This was a chance for me to expand my knowledge of the fine Riesling wine style from one of the original homes of the grape. Most of my drinking has been at the dry and off-dry end of the Riesling spectrum, so this was also an opportunity to try wines with more sweetness.
AS led the tasting, and prepared some amazingly in-depth notes, which I reproduce here:
“Firstly welcome to the first formal Magnum tasting of 2018. For this we are again exploring the 2007 vintage in Germany with respect to its most noble (and of course indigenous) variety: Riesling. However, unlike last year’s instalment on the 2007s which was principally an exploration of how one producer (Dr Loosen) dealt with the grapes – at various ripeness levels – from specific terroirs (abutting vineyards on steep red slate & red volcanic source material sandstone) this tasting is more a review of how great producers off selected of their signature sites handled the year.
It would be helpful also to recap on the specific nomenclature of how German wines are classified by ripeness. Accordingly, the outline of these levels is reproduced from last March’s tasting preview notes (of Loosen 2007 Urzig and Erden wines).
Kabinett – which literally means ‘cabinet’; the place where the vintner puts his finest (reserve quality) wines: must weight 67-82 Oeschle [Oe]; minimum alcohol level 7%. Fully ripened wines from the main harvest usually crisp and semi-sweet (NB sometimes up to 60-70 g/ltr residual sugar, possibly sweeter than Spatlese from the same site and vintage); occasionally quite dry.
Spatlese – ‘late harvest’; this is literal and not to be confused with ‘late harvest’ as a dessert wine connotation; must weight 76-90 Oe; minimum alcohol level 7%. Grapes have to be picked at least 7 days after main harvest. Normally Halbtrocken (half dry) and sweeter, fruitier (but not always) than Kabinett. Picking late obviously carries increased risk of rain and colder weather. However, the rewards in a warm, dry harvest season in terms of greater richness and expression is clear. From great sites in good years much of the crop can reach Spatlese level.
Auslese – ‘select harvest’: must weight 83-100 Oe; minimum alcohol level 7%. Made from very ripe, hand selected bunches. Typically semi-sweet or sweet, sometimes with a botrytis character. More dramatically, auslesen can be fermented dry (Trocken). However, the Auslesen Trocken designation for such wines from Grosse Lage (great sites) – not to be confused with Grosslage which is term for a wider subregional classification – is now discouraged in favour of Grosses Gewachs (dry wines Trocken from accredited great sites – in essence Grand Crus after the Burgundy and Alsace models; literally ‘great/top growth’ although technically only allowed for VDP members). In any event, Auslese is therefore the Pradikat level that covers the widest range of wine styles: from dry examples as mentioned, through off-dry, sweet-ish, to sweet dessert.
Beerenauslese – ‘select berry harvest’: must weight 110-128 Oe; minimum alcohol level 5.5%. As the name suggests, a berry selection of overripe grapes, often (noble rot) botrytis affected from individual bunches. Very sweet dessert wines. Expensive.
Eiswein – ‘ice wine’: must weight, as with Beerenauslese level 110-128 Oe and minimum alcohol 5.5%. From grapes naturally frozen on the vine. Must sweetness has to be the same as for Beerenauslese, but difference is that botrytis affected grapes are not permitted (by convention if not, strictly, by law).
Trockenbeerenauslese – ‘select dry berry harvest’: must weight 150-154 Oe; minimum alcohol level 5.5%. Made from selected overripe shrivelled grapes, mostly affected by noble rot. Confusingly, the ‘trocken’ in the designation refers to the dryness of the botrytis-affected berries, not the dryness of the wine. Which it certainly is not! Extremely rich and sweet; long-lived; and very expensive! Although on that price front some of the top GGs (Grosses Gewachs) are certainly giving them a run for their money nowadays.
As noted, the sweetness levels in the classification refers to the must weight (brix equivalent), which in turn is dependent on time and mode of harvest. And, as hinted, final sweetness is dependent on producer decision as regards how dry to ferment to. In these 21st century times of climate change, resultant overall warmer temperatures, and more sunshine through longer growing seasons that decision is increasingly being skewed toward dry. Commercial factors also contributing to the push, with market demand especially among the Germans themselves for drier wines. Layered on this again is the vignerons’ resultant propensity/ability to charge more for GGs (than for off-dry styles). The not truly complete dryness of German dry wines
Under EU law the maximum allowed sugar content of Trocken wines is 4 g/ltr unless residual sugar does not exceed acidity by more than 2 g/ltr in which case legally Trockens can contain up to 9 g/ltr of residual sugar. As an example, if a Trocken wine contains 8 g/ltr of residual sugar it will (or should) have at least 6 g/ltr of acidity. Of course with the penchant of the wider German palate for not appreciating wines with low acidity, allied to naturally high levels of acidity in most growing regions, it means that invariably German GG/Trocken Rieslings (and wines from other varieties) do indeed contain as much as 9 g/ltr of residual sugar.
So, having consumed this necessary spoonful of German wine fact, what are the wines (all from great sites) we are actually to taste?
