17 Feb 2012

Heir splitting (Pfalz, Germany - Day Two)

There seems to be a revolution taking place in the German wine industry, perhaps in reaction to market perceptions of the wine they produce. During the 1990s and 2000s there seemed to be a move away from the large volume blended sweet and fruity white wines of the 1970s and 1980s, towards very steely crisp and bone-dry wines. Today there seems to be a movement away from the aromatic and bright dry wines towards more complex textural and rich wines that retain concentration and mid-palate structure. Wineries also seem to be shifting towards more traditional techniques in an effort to craft wines in this style. Firstly in the vineyard the VDP is introducing classification of better parcels of vineyards, much like the French appellation system, and there also seems to be a movement to organic and biodynamic viticulture. Secondly in the cellars winemakers are reintroducing practices like extended must contact, barrel fermentations and oxidative handling. After almost three weeks in six German regions I am starting to wrap my head around the varietal, and see how each region expresses the variety using terroir and winemaking.

Vineyards near Bad Durkheim

The Buerklin family traces its wine heritage back to 1597, when it was one of the wealthiest vineyard owners in the Pfalz region. The wine tradition grew further in 1875 when the daughter of one of the Wolf family, possibly one of the most important families in the region, married the son of Buerklin and established the house we know today as Buerklin-Wolf. The estate is one of the largest owners of vineyards in the Mittelhaardt, mostly between Wachenheim and Haardt. They produce roughly 500,000 bottles using estate fruit from 85 hectares of vines, making them one of the largest producers in the area.

Buerklin-Wolf Wine Library
When the 16th Generation Bettina Buerklin took over the estate in 1990, she wanted to take the winery into the next century as a truly premium brand. One of the first things she did was to designate the top parcels of vineyards in the Mittelhaardt, using the French cru system and bottle and label them as such. This was before the VDP had designed the Lagen system that is commonly used by its 200 members. The second thing was to move away from reliance on stainless steel fermentation for the dry wines, and to reintroduce large format old barrels, particularly for the top wines. This is not uncommon in many of the top estates today, but Buerklin-Wolf was again ahead of the trend. The more recent change occurred in the early stages of the last decade, and that was to begin experimenting with biodynamic viticulture. Bettina was so happy with the results that over a five year period they converted all 85 hectares to biodynamic, and the results have shown.

Temperature regulator for barrel fermentation
My tasting began with three of the G.C. (Grand Cru) riesling wines from the 2009 vintage. The Gaisbohl vineyard (a monopol vineyard owned exclusively by the estate) had a rich and slightly oily nose, and ripe strawberry lime cordial viscosity and weight, with full texture from a little residual sugar. The Hohenmorgen had a very delicate toasted nut and green minerality, with less intensity of fruit and more mid-palate savoury texture and length. The Pechstein similar to the J.L. Wolf I had tasted the previous day, showed the influence of the unique volcanic basalt soil composition. It showed a much darker more intense yet subdued fruit character, was quite brooding for a riesling, had great purity yet many dimensions. I was then able to try a few wines pre-biodynamic conversion. I started with an Ungeheuer Trocken 2003, which was retaining very ripe tropical pineapple primary fruit, but picking up some nougat and honey bottle-aged characters, lacking in oiliness though. The Reiterpfad 1999 had some wild sweet spice subtlety on the nose, and a glazed orange and custard palate, very soft and slightly toasty. I also was lucky enough to try the very special Pechstein “R” 1998, a special sweet wine produced from an outstanding vintage. It had a lovely rich yet haunting nose of kerosene, nuts, caramel and lime, with astonishing complexity and depth on the palate, creamy toasty and earthy at the same time. I was tempted to buy a bottle at only 35€.

Tasting at Buerklin-Wolf
Down in the village of Deidesheim is the estate of Weingut Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan. This estate has a number of similarities with Buerklin-Wolf. Firstly they produce roughly 500,000 bottles of mostly riesling each year. Secondly they own hectares in most of the same vineyards as their neighbour to the north. Thirdly they have converted all of their vineyards to biodynamic viticulture. They also have a quite a history dating back to the 16th Century, and the estate has also been run by doctors. When you look closely you see quite a few important differences though. The winery doesn’t own as many hectares of vineyards as Buerklin-Wolf, and purchases fruit from contract growers within the Mittelhaardt to achieve their volume. The business is also no longer owned by the Bassermann-Jordan family, selling to a local businessman in the 90s. In the cellars there is not as much reliance on old barrels for fermentation, preferring to retain more freshness in the wines. And finally, the fact that they are biodynamic isn’t a badge of honour for them.

Pechstein Vineyard
The Sales Manager Sebastian Wandt hosted me for the afternoon, and I had one of those rare opportunities to go into the vineyards. Recognising many of the Grosses Lagen vineyards, it was interesting to note that three wineries owned parcels in most of them; Bassermann-Jordan, Buerklin-Wolf and Von Buhl. The vineyards of the Mittelhaardt in the Pfalz are quite flat, sitting on the foothills of the Haardt Mountains. They remind me of Alsace in a way, and there are similarities between the two in the wines. Looking down on the jigsaw of vineyards is really interesting, as you have to imagine little micro-climates and variations in soil-type that you can’t see. Over a tasting I admired the very traditional art-deco labels which depict a Bacchan paying homage to Roman Emperor Probus, who introduced Europe to its tradition of viticulture and winemaking in the 3rd Century.

Soil types in Bassermann-Jordan vineyards
Over a comprehensive tasting I was able to come to terms with the style and range of the winery. The basic rieslings are all very clean and fresh examples of the variety, and possibly the best value I have tasted, particularly the Pionier 2011. I then looked at three of the GG wines, but across four vintages. The Jesuitengarten 2010 had a rich mineralic honeyed peach nose, ripeness and texture on the palate and wonderful concentration and balance. The 2008 vintage of the same wine was quite closed but slightly perfumed, had some richness and savoury elements, and was beginning to pick up some oily nectarine complexity. Moving onto the Kalkofen GG I first tried the 2010 vintage, which was much quieter than the Jesuitengarten, showing more earth and citrus with a firestone warmth on the palate. In comparison the 2009 vintage was brighter and juicier, and more approachable now than the 2010 is. It still has some of the earthy notes, but it is also picking up some subtle toasted nut complexity.

Bassermann-Jordan Jesuitengarten wines
It was great to try a Pechstein GG from the 2007 vintage, which had the unmistakeable brooding contemplative nature of other vintages and estates. After almost five years it is showing some great tertiary characters, such as a sweet oily texture, dark currant concentration and superb volume. It is not a riesling for the feint of heart. We looked at a few of the sweet wines, including the Deidesheimer Hohenmorgen Auslese 2007 which was lovely and fresh with good balance of acids and sweetness, but isn’t really a patch on the sweet wines of the Mosel. To finish with we looked at a 1976 Kabinett wine from Hohenberg, which was lovely and rich golden but not at all brown in colour. On the nose there was a fascinating lemon barley cordial and orange peel aroma, along with candied ginger and blackcurrant tea. On the palate there was so much complexity it was hard to pinpoint, but I did see some caramelized onion and hard cheese in there. It was nice to take the taste of this wine with me as I said farewell.

What a wine!
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in the Pfalz, Germany.

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