Tag Archives: ürziger würzgarten

Our Annual Wine Party

Cork collection

It has become a tradition in our house that every year for Nina’s birthday we throw a wine party. It used to be that it was a wine and cheese party, where we provided the cheeses and opened Nina’s huge treasure chest of mustards and fruit mustards, and everyone invited was asked to bring a bottle of wine they liked or always wanted to try or thought we just had to try. The tradition started back in Germany, where naturally almost everyone brought Rieslings…over the last couple of years we have also been able to open Rieslings from Nina’s birth year which has been fun and educational.

These days, the party has evolved to just a wine party. Nina still gives some guidance regarding what folks should contemplate bringing, and it is usually respected. One cool thing is that a number of friends that come are not really into wine, but are willing to explore and try things out. I always love that. The other cool thing is that it gives me an opportunity to see what others consider when they look at wines and try to bring something to a specifically wine party. Here are some of my impressions from this year’s party:

1) Pinot noir seems to be gaining ground like crazy. I’d guess that half the wines that were brought to the party were made from that grape. Pretty much all of them from the US or other New World locations, mainly because we tend to limit money spent to grad student salaries. I enjoyed seeing that not so into wine folks are embracing that grape more and more, yet some of the wines were clearly underwhelming…it’s just hard at that price range.

2) A Portuguese friend of ours brought a bottle of Alvarinho, a white,  called Deu La Deu from the Portuguese sub-region of Monção e Melgaço. Our friend introduced it by saying it was a vinho verde, and she knew we like vinho verde, but that it was a “next level” vinho verde. I was naturally intrigued, given how much I enjoy vinho verde. When I tried it, I was quite impressed: It has all the citrus and refreshment that I love about vinho verde, the sazziness, the fun. But it also has a more serious air about it: It carries more weight, is a bit creamier, a bit more mature, I guess I would say. At 12.5% ABV it is great to drink, and made for a wonderful surprise! More about the wine here.

A next level Vinho Verde

A next level Vinho Verde

3) Our newly found blogger friend Hannah (of Next Stop TBD) and her fiance Mark brought a bottle from a winery visit in California last year: A 2011 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. They wanted to retry the wine, because memories of it were a bit hazy, and so we were happy to oblige. You know how I usually see Cabernet Sauvignons with trepidation, but it was a really tasty wine: bold, juicy, chewy, with enough depth. Nina was shocked I liked it, which was probably the other reason I liked it even more. Nothing like surprising your spouse once they think they have you figured out.

4) The amazement that has been Vouvray whites is continuing: Our great tasting buddies and real life friends, coffee roaster Jay and his baking-wine nut wife Sarah brought another bottle: Noel Bourgier 2012 Vouvray, this one retailing for a mere $11! It was just what I described as a winter white in my post about Vouvray a while back: creamy and full, round and enticing. Uncomplicated and quaffable. Go find a Vouvray and let me know what you think!

A nice Vouvray at a bargain price

A nice Vouvray at a bargain price

5) As the highlight of the night, we opened yet another 1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese (we have had this wine before, last year we had a Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen, and we have had Vereinigte Hospitien’s ’87 Erdener Treppchen before). We are now 27 years in, so I begin to worry a bit about how these Spätlesen are going to hold up, especially from a not ideal vintage. I have been telling Nina numerous times that we need to start stocking up on Auslesen and even BAs from that year, if there were even any produced. The cork was moldy on top, but came out seemlessly, and the wine presented itself in fantastic condition: I had gotten the decanter ready, to potentially breathe some life into it, but the tiny sip I tried made me push aside the decanter and go straight for glasses: The wine was firm and structured. There was very bright acidity which held the wine together and led to citrus aromas dominating the wine. The finish was holding up, and so all in all a very solid expression of what an aged Spätlese can taste like. I thought it was very tasty and definitely has a couple more years ahead of it, which I find astonishing….and reason enough to buy a couple more of this when we are in Germany next…

Stunningly fresh

Stunningly fresh

So, when are you throwing your next wine party and encourage friends to bring what they want you to try or share with you?

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MWWC #3: Possession


Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3

This post is part of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, which is now in its third round. Sally of My Custard Pie wrote the best piece last month around the theme trouble (this is what I could muster) and threw out the next challenge: Possession. Find the full info on the contest here.

