The surprising joy of German Wine
Thursday 31st December dawned with threats of weather warnings, travel chaos and snow, and it was the day we were to begin our road trip to Germany. The car was loaded with a shovel, tow rope, blankets, emergency food rations, wellies and a small bag of gravel, the DR (disaster recovery) was all in place. Rhodt unter Reitburg in the Rhein Pfalz region of Germany, famous for its picturesque villages, countryside and wine was our destination. 580 miles and four countries later we arrived and checked into our hotel, the fantastic Wohlfühlhotel Alte Rebschule. The hotel was well equipped with gym, sauna, swimming pool, spa, cosy bar, tasteful restaurant and extremely commodious rooms. More importantly it was nestled on a gentle slope surrounded by vineyards; perfect, as wine exploration was our objective.
German wine generally gets a bad rap in the UK. We were here to investigate the current wine industry, with strict instructions to only buy wines we really really liked them. Historically the Pfalz region was known for its bulk production and in the good or bad old days produced a lot of grapes used for Liebfraumilch.
Vineyard planting in the area is extremely diverse with many different grapes, Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Riesling, Weisburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Bacchus, Chardonnay, Gewurtraminer, Grauburgunder (Pinot Grigio), Rivaner. Kerner, Mori-Muskat, Rulander, Portugieser, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir), Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotin and Regent, to name just a few! Wines were available in every colour and style from dry whites to sweet reds and from Sparkling to fortified. The region is now developing a reputation for innovation with the next generation of young wine-makers experiment with red grapes and Burgundy grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Our first port of call was the winery, Graf, who have been producing since the 1700’s in the small village of Weyher in der Pfalz. We spent about 2 hours with OJ our fantastic host and tasted 14 wonderful wines. If anyone wants to appreciate the impact of terroir or different soil types on a wine this is a must.
We tasted 4 different Rieslings grown on different soils; sandstone, granite, slate and chalk. The Riesling grown on sandstone was very lively and fresh with citric fruits particularly lime. The Riesling grown on granite had floral aromas but also a distinctive meaty quality and a slightly fuller palate. The Riesling grown on slate had great minerality and it was quite austere and lean in character while the Riesling grown on chalk was soft and floral on the nose, characteristics which carried through to the palate. Graf are also producing a very attractive Sauvignon with good herbaceous character on the nose and palate and good balance, we all agreed this was an easy drinking anytime wine. The 2018 Rieslaner trocken another very interesting wine, a crossing of Riesling and Sylvaner, it was a variety we had never tasted before. The Rieslaner was surprisingly tropical on the nose and palate with apricots, peaches, mango and in OJ’s opinion green banana. After this great tasting session and after buying about 36 bottles we moved on to a well-deserved lunch!
Julian greeted us at his family winery Schreieck in the village of Maikammer for our next exciting tasting. He has recently graduated from the famous Geisenheim University, world renowned for wine research, and he is now bringing all his youth, skills and knowledge into the business. Once again we tasted a vast range of wines but it was the Chardonnay and red varieties that really impressed. The Chardonnay is grown on limestone, a classic combination found in both Champagne and Burgundy, 40% of the blend is aged in a mixture of French and American oak with some lees contact and possible malolactic fermentation. The nose had a great minerality and oak notes while the palate was well balanced with good weight and length. Who knew Germany good produce good Chardonnay, it was a revelation! The red wines here were also incredible. The Cabernet Sauvignon had typical cigar box and smoke on the nose, while the palate had cassis and some new oak. The best red was, however, The Big Red, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it had great complexity with many nuances such as chocolate, coffee and dried fruit and once again good balance. Unfortunately, The Big Red was also the most expensive, but we couldn’t leave without a few bottles!
Next morning we were all feeling rather tired after too much good food and wine, so with lower energy we set off to our next appointment. Klaus Meyer, locally known as the Riesling King, met us at his newly built winery fizzing with energy and enthusiasm. Within minutes we were recharged as we started to taste his excellent wines. Klaus really knows how to produce white wines and definitely deserves his honorific title of King. The tasting commenced with Grauburgunder trocken commonly known to us as Pinot Grigio. This wine had great depth of flavour and soft candied fruits with hints of ripe apples, it had much greater intensity than many of the Italian Pinot Grigios found in the UK. Meyer also produces excellent Rieslings grown on specific terroir, chalk and sandstone. The one grown on chalk had intense mineral character and hints of diesel while the one grown on sandstone was much more floral in style. We also tasted a Gewurztraminer Beerenauslese which demonstrated great balance between sweetness and acidity all beautifully supported by the grape’s aromatic aromas and flavours of lychees and peaches. Needless to say, a few more bottles found their way into the groaning boot of the car.
Our next winery, last but not least, was probably the oldest on our tour as Seitz-Schreiner have been producing wine since 1612. They also have a wonderfully friendly dog an English Spaniel by the name of Helmut. Once again, we were allowed to taste a vast array of different wines and whilst many were excellent it was two medium styles which stood out. A Weisburgunder Kabinett which had 17g of residual sugar and Sonnenpiff Cuvee Rose which also had 17g of residual sugar, the balance between the sugar and the acidity was excellent leaving both wines with a fresh and lively finish despite the sugar. Many wineries fail to achieve this, resulting in a wine that lacks fruit definition and balance. Seitz-Schreiner are also working with a relatively new grape variety Regent, this caught my attention as Furnace Projects, the English wine available on our website has a red wine made from Regent called The Chiffchaff. The German wine was half dry in style with 14g of residual sugar, but once again the balance was excellent, this combined with the abundant red and black fruits resulted in an easy drinking wine. Once again, a few purchases were made, and a bottle of the Regent will be winging its way down to Furnace Projects in Hereford.
After a lazy lunch in a delightful rural setting with our German friends we were ready to start the long drive back. Needless to say, we were impressed with the wineries we visited, delighted with the numerous wines stowed in the boot, happy, content and really rather tired. The driver fully expected us all to fall asleep but miraculously we didn’t, instead we started the A game. A challenge to see if we could drive all the way from Germany to Northamptonshire whilst only listening to songs beginning with A on the driver’s phone. We also tried to guess the artist for each song. The answer to that challenge is yes, you can drive for 580 miles or approximately 9 hours and only listen to the As.