Tag Archives: trier

Quick update from Germany

My hometown's church

My hometown’s church

Dear friends,

just a quick update from Germany, some of you have asked how things are going.

It’s great to be back for a visit, and I am enjoying it a lot. Right after my arrival, which for various reasons brought me to the Stuttgart airport, in the south of Germany, I went to visit the Württemberg winery Kistenmacher und Hengerer. Winemaker Hans Hengerer and his wife Sabine opened their doors for me on a Sunday (after I told them that I could imagine that they had better things to do on a Sunday morning), and I spent a good three hours there. What do I say? A great three hours. We tried a host of wines, from their Rieslings to all the local varietals Clevner, Samtrot, Gelber Muskateller, a bunch of Pinot Noirs…

I am not familiar with that particular region of German wine growing, but it felt like a great introduction. I will write more about the winery shortly.

Now I am back in native Rheinhessen region, enjoying what I miss so much: the sight of Father Rhine, the vineyards on the other side, German bread, rolls and sausage meats, and just simple, enjoyable local wines. My mother and I have been hitting the theater trail, went to see Neil LaBute’s stunning, disturbing, incredible piece Bash. If ever you get a chance, I highly recommend it!

The coming weekend and some will be spent at my beloved Mosel, with seeing friends, more eating and drinking (naturally) and I am lucky to have scored tasting times at the estates Reinhold Haart (Piesport), Immich-Batterieberg (Traben-Trarbach), Kurt Hain (Piesport), Meierer (Kesten), Günther Steinmetz (Brauneberg) with room for a few more. One evening will be spent tasting some Finger Lakes Rieslings I brought with my good friend ManSoo. As you can see, most of the action will be surrounding wine…and more wineries will be visited the following week (St. Urbanshof, Karl Erbes, and Dr. Hermann).

I am truly excited about this mix of old friends and new wineries, and am looking forward to what 2012 has brought.

The biggest bummer so far has been that a tentative meeting up for joint tasting with my good friend and fellow blogger Stefano of Clicks and Corks has not come together…it would have been awesome to share these moments with him, but we both will make do, and I am looking forward to share German wine country with him another time.

That’s it for now. I hope I will get to shoot some more articles in my pipeline out over the next days and am looking forward to presenting new wineries to you soon.

Trier as seen in summer 2012 (structures left to right: Imperial Basilica from the 300s, Citizen Church from the 1300s, Cathedral foundations dating back to 300s)

Trier as seen in summer 2012 (structures left to right: Imperial Basilica from the 300s, Citizen Church from the 1300s, Cathedral foundations dating back to 300s)

Tagged , , , , , ,

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!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Meeting the vintners: Vereinigte Hospitien, Trier (Mosel), Germany

Sometimes, coincidences can be really awesome. Like this one. A friend of mine and former flatmate is now living in Brazil. She checked out my blog when I posted my tasting notes and introduction to the 1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese. She then sent the link to the blog entry to her father, who happens to be the director general of the Vereinigte Hospitien (in charge of the whole enterprise, not just wines). He thought it to be nice enough that he forwarded it to his winemakers. And the next day, I found a comment on the entry telling me that I should get in touch next time I was in Germany for a tasting. Coincidence had it, that we were leaving for Germany a few weeks later. In our ensuing email exchange we established that the comment was made by Marc. Turned out, he and I had spent one Saturday morning trying to find a suitable old wine from their cellars to drink at one of Nina’s birthday parties while we were still living in Germany. So, we actually knew each other. And certainly he knows ManSoo and Yutaka…the world is small indeed, and the wine world is even smaller.

Now, the idea of a tasting at Vereinigte Hospitien was exciting us for two reasons: First, I have liked their wines a lot over the last years, especially fond of their Scharzhofberger spätlesen. We have had a great 2002 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese in a magnum bottle that converted a friend of ours to sweeter rieslings. And in 2011 (thanks toMarc), we had a fantastic 1990 Erdener Prälat Auslese (I still have one bottle cellared). Second, while they have a modern tasting room where one can freely try most of their wines every day, the Hospitien also are in possession of what is deemed Germany’s oldest wine cellar, the walls of which are dating back to the 300s A.D. We always wanted to have a tasting there, but somehow managed never to be in town when they had their annual vintage presentations or failed to get a group together for an individual tasting there…so now we finally had the chance!

