15 Feb 2012

Pflalz start (Pfalz, Germany – Day One)

After four and a half months of visiting a few hundred wineries on three continents, it’s interesting looking back and deciding which were the best to visit, but not necessarily had the best wines. When I had the owner of the winery as a host it was always fascinating as you get the full story, and can ask any question and get a thoughtful and clear answer. Whether they own the winery or not, it is also great to get the perspective of the winemaker as they are the ones determining the style of the wine, and can also provide much more technical answers. Sometimes it has been great to get the perspective of a commercial/marketing director, as they provide insights on dynamics and branding. With no disrespect intended (particularly as I have worked in the position myself), rarely do hospitality/cellar door hosts provide any insights into the winery, and often are unable to provide all the answers. This is not to say that I don’t have enjoyable or interesting visits with these hosts, but I don’t always learn something. Occasionally they also don’t understand the nature of my visit, and in extreme cases ask if I would like to buy any bottles in spite of my restricted budget. This mostly happened in North America though.

Now that I am three weeks into my German wine adventure, I am finding that I have learnt quite a lot and have started to wrap my head around the riesling grape a bit more. It is such a great experience to see the way that terroir can influence the variety, as the Rhineland-Pfalz area of Germany is particularly diverse. It is also interesting (but not surprising) to note that the best examples tend to come from very small and specific areas, often in much larger viticultural regions. If you are lucky enough to own parcels of vines in these areas you owe it to yourself to translate the fruit they produce into good examples of wine. So it was with great enthusiasm that I entered the final great riesling region of Germany, the Pfalz, which is set back from the Rhine River and sits sheltered by the Haardt Mountains. The region is warmer than those to the north, so ripening has never been an issue. As such many other varieties are grown here, including those from the pinot family.

Wachenheim vineyards

As many would know, there has been a great tradition of German families establishing wine businesses across the border in France, particularly in regions like Alsace and Champagne. But until today I wasn’t aware that the opposite was true, when I visited Mueller-Catoir in the village of Haardt. The Catoir family escaped religious persecution in France and established a wine business in the Pfalz in the 18th Century. The Mueller name joined Catoir through marriage not long after and the house as we know it was born. The estate now is run by the sixth generation, and today owns 20 hectares of vineyards in Haardt, Gimmeldingen and Mussbach. They use the VDP system of classification, starting with the Basis range (gutsweine), then the Klassiker range (ortsweine) and finally the Terroir range (lagenweine which include one grosses lagen).

Mueller-Catoir estate
The 2010 Haardt Riesling had a lovely talcy citrus nose, great freshness and intensity. The Gimmeldingen 2010 in comparison had a fuller and richer mid-palate grapefruit white berry character, whereas the Musbach 2009 presented a steely minerality and more opulent yet sea-salty palate. Moving into the Terroir range, the Buergergarten 2010 riesling had a shy and complex nose, but showed the density and depth of the lower yields and higher ripeness level. The Herrenletten 2010 was in a similar vein, but had a more tropical and floral component on the nose, and richer earthier mid-palate structure, a more powerful expression. The Mandelgarten 2010 expressed slight porous rock minerality, and a fossilised salty texture but not flavour. The Breunel in den Mauern GG (from the Buergergarten vineyard) 2010 Riesling was astonishingly complex and elegant, expressing superb consistency of fruit and a unique mineral texture and balance. The wines were all of great finesse and vibrancy, and are extraordinarily underpriced.

Mueller-Catoir wines
The Wolf family is one of the oldest wine families in the Pfalz, and over 100 years ago commanded a great reputation for producing quality wines under the J.L. Wolf brand. Like many others in Europe in the 20th Century (particularly in Germany), they lost their way at some point and became more about volume than quality. So when Dr. Ernst Loosen purchased the business in 1996 he got access to some truly underappreciated vineyards, and also a lot of underperforming ones. His plans for the estate are quite radical, and have involved selling at least half of the vineyards, and streamlining the range of wines. Whilst this seems at odds somewhat with the nature of his Mosel estate, I think it is very important for the Pfalz winery, as it is very important for the export market. I sat down with the operations manager Sebastian for an interesting discussion over some of the 2010 and 2011 wines.

J.L. Wolf gates
The current J.L. Wolf range starts with a basic range, including a Weisburgunder and Grauburgunder. I tried the 2010 vintage of both wines, and was thrilled to see a balanced yet textural weisburgunder that actually had some personality. I was then disappointed to taste a very simple grauburgunder, presenting as out-of-balance with too much sweetness and lacking in extension on the palate. The Riesling Trocken 2010 was a great expression of cool-climate riesling, lovely and fresh citrus notes with good acid fruit balance. Moving up into the Wachenheimer Trocken 2010, this wine had lovely floral peach nectarine freshness on the nose, and some R/S derived texture and viscosity to off-set the acids. The Wachenheimer Spatlese Trocken 2010 was much more subtle and haunting on the nose, and significantly more complex and intense, finishing with a slight herbal spice element. The Pechstein Spatlese Trocken 2010 is sourced from the top parcel, and has a very volcanic explosive nature on the nose and palate, with everything turned up to 11. It also presents as very wild and unpredictable, something that would be fascinating to see develop in the bottle.

J.L. Wolf tasting
The Christmann family have been in wine for centuries, and Stephen Christmann is the ninth generation of his family to run the business. As the president of the VDP, he is a pretty important person in the German wine industry. The wines they produce are arguably the best in the entire Pfalz region, and sell in some of the finest restaurants in the world. Capturing the purity of the variety is the focus, and as such the winery uses modern practices such as gentle pneumatic pressing, cold-settling then racking and fermentation in stainless steel tanks, but the wines are left in bottle for a longer period before release to allow the reductive elements of the wine to subside. The winery owns parcels of vineyards throughout the Mitelhaardt, which is considered the most premium part of the Pfalz region. The winery is well known for the quality of both its dry and sweet wines.

Christmann wines in storage
Naturally the winery uses the VDP classification system, so I started with the gutsweine Trocken Riesling 2010, which had an orange blossom nose with a great lemon pith texture in the mid-palate. There was great balance and freshness in this wine, vibrant acidity and purity of fruit. The Gimmeldingen Trocken Riesling 2010 followed which had a slightly dustier reductive citric nose, and was more delicate in its mineral complexity. The Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten Riesling 2010 was even more subdued in character, but had a fuller and richer palate structure, and included some roasted vegetable complexity. To finish I tried the Mandelgarten GG Riesling 2010 which was much more intense in colour and viscosity. On the nose it was slightly toasty and flinty, but on the palate was loaded with minerality. This was a wine of pure personality, and would cry if it were drunk too young.

Christmann rieslings
Click here to see more photos from Day One in the Pfalz, Germany.

No comments:

Post a Comment