South Germany (Part 1): Rheinhessen Pfalz Baden Württemberg Franken
Central Germany (Part 2): Ahr Mittelrhein Nahe Rheingau
North Germany (Part 3): Mosel Saar Ruwer
Two thousand thirteen is not a vintage for the faint
of heart. High in both acidity and dry extract, the 2013s were quite austere after bottling. Over the last several months, however, the wines have gained
both depth and body. The vintage also saw a great deal of botrytis. How these
various components were managed at each individual estate was the key to success.
“The must weights are not yet that high
and the acidities are still bracing,” commented Werner Schönleber from Emrich-Schönleber
in Monzingen when I spoke with him about halfway through harvest. The resulting wines, in particular the
Rieslings, are certainly not as rich and unctuous as they were in 2011 nor do
they have the balance of the 2012s. Instead, they are more reminiscent of 2010
or 2008, vintages in which the tip of the iceberg was exceptional but the broad
mass of wines is considerably less interesting.
Father and son team Werner and Frank Schönleber tending their vines in Monzingen
The 2013 Growing
In meteorological terms, 2013 was marked by a cool
spring, late budbreak and uneven flowering. “Climate change was not the issue
this year,” quipped Thomas Haag from the Mosel’s Schloss Lieser with a smile.
The ensuing summer alternated between heat spikes and cool, damp intermezzos.
By early September it was clear that the harvest would be fairly late, as the
grapes were still far from ripe.
October brought abundant rains, often accompanied by
warm nights that hastened the onset of botrytis. As the many showers fell
unevenly, some regions were hit harder than others. During the 5-week period
before and during crush, the Birkweiler area in the southern Pfalz drowned in
25 cm (9.8 in) of rain. After culling only the healthiest grapes, serious
producers were left with only half a normal crop at best. Only a few kilometers
north, the Mittelhaardt region experienced less than half as much rain, which
left growers such as Steffen Christmann in Gimmeldingen with an
excellent vintage of a satisfying volume.
Not surprisingly, some of the hardest-hit producers
spoke of a very quick harvest, with their entire crop crushed within a week. The quick harvest was a race against botrytis, as the grapes were evolving
from green to gold to brown at an alarming rate. Hansjörg Rebholz, who picked his
Kastanienbusch vineyard a few days later than his colleagues, ended up only
being able to produce an Auslese from his Riesling grapes, as opposed to a dry
wine. Only those estates that were meticulous in their vineyards and sorted
ruthlessly at harvest were able to make truly exciting sweet wines.
Further north, and in particular along the Mosel, the
situation was both more difficult and more nuanced. Those who harvested early
to avoid the ensuing onslaught of rot brought home unripe grapes that made
squeaky-clean but utterly green and charmless Rieslings. Those who waited were
rewarded with a single window of better weather in late October. The grapes
harvested at this opportune time had more botrytis but better expressed
the virtues of the vintage. Must weights quickly skyrocketed however, so many estates
in the middle Mosel bottled a high percentage of Ausleses and little to no dry
Here, too, yields were low. Some growers made only
one-third the volume of an average year. Coming on the back of short crops in
both 2012 and 2010, 2013 has strained the finances of many small estates, most
of which are unable to raise their prices sufficiently to recover the loss.
Riesling grapes just before the 2013 harvest
2013 Vintage Characteristics
Germany’s total wine volume in 2013 (8.4 million
hectoliters) was down 7% from the previous vintage, which is 250,000 hectoliters
under the ten-year average. That said, the more quality-conscious producers
experienced much lower yields. “We had little more than half a normal crop,”
said Franz Wehrheim from Birkweiler in the southern Pfalz. That is a refrain I
heard from many other producers as I made my annual rounds last summer.
comparison to 2010 is often evoked, it misses one key point. Two thousand
thirteen has considerably more botrytis, a welcome change for some estates
after the almost complete lack of it in 2012. Fortunately, in 2013 rot was
predominately noble in nature, not the mildew or grey rot that plagued vintages
such as 2006 and 2000. For producers with a market for Spätleses and Ausleses,
this anomaly could be turned to a decided advantage. On the other hand, further
south, where dry wines fetch a premium, the harvest was far more difficult and
time-consuming. Even scrupulously sorted grapes often carry an
echo of botrytis that can tarnish the purity of a wine. In that sense, 2012
was, with a few noticeable exceptions, a more balanced vintage.
botrytis, high acidity levels remain the leitmotif of the vintage. For some
reason, as the grapes ripened and must weights rose, acidities did not fall as
quickly as was generally expected. This has prompted producers such as
Klaus-Peter Keller from Dalsheim in the Rheinhessen to compare 2013 with 2008,
a vintage he admires. “There was perhaps not a lot of great wine from that
year,” he says, “but the best are far more interesting than those from warmer years
like 2011, 2009 and 2007.” Keller believes that the finest 2013s will have a
similar development curve and be definitely superior to the 2010s, which he
thinks have remained a bit one-dimensional.
