Tag Archives: St. Urbanshof

Some shots from the harvest in Germany

Instead of the usual Sunday read, I want to just show you some photos from the end of the German wine harvest. The harvest is almost over now in Germany. German wineries often go through their vineyards several times during harvest, selecting the grapes for each particular style of wine. The longer the grapes hang, usually the higher the concentration leading up to shrivelled, mostly botrytized grapes that are used for the stars of sweet wines, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Nik Weis, the owner and winemaker of St. Urbanshof, a winery in the Saar valley, posted some photos the other day of their final stages of harvest and I asked him whether I could share them. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. It gives you an idea of how labor intensive just the collection of grapes for these very high end wines is, and how low yields are, which explains their high prices…

I have added some photos from the harvest in the prime Mosel vineyard Erdener Prälat, taken by my friend ManSoo, who harvested there with Dr. Hermann winery.

I am leaving for a few weeks in Germany the coming weekend, and I am excited about trying the 2012 vintage of my beloved Mosel and Sarr Rieslings as well as wine from new places for me: I will visit the Kistenmacher-Hengerer estate, a newly minted member of the elite winemaker association VDP, in Württemberg, a region I hardly know anything about, for example.

Happy Sunday!

Another round of harvesting begins in Erdener Prälat

Another round of harvesting begins in Erdener Prälat

Collecting healthy and slightly shrivelled grapes

Collecting healthy and slightly shrivelled grapes in Erdener Prälat

Healthy Riesling Grape Cluster in Ockfener Bockstein

Healthy Riesling Grape Cluster in Ockfener Bockstein

Further selection taking place...

Further selection taking place… (Erdener Prälat)

Once the grapes get crushed, this "must weight scale" shows the density of the must in degrees Oechsle, which determines what quality category a wine can be listed as.

Once the grapes get crushed, this “must weight scale” shows the density of the must in degrees Oechsle, which determines what quality category a wine can be listed as.

Now that is manual labor.

Now that is manual labor: Highly shrivelled grape harvest on the Saar (St. Urbanshof)

Slowly, slowly piling up...

Slowly, slowly piling up…(St. Urbanshof)

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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 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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