From the Mittelmosel (Middle Mosel):
2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett
2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese
2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese
From the Upper Nahe:
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs
The two wine regions looked at are based on, around, and named after the Mosel and the Nahe Rivers. Both are tributaries of the Rhine. Both were named by the original Celtic inhabitants of the regions: Mosel, diminutive of Moseal Latinised to Mosella which means ‘little Meuse’ reflecting its origins in the Vosges and initial flow parallel with the Meuse River (originally ‘Mosa’); and Nahe, a derivative of the Latin word Nava supposedly based on an ancient Celtic linguistic for ‘the wild river’.
In last year’s preview notes I gave a broad sweep history of the Mosel and its development as a wine region (and primacy of Riesling as grape variety). From the initial impetus of Roman settlement (the Mosel being west of the Rhine and therefore part of the empire); through establishment of Winzerdorfer (wine villages) in the Middle Ages, the most prominent of which became Bernkastel (town charter 1291), and dominant ownership of key sites by the Church (Bishopric in Trier; monasteries; with this line contiguous through to the name of the Erdener Pralat (the ‘Prelate’ or ‘Bishop’) vineyard and Dr Loosen’s happy monk on the label of his bottlings from the site); or the names of two formerly Church owned vineyards at Graach (Graacher Domprobst – ‘Dean of the Cathedral’; and Graacher Himmelreich – ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’); plus superior legal status of Riesling over other varieties on great sites; to the commercial (including arrival of powdery mildew and phylloxera from North America which ultimately led to modern viticulture practices – although as a side issue, because the phylloxera louse cannot apparently survive in shallow slate soils, the majority of Riesling vines in the Mosel great sites are still grown ungrafted, enabling the traditional vine training on stakes to continue) plus political changes through the 19th and 20th centuries not only leading to increased production but shaping the style of wines produced.
The history of the Nahe as a wine region – geographically to the east of the Mosel separated by the Hunsruck Upland peneplain block – followed along similar lines, in as much as viticulture was introduced by the Romans and that by the Middle Ages vineyards were Church-run. However, although its vineyards developed a reputation for Riesling in the 19th century, until 1971 when the Nahe Wine Region was first defined under German Wine Laws it was sold as ‘Rhine Riesling’. Indeed, until recent decades the region was held back by its post-WW2 impoverishment and agricultural backwardness relative to the more industrialised Mosel and Rheingau.
The Upper Nahe (where most of the great sites are) is almost exclusively planted to Riesling, often on steep slopes like in the Mosel. The middle of the region, basically the area surrounding the town of Bad Kreutznach, is largely planted to Riesling on the better terraces above the town, with Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner predominating on the Grosslage on the flatter land to the south and east of the urban area (and river). The Lower Nahe, the river by now close to its confluence with the Rhine, and on generally flatter terrain, is planted to a more modern mix of grape varieties including promising Weissburgunder [Pinot Blanc], Grauburgunder [Pinot Gris] and red grapes (e.g. Dornfelder, Spatburgunder [Pinot Noir], Blauer Portugieser).
As a final historical point, it must be remembered that right through the 19th century and up to WW1, German Rieslings were predominantly made in dry and ‘drier’ styles than became the norm through the middle and late 20th century. The 21st century move away from sweeter back toward dry wines in Germany is in essence simply therefore a return to how it was, but with probably greater expertise on the part of the vintners.
Riesling – the facts re plantings
In 2013 there were 23,293ha of Riesling planted in Germany. The greatest dominance of the variety is in the Rheingau where 79% of plantings is Riesling. Next is the Mittelrhein 68% and Mosel 61.6%. Next largest is Nahe 27.9%, followed by Pfalz 24.3%, Franconia 18.5%, Rheinhessen 16%, Baden-Wurttemberg 12% and the Ahr (Spatburgunder territory) with just 8.2%.
Although percentage wise Riesling is a much less dominant variety in the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Baden-Wurttemberg, just over half of all Riesling plantings in the country (11,750ha) are across those regions. The Mosel has approximately 5,300ha; Nahe 1,150ha. Most of the rest is in the Rheingau (2,475ha). The acreage of Riesling in the great sites we are exploring in this tasting is: Urziger Wurzgarten 62ha; Wehlener Sonnenuhr 45ha; Graacher Himmelreich 55ha; Niederhauser Hermannshohle at a mere 8ha (NB Hermannshohle’s neighbouring vineyard Oberhauser Brucke is just 1ha). Given also that the entire ownership of vines (all Riesling) by two of the producers in this tasting is miniscule compared to Riesling overall in Germany (J J Prum 13.5ha; Willi Schaefer 4.2ha), albeit even those estates are large-ish by Mosel standards where there are approximately 2,400 estates overall with average holding of just 2.4ha. Either way, it is apparent that what we are looking at in our tasting is but a small part of the pinnacle of production.
As a comparison with areas planted to Riesling elsewhere in the world (there is about 50,000ha in total), after Germany, North America is next with circa 8,500ha under vine. Australia has about 4,400ha, Alsace 3,500ha, Austria 2,000ha. New Zealand’s plantings hover at about 1,000ha and may be in decline.
