Category Archives: Saar

2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese

2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese

2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese

From one of his frequent trips to Germany, a friend of ours brought back a mixed case of German wines that my friend ManSoo had put together for us. It contained some Kurt Hain wines, a sparkler, some 1989 Auslese and three wines by von Hövel, a VDP winery at the river Saar, one of them this 2003 von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Spätlese.

Now, for those not familiar with the Mosel region, the Mosel has two tributary rivers, the Saar and the Ruwer that are part of that wine growing area. The Saar, as I have explained before, meets the Mosel just south of Trier, in the town of Konz. It commences in France and then flows into Germany. It is a mere 246 km (152 miles) long, but only its final stretch in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate is used for growing wine, mostly Riesling. It is known to produce more mineralic, somewhat tarter Rieslings than the middle Mosel. The microclimate is cooler than at the Mosel, so the grapes tend to ripen later and can reach acidity levels without the higher sugar levels you can find on the Mosel, which gives them a distinct character. Most of the vineyards used to belong to the Catholic church, but in the course of secularization in the 19th century, many private investors bought plots and began wine making. Rich families began to settle later in the 19th century which led to the term “Saarbarone” (baronets of the Saar, a term derived from “Ruhrbarone” which was used for the industrialists in the Ruhr area that made a fortune when the industrial revolution took off). A lot of the estates on the Saar are very grandiose, unlike most Mosel estates.

Weingut von Hövel has been owned by the von Hövel family since 1803 (just in time for secularization) and is one such rather big mansion. It is a member of the prestigious German association of quality winemakers, VDP, and owns 11 hectares (27 acres) in the Saar valley which are planted with Riesling only. Its annual production is around 60,000 bottles. Since 2010 Max von Kunow has been the owner of the estate. Besides holdings in the legendary Scharzhofberg, the winery exclusively owns the vineyards Kanzember Hörecker and Oberemmeler Hütte, the vineyard this wine was from. Oberemmeler Hütte is a South-west facing tiny plot of land. Unlike most vineyards in the area, it is quite far removed from the river, on a higher lying plateau. In the 1868 Prussian taxation map, which marked vineyards according to their property value and therefore -indirectly- quality, Oberemmeler Hütte is in the same category as the Scharzhofberg, i.e. very highly ranked.

I was excited to try this wine, because while we lived in Trier, we were only about a 7 minutes drive away from where the Saar meets the Mosel and Oberemmel is pretty close to where that happens. We actually had our wedding celebration in a BBQ hut only a couple of miles away from this particular vineyard. So this is as neighborhood as it gets for Saar wines for us.

The wine poured in a very clear pale, almost white color. Absolutely no ageing was noticeable when looking at it. The nose was delicate, with fresh aromas of citrus, white peach, cream and hints of vanilla. There were some traces of age in the nose, but not prominent at all. On the palate, the wine was light bodied and surprisingly thin in texture. It had a somewhat ethereal feel to it in its lightness in general. The taste was still clean and fresh. There were no citrus aromas, but apple and pear had come in. There was hardly any minerality noticeable which was a bit surprising. The finish was medium long.

The wine was very interesting to me, because it was a combination of still quite fresh, but also seemingly contracted from age, which were the two poles that this wine was tied to. At times, I wanted it to be a bit firmer, and at other times I enjoyed its lightness. It was a type of aged Riesling I don’t think I have experienced in the past. Good to very good, I would say.

Check out the vineyard’s location here.

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2011 St. Urbanshof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett

Another Korean dinner companion

As I mentioned in a previous post, last week was our anniversary, actually the first anniversary we got to celebrate together. After the dinner “fiasco” at the restaurant the night before our anniversary, I decided it was time to pull out some Korean food to give us a comforting dinner on the actual anniversary day.

Probably, Botswana food would have been more appropriate, given that we met and fell in love with each other in Botswana, and given that we got married on Botswana’s Independence Day (we actually had no clue when we set the date), but somehow Botswana cuisine has not really won our hearts…except for their steaks! Hands down, I have had my best steaks in Botswana. I don’t know what they do with their cattle, but the produce is phenomenal. Getting Botswana beef in the US, or even Europe, is near to impossible, though.