I am a lawyer by training. And sometimes, this training, and the way of thinking it teaches you, can be a curse. So, when I read the theme for this month’s wine writing challenge, possession, my head got stuck on the legal meaning of possession. You see, the law distinguishes between ownership and possession. It is an important distinction, but in colloquial language and understanding, it often gets completely blurred. Now, ownership is a much better right to have, because it gives you exclusive rights over something. Possession, in contrast, only gives you a derived right. Derived, because the thing we are talking about belongs to someone else…

Why did my head get stuck on this distinction when we are talking about a wine writing challenge? Because possession, just like ownership, plays a huge part in the German wine growing world. I remembered a video I watched last year, posted by Denise Medrano, in which Ernst Loosen of the fabled Dr. Loosen winery takes a group through their vineyards in Ürzig, the Ürziger Würzgarten. It’s a long video, and rather boring at times, but what struck me was what he talks about from time mark 4:20 or so until minute 6. That part is not boring!

Ernie is talking about who “owns” which part of the vineyard, and as you can see, it is really tricky. In the most remarkable sentence he states that seven single vines (yes, single vines!) are bordered by four different wineries. What he does not mention is that some of those vines are not even owned by the wineries that work them, the wineries merely have legal possession: they leased the vines.

So much better than Hollywood

So much better than Hollywood…yet who owns these vines?

When you think of wine estates, many imagine the large, sprawling wine estates in the New World, where one winery owns hundreds and hundreds of acres of vines, all in neat rows, belonging to that one winery. The situation in a lot of Germany is different (and not just Germany, I think it is similar in other European wine growing countries): Wine has been grown for 2,000 years. Families have split, and with them ownership over land was split. The Catholic Church had huge holdings, which were later dismantled. But quite a bit of that land is actually still owned by the Church. But most bishoprics have given up making wine themselves.  Add to that the decline of active wineries in Germany because many cannot make a living, and there is a sizable amount of land under vine that is owned by persons that don’t even make wine.

What do you do with these tracts of land? Most of the land is in steep hills, or in areas that cannot be developed in another way for legal or geographical reasons. But the land might actually be quite valuable. And some people are not interested in a full payment to transfer ownership, they rather get a yearly rent (in money or even wine) and retain ownership. According to statistics by the German statistics office, over 60% of agricultural land under production is leased, not owned! In Rhineland-Palatinate, home to the large wine regions Rheinhessen, Palatinate (Pfalz) and the Mosel, 66% of all agricultural land is leased (I couldn’t find data just on wine).

This leads to a lot of possessive relationships in the vineyards. These are regulated by contracts which stipulate the exact duties (how does the possessor need to take care of the vines? Who is responsible for replanting when the vines grow old and tired? etc.) of lessee and land owner. A short research on Google revealed contract forms by two bishoprics leasing out land under vine. These contracts are many pages long. The contracts run for a set number of years, and it is common that after the end of the lease, the vines are rented to another wine maker…so the one who tended them for, let’s say, 20 years from one day to the other loses the right to use to these vines…

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

These relationships are beneficial for both parties, though. Take my friend Stefan Erbes of Karl Erbes. His family has been making wine in Ürzig since the 1960s, yet the most fabled of vineyards in the neighborhood was out of reach: Erdener Prälat. That tiny little parcel of land actually has seven or eight wineries tending to the vines in it, although ownership might be more obscure. Last year, Stefan was able to lease a teeny tiny bit of vines in the Prälat, and since the vines are already in place, he will be able to make wine from this top trophy vineyard for the first time this year already. On the other hand, the current owner does not lose his or her stake in this piece of land which, very likely, will continue to grow in value.

