Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sunday Read: Silvaner – The Best Spring Wine You’ve Never Heard Of

With today being Easter (happy Easter to those who celebrate!), spring is finally, officially and weather-wisely here. We’re having a gorgeous spring day here in Ann Arbor, and I hope so do you…

Spring also means white wines, finally. While I never stop drinking whites in the winter, red wines replace a sizable chunk of my consumption and by the time spring arrives, I am happy to change back to whites mostly. Naturally Riesling takes its part in this, but Lettie Teague reminded me that there is another German grape that is worth checking out: Silvaner.

A less acidic alternative to Riesling that is used in Germany mostly in spring for its great pairing abilities with seasonal food like white asparagus. It’s hard to find in the US, and many of its incarnations in Germany tend to be flat and boring, but when done right, they can be exciting spring wines. I tasted a great bottle of Silvaner a few weeks ago that is part of the importer Rudi Wiest’s portfolio. I will write more about that in the very near future.

In any case, it’s spring and time for more whites. What white are you looking forward to this spring?

Lettie Teague: Silvaner – The Best Spring Wine You’ve Never Heard Of

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2011 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp “Kern” Riesling Fass 9

Peter Lauer's iconic label

Peter Lauer’s iconic label

For me, 2011 is a difficult vintage in German Riesling. The summer was very warm, and the grapes ripened a lot which resulted in lower acidity levels in general. It made for really nice dry wines when I tried them in 2012, but by now, I find a lot of them to feel flabby and uninspiring. So in general, I tend to avoid 2011 German Rieslings, at least at the moment.

It’s nice when you come across a bottle that actually captures you and makes you come back to it. And that was exactly what this bottle of wine by Saar winery Peter Lauer did for me. Peter Lauer, now a member of the elite winemaker association VDP, has been making highly acclaimed wines for a while now, and while I still have not visited the winery (something I intend to remedy this summer), I have had a decent amount of their portfolio. Their labels are hard to miss, given their unique design, and there are many things that make this winery stand out:

They try to defy German wine laws by putting fantasy names that closely resemble abolished vineyard names on the label to truly designate terroir and where exactly the grapes were grown.

They also put the barrel number on the label, because traditionally this winery put the must from its different plots in different barrels to vinify them separately.

They tend to not use the usual designations of Kabinett or Spätlese, and it is rather the barrel number (the German word for barrel is “Fass”) that will indicate what style the wine is made in.

Their slogan is: “Riesling for advanced drinkers” (Riesling für Fortgeschrittene)…

The 2011 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp “Kern” Riesling Fass 9 has 10% ABV with 35 grams of residual sugar/liter and hails from the Ayler Kupp vineyard, one of the prime locations along the Saar river. The “Kern” subsite is facing away from the Saar, on the far end of the Kupp. The winery considers it one of its premium sites, stocked with old vines. You can see it on this map:

Peter Lauer vineyard site map (Credit: Winery website)

Peter Lauer vineyard site map (Credit: Winery website)

The wine poured in a light yellow color like straw with hints of green. The nose was intense, with aromas of green apple and papaya, very fresh. The nose alone made me want to dive deeper into the wine. On the palate, it was light to medium bodied with a lot of heft to it. It was creamy, with lots of caramel, almost burnt caramel aromas (totally unexpected given its color!) and showed a lot of herbal character. I did not detect much fruit. The acidity was not noticeable, but not very prominent, but the sweetness was at the same time never overpowering. Towards the end, I detected some bitter aromas which did not quite fit in at that stage. The finish was of medium length. On the next day, the wine tasted a lot nuttier with walnut being the most prominent aroma on display.

This is not a Riesling as one usually expects a Riesling to be: The lack of fruit on the palate, the heaviness of the wine. There was so much going on on a different level than usually that made this wine a great experience. I am again and again surprised by what this grape can be capable of in the hands of the right winemakers. This wine is definitely worth a try and your time, especially in the darker months of the year. Peter Lauer wines are rather well available in the US.