producer coped with the high acidity levels was crucial to the quality of the
wines he bottled. While almost every grower deacidified at least some of their
wines, there was no patent answer. Estates like Schloss Lieser in the Mosel,
Breuer and Künstler in the Rheingau, and Christmann in the Pfalz elected to be
fearless in the face of the unusually high acidity. This strategy served them
well, but not every grower had the ripeness of fruit and extract to permit such
is a common method for reducing acidity in vintages such as 2013. While the
practice is not inherently wrong, the finest wines tend to be those for which
neither deacidification nor chapitalization (or other manipulations) is
required. Unfortunately, many producers were unsuccessful in seeking a point of
balance with their 2013s. The number of well-known estates that misjudged their
de-acidifications or favored partial malolactic conversions to make their wines
more palatable is greater than I would have liked to see.
As one of the more northerly wine regions, Germany has
long struggled with the vagaries of weather, though the climate is far more
genial today than a generation ago. As in all of Europe, the effects of global warming are being felt along the
Rhine; it is no longer a question of ripening fruit, but of prolonging hang
time to achieve maximum flavor. Although 2013 was more of a classical vintage, the way each region dealt with that
issue is sketched briefly in their respective introductions.
Botrytisized grapes for a Trockenbeerenauslese
How I taste
Between the spring and fall of 2014, I tasted the wines covered in this
article multiple times—at centrally-organized tastings, at many of the estates,
and again in my office. I take notes during all of these tastings but
never assign a score until I am able to assess the wine in a neutral
environment. This I generally do in the fall, as it is hardly unusual for a
Riesling that showed charmingly well in the spring to have lost some of its
character by autumn, or for a slow starter to show a lot more potential than it
demonstrated after bottling. That is the nature of wine and why I taste as
often as possible. Even so, there are still some late or even not yet bottled
2013s that I have yet to see.
Mosel – An
With some 8,765 hectares located at the northern cusp
of Germany's vineyard area, the Mosel is probably the country’s best-known wine
region. Given its position, the grapes here ripen later than in the Rheingau,
while harvest takes place over a longer period of time. The Mosel, Saar, and
Ruwer’s geographical complexity makes it difficult to sketch a general picture,
as the quality of wine varies greatly from village to village, as well as from vineyard
Because German consumers tend to drink predominately
dry Riesling, most Mosel producers have reoriented their focus to include this
style. With a few notable exceptions, they have not been terribly successful.
Even at their very best, few if any of them can compete with the dry Rieslings
of the Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen or Pfalz. When the Mosel does succeed, the
wines generally verge on being off-dry.
Lieser, Molitor and occasionally a few others have
shown that it is possible to make great dry Rieslings in the Mosel, but it is
with the off-dry – or feinherb – wines, that the region truly shines. Such
wines are inimitable, and could only be made within Germany. Best of all, they
offer excellent value. Astute buyers are advised to seek such Rieslings or the
slightly sweeter Kabinetts. As my scores are generally conservative, a Kabinett with 87 to
89 points represents an excellent introduction to the Mosel, while only a few,
rare wines earned 90 points or above.
“Until the early ’80s, we often had vintages like
2013,” explains Dr. Manfred Prüm of the Joh. Jos. Prüm estate in Wehlen. With
over 50 harvests under his belt, he is one of the grand old men of the Mosel
and has memories of bygone years that few younger vintners can match.
two generations ago, the majority of vintages were mediocre. Back
then, most producers would muddle through by first adding water to dilute the
acidity, then sugar during fermentation to bump up the alcohol. The Rieslings were
bottled with a modicum of residual sugar in order to make them more palatable.
Some of these practices are now forbidden, but continual improvements in
vineyard management have enabled many estates to make better and better wines
from challenging vintages such as 2013.
The 2013 Vintage: After a cool spring and a late flowering,
summer was comparatively hot, although the occasional burst of hail kept
estates on their guard. Plenty of
rain had already fallen during the growing season, but a series of heavy
showers before and during harvest further complicated an already difficult
situation. When grapes ripened at all, it was slowly, late and often without a
commensurate fall in acidity. In a way, the crush was
reminiscent of 2010, but warmer nights brought considerably more botrytis,
which is why some of the better estates were able to make small
quantities of Auslese.
Despite these dismal conditions, Mosel fared better
than the Saar and Ruwer districts, and some estates bottled Rieslings of a
level that many observers would not originally have thought possible. “It was a
vintage that showed how important great sites are,” reflected Ernie Loosen of Dr.
Loosen in Bernkastel, whose Erdener Prälat site fared particularly well this
year. “Clearly warm sites with good drainage, thoughtful vineyard management
and restrained yields had significant advantages.”
