Tag Archives: vereinigte hospitien

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.

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Wine travelling in Germany

I have mentioned it in passing, but Nina and I will be in Germany for three weeks in June and early July. I cannot tell you how excited we are about this. Not only for seeing friends and family, but also for all the wine tasting opportunities. Wine tasting and travelling in Germany is incredibly pleasant. The wine culture is still very much based on local, small wineries with farm-like structures. Now, I am not saying that the winemakers are mere “peasants”, on the contrary. They are smart businessmen, and they know they produce for a world market. Yet, they have retained a lot of the wonderful ease of access that their fathers established and that is one of the best features of German wine culture. It also gives you super-easy access to winemakers and their knowledge and treasure trove of stories.

Tasting with Stefan Erbes and friends in May 2011

While Nina and I lived in Trier, we would make a habit of wine touring on weekends. We would drive down the Mosel and ring random doorbells at wineries and ask whether we could try their wines. We were never turned down. We had wine tastings in fancy tasting rooms, kitchens, wine cellars and wine storage rooms. The overwhelming majority of winemakers was friendly, and once they realized we cared about wine, they usually opened bottle after bottle to try for us, and we often ended up hours later, with many wines tried. American friends who have taken part in these are usually amazed by the generosity (there is nothing like that twinkle in a winemaker’s eye when he announces that he still has a BA or TBA open for us to try…) and the fun. The winemaker will sit down with us and enjoy his wines with us. For me, it has always been like this, so that is what I expect…As a caveat: That does not necessarily work at the big estates with stellar reputation. But it is true for a lot of the wineries just beneath those.

Also, the tastings are usually free. However, I firmly believe in the principle that since the winemaker opened his cellar and wines for us, courtesy requires that I buy at least a case. The cool thing is, in a tasting you will usually find a wine or two that you like. Rather low prices at German wineries also made this affordable for this usually cash-strapped blogger…

Tasting with Mario Schwang of Reuscher-Haart and friends in May 2011

The 2011 vintage is said to be phenomenal. Check out the German Wine Institute’s vintage report here. After very low yields in 2010, 2011 brought vast improvements in yield and quality. The president of the Wine Growers’ Association announced: “In terms of quality, the 2011 vintage leaves nothing to be desired. Thanks to the textbook autumn a large part of the harvest has reached predicate wine level. Wine lovers will get a lot of 2011 wine for their money and have a great choice in all quality levels.“

So, naturally, I am super-stoked to get to try this vintage at some of my favorite wineries (and then share with you). We currently have made plans with the following wineries (in alphabetical order):

Karl Erbes, Ürzig (Mosel)
Within one wine tasting in May 2011, we became great friends with Stefan Erbes, the maker of beautiful rieslings…

Gunderloch, Nackenheim (Rheinhessen)
THE winery in my hometown. I went to school with the oldest daughter, and now her brother is taking over more and more in this excellent winery.

Dr. Hermann, Ürzig (Mosel)
Christian Hermann is a genius with wine. They produce stellar collection after stellar collection each year.

Klaus Meierer, Kesten (Mosel)
This will be a first for us. Really excited about the opportunity!

Reuscher-Haart, Piesport (Mosel)
Mario Schwang, the winemaker, is one of the coolest wine guys I know and it is always great to get to hang out with him and his great wines.

Vereinigte Hospitien, Trier (Mosel and Saar)
Used to be my go-to winery in Trier, with wines from spectacular locations. This time around we will get a tour of the cellars and try some wines old and new (actually thanks to my post about their 1987 which made the person that sold me the wine invite me!!).

Weiser-Künstler, Traben-Trarbach (Mosel)
One of last year’s biggest discoveries for me. Konstantin and Alexandra’s wines have a depth and finesse that is mind-boggling. Their 2010 dry riesling ranks among the very best dry rieslings I’ve ever had.

We will probably add some more to that list along the way…

If ever you get to go on a wine trip to Germany, give the let’s go and ring a random doorbell approach a try. I have made some great discoveries that way. There are incredible winemakers out there waiting for you to discover their wines.

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1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Erdener Treppchen Spätlese

Photo taken from the winery’s homepage

I mentioned this wine in an earlier post, when I was talking about how German rieslings can age. I think it is proper to describe the wine in full.

The Vereinigte Hospitien (“Unified Hospices”) winery in Trier has a loooooong history and tradition. Its name stems from the fact, that until German Mediatisation in the early 1800s, most hospitals were run by the Catholic church. The Trier hospitals, that were also called hospices at the time, were unified into one corporation under public law in 1804 by Napoleon. A lot of these hospitals financed themselves by owning vineyards and selling the wine (just like universities at the time). The Vereinigte Hospitien are still a corporation under public law, maintaining several hospitals and nursing homes, and are a big employer. But they also never gave up winemaking, though. Through the church possessions, they own property in some of the most prestigious hills along the Mosel and Saar rivers. Most notable is the Scharzhofberg, one of the most famous German vineyards at the river Saar, but also Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Wiltinger Kupp and others.

The winery has a tasting room were you can try the wines for free. Even better, ask for a wine tasting with friends in their cellars, which are among the oldest in Germany…dating back to Roman walls of the fourth century AD. I have been quite fond of their good but affordable quality wines. If ever you get to Trier (be it for its Roman ruins, medieval history, or any other reason), I recommend you go and check out this winery.

The bottle with the deteriorated cork

Now, this 1987 I got at the winery shortly before I left for Ann Arbor. It happens to be Nina’s birthyear (not a very good year for German wines), and Erdener Treppchen, a vineyard in the central Mosel valley, is one of my favorite. To me, there is something special about old wines. I immediately have to think about what happened in that year, and it feels like the wine gives me access to a time that is passed. It is like a captured moment in time, that has aged as well, and will be gone when I finish (or pour out) the bottle. It is almost magical.

We opened it for Nina’s birthday party.  I decanted it for about half an hour. As you can see on the photo, the cork had deteriorated quite a bit, but when I pulled it, it was clear that it had not destroyed the wine. The color was a lighter rhine stone. The nose seemed quite complex, I smelled honey as the strongest. The taste was surprisingly fresh, with a well boiled down alcoholic tone. Unfortunately, and I guess this owes to the rather weak vintage in general, acidic notes were strong and dominated the palate to a degree that some found objectionable. I thought it was still an acceptable level…it was yummy!

Cork art

With older wines, it is interesting to see how they taste after they have been open for a while. So, we preserved some and after two days, tobacco and leather smells started dominating the nose, but with beautiful hints of strawberry. It just kept wowing me.

And to give you an idea why I am often surprised by the wine prices in the U.S. I think I paid about 15 euros for this bottle, that is $20. For German standards, that is already a rather expensive wine…

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