the Saar does so perfectly. Though slightly muted upon opening, with just a little air this Feinherb offers a beautiful array of ripe white and yellow fruit, the acidity is mouthwatering and there is considerable length to the finish.

2016 Riesling Kabinett ‘S’
From ‘Silberberg’, a parcel in the Krettnacher Altenberg, not an official place name, but undoubtedly a fine piece of Earth. This is a beautiful Kabinett, just sweet enough and very well balanced. Another gem from the 2016 vintage. It’s unfortunate that ‘Silberberg’ is classified as a Grosse Lage site by the VDP, but the Altenberg’s brilliant terroir is not acknowledged.

2016 Riesling Scharzhofberger GG
‘A GG with 10.5% alcohol’… that sentence echoed in my mind as I mused over this elegant dry Riesling. The fruit is beautifully ripened and the finished wine is succulent and deeply layered. Sure enough, the alcohol is admirably low for a GG and consequently there’s a wonderfull weightlessness to the palate. So very fresh. One for the cellar.

2015 Riesling Scharzhofberger Auslese***
The three stars are applied much in the same way as on the Markus Molitor labels, this Auslese is made from 100% clean (no botrytis) fruit. A hypnotising and distinctly gilded bouquet. This is the product of a very warm season and you most definitely feel the added layer in ripeness, but it’s just so well balanced. Faintly smokey, reminiscent of Earl Grey tea, and also showing a savoury tone with a little air. It glides across the palate and finishes with considerable length. Of course, this is just about the greatest terroir for the Riesling grape to be found on this planet.

These wines are imported by Heart & Soil. I believe the 2017 vintage is already on the water.

The Early Morning Altenberg

Domaine Gustave Lorentz, Bergheim, Alsace

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Last Wednesday I forced myself up extra early to meet Pascal Schiele, export manager for Domaine Gustave Lorentz. I decided, after an hour of tasting and some very pleasant conversation, that it was most definitely worth hauling myself out of bed after only five hours sleep.

Based in Bergheim and operated by the Lorentz family since 1836, the domaine farms 32 hectares, of which 1.5 are in the tiny Grand Cru Kanzlerberg and 13 are in the Altenberg site. These wines have only recently become available in Australia and I was very impressed by the consistency of quality across the range. All of these wines offer a very distinctly Alsatian aromatic brilliance paired with gracefully buoyant ripe fruit characters.

Muscat dominates the very drinkable Fleurelle blend (which could just as well be labelled ‘Gentil’) and the remainder is Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. The ‘Gentil’ made by the Hugel family has long been one of my favourite wines and this blend holds very much the same appeal for me. Muscat’s floral personality is on very prominent display and the Sylvaner certainly lends a backbone of refreshing acidity.

The estate’s Reserve wines come from fruit purchased from local growers and represent the classic varieties of Alsace with a strict emphasis on elegance and suitability with food. Even the Gewürztraminer is pure, aromatic and very fine. I like to keep residual sugar figures at the back of my mind as the key to these wines is balance.

The ‘Evidence’ wines offer a very significant step up in quality (not to detract from the value of the reserve wines). This is all estate fruit, which I’m told has been grown organically since 2012. The ‘Evidence’ Pinot Noir is one of the few from Alsace available in Australia… bright fruited and nourishing, a savoury palate with fine tannins and good length. Perhaps a couple more decades of global warming and Alsace will be the new Burgundy…

Finally, the Altenberg de Bergheim wines. This site is considered first rate amongst the 51 Grand Crus of Alsace. A steep, south-facing slope comprised of Jurassic limestone-marl on a clay subsoil. The wines from this warm site pair great power with a charming finesse. Domaine Gustave Lorentz withholds the Altenberg wines for 5 years (minimum, I believe) before release. I didn’t taste any Kanzlerberg wines, but look forward to doing so on my next visit to Alsace.

The 2012 Altenberg Riesling was a truly beautiful wine, at once exotic and richly textured and then so very tense and mineral. Of course, Riesling pulls off the balancing act better then any other variety, but this fruit quality and structure sets it a cut above the rest. Great site, great wine.

The 2011 Altenberg Pinot Gris was particularly worthy of note… which is something you won’t hear from me very often! The grape suffers an image problem in the Australian market and this wine is an example of the potential it has to produce intriguing and complex wines. 2011 is also the current release, this is a fantastic wine that belongs on the dinner table. All of these wines are crafted with gastronomy in mind.