“In the end, this is a surprising year,” explained
Johannes Selbach from Zeltingen. “None of us would have thought in late October
that the wines would turn out so well.” What many had predicted would be at
best an average vintage has become actually quite good - at least for the top
wines. Much of the Mosel’s success this year was due to the vineyards’ ability
to hang for an extended period while slowly accumulating sugar. “Parts of the
2013 harvest came in with 120 days of hang time,” said Selbach, “with the
Kabinetts nonetheless remaining light and elegant.”
Severe sorting was also paramount. Thomas Haag of
Schloss Lieser produced, from dry Grosses Gewächs to sublime Ausleses, arguably
the best Rieslings of the vintage, but at great cost. “The little wine that we
had was sold out before bottling,” he said. Haag is in the enviable position of
being able to sell his wines at high prices, which allows him to make tough
decisions. For other estates, however, the situation is much more precarious.
Yields were down in some vineyards by half, and 2013 was only the most recent
in a series of short vintages, which has brought more than one estate to the brink
of financial disaster.
Producers covered: Weingut A. J. Adam, Weingut Clemens Busch, Weingut Jos.
Christoffel Jr., Weingut Grans-Fassian, Weingut Fritz Haag, Weingut Reinhold
Haart, Weingut Dr. Hermann, Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein, Weingut Reichsgraf von
Kesselstatt, Weingut Schloss Lieser, Weingut Dr. Loosen, Weingut Meulenhof, Weingut
Markus Molitor, Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter, Weingut
Willi Schaefer, Weingut Selbach-Oster, Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Erben
Thanisch, Weingut Vollenweider and Weingut Nik Weis St. Urbans-Hof.
A view of the Mosel at from Bernkastel looking to Brauneberg
Saar – An Overview
While most collectors still associate the Saar with
noble late harvest wines, a subtle change is underway. Roman Niewodniczanski of
the Van Volxem estate in Wiltingen has campaigned for a decade to resurrect the
drier style of Riesling that he claims is the true vaunted tradition of the
Saar’s glorious past. While his wines are sometime a touch more off-dry, he has
nonetheless led the charge to experiment with truly dry Rieslings. The first
results were rather hit and miss, but today Von Hövel and Peter Lauer regularly
make enticing dry Rieslings that are wonderful to drink for their light, svelte
In the not so distant past, Saar producers often
resorted to making sparkling wines in years that were not up to snuff. This
happened far more often than they would like to remember. Whether their current
run of excellent vintages can be ascribed to better vineyard management, lower
yields or global warming is beside the point. The fact is simply that there has
not been a truly poor vintage here for more than a decade. Even in 2006 or
2003, which were quite difficult for many German regions, the wines turned out
to be successes for the Saar.
The 2013 Vintage: Two thousand thirteen is one of the most
difficult vintages in the Saar since 1982. “We decided to make nothing above a
Kabinett level of quality,” explained Hans-Joachim Zilliken, whose deep, cool,
damp cellar in Saarburg is often home to some of the finest Spätleses and
Ausleses. Nonetheless, his 2013 Saarburger Rauch Riesling Kabinett is one of
the stars of the vintage.
Although his Le Gallais label bottled no wine from the
Wiltinger Braune Kupp in 2013, Egon Müller did manage to make one Spätlese and
one Auslese. These wines were produced at a considerable cost, however: “We had
only 30% of a normal crop,” he lamented.
In 2012, on the other hand, the Saar turned out many
of the vintage’s best Spätleses, some of which can still be found on the
market. Being a cooler area, its Rieslings retained the lightness and
refreshing acidity that are not only the hallmarks of the region, but also key
to the wines’ longevity.
In short, though 2013 had its difficulties, the
previous generation of producers would have been smiling cheek to cheek to have
such Rieslings in their cellars. That said, another vintage of such diminished
yields, could spell disaster for the less financially solvent, no matter how
good the quality might be.
Producers covered: Weingut von Hövel, Weingut Peter Lauer, Weingut Egon Müller Scharzhof,
Weingut von Othegraven, Weingut van Volxem, Weingut Dr. Wagner and Weingut
Zilliken Forstmeister Geltz.
Morning fog on the steep slopes of the Saar
Ruwer – An Overview
Since 2007, the Ruwer is officially part of the Mosel.
However, like its neighbor Saar, Ruwer is still allowed to mention its individual
provenance on the label. The Ruwer is the smaller of the two tributaries, and
its regional style falls somewhere between the taut, mineral elegance of the
Saar and the supple fruit of the middle Mosel.
Though von Beulewitz has performed consistently over
the past decade, von Schubert’s resurgence seven years ago set a new pace for
the region. A younger team is now in
place at Karthäuserhof, and Karlsmühl – the area’s other major estate – is also
showing renewed energy and making finer Rieslings than it has in several years.
The 2013 Vintage: After hail in 2012 reduced crop levels by
as much as 30%, Mother Nature continued to throw curve balls at the Ruwer in
2013. A cool spring resulted in late flowering, which was followed by a hot
summer. “Everything might still have turned out well,” said Carl von Schubert,
“were it not for abundant rains accompanied by warm nights during the autumn as
harvest approached.” These conditions not only diluted the fruit, but also
generated an outbreak of botrytis. In addition, acidity levels remains extremely
high – not unlike 2010 – because the
grapes had ripened so slowly.
Good dry Rieslings were a rarity in 2013, with
Karthäuserhof’s vibrantly dry Spätlese Tyrells Edition being a notable
exception. On the other hand, the off-dry Kabinetts and subtle Spätleses that
are the calling cards of the region are more dependable.
Producers covered: Weingut Erben von Beulwitz, Weingut Karlsmühle, Weingut
Karthäuserhof and Schlosskellerei C. von Schubert Maximin Grunhaus.
The old cask cellar at von Schubert in Ruwer
Ahr – An Overview
parallel to the Mosel, the river Ahr flows from the east and joins the Rhine
just south of the old capital, Bonn. The region’s vineyards unfold over 562
hectares, the majority of which occupy steep, south-facing slopes. These
hillsides boast slate-rich soils that store the sun’s heat during the day, and
reflect it back to the vines at night. The result of this greenhouse effect is
a Mediterranean climate with surprisingly high average daytime temperatures and
large diurnal swings.
a full two-thirds of the vineyards here are planted to Pinot Noir. Some of
these wines enjoy an almost cult-like following within Germany, often fetching
higher prices than the finest Rieslings. At a recent auction, Hugh Johnson made
a tongue-in-cheek comment that this “seems to be a curious niche market.” I
would add that the inquisitive wine lover might want to explore such wines when
out to dinner in Germany.
a.k.a. Pinot Noir, is not always handled well in Germany. Too many estates
believe that bigger is better, which is not the case with Pinot Noir. It is not
unusual to find some highly regarded wines weighing in at over 14% alcohol,
with some as high as 15.5%. While that may sound like impressive ripeness for
such a northerly climate, it seldom translates into drinkability.
leading estates in the Ahr are Werner Näkel in Dernau and Jean Stodden in Rech.
Jean Stodden in particular has shown remarkable consistency over the past few
vintages and his best Pinot Noirs display the firmness, structure and velvety
smoothness of fine Burgundy.
The 2012 Vintage: Given its
northerly latitude, there is significant vintage variation in the Ahr. In 2012,
poor weather during flowering led to very low yields, and was generally not as
successful as 2011. That said, those estates that took risks, harvested late
and made severe selections in their cellars were able to produce wines that rivaled
the 2011s. “I am not certain which of the two vintages I prefer,” said
Alexander Stodden, whose breathtaking 2012s certainly lead the fray here.
thousand eleven witnessed one of the earliest budbreaks in recorded history, though
the rest of the season proceeded without incident, and enjoyed a long,
relatively warm and dry summer. Not surprisingly, the year was touted along
with 2007 and 2009 as another of the excellent odd-numbered vintages. Two
thousand thirteen is another low-yielding vintage, very similar in character to
2012, but I’ll report on that in depth next year.
Producers covered: Weingut
Meyer-Näkel and Weingut Jean Stodden.
View from the vineyards in Altenahr
Mittelrhein – An Overview
classification of the Mittelrhein as an UNESCO world heritage site in 2002 is
certainly a boon for this small, relatively unknown region, though most of the
tourists are more interested in the scenery, castles and the Loreley than in
the wines. The current area under vine measures only 462 hectares, less than a
quarter of what was planted here a hundred years ago. Many of the finest
vineyards have been abandoned, as the low prices commanded by the wines
(primarily off-dry Rieslings) hardly justify the expense of cultivating the
Although in the past decade alone, an additional 10% of
the Mittelrhein’s vineyards were deserted, there is a glimmer of hope on
the horizon. The estates covered in
this report are making the necessary investments and
are finding new domestic markets for their wines. Improved vineyard practices
as well as global warming have enabled them to produce ever-better Rieslings at
prices that few other regions can match.
The 2013 Vintage: 2013 is by and large a reasonably good vintage for the
Mittelrhein in terms of quality, but volume is down. “To maintain our
standards, we had to make severe selections,” explained Matthias Müller, an
advocate of wild fermentations. “Furthermore, because of the sanitary
conditions at harvest, I even used cultured yeasts this year to ensure clean
fermentations.” In spite of that, his Grosses Gewächs Riesling never finished
its fermentation, and was bottled off-dry in style.
As with the previous two vintages, sugar levels rose
rapidly late in the season. This resulted in somewhat higher levels of alcohol,
especially for those wines that fermented to dryness. Acidities remained brisk,
however, providing the off-dry Rieslings with more vibrant freshness than they
had in either 2012 or 2011, without approaching the austerity of the 2010s.
The weather remained dry throughout most of the
harvest and there was essentially no botrytis. As in 2012, virtually no noble
late harvest Riesling was produced. While such sweeter styles still have followings
in some export markets, domestic consumers prefer drier wines. In 2013, the dry
and the slightly off-dry styles are the clear winners.
Producers covered: Weingut
Toni Jost/Hahnenhof, Weingut Matthias Müller and Weingut Florian Weingart.
Vineyards climb the Mittelrhein's steep slopes
Nahe – An Overview
With 4,000 hectares under vine, the Nahe
is a contorted mirror of the Rheingau. A confluent of the Rhine flowing from
west to east, it spills into the larger river near Bingen, where both then
change course and flow together northward. Nahe has only recently begun to
garner the same standing as that of the Rheingau because the wines were sold as
Rhine Rieslings until 1971. However, at their best, the Nahe wines can be equally
good, and sometimes even better than those from neighboring Rheingau.
The 2013 Vintage: Two thousand thirteen was a challenging vintage in the
Nahe. Given the late flowering, it was clear from the outset that it was not
going to be an early harvest. Not surprisingly, most of the serious producers waited
to harvest until after October 15, though weather conditions were complicated
by cool, humid weather. Even so, must weights rose all too slowly and the
acidity levels seldom fell in the traditional pattern. “The must weights are not yet that high
and the acidities are still very bracing,” noted Werner Schönleber from
Emrich-Schönleber in Monzingen about halfway through harvest.
Under these conditions, numerous estates chose either
to deacidify their musts or to use slightly higher levels of residual sugar in
their bottled wines in order to mask the green flavor exhibited by many of the
simpler Rieslings. Neither was an adequate response. The only true solution was
a late harvest, a severe selection and long aging on the lees to soften the wines’
rigid backbone. Such a rigorous approach, however, meant sacrificing up to a
third of the crop.
Karsten Peter from Hermannsberg is an extreme example; he produced only half
the normal volume for some of his Rieslings.
Although the generic wines are often less than
stellar, the finer 2013 Rieslings appear nicely balanced, in a vibrant style
akin to the 2008s and 2004s. That said, they remained rather closed for much of
the summer and only began to show their true potential after most of the buyers
had already made their decisions. I find that the more I retaste them, the
better they appear.
If the vintage has any other shortcomings, it is the
scarcity of noble late harvest offerings. Indeed, many estates made nothing
sweeter than an Auslese, which were often on a similar level to Spätleses from
the same sites. However, as most consumers are interested in upscale dry wines
(Kabinetts, Spätleses), this may not necessarily be a drawback.
Producers covered: Weingut Dr. Crusius, Schlossgut Diel, Weingut Hermann
Dönnhoff, Weingut Emrich-Schönleber, Gut Hermannsberg, Weingut Kruger-Rumpf,
Weingut Schafer-Fröhlich and Weingut Jakob Schneider.
View of the Rotenfels above the Nahe
Rheingau – An Overview
only 3,000 hectares of vineyard, the Rheingau is small, but it is one of
Germany's best-known regions. Located to the north of the Rheinhessen, it
overlooks a unique stretch of the Rhine wherein the typically north-south
flowing river runs east-west for a short distance. The finest vineyards are
located along the south-facing bank, where the sunlight reflects off the water,
providing extra warmth.
While Robert Weil remains the benchmark for Auslese
and upwards, Leitz holds pole position in the off-dry category. Along with
Breuer and Künstler, he is also a force to be reckoned with for the dry
Rieslings that are so popular in Germany today. Kühn, however, outdid them all in
2013. His simplest dry Riesling, Jacobus, is lovely and his two
Trockenbeerenausleses are among the best of the vintage. Other names that I
would normally list in this group are Johannisberg and Spreitzer; while both
are traditional favorites of mine, I am not overly impressed by either this
The 2013 Vintage: Two thousand thirteen will be remembered in the
Rheingau as a vintage for the hillside vineyards. The schist-rich soils of
Rüdesheim, with their heat-storing capabilities and good drainage, were
particularly well-equipped to handle the cool, moist conditions that preceded
Breuer from Rüdesheim explains that even when the fruit was harvested late, the
“sugar levels remained low, but the aromatic ripeness was extraordinary.” Her
finest dry Riesling, for example, hailed from the Schlossberg vineyard and only
achieved 11.5% alcohol.
As elsewhere in Germany, the long winter and cool
spring led to late budding and flowering. In the better sites, however, the
warm summer sped up ripening to the point where some producers were discussing
the marvelous potential of the vintage as early as September. Rain and botrytis
in less well-drained sites quickly shattered those dreams.
