8 Feb 2012

Let it snow (Rheingau, Germany - Day One)

The past week in Germany has highlighted that classic adage that timing is everything. As mentioned in my last post, due to the confluence of the time of year (post-Christmas, mid-Winter), estates being small and very busy (bottling, in Australia for the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting) and the short notice I was giving many estates, I wasn’t able to secure any appointments in the Rheinhessen. So it was with some regret that I move onto the Rheingau, again hoping that I will be able to meet with some producers at Prowein.

The drive up the Rhine towards Mainz was quite lovely, and the clear days improve the extreme cold temperatures. The Rhine River itself is the largest in Germany, and the influence it has is quite profound, as the large body of water has a mitigating influence on temperature oscillations between day and night. In such extreme conditions as the Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany where it can get very cold at night, this is essential for slow even ripening of the fruit. In conjunction with this it is important to find sights that have good steep exposition to the sun, which shines from the South in Europe. The Rheingau region is warmer than many of its neighbours, and thus achieving ripeness isn’t as difficult as it is in the Mosel. The climate also means that vintners can work with other varieties such as spatburgunder, grauburgunder and weisburgunder, as well as the noble Riesling variety. The region stretches for less than 50km between Wiesbaden and Lorch, and includes vineyards on the Main River.

Vineyards above Rudesheim
The Brueur family have been in the wine business for five generations, initially beginning as wine merchants in Rudesheim am Rhein, and then evolving into estate winemakers in by Georg Brueur, after whom the brand is named after. Georg made the shift from being a merchant that purchased bulk wine, then bottled, labelled and sold it, to the estate model of owning vineyards and making wines exclusively from these vineyards. Eventually they only made wine under the Georg Brueur label, and thus volumes reduced significantly. Today they own 33 hectares of vines, mostly around Rudesheim and Rauenthal, and they have two ranges; the GB range of entry-level wines, and the Estate wines.

The top wine has a different artist-designed label each year
The company is now run by Theresa Brueur, after her fathers untimely passing seven years ago, a lot of responsibility for a 28 year-old. She is fortunate enough to have a very dedicated and loyal group of employees, many of whom have worked for the family for over 15 years. At least 85% of the production is dedicated to Riesling, a further 10% to spatburgunder (a variety they have only been working with for 15 years), and the balance to grauburgunder and weisburgunder, but I didn’t taste either of these varieties. They bottle and release their wines later than many of their contemporaries.

Museum wines in the Georg Breuer cellar
Theresa showed me the modest winery and 200+ year old cellars, before I got a chance to be introduced to the wines. Interestingly they begin their tastings with the spatburgunder before Riesling. The red wines are understandably lighter and fresher than most pinot noirs, showing fresh strawberry and cranberry notes, and they reminded me of the pinot noirs I tasted in the Finger Lakes. Tasting through the Rieslings I found they displayed great purity of fruit, balanced acids and lovely fresh dryness. It was fascinating trying each of the vineyards, as they each had their own unique qualities and characteristics. The standout of the 2009 vintage for me was the Berg Rottland. The Nonnenberg 2009 had good minerality, but lacked any real character and definition, not bad but not exciting. Considering the quality of the vineyards, I think there is so much more to be got out of them.

Georg Breuer vinothek
Not unlike Theresa, neighbour Johannes Leitz took over the family business at a premature age, after his father also passed away when he was still a child. He took the reins at the age of 18 and began his wine studies at the same time, and gained experience in numerous regions further afield. The Josef Leitz winery owns 40 hectares in many of the same vineyards as Georg Breuer, but they also have some hectares in the Northern Rheingau, where they have a hectare of spatburgunder (pinot noir). One of the largest wineries in the Rheingau, the wines he produces are well respected for their quality and integrity, but also for their bold statements visually. The labels are very sharp and modern, reflecting the modern nature of the winery and region. Recently they have been upgrading many of the vineyards they have, improving the drainage and accessibility, as they can be a little tough to work in.

Weingut Leitz
Tobias Fiebrandt, who recently completed his studies in oenology and viticulture, gave me a detailed tour of the vineyards, where we saw the various differences in soil types and expositions in vineyards that stretch for less than 1km. The soils are generally richer than those in the Mosel, and have less slate and more quartz in them. Some of the vineyards border on the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard, where the nuns still own some vineyards and make their own wine, some of which is for sale. As we drove along the Rhine the vineyards went from quite loamy to rocky, dominant in quartz and shale, and the aspect got steeper. The natural amphitheatre of the Berg Roseneck vineyard is the coldest part of the vineyard, as all of the cold air flows down the middle of the slope.

Berg Roseneck vineyard
The entry level wine of the brand is both ingenious in style, but also in name, Eins Zwei Dry Riesling. The Magic Mountain is a more odd name, as it makes one think of a roller coaster. This is probably why they don't export this wine. Once you get into the single vineyard wines, you start to see the quality of the vines and the subtle difference between each soil type and exposition. The Berg Roseneck, Berg Kaisersteinfels and Berg Schlossberg all have older vines (Alte Reben), and have individual wines produced from these vines. The Roseneck 2010 had a fascinating hint of beeswax on the nose, something I've never seen before. The Kaisersteinfels on the other hand had an interesting white meat complexity, and the Schlossberg had a white berry character. The Berg Rottland 2010 had a darker almost earthy mineral texture, more concentration yet slightly harsher acids. The wines all had a certain richness from balanced residual sugar, and great depth of flavour. Johannes Leitz is getting the most out of his vineyards, that is for sure.

Tasting is believing
Click here to see more photos from Day One in the Rheingau.

No comments:

Post a Comment