8 Mar 2012

The other Burgundy (Baden, Germany - Day Two)

The largest town in Baden is Freiburg, and is famous in Germany for two things. The first is that it is the capital for cycling, and it is hard to miss them. When I say that I don’t mean that I hit a bunch of people on bikes in my rental car, I just mean that there are a lot of them, obviously. They are a little aggressive, but I guess you would be if you finally outnumbered cars on the road. The second thing that makes Freiburg famous in Germany is that it is a university town, and so is filled with plenty of good places to eat and drink for not much money. There is a really nice brauhaus where I enjoyed a stein of local lager with a big plate of smoked ham and sauerkraut, for only 10 Euro. I spent a fair amount of my time in Starbucks taking advantage of the free wifi, as my hostel didn’t have any. The coffee is terrible, but you can’t pass up on free wifi.

Schlossberg vineyards of Weingut Huber
Weingut Bercher is a VDP member winery located in the Kaiser Stuhl village of Berkheim. The Bercher family dates back to 1457 and they have been making wine for 10 generations. The 11th generation of the family now runs the winery; cousins Arne and Martin. Their winery sits on the historic walls of the village, and therefore does not allow them to expand any further. They have got around this by processing the fruit a few hundred metres away and transferring the juice to the cellars for the fermentation and maturation. Once this is complete the wine is transferred back where they are bottled, with some transported to market and the rest coming back to the cellar door storage. The vinification is split between stainless steel and oak depending on variety, style and quality, and battonage is commonly performed to add complexity and texture. Each of the vineyards they source from have a different soil composition, but the majority of them have a volcanic element as Kaiser Stuhl used to be a volcano.

Weingut Bercher
The Bercher wines are all very good varietal examples, exhibiting balance and clean fruit. The 2010 weissburgunders are very bright and fresh, with the spatlese trocken showing slightly more texture and a green vegetal component. The 2011 Schlossgarten Grauburgunder Kabinett Trocken was very delicate and yet sharp and bright, and is more in the Italian pinot grigio style. The Feuerberg Grauburgunder Spatlese Trocken 2010 by comparison is bolder and fuller on the palate, with a little more texture but still fairly grigio in style. The Chardonnay 2010 was classically varietal in style; great peach and nectarine fruit, good acid and texture balance, light and fresh yet not simple. Moving onto the reds, the Spatburgunder 2009 was a typical light style of pinot noir, with fresh red fruits and acidity, god flavour but little longevity. Tasting the Barrique Spatburgunder 2008 made me start to think that less is most definitely more in Baden, as for the second time the fruit was totally obscured by oak and appeared dull and lifeless. The Feuerberg Spatburgunder Grosses Gewachs 2009 on the other hand was much denser and more concentrated, with fuller flavour and texture and much better balance, and a mellow silkiness to finish.

The Intrepid Wino hard at work
Bernhard Huber is possibly the most important red winemaker in Germany, and is the only five-star winery in Baden according to German wine guide Gault Millau. It was thanks to this producer that I had actually heard of the Baden region, as the importer Cellarhand had been promoting their wines as being as good as any burgundy. I was naturally intrigued and honoured to be allowed to visit. Bernhard Huber’s family have been in Baden for many years, but it was Bernhard himself that decided to make wines that would rival those of his favourite region. He settled on a site near a vineyard that historically was settled by monks that chose it because of its resemblance to Burgundy, and thus they planted pinot noir and chardonnay. Bernhard’s argument was, if they made great wines in the past from these varieties and sites, why couldn’t he do it now. The vineyards are in the town of Malterdingen, which is north-east of Kaiserstuhl in the Ortenau district, and are on the classic style of terraces found in the Baden region. Of the 25 hectares of vines they cultivate, 65% are spatburgunder, so it is clear what the focus here is.

Weingut Bernhard Huber
Visiting Bernhard Huber’s estate was wonderful, particularly when you consider that through some confusion I arranged the visit the day before. I started off by tasting the fantastic red wines with Astrid who handles most of the sales and marketing. This was followed by a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by Bernhard’s wife and enjoyed with his son Julian as well. With lunch (schnitzel with noodles) we looked at the 2010 Auxerrois which didn’t go with the food as it was very light and crisp, and the Grauburgunder 2010 which had a slight pink-grey tinge to it and went much better with the food thanks to its texture and ripeness. We also looked at an Alte Reben Spatburgunder 2002, which was showing some dusty earthy cherry notes, some brightness and silkiness on the palate, and whilst light (possibly from age) was very long and deep. Finally the 2001 Reserve Spatburgunder had mushroomy barnyard notes on the nose, was still very tight and fresh on the palate but was showing some developed game and pork rind complexity. Julian then took me through the winery which was typically Burgundian in philosophy and style, and then up into the vineyards. The two most distinctive things about the Huber vineyards are the terraces (which are earth pushed up and then natural grasses to prevent erosion), and the trellising system which uses more cordons and spur pruning than the more typical cane pruning. I then returned and had a look at the white wines of the estate with Astrid.

