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#WineStudio Session XII: Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties

The wines discussed in this article were provided as samples by Rudi Wiest Selections.

I remember talking with my good friend Stefano of Clicks and Corks sometime earlier this year, and we were talking about blogging and samples we sometimes receive. He was astonished that I did not seem to get as many samples as he receives (he blogs mostly about Italian wines), and I had to inform him that there are simply not that many distributors of scale that carry German wines: Rudi Wiest and Terry Theise being the two big ones, with several smaller importers like vom Boden filling in the niches. I told him I wish I could get to try some of Rudi Wiest of Terry Theise’s portfolio, but that it was unlikely, being rather far away from the bigger markets.

Imagine my surprise and happiness when I was approached by Tina Morey of Protocol Wines, the host of #WineStudio and #WineChat, informational weekly wine chats on Twitter, asking whether I was interested in participating in the #WineStudio they were organizing in cooperation with Rudi Wiest Selections to highlight some lesser known varieties from Germany!! I happily obliged. If you’re into German wine, it is hard not to have had wines that Rudi Wiest imports. Their list is not very extensive, but they boast some of the best producers in Germany.

#WineStudio is Protocol Wines’ wine education program in which wineries and distributors get a chance to provide a deeper look into what they or their area is doing wine-wise. The discussions are a lot of fun, I have to say, so it is usually worth checking out even if you don’t have the wines to try along.

While Germany doesn’t have the grape variety that Portugal or Italy or Greece have, there are still a bunch of grapes that are not really well known abroad but drunk by a significant number of Germans. This was our chance to explore these more.

We tried and discussed a total six wines over the course of four weeks, and in my book this was hands down the best #WineStudio event yet. I guess my predisposition for German wines and some background knowledge made this a really great exercise. Let me tell you about the wines, because they pretty drinkable! Also, they were all dry wines and I get many questions about which dry wines from Germany I can recommend, so this is a good list.

Schloss Hallburg Silvaner and Wirsching Scheurebe

Schloss Hallburg Silvaner and Wirsching Scheurebe

We started with a 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry and the 2012 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Scheurebe Kabinett Dry, both from Northern Bavaria’s region Franconia (Franken). Silvaner, a cross between Traminer and Österreichisch-Weiss (literally “Austrian White”), rules in Franken. I have heard frequently that Silvaner is the grape for people that cannot deal with the acidity in Riesling but like Riesling aromatics, and it is widely used in Germany as a very food friendly wine. Scheurebe was created in 1916 by Mr Scheu by crossing Riesling with an unknown wild variety and is considered highly aromatic.

The 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry (12.5% ABV) was quite expressive in the nose, with tons of peach aromas, with melon and pear and some baked apple complementing the picture. On the palate, the wine showed hints of coconut, good balance, and a certain creaminess. I was missing some acidity, but that is just something I want in my whites, and 2011 wasn’t kind to those loving acidity…All in all a tasty wine that should be great with sushi from what I heard from others.

The 2012 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Scheurebe Kabinett Dry (pronounced Shoy-ray-buh, 12.5% ABV) weirdly reminded me of a Gewürztraminer in the nose: I got lychee, papaya, then some grapefruit and lime. Intensive, intensive nose. Couldn’t stop smelling. On the palate, the wine showed a nicely tickly mineralitywith a light mouthfeel. The lychee persisted, with pineapple coming to the mix, what an interesting wine. I knew Scheurebe as a rather boring wine from my early youth, usually way too sweet and gooey, but this one had a great dry finish, and still brought out all those amazing aromatics….if you want to surprise friends, this would be a good choice, also for the bottle shape, which is the typical bottle in Franken called Bocksbeutel (which means “goat’s scrotum”), makes for a conversation starter…

Rebholz Pinot Blanc and Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris

Rebholz Pinot Blanc and Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris

The following week, we tried the 2012 Rebholz Pinot Blanc Dry from the Pfalz (Palatinate) and the 2012 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris from Franken. In German these grapes are known as Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot gris), and I have had good experiences with the two grapes in the past when they don’t make an appearance as a bland Pinot grigio or Pinot bianco. In Germany, these wines tend to be fruitier, which I appreciate…

The Rebholz Pinot Blanc (13.5% ABV) had a fresh nose with stone fruit, pear and melon as well as hints of vanilla (I doubt it saw any wood in the production process, though). On the palate, the wine was warming yet crisp, with coconut, liquorice, lychee and pear aromas. There was a good balance in the wine, despite the significant alcohol it still felt light-footed and had good length. The wine was made from mostly 70 year old vines, which is pretty impressive for an entry level wine. I liked this expression of the grape.

The Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris (12.5% ABV), in contrast, was much more subdued on the nose. I got lemon, apples, almonds, and in general the aromas seemed more ripe than in the Pinot Blanc. The wine had a great mouthfeel to it, it was deep and drawing me in, with good heft and good acidity. The aromas I mostly got were peaches and melon paired with nice creaminess. This wine was rich, and yet remained refreshing. The interesting thing was that it felt heavier than the Pinot Blanc, despite having significantly less alcohol.

Becker Pinot Noir and Schnaitmann Lemberger

Becker Pinot Noir and Schnaitmann Lemberger (weird labels, huh?)

The final week was dedicated to two red wines: A 2011 Becker Pinot Noir Dry (from the Pfalz) and a 2011 Schnaitmann Lemberger Dry (from Württemberg). Germany has actually been making great strides in producing Pinot noir (also known as Spätburgunder in Germany), and it is always exciting trying more of these. Lemberger is prominent grape in the Southern-most parts of Germany.

The Becker Pinot Noir (13.5% ABV) poured in a surprisingly dark cherry red. I loved its nose, which was full of gummibear aromas (open a bag and stick your nose in, it’s divine!) and cooked cherries. On the palate, it was initially soft and pleasing, with good acidity. Then, it became spicy, with tons of cassis and red currant aromas, some branchiness with was welcome, and some smoke. The currant aromas persisted throughout the finish, and that made me like the wine. It might have been a bit rough around the edges, and there were some bitter aromas in the finish, but overall a decent wine.

The Schnaitmann Lemberger (13% ABV) poured as dark as a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and its nose was full of flowers, raspberries and blackberries. What a great way to end a night! On the palate, very fruity, with strawberry and raspberry and all-spice and good vanilla aromas that gave it body. This was really, really tasty. As in want more of this right away tasty and the rather low alcohol ensures you won’t be in trouble for it. It remained refreshing all throughout, and this was Nina’s favorite of all the wines by an arms length…

All in all? It’s seriously worth trying other grapes from Germany. Will that replace my love for Riesling? Nope. Will I ever think as highly of a white grape as I do of Riesling? Nope. But the wine universe is full of interesting grapes that make for good switch ups when you want to expand your palate. Always worth it. And, if you’re on track for the Wine Century Club, some of these grapes will surely help you cross the finish line and you won’t suffer for it! :)

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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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