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Weingut Kistenmacher und Hengerer: The Wines

The wines of Württemberg winery Kistenmacher & Hengerer

The wines of Württemberg winery Kistenmacher & Hengerer

As promised, I wanted to share some of my tasting impressions from my visit to Kistenmacher & Hengerer winery in November (you can find my introduction to the winery here):

We started with the Rieslings, which Hans Hengerer likes to make in the trocken (dry) style (90% of his Riesling production). We tried 2012 and 2011 Rieslings, from Gutswein, which is the estate wine, via Ortswein, which would be a village in Burgundy, and then on to his Kabinett and Spätlesen. I was surprised by the sheer number of Rieslings Hengerer produces. Most of the wines showed a beautiful creaminess combined with spiciness. His 2012 Riesling Theresa, a village wine, showed great aromas of caramel and peach with just 4 grams of residual sugar, and his 2012 Alte Reben Spätlese, from vines that were planted in 1971, was dense and concentrated, with nice acidity and time to develop. A 2012 cuvée of Kerner and Riesling, made as a sweet wine with 50 gr/l, was also quite impressive.

We then tried a 2012 Gelber Muskateller, which blew me away. I could not move on from this wine, and at the end of the tasting, I went back to it. The aromatics just were incredible. Gelber Muskateller, according to Austrian Wines called “Yellow Muscat” in English, which is a direct translation of the German term, is a version of Muscat a Petit Grains, according to the San Francisco Exmaminer, which also reports it is the oldest type of Muscat and one of the oldest grapes known (read more here). The vines were planted in 1971, so this is a nicely aged vineyard to begin with…In the nose, I got grapefruit and pine needles. Very intense. I was so surprised by this. On the palate, I got rosemary and again pine needles, coupled with yellow fruits. It was SO intense, hard to put in words. The wine was dry, and tasted great. We discussed what to pair the wine with, because it seems that is a problem, and I suggested pork roast with a mustard crust. Sabine Hengerer was skeptical and later asked a sommelier, who thought it wasn’t a good idea…we tried it out, and while it wasn’t a bad pairing, it also didn’t really help either wine or food to shine…nonetheless, a great experience to try this grape, and what an aroma-intense wine this was.

We moved on to the reds, where I want to focus on the 2011 Trollinger Alte Reben, a grape that is very prominent in the region and also known as Vernatsch or Schiava. The vines were planted in the 1960s, and the first thing one notices is how light the color of the wine was, having a red brick, almost terracotta color. The nose showed ginger bread and meaty aromas, a weird combination but not unpleasant at all. On the palate, the wine is light and refreshing. At 12.5% ABV it’s a great wine to drink with a typical German dinner of bread, meats and cheese, and according to Hans Hengerer it can be served chilled in the summer.

Another red wine we tried was a 2009 Clevner, which is a Pinot droit clone, which is a clone of Pinot noir. The nose was full of red fruit, with earthy aromas and ginger and ginger bread. I really liked that combination of fruit and ginger bread, and the earthy aromas hammered home its Pinot noir character. Fascinating wine. The must had contact with the grape skins for 5 weeks, and the wine was produced in 30% to 50% new wood.

Two Pinot noirs from 2009 and 2010, which were concentrated and intense, yet soft and enticing, were followed by a 2009 Lemberger Alte Reben, which I enjoyed quite a bit as well. Lemberger is a big deal in the region, and Hengerer wants to increase production because the grape copes better with higher temperatures than Pinot noir. The aromas in the wine were great, cherries and tobacco, great acidity and a couple more years to go.

Hengerer also produces more international blends: I tried the 2010 M+C (Merlot and Cabernet Franc) and the 2009 Maximilian (which is a cuvée of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Spätburgunder aka Pinot noir). The M+C was fruity and nicely soft, with some green pepper aromas and a good length. I could see Nina falling in love with this wine. The Maximilian was a lot more round than the M+C, seemed in a better place at this point of its development. 2009 definitely helped because the acidity was more in check. The wine is aptly named after one of the Hengerers’ children’s cuddle toy, and one can’t help but notice how apt that is: The wine is cuddly and pleasant, very open and very enjoyable.

Hengerer has his own opinion about Merlot and why he blends it. He doesn’t see it as a very interesting grape by itself, but thinks it adds to cuvées. His comment about Merlot: “Does’t hurt, doesn’t make you blind” (“Tut net weh, macht net blind”). Now don’t take this a summary of his collection of wines! Hans Hengerer produces a great array of different wines from different grapes, which I think takes a lot of skill and dedication. The results are at times surprising and challenging (I look at you, Gelber Muskateller!), but always worth the experience. These wines are made for the long(er) run, as was shown by the older wines I was lucky to try. I hope you’ll get a chance to try some these one of these days.

With Hans Hengerer

With Hans Hengerer

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