We met with Marc on June 18. It was a sunny day, and we were ready to go to the cellars. I have written about the Hospitien’s history earlier, so I will spare you those stories here. However, some background on Trier is required to understand why they have the oldest wine cellar in Germany. Trier was a pretty big deal for most of its recorded history. It is Germany’s oldest recorded city, founded before 16 B.C. It went on to become the capital for the Roman province of Gallia Belgica, and in the 300s A.D. was the residence of the Western Roman Emperors, among them Constantine the Great. The city is therefore full of Roman ruins, among them a fully preserved Roman city gate from before 200 A.D., the Imperial Baths of around 300 A.D. and Constantine’s Throne Hall of around the same time.

To shorten this: a) Go visit if you have a chance! and b) the city was thriving in Roman times: an imperial household with all its demands.

All this leads us to the wine cellar. The Hospitien are located at the banks of the Mosel. Right in front of them, at the Mosel, is a crane from medieval times and it is very likely that there were cranes already in Roman times to unload ships that would bring all sorts of goods. To house those goods, huge warehouses were built. The current street level is about 4-5 meters (12-15 feet) above what the Roman street level was. That means, that the foundations and walls of these houses, if they are still around, lie underground now.

The cellars of the Hospitien make use of that: The walls are part of two warehouses that were a total of 70 meters (210 feet) long. The cellars stretch the whole length of this, and make for a very impressive structure. You enter through a door that has a medieval architrave. The buildings were used as a “Stift”, which is a sort of convent for aristocratic and rich women, where they lived among each other in a religious way but always had the option to leave and still get married. Their dowries made the convent rich.

The moment we stepped down into the cellar we knew we were in for definitely the coolest (literally and figuratively!) tasting of this trip. Just to be standing on the original Roman floors is incredible. Add the medieval and baroque vaults to that and it was just breathtaking. The barrels you can see are no longer in use. Almost all wines are now made in stainless steel. It was a big burden working with these barrels, because every couple of years, the tax assessor wanted to measure them because wineries are taxed on the amount of liters they can hold in their barrels. We walked almost the whole length, Marc was explaining everything and way more than I could remember, when he made us turn into the tasting room itself. We were startled:

Candles on the barrels were lit, the vaults were lit, and there was an endlessly long wooden table with a candelabra on it. We were stunned. And that just for us! Man, did my blog entry from May pay off big time. It definitely had something magical. Our gracious host wandered off to grab some bottles, and we took the place in some more…

I really do not want to write about the tasting now, because it was so special in its own right. And I know that I do not like to read too long blog posts. So I will write about the wines we tried in a seperate post. Let it be enough here to say that they fully matched the occasion: We tried two different 1987s spätlesen side by side (when does one ever get the chance to try two old wines and compare them straight?!), a 1990 auslese, a 2003 spätlese and two 2011s.

Before we went back up into daylight after an awesome two hours and a half, we had the privilege to take a glimpse at the treasure vault, where the real treasures are locked up and heard a story fitting this ancient place. Apparently, there is a greyish-black fungus living in the cellars that spreads like crazy when the alcoholic fermentation is going on, covering the walls and cobwebs and whatever it can lay hands on. It lives of the alcoholic vapor. When fermentation is over, it recedes and waits for the next harvest. You can still see some of it on the cobwebs and over St. Jacobus, the patron saint of the largest hospice and who can be found on every bottle of wine. The people employed at the Hospitien apparently say that they either want to be born again as a winemaker or as that fungus…

Upstairs, we had a chance to look at a replica of what the Roman wall probably looked like when it was new in the Hospitien’s big hall for receptions and conferences with a gorgeous view over the gardens. It was quite stunning. When Marc told us that he had found the blog through the director general, my friend’s father, I mentioned that I knew him, too. So we went to his office and had a nice chat. Like I said, the world really is pretty small…

While I was busy getting the wines we wanted could afford loaded up and billed, Nina kept imbibing in the modern tasting room. Lucky her. But hey, what an amazing experience!! I am also glad to have had the time with Marc, who was an amazing host and ambassador for the Hospitien and I definitely look forward to many more exchanges and tastings with him.

Their (modern) tasting room is open Monday through Thursday from 8am until 5pm (with a lunch break from 12.30-1.30), and Friday and Saturday in the mornings. It is well worth a visit. Try some amazing wines, and find great bargains on older vintages. Just ask the staff!

Tasting notes will follow soon. Promised.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: