Hirsch is not a producer that I can claim to know an awful lot about… and I’m not a walking repository of information on the Kamptal either (time for a visit). Most of my experience with this region has been limited to the wines of Bründlmayer and Schloss Gobelsburg (as if that were a bad thing)… but the wines of Hirsch made quite an impression on me when I first tried them about a year ago.
Johannes Hirsch, together with his family, produces wine with an unwavering faith in nature; he understands his terroir intimately and works, biodynamically, with utmost respect for his environment. He favours extended contact with fine lees (feinhefe) and the resulting wines pair creaminess (cremigkeit*) with remarkable elegance.
Hirsch produces only white wine, solely from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, and fruit comes from some of the finest sites in the Niederösterreich; Lamm and Grub in Kammern and Gaisberg and Heiligenstein in Zöbing.
The 2013 Heiligenstein Riesling Reserve** epitomises the style of the estate that I’ve come to understand in my limited experience. It radiates a distinctive warmth; marmalade-like, creamy/honeyed… but tense, brilliant and firm. It is so beautiful and has years ahead of it. I didn’t decant this wine (as Hirsch suggests)… rather, I drank it very slowly. That patience paid off…
The Heiligenstein (36.7 ha in total) put simply, is the result of ancient volcanic activity and about 280 million years of tectonic movement, vegetation, decay and erosion. If someone else can sum it up better in one sentence then be my guest… otherwise, I found this article by Sally Easton MW quite informative. The Website of Weingut Bründlmayer also has some useful information.
*please forgive my occasional use of German adjectives.
**it’s that extra .5% of alcohol.
The wines of Weingut Hirsch are imported into Australia by Enoteca Sydney.
Mosel Kabinett, whether fermented dry or left with residual sugar, counts lightness (low alcohol) and elegance amongst its most redeeming qualities. The capacity they have to age is remarkable and they show great versatility with food.
The term Kabinett (formerly Cabinet) has a long and complicated history which I won’t go into in great detail here. It first appeared on labels in the Rheingau with Schloss Vollrads claiming to have used the designation for a reserve wine as early as 1716.
In 1971 the term became embedded into German wine law as part of the Prädikat system (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat – or QmP – until 2007… now Prädikatswein) and sits at the bottom end of the scale with Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein following in ascending order. Prädikatsweine are graded according to must weight (ripeness) and are unchaptalised.
These days, owing to global warming, growers most often achieve must weights well above the 73 degrees Oechsle (just under 10 Baumé) required for Kabinett in the Mosel. In fact, because there is no legal maximum limit of ripeness for Prädikatsweine, many Kabinett wines are Spätlesen (even Auslesen in some cases) that have been ‘declassified’ purely for commercial reasons. One could easily view this as a slight abuse of an otherwise useful (if far from perfect) system, but many quality growers pick based on flavour and not simply numbers alone. Most ironically, winemakers now selectively harvest for Kabinett in an age where Spätlese and Auslese are becoming commonplace.
Up to and including Auslese, Prädikatsweine can be made anywhere between dry and sweet and so understanding a winemakers’ style and philosophy is as, if not more, important than deciphering words on a label.
Joh. Jos. Prüm and Dr. Loosen are two producers of high quality and age-worthy Kabinett that are very well represented in the international market. Ernst Loosen himself is one of the more outspoken advocates of the style. Both estates produce exceptional examples from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr… Prüm’s wines demand far greater patience, however.
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.
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.