To recap from last year, geologically the Mosel region is dominated by schiefer (slate), a low grade metamorphic rock derived mainly from the sedimentary rock, shale, and of Devonian age (359-419 million years before present). With the river cutting through this country rock, it has left steep slate slopes with just a thin soil veneer. There are two distinctive slate terroirs covering all the great sites: principally blue-grey slate (weathered to such colouration due to predominance of ferrous iron Fe 2+ oxide) and red slate (contrastingly red due to ferric Fe 3+ oxide). Both terroirs are featured in this tasting: blue-grey slate from the famous ‘great wall’ on the right bank of the river immediately downstream of Bernkastel (covering sites from ‘appellations’ Bernkastel, Graach, Wehlen, Zelting); red slate (plus some interwoven ferric ‘volcanic’ sandstone deposits) from the even steeper Urziger Wurzgarten site next ‘appellation’ Urzig downstream of ‘the wall’ but on the opposite (left) bank at the head of a sharp bend/incised meander in the river. In general, the red slate (rotschiefer) is said to impart a more spicy character to the wines than blue-grey slate (tonschiefer).
By contrast, the geology of the Nahe is more complex. For the most part the river is itself the incised divide between the Hunsruck and North Palatine Uplands, with the chief difference between it and the Mosel region (principal outcropping bedrock for both is slate with schist) being the prevalence of volcanics, mainly rhyolite and andesite, dating from an intense eruptive phase in the early Permian (circa 275-300 Myr BP). Mineralisation associated with this ancient volcanic activity has led to precious metal deposits throughout the region, exploited over thousands of years by human populations from the Celts to the present day. Both the volcanic parent material and mining past are reflected in the ferric (Fe 3+) red andesitic & basaltic soils of the vineyards at Bad Munster (just downstream of the Niederhausen site featured in this tasting), and in the names of the Schlossbokelheim vineyards Kupfergrube (‘copper mine’) and Felsenberg (‘iron hill’) which are upstream but close to Niederhauser Hermannshohle (for which the ‘hohle’ [‘hole’] also refers to a mine). As it happens, the viticultural area of the Upper Nahe surrounding Oberhausen (Schlossbokelheim and Niederhausen are either side) is particularly complex and a single vineyard within the locality can, for example, contain soils derived from a melange of sandstone, slate, porphyry (an igneous rock with distinctive large crystals set in a more uniform silicate groundmass) and melaphyre (a particular basaltic porphyry). Soils for Hermannshohle itself are principally derived from rhyolitic and slate parent material.
The propitiousness of the Mosel for viticulture is principally due to the shelter provided to the west and north by the Eifel Upland. The warmth of the best sites is further enhanced by the heat retentive qualities of the slate bedrock and the sheer steepness and therefore sun trap quality of the south and southwest facing slopes on which these best growing sites are found. Average July temperature is 18C, and frequently in excess of that for the great sites. Note the name of several top Grosse Lage: Brauneburger Juffer Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr; Sonnenuhr = ‘sundial’; a large sundial within each of these vineyards (and several others with the Sonnenuhr suffix) is a prominent and permanent feature of them.
This is not to say it does not rain in the Mosel! Precipitation can indeed be sufficiently heavy to make viticulture marginal. However, this where the slate again comes to the vignerons’ rescue as its porosity and permeability allows rapid absorbtion and/or run off of excess water.
The Upper Nahe has a similar climate, sheltered by surrounding uplands, and not only like the Mosel by the Eifel Upland (plus the intervening Hunsruck Upland) to the north and west, but by the Soonwald ranges to the northeast and rocky foothills of the Palatine Upland directly to the east. If anything, it is drier than the Mosel, often said to have a ‘Mediterranean’ climate. As opposed to the Mosel’s ‘Atlantic’ climate.
There is also a school of thought that supposes that the Nahe contains the ideal terroirs for dry (or indeed all) Riesling. Giles McDonagh of Decanter Magazine argues “You can’t plant Riesling anywhere in Germany and expect good results. Riesling likes primary rock and some regions don’t have it. The grape has purity and if you go further south where it’s too warm it loses that. Nahe stands in the middle so a perfect Nahe Riesling will have the purity and lightness of fruit of the Mosel but some of the body of the Pfalz. In a way it’s in the perfect position. It also has these volcanic soils unlike anywhere else in Germany, with these huge boulders all over the place which give their own identity to great Nahe wine. Nahe is the insider’s tip if you want the body of a southern Riesling but the subtlety of a northern one.”
The 2007 vintage across Germany was well thought of and eagerly anticipated at the time. In hindsight this view was probably inevitable given the combination of warm spring following the mild 2006-07 winter. Growth was therefore earlier than normal with a good summer – rains offsetting a July heat spike – in which the conditions generally remained dry enough to naturally keep disease pressure (mildew and botrytis) in check. Although as ever, success on this front is also greatly dependent on the vigilance of individual growers. In any event, the largely benign growing season was followed by an almost perfect autumn for Riesling ripening: dry, sunny, warm days counterpointed by cool nights. Remembering also that initial enthusiasm for the vintage was partly because it followed two tricky harvests in 2005 and 2006.
