Stunning. That's the one word that comes to mind when reflecting on my tour through German wine country last week. The landscape. The micro-climates and soil types (aka, terroir). The people. The energy. The bread! The cheese. The meats. The crisp, cleansing, mind-bottlingly pure, DRY (trocken) wines!! I had the most to gain from this learning adventure for a number of reasons. German wines are much less widely consumed here in Boston than Italian, French or Spanish wines - we taste and evaluate fewer of them as a result. These are wines that have regional typicity (e.g. Mosel vs. Baden), but often they are grouped and evaluated by grape type (e.g. Riesling), rather than against other examples from the region from which they come. It's not often you can focus on the region and specific vineyards sites, let alone 'pitting' producers against each other!
Germany had been on my 2012 travel agenda for some time; yet only in the last year or so did a 'quieter' conversation emerge among wine colleagues as well as among consumers (generally from Germany or those who have traveled there) that the wines we see here in the U.S. aren't "the same". They are largely sweeter than what you find in Germany itself. It turns out many of the wines exported to our market are (unfortunately) wines destined for the American palate. (And when I say "American palate" think the M.cD's and Pepsi-Cola culture that's largely exported abroad.)
While Riesling can be vinified with some residual sugar, authentic, widely consumed German Riesling abroad is DRY. I cannot emphasize this enough. These wines are tongue-tinglingly, food-demanding, palate-strikingly D-R-Y, aka "Trocken". And they are absolutely, say it with me now, stunning!
The first stop on our tour was the Mosel - probably the most well-known German wine producing region, and best known for its Riesling. I've joked that I would never want to work harvest in the Mosel because the slopes are so bloody steep and narrow that I would put down my bucket of grapes (hand-harvesting is the only way to do it as no machine could manage the incline) and accidentally kick it over with my foot, sending hundreds of dollars down the hill with it. Having been there now, I can say that even as a fairly agile human, I would definitely not sign up first for the task. And it is oh-so-precious fruit indeed.
I purposely set up appointments with folks I knew from experience and saved a bit of time to 'play', visiting wineries on recommendation. My tour began at Weiser Kuensler and we focused on their Trocken selections. I was captivated from the outset. Literally, my nose ran as my "quality control" (allergy-based, herbal/terroir sensitive) organ discovered fresh herbs, flower blossoms and cold-waterfall air bursting out of the glass. My tongue tingled as the minerality and gentle fruit flavors swept through the palate. My mouthwatered (for a while!) on the savory finish. Wine after wine tasted, various nuances captured my senses in these ways showing me the power of Mosel, variously blue and red slate terroir; there was a distinct cleansing purity among them, showing their family resemblance and truth of place.
The next morning S.A. Pruem was up. And yes, this is a winery I've been happy to be familiar with for some time, and owner/winemaker Raimond Pruem (a lovely gent and great winemaker!) had suggested I stay in the Estate's Guest Haus when my 2012 trip came to fruition. Suffice to say, if you make this trip - stay there, too!!! After a great night's sleep and killer breakfast (German style, my fav!) we tasted with Raimond's daughter Saskia. Here we revisited wines I knew - and also the European version (drier!) of a wine sold at local Ball Square Fine Wines: S.A. Pruem Blue Slate Riesling. Also on the tasting agenda were aged Rieslings. Here we found a highlight in the mix: 1994 Bernkastler Riesling, fresh and mouthwateringly delicious - PRIMA!!! (Note: German Riesling in particular ages quite well, as the backbone of the wine is acidity, which allows well made offerings of great vintages to thrive for decades!)
AJ Adam was next on our Mosel tour - a recommendation from Konstantin Weiser on Day 1 of the trip. We took our chances and popped by, catching Andreas coming home from the vineyards by tractor for a little lunch break. Two hours later we had tasted a delicious (ample) sampling of Rieslings from his portfolio. A family resemblance was present among these wines also - a ripeness of fruit cut with nearly searing acidity and a wet-stone-meets-talc-like minerality texture on the tongue. These wines were compelling for their sleek precision - yet elegance!
Our too-brief Mosel tour ended at Guenther Steinmetz, another recommendation from Konstantin, with a random tasting of wines from the estate's large and uncharacteristically diverse portfolio. Case in point: here we had our first sampling of red wines, not grapes grown in great quantity in the Mosel; Pinot Noir (aka Spatburgunder) does, no less, have a home here. The favorite was 2009 Kestener Herrenberg (unfiltered!) Pinot Noir.
Not ready and a bit sad to leave, it was off to dinner and then back to bed for a quick night's sleep - then on to the Rheingau!