St. Urbanshof Cork Art

Our love for Korean food stems from my time in Seoul in 2000/2001, and our friendship with our good friends ManSoo and Hyekyung. There is something refreshingly honest in Korean cooking: few ingredients, you get what you order, no glutamate sauces or fancy dishes, down to earth, satisfying cooking. I really do prefer home cooked style meals, which is why the Tuscan and Burgundy cuisines are equally dear to my heart. But riesling is such a perfect match for Korean food, that it is the easiest to pair with my beloved rieslings.

So, for our anniversary dinner I made 감자 조림 (braised potatoes in a spicy sauce; a first and I used the delicious and super easy recipe available here) and 호박전 (zucchini pancakes, to which I add mushrooms and scallions). Both dishes turned out really yummy, and the only question was the pairing.

Korean braised potatoes

We went with a 2011 St. Urbanshof Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett. St. Urbanshof is a winery in Leiwen, along the Mosel (check out their website here). Their black labels are quite iconic. I was first introduced to their wines by my friend Helge many years back. The winery is an early experimenter with the spontaneous fermentation method, which is now quite popular in Germany. The initial nose of these wines tends to be rather sulfuric, but once you get through that, they are irresistibly fresh and fruity and said to age better. This particular wine is a Kabinett (the lowest level of Prädikatswein, for more information check out my at a glance tool here).

The Bockstein is a vineyard along the Saar river in the village of Ockfen. According to the Urbanshof website, it is a 50 degree vineyard slope facing southwest, without other hills blocking it from the sun. The soil is gravelly grey slate. The vineyard is a prime vineyard along the Mosel tributary Saar. More on the vineyard here. If you look at the label closely, you will see a “1” beside a cluster of grapes on the right hand side. This stands for “Erste Lage” (literally “first-class site”). It is a particular designation style used by wineries that are members of the prestigious VDP, the German association of elite winemakers (I will have to write about them in a seperate post, promised). It denotes top vineyards and higher selection standards than required by the German Wine Act.

The beauty in the glass

The wine was, as you can hopefully discern from the photo, of a very pale yellow color. The nose had the typical initial spontaneous notes (in German sometimes referred to as “Sponti-Stinker”, you get the idea). After a couple of minutes it opened up to overwhelming yellow peach, honey and whipped cream aromas. It was surprising in its intensity. On the palate, we welcomed a somewhat viscose riesling, with initial citrus and peach aromas. Despite the citrus, the wine was not overly fresh because it showed low acidity, which was noticeable, but not dominant. The wine felt very smooth on our tongues. As we kept moving it in our mouths, there were hints of banana and floral notes coming in (maybe jasmine).  It had a long finish and for a kabinett was very complex, not just an easy guzzling wine.

The higher residual sugar level in the wine worked marvelously with the braised potatoes which were quite spicy. We got the wine at Costco for $13.99, which is just slightly more than what I would expect to be paying in Germany. In other words, it is quite the steal. At 9.5% ABV, it is also a great companion for fall evenings, when the sweetness is more soothing than in summer.

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2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese

2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese

I promised to write about this participant in our Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling tasting seperately for two reasons. First, I want to talk about the Scharzhofberg a bit more, because the vineyard matters to me, and second because I want to talk about the winery in a bit more detail.

The Scharzhofberg is a vineyard along the Saar, a tributary to the Mosel. The Saar meets the Mosel just south of Trier, in the town of Konz. The Saar commences in France and then flows into Germany. It is a mere 246 km (152 miles) long, but only the final parts in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate are used for growing wine, mostly riesling. The Saar is known to produce more mineralic, somewhat tarter rieslings than the middle Mosel. The microclimate is cooler than at the Mosel, so the grapes tend to ripen later and can reach acidity levels without the higher sugar levels you can find on the Mosel, which gives them a distinct character. Most of the vineyards belonged to the church, but in the course of the secularization in the 19th century, many private investors bought plots and began wine making. Rich families began to settle later in the 19th century which led to the term “Saarbarone” (baronets of the Saar, a term derived from “Ruhrbarone” which was used for the industrialists in the Ruhr area that made a fortune when the industrial revolution took off). A lot of the estates on the Saar are very grandiose, unlike most Mosel estates.

