Tag Archives: saar

1997 St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Spätlese

1997 St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Spätlese

1997 St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Spätlese

Some of you may recognize the iconic black label of St. Urbanshof, because I have previously written about a wine from this winery, a wine I really like. This one however, a St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Spätlese, does take us back a couple of years (1997, the year in which I finished my alternative military service, the year in which I first moved to Trier to take up my studies, and oh did I hate Trier and Mosel valley at the time for being forced to go to my fourth choice school despite very good grades…but I digress). I need to write a somewhat longer introduction on this one…bear with me.

When Nina and I visited Germany last year, we naturally spent time with our wonderful friend, my wine mentor and former Korean teacher ManSoo (you have heard that name often enough by now). During our long, delicious dinner, he was gracious and kind enough to open many bottles of Riesling, among which were a just degorged 1992 Riesling champagne and this bottle of wine, a 1997 Scharzberg from St. Urbanshof. The wine had, as all wines do, a history: ManSoo had laid hands on some of these bottles through the president of Saar-Mosel-Winzer Genossenschaft, a cooperative that mostly makes Sekt, the German champagne, but also other wines. If I remember correctly, the president told ManSoo that he found several cases of this wine in the deep cellars of the cooperative. The wine label bears a special imprint that shows a bird and reads “Singapore Duty Not Paid – Not for Sale”. What the heck? Well, turns out that this particular wine was bought by Singapore Airlines to be served in first class service in the late 1990s, early 2000s and it was a special bottling. Apparently, Singapore Airlines had not taken all of the bottled wines, so some ended up, for whatever reason, in the cooperatives cellars….and now ManSoo got a couple of bottles.

We tried the wine back in June 2012 and really liked it. And I had firm plans to write about it, but to this day I have been unable to unearth the tasting notes from that evening….usually a sign that I had a tremendous time, but also quite unnerving!

Fast forward to May 2013. Friends of ours are heading to Denmark for a wedding and have the idea that maybe ManSoo could send them 12 bottles of Riesling for them to take home, because they love Riesling. So I contact ManSoo, tell him to send a package to Denmark, give him an idea of the price per bottle, and tell him “you know what we like”. Which was horribly unclear and naturally ManSoo assumed that the wines were for Nina and I. So he decided to ignore my pricing ideas and packed a box of very much more expensive wines than anticipated. When my friends posted photos of the contents, I almost screamed out at the screen! We were able to rectify the situation by them bringing the wines, and us exchanging them for wines more in their price range that we already had here….

This box, besides many treasures that I intend on sharing with you as we progress, contained a bottle of this wine, the 1997 St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Spätlese. Some of you might know that I am very fond of the vineyard Scharzhofberg. Notice the -hof- which differentiates that vineyard from the current bottle. It is confusing, and I believe it was designed to be confusing. The 1971 German wine act created 160 vast tracts of land under vine (so called Großlage) which received certain names which any winemaker who produced wines from that area could use. Some of them might sound familiar to you: Kurfürstlay, Michelsberg, Schwarze Katz, Domherr, Gutes Domtal and Rehbach, to name a few. Let me be clear: Winemakers were allowed to use these names for grapes that come from anywhere in that vast area. It is the opposite of terroir idea or single vineyard denominations, although it sounds like a single vineyard denomination…

The name Scharzberg is awfully close to Scharzhofberg, and one can only surmise that it was chosen to make sales easier because of that proximity in name. It is rare that one finds the name of the Großlage on a bottle from a renown producer. Usually, they put the single vineyard on there or, if they don’t, they do not even bother to put the Großlagen name on there and just sell it as a regional or even German table wine. Why did they do things differently on this one? I don’t know…but it is noteworthy.

After this long introduction, let me get to the wine which we shared with the carriers of the box it came in last week. The cork was dried out and very crumbly. I cursed myself for not having brought my two-prong bottle opener, which would have dealt with this situation. As it was, I had to crumble out what I could, and then push the last bit into the bottle. We then poured the wine through a very fine sieve into a decanter, where we let it sit for about 15 minutes.

It poured in a honey-tinged yellow with hints of green in the glass (it looked much more golden in the decanter). Great color. In the nose, the first thing I noticed was a vibrant acidity. There was also petrol, which I expect in a Riesling this age (not necessarily in a young Riesling, mind you!). There were also some honey aromas, but the most prominent for me was tangerine. The wine smelled quite citrussy, I noted down lemon rind and some butter aromas. One of our friends remarked that it smelled like kumquat to him, and I think that nails it: it was a tad more bitter than tangerine, so kumquat definitely made sense. The nose was just beautiful. There was so much going on, and it had this vibrant freshness to it, despite the cork disaster that made me cringe. On the palate, the wine was light bodied with great acidity, and I mean that, just  a backbone of great acidity. The residual sugar did its job of balancing the acidity beautifully. The wine tasted incredibly fresh, was very creamy (something I usually associate with Scharzhofberger). Fruit-wise I got gooseberry, petrol, white currants, tangerine and some slight vanilla. The wine’s finish was rather shortish.