The lower, flatter vineyards proved more challenging
in 2013, but even there it was possible to make excellent Rieslings, as the
sublime collection from Peter Jakob Kühn in Oestrich amply demonstrates. His
son, Peter Bernhard, believes that their biodynamic farming “now enables them
to obtain better balance in the vineyards and protect the grapes from adverse
Warmer vineyards such as those in Hochheim that generally
ripen earlier also fared well. The grapes at harvest were “perfectly healthy,
with a fairly high percentage of tartaric acidity,” said Gunter Künstler. As
this is vitis vinifera’s own natural
acidity, that was a good sign. Nonetheless, like many of his colleagues, he compares
the vintage to cooler years like 2008.
There is a wide gap in quality between the best and
the worst wines of 2013, as was the case in 2008. In such adverse vintages,
caliber of site becomes paramount, much more so than in warmer vintages like
2011 or 2009. But even with the finest vineyards, only those producers who
waited for the perfect window to harvest, carefully removed unwanted botrytis
and managed the bracing acidity levels with the intelligent use of fine lees
made Rieslings of style and character.
Producers covered: Weingut
Georg Breuer, Schloss Johannisberg, Weingut Johannishof, Weingut August
Kesseler, Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, Weingut Künstler, Weingut Leitz, Schloss
Reinhartshausen, Domänenweingut Schloss Schönborn, Weingut Josef Spreitzer,
Weinguter Wegeler Gutshaus Oestrich and Weingut Robert Weil.
Aerial view of Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau
Rheinhessen – An Overview
With almost 26,500 hectares of vines, the Rheinhessen is Germany's largest wine-growing region; but while the number of interesting producers continues to rise, cooperatives or suppliers to large supermarket brands control much of the vineyard land. In 2013, I tasted wines from just over 175 estates in the Rheinhessen, searching for the most dynamic producers in undiscovered villages that even few Germans know about. In addition to the eight estates portrayed here, who together bottled some of the finest dry Rieslings of the vintage in Germany, another dozen deserve mention, two or three of whom—especially Felix Peters from Sankt Antony in Nierstein—made wines as good as some of their better-known peers this year and probably deserve more coverage. These include Becker-Landgraf, Bischel, Michael Gutzler, Jürgen Hoffmann, Eric and Erich Manz, Erik Riffel, Seehof, Rudolf Thörle, Stefan Winter and Volker Raumland
The 2013 Vintage: Sometimes a lesser vintage heralds a change in perspective. For years the producers in Rheinhessen did everything possible to achieve maximum levels of ripeness. Today, many of the area’s better estates are prioritizing balance and lightness over power. Big is apparently no longer better.
Although the summer was comparatively warm, late September and early October were cool with scattered showers. This prompted many of the better estates to begin harvesting their Riesling in early October. “We were very patient,” says Klaus-Peter Keller, “trying to make the best out of a difficult vintage.” However, as major storms began to sweep through the vineyards, he became uncertain that patience had been the best strategy.
As weather conditions improved in late October, producers who waited to harvest began to cheer. “The only problem,” stated Jochen Dreissigacker, “was that yields were 30% lower than they had been two weeks earlier.” Like Klaus-Peter Keller, Dreissigacker has decided to delay the release of his finest dry Rieslings until May of 2015 in order to give them sufficient time to mature in bottle.
Like many of his colleagues, Philipp Wittmann in Westhofen compares the vintage to 2008 and 2004, the wines from which he says “are still refreshingly elegant and evolving quite nicely.” One major problem with 2013, however, is that many producers both over cropped their vineyards and harvested early, thereby producing the volumes required to support their price points while avoiding the risks of a later harvest. How these wines will evolve remains to be seen, but as Hans-Oliver Spanier from Battenfeld-Spanier states: “2013 will be remembered as a cool vintage with a late harvest, ripe grapes and only moderate levels of alcohol - a welcome change after the more fleshy 2011s and 2009s.”
Producers covered: Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier, Weingut Dreissigacker, Weingut Gunderloch, Weingut Keller, Weingut Kuhling-Gillot, Weingut Schätzel, Weingut Wagner-Stempel and Weingut Wittmann
View from the Brudersberg above Nierstein on the Rhine, Rheinhessen
Pfalz – An Overview
At 23,400 hectares in size, the Pfalz is Germany's second-largest wine-growing region. Although Pinot Noir from certain estates can be excellent, the centrally located Mittelhaardt is better known for its dry Rieslings, produced in an almost Alsatian style. With nearly 12,500 acres dedicated to the grape, the Pfalz can now boast the most extensive plantings of Riesling in the world, surpassing even the Mosel. Few consumers realize that almost 40% of the Pfalz’s vineyards are now planted with red grapes, and that Pinot Noir from the southern part of the region near the Alsatian border can be exceptional.
The 2013 Vintage: Depending on where you go in the Pfalz, you will encounter either smiles or frowns when discussing the 2013 vintage. Towards the south, near Alsace, you’ll see mostly the latter. The cool spring and delayed flowering got the vintage off to a late start. In order to guarantee a healthy crop, the growers knew they would need a sunny August and prolonged autumn warmth.
While the summer largely cooperated, the autumn did not. Rain followed by a warm October forced growers to rush through harvest in order to avoid rot. The epicenter of precipitation was near Birkweiler and Siebeldingen, where 25 centimeters of rain fell over the five-week period before and during crush. Once they were finished with sorting, even the most careful, attentive producers were left with only a half of a normal crop. Franz Wehrheim in Birkweiler summed up the situation rather succinctly: “We were able to make wines that I am more than proud to show, but it was a lot of work for very little volume. I hope I don’t see another harvest like this anytime soon.”
Wehrheim’s neighbor in Siebeldingen, Hansjörg Rebholz, struggled with the vintage. Known for taking risks, he harvested his Kastanienbusch plots of Riesling a few days later than Wehrheim. “There was so much botrytis that I decided to make only an Auslese,” he said, making it clear that this would not have been his first choice. While the wine is beyond reproach, he has a cult following for dry Grosses Gewächs from that site. “There will not be any in 2013,” he added. There were no tears in his eyes, but the economic consequences are clear.
In the north, close to the Rheinhessen the situation was quite different. Here, it was noticeably drier than elsewhere in Germany, so the majority of estates faced less disease pressure and an easier harvest. Deidesheim only received around a third of the rainfall that struck Birkweiler. “While it was not the free ride that we enjoyed in 2012, most of the rain came at just the right time,” noted Stephan Attmann from the von Winning Estate.
Steffen Christmann in neighboring Gimmeldingen – and current president of the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) – felt almost guilty when discussing the vintage. “I know that many of my colleagues had a rough go this year, but 2013 was almost perfect for me.” Indeed, his Rieslings show a precision and clarity that they have not always had over the past few vintages. Not only that, he brought home normal yields.
Producers covered: Weingut Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan, Weingut Friedrich Becker, Weingut Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl, Weingut A. Christmann, Weingut Knipser, Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht, Weingut Kranz, Weingut Philipp Kuhn, Weingut Georg Mosbacher, Weingut Müller-Catoir, Weingut Pfeffingen, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz, Weingut Rings, Weingut Siener, Weingut Dr. Wehrheim and Weingut von Winning
Barrel Cellar at Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Pfalz
Baden – An Overview
Germany’s third-largest wine-growing region, encompassing almost 16,000
hectares of vineyards. It is also the most popular on the domestic market. As the
country’s most southerly wine region, Baden is climatically on par with Alsace
and Burgundy. As such, the must weights tend to be higher and the wines more
full-bodied than elsewhere in Germany. Baden is also a sizeable region,
stretching along the Rhine for some 400 kilometers from Heidelberg in the north
down toward Switzerland. Its expanse is divided into nine sub-regions, of which
Ortenau and Kaiserstuhl are the most famous, and features a patchwork of
different microclimates and soils.
Ortenau occupies the northern part of Baden, and its old spa town Baden-Baden
sits across the Rhine River from Strasbourg. Unsurprisingly, Ortenau’s wines
are often reminiscent of those from the neighboring Alsace and Pfalz regions.
The landscape, however, differs in that it is characterized by narrower valleys
and steeper slopes, and is protected to the east by the Black Forest. Dry
Riesling is king here. The Kaiserstuhl,
or Emperor’s Seat, lies further to the south, just west of Freiburg along the volcanic
hills whose formation altered the flow of the Rhine valley eons ago. Many of
Germany’s finest Weissburgunders, Grauburgunders and Spätburgunder are made
here. Incidentally, German consumers often favor the Rieslings of Kaiserstuhl
over more renowned examples from the Mosel. Further south is the Markgräflerland. This region was long been considered a backwater, and a source of easy-to-drink white wines, but its
image, has risen over the past decade.
consumers associate Germany with red wine, but global warming may change that,
as regions such as Baden become more consistently able to ripen red grapes. Indeed,
over one-third of this large region is planted with Pinot Noir, so it has the
potential to become a major player. Already Baden produces more Pinot Noir than
either California or Oregon individually, and more than Australia and New
The 2013 Vintage: Two
thousand thirteen was the second difficult vintage in a row for much of the
Baden, with crop levels at 20% to 30% below average. Sporadic budding was
followed by delayed flowering ten days to two weeks later than normal.
Producers such as Joachim Heger in Ihringen, however, were unfazed. “We always
achieve sufficient levels of ripeness,” he said. “What we occasionally lack is
enough refreshing acidity to keep our wines lively.” His 2013s are beyond
everyone fared so well, however. Odd weather patterns and a race to finish
harvesting before the rain led to an unusually small crop of Prädikatswein (Kabinett,
Spätlese, Ausele, etc). Many of the estates that did manage to produce
excellent white wines, made only half as much as normal, including Heitlinger,
Staufenberg and Martin Wassmer.
Noir, 2012 was a somewhat cooler vintage, resulting in wines with perhaps less
depth but more charm than seen in riper years. In a region that prides itself
on abundant sunshine, the nuances are often more a question of style than
absolute quality. That said, I remain a great admirer of the Pinot Noirs from
the cooler 2010 vintage.
Producers covered: Weingut Dr. Heger, Weingut Bernhard Huber and Weingut Reinhold and Cornelia Schneider
View of the terraced vineyards on the Kaiserstuhl in Baden
Württemberg – An Overview
With almost 11,500 hectares of
vineyard, Württemberg is the fourth largest growing region in Germany, boasting
considerably more area under vine than the better-known Mosel, Rheingau or
Nahe. Württemberg is best known for its red wines, as 71% of its vineyards are
planted with red varieties. 2011, 2009 and 2005 are the benchmarks vintages for
the region’s reds, though the 2012s are both charming and refreshingly drinkable.
Lemberger, known as Blaufränkisch in Austria, is considered the noblest red
grape in Württemberg, though it is often blended with small amounts of Cabernet
Sauvignon and/or Merlot. Interestingly, Pinot Noir has also begun to emerge as
a serious variety in the area.
Travelers who visit Stuttgart or
the Black Forest will certainly find Trollinger by the glass at all local
restaurants. Trollinger, also known as Vernatsch in Italty’s Alto Adige, is
sold as a red wine though it seldom has more color than a Tavel Rosé. While
enjoyable with some of the local dishes, the variety holds no higher
aspirations. Merlot has recently staked a claim in the region, with a number of
insipid wines sold at comparatively high prices. Each year, more than 75% of
Württemberg’s production is bottled by local cooperatives, five of which
account for over half of the total volume.
2013 Vintage: Given
location along the Neckar east of the Rhine, vintages here can be quite
different than those in the better-known areas to the west, while vintage
variation is often not as pronounced as it is elsewhere. Over the past decade, white wine quality has been good but seldom
exceptional, with 2008 and 2006 representing the best and the worst,
respectively. 2013 was certainly challenging, and as few producers took the
risk to harvest late and sort out the botrytis, many of the region’s Rieslings
are marked by a slightly phenolic herbal quality.
Producers covered: Weingut Gerhard Aldinger, Weingut des Grafen Neipperg and Weingut Rainer Schnaitmann
Vineyards above the Enz in Besigheim, Württemberg
Franken – An Overview
Until 1964, Sylvaner was Germany’s most widely planted grape variety. Today, it’s primary home is in Franken (Franconia), the only winegrowing region in Bavaria, a state otherwise better known for its beer. Franken’s 6,100 hectares of vineyards are located mainly on southern slopes above the River Main, and enjoy an extremely continental climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters. The heart of the region is the majestic old city of Würzburg, where the vines flourish on shell limestone soils. Once known far beyond the border, Franken’s wines are now mostly consumed near where they are grown. In a letter he wrote to his wife in 1816, Goethe evoked a sentiment that the producers here would like to see in today’s headlines: “Send me some more Würzburg wine, I cannot develop a taste for any other.” Sylvaner’s modern-day reputation is a bit more mixed, although the grape appears to be enjoying a bit of a Renaissance of late.
The 2013 Vintage: Because of the late flowering and early autumn rains, many observers had written off Franken’s 2013s before harvest had even started. However, in the right hands, Sylvaner was able to shrug off the inclement conditions and put its best foot forward, while Riesling was generally less successful. Though none of the wines show the richness or depth of the 2012s, the best examples are bright and pure, shining more by structure and depth than by brawn. “I like the 2013s because they display a crisp elegance that the 2012s did not have,” claims Paul Fürst from Bürgstadt, on the western fringes of the region.
Producer covered: Weingut Rudolf Fürst
View of the Schlossberg in Castell, Franken
You Might Also Enjoy
Article: Germany: Ten Years After - 2004 Riesling Spätlese (Feb 2015)
Article: Germany: Ten Years After - 2004 Pinot Noir (Feb 2015)
Article: Germany: Ten Years After – 2004 Dry Riesling (Jan 2015)
Article: Germany Grand Cru Riesling: 2004-2013 (Dec 2014)
Multimedia: Hansjörg Rebholz on the 2014 Vintage in Pfalz (Mar 2015)
Multimedia: Klaus-Peter Keller, Rheinhessen (Feb 2015)
Photograph & map credit: German Wine Institute
-- Joel Payne