Perhaps, though, the conditions were simply too benign with easy heat/warmth. Healthy fruit was harvested and there was quantity as well as quality. But edgier conditions often create greater wines (famously in recent memory, 1993 Red Burgundies, and potentially what we may yet see in NZ from certain 2017 Central Otago Pinot Noirs). And eleven years on the general verdict regarding vintage for Mosel & Nahe wines is simply “good”. Some commentators think maybe overall lack of balanced acidity (initially quite high but never resolving, reflecting less finesse long term); others noted an oily sheath in the young wines and average-at-best concentration and/or dry extract – too warm?
Hugh Johnson’s 2018 edition pocket wine guide [drafted in 2017] rates the 2007 vintage in both the Mosel and Nahe at 8-9 out of 10. Although additionally it notes that overall the Mosel Rieslings are “now approaching maturity” and that the Nahe’s “dry wines (are) now mature – drink”. Taking up that latter point, in a Decanter article September 2014, Joel B Payne of Gault Millau German Wine guide suggested that 2007’s dry Rieslings had similar balance to those in the subsequent also warm 2009 vintage; but that the 2007 Trockens should be drunk by 2016. On the other hand – relevant given we have one in the tasting – Johnson in an earlier 2012 [i.e. drafted 2011] edition of his pocket wine guide commented that ’07 Mosel Kabinetts were “beautiful … with high levels of acidity”.
Overall theme of this tasting This being a handy point to introduce the theme of the tasting: simply, is the skill of the producers looked at enough for their 2007 wines to rise above the merely “good” tag of the vintage and really create something special? As befits the producers’ long held, and justifiably earned, reputations, are their 2007 wines great? Or, to put it slightly differently, does producer style trump the hallmarks of the vintage? Plus can you find site markers for the different – and supposedly distinct – terroirs?
Wines to taste – details of site and producer
All four vineyards featured in the tasting are very much ‘great sites’, indeed four of the greatest Grosse Lage in all of Germany. Furthermore, the renown of each site is to a large extent tied up the historical skill and performance of the each of the producers concerned.
2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett
Urziger Wurzgarten (‘spice garden’ vineyard at the village of Urzig) was one of the three Dr Loosen red slate vineyards featured in last year’s tasting. (The others were Erdener Treppcen and Erdener Pralat.) Three 2007 Loosen Wurzgartens were tasted (Spatlese, Auslese, Auslese Goldkapsel) looking for a common thread. My notes indicated commonality of a salty, dusty, mineral element with the Goldkap (GK) clearly being the spiciest, richest and plushest of the three, edging it just over the straight Auslese (both attaining gold award from me – and Magnum group as a whole – on the night).
The Spatlese was slightly gawky by comparison, perhaps with a more slatey, flinty edge and only a bronze award. (It was also a wine where Magnum’s customary reserve bottle was needed as the first opened bottle was badly corked.) This lesser performance for the Spatlese (compared to the Ausleses) may reflect the position on the vineyard from where the fruit was drawn. Dr Loosen owns a specific plot within Wurzgarten called Urgluck (‘original luck’) which is sited immediately above the village of Urzig and contains the oldest vines among all Loosen’s vineyard holdings, at circa 120 years old. Loosen Wurzgarten Ausleses typically comprise fruit from 100+ year old vines, i.e. mainly from Urgluck, whereas the 2007 Loosen Wurzgarten Spatlese was from vines averaging at the time about 50 years of age, i.e. mainly from parcels elsewhere in the vineyard.
The 2007 Loosen Wurzgarten Kabinett, like the Spatlese, is made up of wine from (ungrafted) vines averaging about 50 years. Yield for the cuvee typically 70 hl/ha (compared to cropping level of 50 hl/ha for the Spatlese) albeit I have been unable confirm exactly what it was for this particular vintage. As Wurzgarten is the steepest vineyard in the Mosel (the steepest of the steep) it clearly had to be hand-picked. Will need to confirm on night as to the alcohol by volume (ABV) but expect it to be 7-8%.
I have been unable to find any relevant tasting notes via the internet although understand David Schildknecht at the Wine Advocate scored it at 90 points. As a comparative, however, I have recently opened the same wine (Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett) from the 2002 vintage, a similar season albeit more rain/moisture late summer. The 2002 suffered slightly from poor closure (and I note that for more recent vintages than 2007 Ernie Loosen bottles his Kabinetts under screwcap) but nonetheless, after 16 years the 2002 did show mature notes of honey and waxiness of texture, though rather short on the finish.
As already specified, the vineyard has only a thin soil veneer over red slate and red volcanic sandstone, and occupies a broad amphitheatre sweep of the hillside above the village of Urzig, on the north (left) bank of the Mosel River where the river forms a dramatic bend; 62ha planted all to Riesling (unclear what percentage is Loosen’s); south to east-southeast orientation. Dr Loosen is one of 14 owners on the site. Other notable producers include Jos. Christoffel , J J Christoffel-Erben, Monchhof, Markus Molitor and Dr Hermann.