Well, this got us on quite the tangent, and is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of possession. But I just thought it was an important piece of information about German wineries. That the land they produce their wines from might never have actually been owned by them. Some of them are just possessors…

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2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kranklay Riesling Spätlese

2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kranklay Riesling Spätlese

2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kranklay Riesling Spätlese

Last weekend, we met with friends for an afternoon of playing Super Mario Kart, wine, cakes, cheeses and minestrone (talk about an eclectic mixture). We had a Pinot Noir that I was not very fond of so I am not writing about that one (Nina liked it quite a bit, which is always a mystery to me…but she likes red wines with sharp edges, I don’t). But, with the cheeses, we did share this bottle of wine, the 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kranklay Riesling Spätlese. Regular readers of this blog are probably familiar with the winery, if you aren’t, I wrote about it in detail here. The winemaker Stefan Erbes has become a good friend of mine.

Some of you should also be familiar with the Ürziger Würzgarten by now, one of my preferred vineyards along the Middle Mosel. But you might wonder what that word “Kranklay” behind it means. Let me explain briefly: The German Wine Act, passed in the early ’70s, did many things that I can just look at in amazement these days. One of them was merging single denomination vineyards into bigger single denomination vineyards by expanding particular plots and getting rid of the old names. So, what used to be a rather small vineyard, the Ürziger Würzgarten, is now a pretty big stretch of land. The incorporated vineyards lost their single vineyard denomination and vanished. Among these merged plots were some pretty good ones: in Erden for example the “Herzlay”, or in Ürzig the “Kranklay”. The German Wine Act prohibits wineries from putting the names of these now defunct vineyards on the label, even if the vineyards are in these old plots.

A younger generation of winemakers has realized that terroir actually matters (it really does not in any way to the German Wine Act). So, some of them have started putting the names of the deleted vineyards back on the labels because they believe they are unique and should be identifiable. While this is not allowed by the Wine Act, it depends on the wine commissioner to assess whether to exact penalties or not. The Middle Mosel is quite lucky in that regard as the current commissioner does not seem to care too much. So you will find the denominations Kranklay or Herzlay on bottles of Karl Erbes or Dr. Hermann.

Other areas fare worse: Weingut Peter Lauer, on the Saar river, has to come up with creative names for their wines that resemble the old vineyard names in order to be able to print something akin to the vineyard name on the label. It is complete bureaucratic idiocy at its “best” and everyone seems to agree that the Wine Act is in desperate need of an overhaul…but legislatures move slowly (as Americans know all too well)…so for now, we are stuck with a system that is generally considered bad, which is arbitrarily applied. Talk about the rule of law…

The Kranklay then is part of the Ürziger Würzgarten. It is located in the higher, Eastern parts of the South facing Würzgarten, close to where the Erdener Treppchen begins. It is a perfect amphitheater and has a pretty good micro climate. Stefan decided it is worth pointing that out and putting the name back on the label. The wines tend to taste a bit riper in my experience than the rest of the Würzgarten.

But let’s move on to the wine: it has 7% ABV and was from the super ripe 2011 vintage, so we knew we were in for a sweet treat…In a short exchange, Stefan told me that the 2011s are now beginning to shine.

In the glass the 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kranklay Riesling Spätlese was strikingly bright yellow. To me, the nose was a bit subdued, with floral aromas. On the palate the wine was quite sweet, showed honey and peach aromas. It still retained a decent amount of acidity but the sugar level definitely gave me one of those very welcome sugar burns in the throat (I have no clue if you understand what I mean: it is this mixture of acidity and sugar that can create a warm, fuzzy feeling in the upper throat region. I quite enjoy that in a good Riesling). The wine had a long finish. After a while I began tasting red apples and some orange rinds. It was a perfect match with the goat cheeses we had (goat gouda, goat manchego, two other hard goat cheeses and a soft, Greek goat cheese). We like to eat those cheeses with some kind of fruit mustard, but who needs that when you have a wine like this in your glass?

It is still in the early stages of its development. To a certain degree, it seemed more like an Auslese than a Spätlese in its intensity and I am rather certain that the must reached Auslese levels in degrees Oechsle. If you like sweet German Rieslings, this is a great bottle of wine for you.

I just checked the guys over at Mosel Fine Wines (if you have not signed up for their free newsletter, I encourage you to do it: great wine reviews for pretty much all wineries that matter at the Mosel and it is free), and they noted yellow fruits and passion fruit. They remark that it is clearly botrytized (I thought the opposite last night, but what do I know?) and also got the honey notes. Their suggested drinking window is 2016 to 2026. So you might want to give this wine some time…

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