People often talk about the affinity that Alsatian wines have with Asian cuisine. There’s no denying some truth in this, but these wines deserve to sit on the table with a broader variety of foods. Maybe try preparing yourself a Choucroute Garnie at home… it’s an old favourite of mine.

Domaine Gustave Lorentz have only recently become available in the Australian market. They are represented by importer Santé wines. Highly recommended!

2016 Joh. Jos. Prüm Frühstück

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Restaurant: Lucy Liu, Melbourne

Joh. Jos. Prüm really needs little in the way of introduction… and anyone even vaguely acquainted with me will know just how much I adore the wines produced by this estate. Amongst the producers that adhere to the ‘classically fruity’ Mosel style, these are just about the most brilliant. They are always pure and filigreed, even aristocratic in style with low alcohols and incredible depth of flavour. The Kabinette here are afforded utmost care and attention and are built to age almost as well as any Spätlesen or Auslesen.

Dr. Katharina Prüm is the current custodian of this estate. She is a very earnest, intelligent and kind woman… when I visited in 2016 I was very deeply moved by her generosity and hospitality. The first vintage she completed with her father, Manfred, was the very challenging 2003; those wines are very graceful indeed.

I consider myself fortunate because my visit to the Mosel in 2016 coincided with some of the first days of sunshine and dry weather that the region had seen in over a month. In spite of considerable disease pressure, this vintage turned out to be something of a triumph. The finest wines of 2016 are supremely elegant; acidities are higher than in 2015 and alcohol levels are lower. 2016 was a minimal Botrytis vintage, though Prüm’s Auslesen are not a style defined by ‘Edelfäule’… this is more or less found in the breathtaking Goldkapsel wines and the higher predicates.

The key sites here are the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr and Bernkasteler Badstube (which is actually a grosslage and not an einzellage). The former two are without a doubt the most famous with the Sonnenuhr producing the more succulent and fruit focused wines and the Himmelreich tending towards a racier and smokier style. Both the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr and Bernkastler Badstube yield brilliant wines; the Johannisbrünnchen site within the Badstube has, for instance, produced some brilliant eiswein in vintages like 2004 and 2015.

Prüm is amongst a handful of estates that releases cellar aged wines and we are fortunate in Australia to have access. This means that the brilliant wines of older vintages can be found on wine lists here. If you happen to stumble upon any 2004 Auslesen I strongly urge you to drink some. Furthermore, if you can purchase more than a single bottle then patience will be very generously rewarded. Some museum release wine was shown at this event.

Though other estates have offered beautiful 2016 wines to the Australian market, this is the first we have seen from Prüm… their wines are typically released late.

Please excuse the irregularity of my notes. I often struggle with note taking… but I’d like to share my impressions if I may. You can really take these with a pinch of salt (it’s for my own recollection more than anything else)… on the whole the Kabinette offer some immediate drinking pleasure and are more accessible than in 2015; they will of course still cellar comfortably. Many tasters were most taken with the Spätlesen. The Auslesen were mostly quite restrained at the moment. Overall quality of the 2016 vintage meets high expectations.

2016 Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett
Very charming and floral. Still open and drinking well.

2016 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett
Racy as always, slightly saline.

2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett
Beautiful quality of fruit, supremely elegant. Plus length.

2016 Bernkasteler Badstube Spätlese
Good tension and very pure fruit. A delightful wine.

2016 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spätlese
No note. Sorry. I enjoyed it, no doubt.

2016 Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese
Very tense, smoky, racy and with a firm finish. Really very good.

2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese
Slight sponti nose. A very succulent, charming wine with a long life ahead. Brilliant.

2016 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Auslese
Very nice, elegant, light but not dilute, good tension.

2016 Graacher Himmelreich Auslese
Saline, nice concentration of fruit and great balance. Very long.

2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese
Silky, succulent, layered… ‘gilded!’ A very fine Sonnenuhr Auslese, very elegant and long.

2009 Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese
This is emerging from it’s closed down phase nicely. I had looked at a few unforgiving bottles in the past but this is showing more fruit now and that classically Himmelreich smokey note.

2012 Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese
Very much closed down but an excellent wine that needs a little more patience.

2012 Graacher Himmelreich Auslese
Silken fruit, slightly honeyed tone, good extract and structure. More showy than the Himmelreich Spätlese at the this stage but still needs time.

2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese
I remember being taken aback by the elegance of Prüm’s 2003 wines. I also tasted this in 2016 and I’m happy to again see it showing beautifully. Paraffin scented nose. This is again deserving of more time but you can comfortably approach it now.

2016 Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Goldkapsel
Very tense, brilliant acidity but aromatically subdued. Definitely closing down already. Allow for a long and peaceful hibernation.

2016 Bernkasteler Lay Auslese Goldkapsel
Sweet fruited, wonderful vibrancy and nice structure too. I noted that this was a favourite among tasters. A lovely wine and nice to see a Lay Goldkapsel bottling!

2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel
Many layers of flavour and texture here. Sort of chewy extract, savoury complexity and long… so long! A truly brilliant wine that I would love for my own (very small) collection.

2004 Bernkasteler Johannisbrünchen Eiswein
Not my first time with this wine but I was overjoyed to be tasting it again. 2004 is a favourite vintage anyway but this in particular sits at the very pinnacle of what can be achieved with the Riesling variety. A very evocative nose, incredible depth of character and such tranquility and grace not to mention length.

If anyone is interested, this is the menu we enjoyed across the five brackets at Lucy Liu. I’m rather a fan of this restaurant.

Betel leaf with tuna tartare, chive and soy.
Barramundi and scampi wonton with green onion and brown vinegar dressing.
Soft shell crab Jianbing spicy hoisin.
Crispy pork bun with spicy kimchi and Kewpie mayo.
Free range drunken chicken breast, shoa xing wine, spring onion and ginger dressing.

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

New Arrivals

Heart & Soil had some new arrivals on show at Arlechin this week. I was quite surprised to see Keller sporting a new label (about which I haven’t made my mind up) but on the whole it seems that the 2017 vintage promises some real treasures despite having been a very difficult season.

Here were the Germans on show…

2017 Keller Grüner Silvaner Trocken (Rheinhessen)
I like this wine… it’s consistently delicious. Very fragrant and shows real clarity. I wish there were more German Silvaner available on the market here.

2017 Keller Riesling Trocken (neuer Etikett) (Rheinhessen)
A very fine Keller trocken, succulent, floral, aromatically intense and focused. Great poise and length. Punches well above its weight. The product of a very troubled vintage and a good one at that. Best yet… so they say.

2016 Joh. Bapt. Schäfer Riesling Trocken (Nahe)
An elegant and playful trocken wine… very light and fresh. An absolute bargain.

2015 Joh. Bapt. Schäfer Riesling Norheimer Pittermänchen Grosses Gewächs (Nahe)
Characterful and charming, a very supple, sweet scented GG. It’s dry, obviously, but the fruit really sings. Very persistent and artfully balanced. Delicious!

2016 Wagner Stempel Porphyr (Rheinhessen)
Very well made. Ferrous and earthy, but not rustic… in fact, very polished and dignified… pure and bright… very drinkable indeed.

2016 Wagner Stempel Riesling Kabinett (Rheinhessen)
Only slightly too sweet for my palate but a well made wine. Definitely at the riper end of the spectrum.

2016 Von Hövel Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett (Saar/Mosel)
A beautiful and tranquil wine, the acidity is high and the wine has a briskness and levity about it that can’t be replicated in other regions. It drinks well at this stage but deserves serious patience. I’m so glad that the wines of Von Hövel have made it to Australia.

2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabi, Loosen

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Every now and then you stumble across a real gem in a wine shop… or something you might not have expected to see. I’m in Brisbane visiting family and friends at the moment and much Riesling has been drunk… but this is one of the highlights.

The product of very early flowering and then a very late harvest resulting in uniformly advanced physiological ripeness but a fine acid line. I’ve found Auslesen from 2007 still demanding patience, but this Kabinett (that rather feels like an Auslese; lush, creamy and honeyed) is lovely. 7.5% alcohol.

My Dad picked this up. Thanks Dad!

A cure for the cold, and the blues.

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It’s not actually winter yet and I’ve already come down with a cold! I decided to follow advice relayed by way of anecdote from Lars Carlberg (who else?)… Eberhard von Kunow (of Von Hövel), apparently would drink a bottle of Saar Riesling anytime he felt a cold coming on…

And so the prescribed medicine this Easter weekend was a bottle of Florian Lauer’s (Weingut Peter Lauer) 2015 Unterstenberg… from a parcel at the foot of the Ayler Kupp.

I won’t wax lyrical about this bottle. I haven’t the energy, mirth or critical faculties available to me at this moment in time. Needless to say, even if it didn’t cure my cold… it certainly made me feel a little bit better!

Frohe Ostern!