The history of the modern Dr Loosen estate under Ernst Loosen (last 30 years) was detailed in the preview notes from last March. Suffice here to summarise that key modernising changes made when Ernie first took over in 1988, e.g. reduction in cropping levels, Bernie Schug made cellarmaster, remain at the core of the operation. Bernie still heads up the winemaking. Viticulture practice is dominantly organic. Although, as also noted last year, it is not clear whether their organics regime is simply no more than sufficient to comply with minimum German environmental and sustainability regulations. The trick for this tasting is – if you were present and can recall the Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten wines from last year – to try and see whether there is more a specific Wurzgarten marker or Dr Loosen style thread running through this wine (especially in comparison to the Spatlese)?
2007 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese
Wehlener Sonnenuhr (‘sundial’ vineyard at the village of Wehlen) is a very famous ‘great site’ stretching up high on the ‘great wall’ within the Grosslage Munzlay (the Grosslage name is a reference to the slate terroir). It is actually on the opposite bank of the river (right bank) from the home village of Wehlen (on the left bank) but adjacent to the bridge that spans the Mosel from Wehlen. Weathered blue-grey slate with a south-southwest facing aspect, rising steeply – up to a 70% gradient – from the road along the riparian flat, it sits neatly between Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (downstream) and Graacher Himmelreich (above and upstream) and Josephshofer (Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt monopole, also a Graach site, which too is immediately upstream).
Although the vineyard is very old, the term ‘sundial’ was only used orally until the first Erste Lage classification and map in 1868. And indeed it was not until 45 years later in August 1913 that it was formally approved as a name and the vineyard’s size precisely defined – then at only 10ha, later increased in 1953 to 35ha and (after a ten year legal dispute 1970-80; the municipal council wanted to increase its size to 58ha!) it was finally settled at 45ha exclusively planted to Riesling (J J Prum’s holding is 5ha). The actual sundial in the vineyard was created in 1842 by Jacodus Prum (to, er, give his workers a better awareness of the time it took to complete activities while toiling on the steep slopes among his vines) although at that time the site was as much referred to as Lammerterlay as Sonnenuhr. There are currently 17 owners/producers of parcels within the vineyard: aside from J J Prum and estates of other members of the Prum family (S A Prum, Studert-Prum, Dr Weins-Prum), these include other producers featured in this tasting (but for other vineyards), Dr Loosen and Willi Schaefer, plus also notably Max Ferd. Richter, Markus Molitor, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Schloss Lieser, Kerpen, Wegeler and Dr H Thanisch.
The four Prum estates are all based at Wehlen, as the family has been since the 16th century. Going farther back, the Prum family’s history in winemaking in the Mosel dates to 1156. However, it was only in 1911 that Johann Josef Prum (1873-1944) founded the eponymous J J Prum estate. Dr Manfred Prum (grandson of Joh. Jos.) has led the estate since 1969, initially assisted by his brother Wolfgang, and since 2003 by his daughter, Dr Katharina Prum, with Katharina fully taking over in the last 4-5 years. In total the estate owns 13.5ha across four sites (Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Bernkaster Badstube) with 70% of their vines ungrafted.
Hugh Johnson: “J J Prum wines are legendary for being delicate but extremely long-lived with astonishing finesse and distinctive character”. It was Joh. Jos.’s son (& Manfred’s father), Sebastian Prum, who from the 1920s onward largely developed the J J Prum style and built its reputation. Unsurprisingly, that style and quality is mostly due to work in the vineyard: great sites, old vines (at the time of the 2007 harvest, Prum’s vines from Wehlener Sonnenuhr were from a 50-60 year old parcel around the sundial), the lowest yields, very late harvesting and selection of only the best berries. This careful vineyard work followed up by a classic non-interventionist approach in the winery. Not only do the wines live a long time, they also typically need a number of years to show their best, albeit, as noted by Hugh Johnson and others, can then live and improve for decades. The question is how much of this longevity and house style is due to the heavy/obvious application of sulphides (SO2 inoculation) during vinification? And also therefore, the degree to which individual drinkers may be put off by the sulphur when the wines are still young. I’m not, although nonetheless personally still prefer to see them at their best with significant age. Further inquiry for this tasting is therefore just how unevolved the 2007 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese might be? And will it matter? Do you even like the style? – the sulphuring; late harvest.
2007 Spatlese note: ABV 8.5%; no information on residual sugar (information released by the estate is sparse) but likely 50+ g/ltr. Critically well received: Jennie Cho Lee 96; Wine & Spirits Magazine 95; Wine Spectator 93; Wine Enthusiast 92; Falstaff 92; estimated drinking window now-2025+. Joe Czerwinski (Wine Enthusiast), January 2009: “Shows some characteristic Prum stinky notes, but there’s plenty of fruit lurking underneath. Pear, honey, melon and citrus flavors give an impression of great ripeness, amplified by the creamy texture and custardy mouthfeel, but there’s also enough crisp acidity for balance.” Jennie Lee Cho, March 2012: “Very intense late harvest Riesling with well integrated sweetness and ripe nectarine and peach notes. The finish is floral and delicate. This wine has the depth and layers of a great Mosel Riesling with decades of aging potential. Very long finish.” Wine-Beserker blog note from Jayson Cohen, February 2018: “Aromas … vibrant though there is an overarching slight hint of petrol that comes in and out. The nose is leaning toward ripe Granny Smith, unripe peach and orange blossom, with wafts of caraway seed, anisette, mustard seed and coffee bean. It is heading toward tertiary but still shedding some baby fat. A rich mouthfeel with integrated acidity is slightly thicker than normal for this wine – again the baby fat of the vintage is still present – but acids keep ripeness in check and the finish is long with a refreshing quinine/lime bitterness that again indicates this is still adolescent. I love it. Still a long road ahead.”
Further note: in addition to Kabinett and Auslese bottlings, at Spatlese level in 2007 J J Prum did three separate Wehlener Sonnenuhr bottlings – a regular Spatlese; AP11; AP24 reflecting the degree of ripeness/late picking/which pass through the vineyard (refer notes on Spatlese regulation at commencement of these notes). I will confirm which bottling we have for the tasting on the evening.
Lastly, it should be borne in mind that the J J Prum estate and the Wehlener Sonnenuhr are intrinsically linked. The perfect Riesling growing conditions of the site combined with exemplary handling. It has repeatedly been said that above all, Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines should possess excellent structure, have ripe aromas and flavours (typically, as picked out by Jennie Lee Cho above, stone fruits such as peach, nectarine, apricot). While as Stuart Pigott has written: “J J Prum’s Sonnenuhrs are classic examples of the way in which the best Mosel wine’s natural sweetness magnifies, rather than obscures, their character. These are the perfect marriage of Riesling’s peach-like, floral and mineral aspects. White wine cannot be fresher, more vivid and delightful.”
2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese
Graacher Himmelreich (‘the kingdom of heaven’ vineyard at the village of Graach) is also a famous ‘great site’ high on the ‘great wall’ within the Grosslage Munzlay. It ‘overshadows’ the small village of Graach, which unlike Wehlen is properly on the right bank of the river. Again blue-grey slate with a southwest facing aspect, it is less steep (although this is relative) and has a deeper soil horizon that its neighbour Wehlener Sonnenuhr. It also abuts Josephshofer and, partly, Graach’s other noteworthy site, Graacher Domprobst.
The deeper soils of Himmelreich act as good reservoirs of moisture, and as a consequence it is often said that especially in hot, dry years the vineyards’ wines challenge Wehlener Sonnenuhr’s for supremacy. There is some very recent research in viticulture (Dr Andrew Pirie in Australia) hinting that distinctive regional character in wines may be related to humidity level and soil moisture. In any event, compared to its neighbour, Himmelreich wines generally possess racier acidity, more pronounced minerality (crushed rock?) and fruit aromas, and flavours more in the citrus spectrum. Furthermore, Himmelreich wines are normally both deliciously mouthwatering when young and accessible/mature earlier.
The vineyard area is 57ha planted mainly to Riesling. However, two estates, Markus Molitor and Gunther Steinmetz also grow Spatburgunder . Altogether, there are 16 owners/producers of parcels within the vineyard: in addition to Willi Schaefer, the leading lights are J J Prum, the other three Prum family estates, Dr Loosen, Max Ferd. Richter, Markus Molitor, Kerpen and Wegeler . The Willi Schaefer estate owns 2ha, comprising numerous parcels with varying slope character.
Like the Prum family, the Schaefer family also has roots in Mosel viticulture going back to the 12th century. The Schaefers believe their forebears have been in Graach since 1121; documented as such since 1590. The current winery has been in family hands since 1950, Willi Schaefer taking over its running in 1971. He is still there, assisted now by his son, Christoph and Christoph’s wife Andrea. In addition to the 2ha held in Graacher Himmelreich, the estate holds 2ha in Graacher Domprobst and a tiny 0.2ha allotment in Wehlener Sonnenuhr. In fact although we are tasting Willi’s 2007 Himmelreich Spatlese, a number of wine writers (e.g. Stephen Brook and Stephan Reinhardt) are of the opinion that the estate’s best wines are instead from the Domprobst site. Again, like most top producers, the majority of the Schaefers’ vines (60-70%) are ungrafted ; oldest around 60 years.
With a high proportion of older vines, yields are naturally low. When harvesting particular care is made to avoid botrytis; Willi certainly does not like its influence in his wines, even in the sweeter styles. As regards vinification, the estate champions six months of fermentation and maturation on lees in old 1,000 litre foudres. Just 2,000 to 3,000 cases per year, with only a small amount fermented dry into Trocken/GG bottling. For Himmelreich in 2007, Willi Schaefer bottled wines at Kabinett, Spatlese, Spatlese Feinherb (bottling at 10-20 g/ltr of residual sugar) and Auslese levels.
For the 2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese: ABV 8%; again residual sugar unknown but assumed 50 g/ltr or more (contrast with the much drier Feinherb). Critic notes and scores: Wine Spectator 91; 22 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging out at 91. Most recent posting on CellarTracker, August 2017: “Golden yellow, oily nose, delicious stony dry Riesling.” Previously from two separate posters in December 2016: “This is ripe, not so much a racy acidity and minerals style, this has lots of Riesling flavour, excellent with food”; and “Man, Willi does not disappoint. We all swooned at those (sic) nose – so light, crisp and clear. Beautiful aromas of apple, lime, spice, minerals, and some grass/herbs/mint, and honey. The palate wasn’t quite as good or consistent: some tastes were excellent, but some were a touch sweet/heavy. Lots of apple, some honey – the best sips had that electric zing showing lime and minerality, Also some herbal notes. The finish varied like the palate. Maybe with another 5 years this would (sic) have locked into place in the lighter and more racy vein.” Those last notes remind me of what I think of as a Willi Schaefer wine marker: a limey, minty, herbal streak. We shall see. Something to look for in the tasting, along with vintage character, and Graacher Himmelreich typicity.
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese GK
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG
Oz Clarke: “Helmut Donnhoff is the quiet winemaking genius of the Nahe, conjuring from top sites some of the most mineral dry and naturally sweet Rieslings in the world. The very best are the subtle, long-lived wines from the Niederhauser Hermannshohle (literally, ‘Hermann’s Hole’ vineyard at Niederhausen village) and (its neighbouring; and Donnhoff monopole) Oberhauser Brucke (‘the Bridge’ vineyard at Oberhausen village) vineyards.”
Hugh Johnson: “(Helmut Donnhoff has) fanatical commitment to quality, and a remarkable talent for winemaking.”
Helmut Donnhoff: “Riesling has to be like rock water or a mountain stream. It can be shy to start with but should have length and acidity that dance across the palate.”
Based at Oberhausen, the Hermann Donnhoff estate dates back to 1750, although global acclaim for its wines has largely been over the past 2-3 decades due to the leadership and work of Helmut Donnhoff who first inherited the reins in 1971. Helmut has in fact been retired for 4-5 years and his son, Cornelius now controls all matters in regard to the estate including viticulture and winemaking. However, Helmut was very definitely still in charge for the 2007. There is the suggestion from Hugh Johnson, among others, that Cornelius favours a slightly drier style of wine than his father, although this might just be a reflection of wider commercial and/or climate trends. Of up to 24 separate cuvees that Donnhoff may at present make in any given vintage, 13 are Trocken, and unlike three of the sweeter styles which are dependent on vintage conditions to make, those 13 are made every year. Six of the dry wines are estate bottlings of Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder , Chardonnay, and blends of these varieties. The rest (18 different wines) are Riesling at various ripenesses and fermentations: Trocken, Trocken GG, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Eiswein (and very occasionally in the past, BA and/or TBA). Altogether the estate owns 25ha of vines, with holdings in nine separate sites, from each of which at least one single vineyard Riesling is produced, at dryness or sweetness to match terroir character.
One of the jewels in the Donnhoff crown, perhaps the jewel, is the Hermannshohle vineyard, which since the early 20th century has been revered as perhaps the Nahe’s top site, although a case could probably be made for either of the Schlossbokelheim great sites. Hermannshohle is not an especially large site, just 8ha, although Donnhoff is the major owner. I am aware of at least two others: Jakob Schneider and Weingut von Racknitz.
The vineyard slopes steeply up from the river (on the left bank side) right on a bend the Nahe takes northwards after flowing downstream from Schlossbokelheim, and before it twists through a gorge to Bad Munster a little further downstream. Orientation is south facing and slope lies between 130 and 175 metres above sea level. Soils are derived from a patchwork of blackish-grey slate, rhyolite, porphyry, and even limestone slivers. Exclusively a Riesling vineyard, vine age of the Donnhoff vines is up to 65 years of age. The Donnhoffs themselves are unequivocal in pronouncing that the wines from Hermannshohle are truly Grosse Gewachs/Grand Cru, delivering power and elegance.
Re the vineyard’s name: the ‘Hermann’ prefix is totally unconnected to the Hermann in the Donnhoff estate’s full name. It is much, much older, maybe 2,000 years or more, ‘Hermann’ being a derivation of Hermes, the Roman god of messengers and travellers, hinting at the site being an ancient pre-Christian place of worship. Similarly, the ‘hole’ as in ‘Hohle’ is not just any old extraction or hideaway, but a reference to old mine workings in the middle of the vineyard.
