Sometimes, coincidences can be really awesome. Like this one. A friend of mine and former flatmate is now living in Brazil. She checked out my blog when I posted my tasting notes and introduction to the 1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese. She then sent the link to the blog entry to her father, who happens to be the director general of the Vereinigte Hospitien (in charge of the whole enterprise, not just wines). He thought it to be nice enough that he forwarded it to his winemakers. And the next day, I found a comment on the entry telling me that I should get in touch next time I was in Germany for a tasting. Coincidence had it, that we were leaving for Germany a few weeks later. In our ensuing email exchange we established that the comment was made by Marc. Turned out, he and I had spent one Saturday morning trying to find a suitable old wine from their cellars to drink at one of Nina’s birthday parties while we were still living in Germany. So, we actually knew each other. And certainly he knows ManSoo and Yutaka…the world is small indeed, and the wine world is even smaller.
Now, the idea of a tasting at Vereinigte Hospitien was exciting us for two reasons: First, I have liked their wines a lot over the last years, especially fond of their Scharzhofberger spätlesen. We have had a great 2002 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese in a magnum bottle that converted a friend of ours to sweeter rieslings. And in 2011 (thanks toMarc), we had a fantastic 1990 Erdener Prälat Auslese (I still have one bottle cellared). Second, while they have a modern tasting room where one can freely try most of their wines every day, the Hospitien also are in possession of what is deemed Germany’s oldest wine cellar, the walls of which are dating back to the 300s A.D. We always wanted to have a tasting there, but somehow managed never to be in town when they had their annual vintage presentations or failed to get a group together for an individual tasting there…so now we finally had the chance!
We met with Marc on June 18. It was a sunny day, and we were ready to go to the cellars. I have written about the Hospitien’s history earlier, so I will spare you those stories here. However, some background on Trier is required to understand why they have the oldest wine cellar in Germany. Trier was a pretty big deal for most of its recorded history. It is Germany’s oldest recorded city, founded before 16 B.C. It went on to become the capital for the Roman province of Gallia Belgica, and in the 300s A.D. was the residence of the Western Roman Emperors, among them Constantine the Great. The city is therefore full of Roman ruins, among them a fully preserved Roman city gate from before 200 A.D., the Imperial Baths of around 300 A.D. and Constantine’s Throne Hall of around the same time.
To shorten this: a) Go visit if you have a chance! and b) the city was thriving in Roman times: an imperial household with all its demands.
All this leads us to the wine cellar. The Hospitien are located at the banks of the Mosel. Right in front of them, at the Mosel, is a crane from medieval times and it is very likely that there were cranes already in Roman times to unload ships that would bring all sorts of goods. To house those goods, huge warehouses were built. The current street level is about 4-5 meters (12-15 feet) above what the Roman street level was. That means, that the foundations and walls of these houses, if they are still around, lie underground now.
The cellars of the Hospitien make use of that: The walls are part of two warehouses that were a total of 70 meters (210 feet) long. The cellars stretch the whole length of this, and make for a very impressive structure. You enter through a door that has a medieval architrave. The buildings were used as a “Stift”, which is a sort of convent for aristocratic and rich women, where they lived among each other in a religious way but always had the option to leave and still get married. Their dowries made the convent rich.
The moment we stepped down into the cellar we knew we were in for definitely the coolest (literally and figuratively!) tasting of this trip. Just to be standing on the original Roman floors is incredible. Add the medieval and baroque vaults to that and it was just breathtaking. The barrels you can see are no longer in use. Almost all wines are now made in stainless steel. It was a big burden working with these barrels, because every couple of years, the tax assessor wanted to measure them because wineries are taxed on the amount of liters they can hold in their barrels. We walked almost the whole length, Marc was explaining everything and way more than I could remember, when he made us turn into the tasting room itself. We were startled:
Candles on the barrels were lit, the vaults were lit, and there was an endlessly long wooden table with a candelabra on it. We were stunned. And that just for us! Man, did my blog entry from May pay off big time. It definitely had something magical. Our gracious host wandered off to grab some bottles, and we took the place in some more…
I really do not want to write about the tasting now, because it was so special in its own right. And I know that I do not like to read too long blog posts. So I will write about the wines we tried in a seperate post. Let it be enough here to say that they fully matched the occasion: We tried two different 1987s spätlesen side by side (when does one ever get the chance to try two old wines and compare them straight?!), a 1990 auslese, a 2003 spätlese and two 2011s.
Before we went back up into daylight after an awesome two hours and a half, we had the privilege to take a glimpse at the treasure vault, where the real treasures are locked up and heard a story fitting this ancient place. Apparently, there is a greyish-black fungus living in the cellars that spreads like crazy when the alcoholic fermentation is going on, covering the walls and cobwebs and whatever it can lay hands on. It lives of the alcoholic vapor. When fermentation is over, it recedes and waits for the next harvest. You can still see some of it on the cobwebs and over St. Jacobus, the patron saint of the largest hospice and who can be found on every bottle of wine. The people employed at the Hospitien apparently say that they either want to be born again as a winemaker or as that fungus…
Upstairs, we had a chance to look at a replica of what the Roman wall probably looked like when it was new in the Hospitien’s big hall for receptions and conferences with a gorgeous view over the gardens. It was quite stunning. When Marc told us that he had found the blog through the director general, my friend’s father, I mentioned that I knew him, too. So we went to his office and had a nice chat. Like I said, the world really is pretty small…
While I was busy getting the wines we
wanted could afford loaded up and billed, Nina kept imbibing in the modern tasting room. Lucky her. But hey, what an amazing experience!! I am also glad to have had the time with Marc, who was an amazing host and ambassador for the Hospitien and I definitely look forward to many more exchanges and tastings with him.
Their (modern) tasting room is open Monday through Thursday from 8am until 5pm (with a lunch break from 12.30-1.30), and Friday and Saturday in the mornings. It is well worth a visit. Try some amazing wines, and find great bargains on older vintages. Just ask the staff!
Tasting notes will follow soon. Promised.