The Saar boasts many prime vineyards like the Kanzemer Altenberg, Ockfener Bockstein, Ayler Kupp and also, the most prominent among them, the Scharzhofberg. Technically belonging to the village of Wiltingen, the vineyard is so prominent, that the wineries do not have to list the village name on their labels. They proudly just use “Scharzhofberger”. The area stretches over 28 hectares (around 70 acres) in steep slopes (30 to 60 degrees) towards the South, the soil consisting of slate with rocky soil with iron and clay. Only riesling is grown here by a few producers that read like the who is who: Egon Müller-Scharzhof, van Volxem, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, von Hövel, Bischöfliche Weingüter, Vereinigte Hospitien as well as Johannes Peters and Weingut Resch.

The most prominent producer here is Egon Müller, a star among German winemakers, whose wines command the highest prices in the business. I just checked some of the prices in German online stores: a bottle of Kabinett $40, spätlese $170,  auslese starting at $250. That is a LOT for Germany…I have not had an Egon Müller, but I sure hope to try some at some point. Other Scharzhofberger are more affordable.

The Bischöfliche Weingüter, that produced the spätlese I want to talk about here, is a rather unique winery. As its name indicates (Episcopal Wine Estates), the winery belongs to the bishop of Trier. It manages and produces wines for the estates Bischöfliches Priesterseminar (Episcopal Priest Seminary), Hohe Domkirche (High Cathedral), Bischöfliches Konvikt (Episcopal Convent), and Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium (Grammar School Friedrich-Wilhelm). In the middle ages, the church partly financed itself with producing and selling wine. I mentioned in an older post that the same was true for universities. The church therefore had vast properties, often in prime locations. Separate branches of the church had separate lots. As the names of the estates indicate, the proceeds went to each separate institution. During secularization, the church was forced to sell most of its properties, but the Bischöfliche Weingüter bought back lots when the chance arose in the mid 19th century.  The Bischöfliche Weingüter today own over 130 hectares (320 acres), which is a whole lot in Germany. The Hohe Domkirche consists of 22 hectares in two locations: the Scharzhofberg and the Avelsbach estate close to Trier. They now have a modern tasting room in Trier, and their wines have gained a better reputation over the last decade.

This 2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese was given to me as a parting gift by one of my best friends in Trier. She knows how much I love Scharzhofbergers, and she has been a “Weinfee” (wine fairy, i.e. pourer) at the Bischöfliche Weingüter to help finance her degree. So, what better way to make me miss her than giving me a bottle of my beloved Scharzhofberger. I usually buy the Vereinigte Hospitien version, and have a couple in my cellar.

THAT is cork art!

We opened the wine and first up to admire is the beautiful cork art. The Bischöfliche print the three coat of arms of their wineries (Convent, High Cathedral, and Seminary) on the cork, and them being rather elaborate, it looks gorgeous! Pouring the wine into our glasses, it showed a light yellow color. On the nose I got very creamy, perfumy notes, then almonds. On the palate, the wine initially showed ripe strawberry and some cream. It had a very long finish, and there was a depth to it that was beautiful. After a while, I got more aromas of mango, and other tropical fruit. It was a very pretty wine. Two participants in the tasting told me later that it was their favorite of the evening, which I might sign up to, but I was still so impressed with the Michigan rieslings that I do not want to make that statement.

If you ever get a chance, give a Scharzhofberger a try. I have yet to be let down by a single bottle of it. Just beware: All vineyards in the Saar valley that do not have their own name (aka are not renown) can use the name “Scharzberg” on the label. These wines usually have nothing in common with the Scharzhofberger steep hill beauties, because they are usually from flatter plots and often lower quality land (thanks to Rob for that info!). So, watch out when you go hunting!

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