2007 was typical for Donnhoff over the last 15 years for Hermannshohle in that three separate Riesling bottlings were produced. We will taste all three:
2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese: ABV 9.5%; based on recent tasting comments (below) residual sugar probably touching 100 g/ltr, if not higher; cropping typically at 40 hl/ha; selective hand harvested; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 96; Wine Spectator 94; 69 notes on CellarTracker averaging 94; Stephen Tanzer 93. Most recent two postings on Cellartracker: ‘BamBam’ November 2017 “Showing age and the residual sugar shows. Deep golden color, no secondary flavours yet. Thick in the mouth, red delicious apples and honey. Tastes more like a dessert wine today.” (93); J Erhardt September 2017 “Golden yellow; I’m surprised how mature this is looking. Quite rich and sweet for this level. At the very early stages of secondary development. Will last a long time, when to drink just depends on your preference.” While preparing these preview notes I have in parallel been drinking a bottle of the 2007 Donnhoff Oberhuaser Brucke Riesling Spatlese, i.e. the equivalent wine in the same vintage from the vineyard (Donnhoff monopole) that immediately abuts Hermannshohle upstream (in the riparian strip next to the river). This wine was also featured in a previous Magnum German Riesling tasting in March 2016. I report on it here as a calibrator for the Hermannshohle Spatlese: Striking gold colour; plush, wrapped with citric and flinty, chalky hints; seemingly weighty, sweet palate with citrus of all varieties plus autumn fruits; taut, exciting acid spine with long, drier and dancing, lifted finish. Plenty of life left; pleased I have two more bottles from an original six pack! Cannot now wait to compare with the Hermannshohle on the 25th!
2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese GK: ABV 8.5% (to be confirmed on evening of the tasting); residual sugar probably at least 150 g/ltr, possibly way more; cropping typically at 20 hl/ha; an extreme selection hand harvest as befits a goldkap bottling; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 95; Stephen Tanzer 94; Wine Spectator 93; 36 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging 93. Most recent two separate postings on CellarTracker: T Stephanos June 2017 “Excellent Auslese, tropical fruit, unctuous texture with high acidity balancing it and making a delectable and refreshing sweet wine” (94); L Edwards August 2016 “Mouth puckering peach with hints of apricot. Streak of acidity runs throughout” (93).
2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG: ABV 13.5%; cropping typically at 40 hl/ha; selective hand harvested; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats and oak barriques. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 95; Stephen Tanzer 95; 58 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging 93; Vinum 18.5/20; estimated drinking window now-2020. Most recent two separate postings on CellarTracker, February 2018: M Hensel “Dark yellow, red shimmer. Nose saline and vanilla vapour, sea breeze, citrus notes, very appealing. Palate fresh, acidic, silky, yellow fruit, citrus fruit, dried apple, some orange peel, minerals, nice tartness, green aspects, red grapefruit, some flint stone. Finishes pretty long on on (sic) fruity aspects, so elegant tartness and minerals. Ageless, a beauty, elegance and vivacity, very tasty and approachable.” (94); T Stephanos “Sublime dry Riesling. Nose full of ripe fruit, peach, orange peel and floral notes. On the palate it was very smooth, rounded, with acidity hidden beneath the fruit but still mouthcleansing. Long, tasty and very satisfying. At a very nice point to drink, smoothed out but nowhere near decline.”(95).
It is therefore quite possible, based on the reception these three wines have received to date, that ultimately this coming Magnum tasting might just collapse into a lovefest for Donnhoff and Hermannshohle. Wow, I hope so.”
And to the wines:
2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett – Light gold colour – Delicate nose of citrus and apple and wet stone. Crisp sweet attack, freshness, raciness, notes of mandarin. Balanced. Hint of kero. I scored this Gold
2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese – The palest wine at pale gold – reductive at first. Notes of citrus and apple. Open. Acid and sweetness to drink. Balanced, long and gorgeous golden fruit. It builds with purity and intensity. Razor sharp. I scored this Gold, as did 18 others.
2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese – light gold – light citrus, slight kero note. Dumb in this company. Sweet attack, showing fruit over acidity, but overall a pleasant balance. Smooth rich and silky. I scored this Gold, as did 14 others.
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese – light gold – bouquet of honey, apricot, rich spice, pine resin, developed. Sweet and elegant to drink, composed, ripe apricots, minerality, a hot finish. Really nice. I scored this Gold, as did 23 others, and it was my WOTN.
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel – gold, deepest colour of the flight – honey, confected, Turkish delight, comples. Sweet liquid honey in the mouth, with mild acid. Short, ripe and intense. Viscous. Silky. Lacking in acidity, almost syrupy. I still scored this Gold, as did 11 others.
2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs – gold colour – oxidative, flat, brown, developed ripe stonefruit aromas. Sherry-like, with an acid finish. Thinning fruit, somewhat flat, metallic, disjointed. I scored this Bronze.
The wines had been opened and decanted about 6 hours before the tasting. They suffered a little though warming up over the evening past their optimum temperature, and this was remarked on.
Five of the wines were between 8% – 9.5% ABV, with the GG at 13.5% ABV. I thought they underwhelmed as far as their aromatics were concerned, and had muted florality, but this could have been a function of the serving temperature.
I found them hard to tell apart, to be honest. Not a style I much like either. I think I much prefer the lean, austere and bone-dry styles of Riesling.