Space issues at Weingut Huber
The 2009 spatburgunders are all very full, ripe and powerful yet supple and generous with wonderful finesse. They all exhibit a wonderful balance of black forest fruits (interesting considering how close it is to the Black Forest), and savoury earthy elements rarely seen outside of burgundy. As you move up through the range the wines become more complex and denser, as the ripeness and quality of fruit combines with the quality and age of French oak barriques to express the terroir. The Alte Reben 2009 for example shows very perfumed currants with herb and spice notes on the nose, and on the palate has very silky tannins with fresh acidity to keep things lively. The Bienenberg GG 2009’s aromas are more shy, but is much more expressive (and youthful) in the tannins, with a grainy dustiness to them. The Schlossberg GG 2009 has a very spicy brambly nose which makes me think they used some stalks in the ferment, and whilst very sharp and tight in the tannins now, is very complex with some subtle caramel notes that will develop over time. The top of the pile from 2009 was the Wildenstein Spatburgunder >R<, which is made from fruit from a specific parcel within Bienenberg and is thus technically not a GG wine. It is concentrated and dense yet very subtle and soft. It expresses dark berry fruits with toasty nutmeg and cinnamon, very fine and slightly salty tannins with serious minerality.

Seriously good spatburgunder
The Muller Thurgau 2010 surprised me, as it was not in the least bit thin or watery, but was ripe and full-flavoured with balance and a great tropical freshness. The Bienenberg Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2010 was a great varietal example but really doesn’t compete with the wines of the north. The Bienenberg Grauburgunder GG 2010 had a wonderfully complex nose of toasty nutty pear puree, and although forward on the palate was not too crisp but was a little heavy and aggressive in the texture. The Bienenberg GG Weissburgunder 2010 was a little on the oaky side, expressing some creamy vanilla notes which were a little fat and clunky from too much malolactic fermentation. As a burgundy fan Bernhard actually wanted to only plant pinot noir and chardonnay, but chardonnay isn’t considered a noble variety in Germany and doesn’t qualify for GG status. The Schlossberg Chardonnay 2009 is wonderfully toasty and flinty, with a very concentrated but subtle caramel and vanilla with citrus and stone fruit palate. This is by far the best (of the few) chardonnays I have tasted in Germany.

What treasures await?
Located in the Kaiserstuhl village of Oberrotweiler is Weingut Salwey, which has 250 years of wine history in Baden. A member of the VDP, they have parcels in such GG vineyards as Eichberg, Henkenberg and Kirchberg. Using very traditional vinification they make a large range of wines from classic burgundian varieties in moderate quantities and at different levels of quality. The cellars are some of the most historic and have had some serious renovations made to them. I met with Konrad Salwey who led me through a tasting of some of the 2011 weisburgunder wines still in barrel and pre-blending. This was interesting to see how he assesses quality and determines which components will end up where. Most of the wines are fermented and matured in large format stuck barrels, and so have a subtle element of texture and complexity to them. The 2011 wines are all very fresh and ripe, with good acidity and balance.

Seriously cool cellars at Weingut Salwey
Tasting the 2010 wines from bottle was a different story, as they were all very intense in their fruit and acid qualities. The weisburgunders were all quite rich and ripe in their pear and melon characteristics, with some delicate texture from barrel and lees contact. The grauburgunders from 2010 had a subtle savoury creaminess which reminded me of freshly boiled pasta from the colander. Of the two varieties there is a big step up with the Henkenberg GG wines, which had better balanced and integration but will continue to improve in the bottle. One interesting wine was a barrel fermented rosé style wine called Reserve Spatburgunder Weissherbst 2010, which had too much going on for a rosé made from pinot noir. The 2009 spatburgunder wines had great combinations of bright red fruits and savoury earthiness, good mid-palate structure and a clean long finish, whereas the 2010 wines were much deeper and tighter in the tannins and will take longer to open up.

Konrad Salwey
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in the Baden region of Germany

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