It was a great wine. So fresh, so well held up. It brought some silence around the table, while everyone was pondering it and comprehending it. I was glad we got to share it with our friends, who are both Riesling nuts and are able to appreciate a good bottle of Riesling. But then again, I seriously believe this bottle would have impressed anyone, even the fiercest Riesling hater. It made me remember the dear friendship that brought the wine to me, and it brought memories of the night I first tried it. It made me feel damn lucky. This wine is not available anywhere for sale as far as I know, and yet I have been able to try it twice already. I’m a lucky bastard, I know…Oh, and thank you Singapore Airlines for never picking up all the bottles!

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2011 von Hövel Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett

2011 von Hoevel Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett

2011 von Hövel Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett

After the Finger Lakes Virtual Tasting last Saturday, we opened another bottle from my beloved Scharzhofberg. For those unfamiliar with the vineyard, let me use the explanation I gave in my review of the Bischöfliche Weingüter Scharzhofberger:

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. It springs 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 micro climate tends to be cooler than at the Mosel, so the grapes usually 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 that you might have heard of: 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 vineyard stretches over 28 hectares (around 70 acres) in steep slopes (30 to 60 degrees) facing south, the soil consisting of slate and rocky soil with high amounts of 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, Bischöfliche Weingüter, Vereinigte Hospitien, Johannes Peters, Weingut Resch and also the winery that produced this wine: von Hövel. The wines from this vineyard are prized and it is easily the most famous vineyard of the Saar.

Weingut von Hövel has been owned by the von Hövel family since 1803 (just in time for secularization). It is a member of the prestigious German association of quality winemakers, VDP, and owns a total of 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.

But on to the wine: In the glass, we found a very pale, light yellow color. The nose showed floral and herbal aromas, with some overlying fruit (apple maybe?). But all in all it was a rather restrained nose, clean and focused. On the palate, the wine was light-bodied and luckily a typical Kabinett style sweet wine. When I say Kabinett style I mostly refer to its lightness and how refreshing and clear it was, despite it being a sweet wine. I just really like that combination of lightness and sweetness. However, I always struggle with describing these wines from vineyards that are especially dear to me. There was something that made me think it reflected the terroir quite well. I believe I would recognize a Scharzhofberger in a blind tasting (don’t dare me, though). I do believe the wine could have used a bit more acidity, but then again it was a 2011 where a lot of the grapes suffered from low acidity levels. The finish was very nice, with decent length.

In my view, this is a very good wine for someone interested in trying a Scharzhofberger without breaking the bank and at the same time finding out what all the fuss is about the Kabinett wines. This von Hövel also showcased the 2011 vintage nicely, which is already where drinkable and accessible for the wine drinker.

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Sunday Read: The Saar and Mosel Map of 1868

The Saar and Mosel map framed (Photo links to Lars Carlberg’s website, where it is uploaded)

I feel like I owe an explanation for my week long silence, but there really is not much to it. There are weeks when writing this blog is easy, and weeks were it is harder. Last week was one of these. I wrote a lot (work related) last week and so my eagerness to write more diminished. I also didn’t drink much wine last week, to be precise: none, so there was nothing I felt particularly strong about sharing. Let’s see how next week works out.

Today, for my Sunday Read, I want to point you to a particular article but also to a website in general: Lars Carlberg’s page. Lars is an American living in Trier, where we used to live, and he is a wine writer, worked as an importer or winery representative and loves the small estates that dot the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer. I have had the good fortune of meeting him several times and he is knowledgbale and a great conversation partner: thoughtful, witty, never boring. He started a Mosel wine, restricted access database last year in which he profiles wineries and posts his tasting notes. I don’t have access to it, but I like whatever he posts publicly and highly recommend you check his website out.

The article I am sharing today is about the Mosel and Saar Tax Map of 1868. When the Prussians took over the Rhineland and Mosel after the Napolenic Wars, they really had not much of a clue of this heavily Catholic area (the Prussian Kings were Protestants). So they established their administrative system and over the decades decided to streamline taxation etc. In 1868, the Prussian government commissioned this tax map. The commissioner, a Mr. Clotten, divided the vineyard properties in eight categories, or tax brackets, according to the net profit made from wines whose grapes came from the vineyard, and for the map purposes made three different brackets. This way, he identified the profitability of the vineyards on the map (from light red to dark red). This in turn, is now seen as marking which vineyards had the best growing conditions or reputation. Looking at the map today, many of the vineyards we now consider prime spots are dark red on the map. It is pretty awesome, and much more a testament to the idea of terroir than the Bordeaux ranking of estates.

Lars teamed up with the Trier Public Library to produce a reprint of the map. Nina and I own one from the second batch of reprints. It is very high quality and gorgeous to look at. We still need to get a custom made frame for it (it is VERY long), but are looking forward to having it on our wall sometime this year. In his article, Lars explains more about the map, a fascinating piece of history. And you can have it shipped to the US as well…just sayin’ for you fellow Mosel Riesling nuts.

And happy Sunday! It’s a sunny but cold day in Ann Arbor.

Sunday Read: Saar and Mosel Taxation Map

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