4th of JULY:
I travel to Germany nearly every year. With dear friends in Frankfurt
(the famous Norbert & Gabriella Auth, Anette & Claus Bonifer, Josef & Uli
Bauer, Juergen Block and Matthias Wooge), I've been fortunate to visit many of the top
German wine estates, as well as some up and coming properties which are known, probably,
only to wine aficionados in Deutschland.
While the selection in the shop is modest, we do have access to many more wines.
If you're buying case lots, let me know what I can find for you and we'll
order them from the importer if possible.
It's interesting to read the latest wine journals and their various opinions
of German wine (or any wine, for that matter!).
American wine critics had fallen head over heels for the 2001 vintage from
Germany, for example. The Wine Spectator publication gave the vintage some ridiculously
high numerical "score" as a vintage for ALL of Germany.
Interestingly, however, is they do give different scores to wine regions in
France such as Burgundy and Bordeaux. But for Germany, the entire country,
with its various wine regions, was lumped together as though the climate was
virtually the same everywhere!
Many American publications separate Piemonte and Toscana in Italy from a vintage
chart perspective and yet Germany, with its numerous diverse regions, merits but
The "technical" term for these people is "dummkopf."
Interestingly, many German producers spoke just as highly of their 2002s as they
did their 2001s. Then you might wonder about the extraordinary wines from
2003, a vintage which is quite different from its two predecessors. One
delightful aspect of wines from anywhere is that they are "vintage
variable." I might suggest that one vintner's wines from these three
years might all be good, but they are unique and different according to the
particular growing season. If you've poked around this web site, you might
know my disdain for vintage charts, since you'd miss grand wine from so-called
"lesser" years and you'll be saddled with not-so-great wines from the
much ballyhooed "top" vintages.
We don't buy wines by their "vintage." We are open-minded wine
lovers and if we taste a great wine from a supposedly poor vintage, we are
delighted. Similarly, when we taste something of modest quality from a
so-called "great" vintage, we are disappointed. We tend to focus
upon what's in the glass rather than what's on the label.
When some German wines are in their youth, they can be most disagreeable.
I have tasted some really awful samples of various famous wines and have seen
how these change, evolve and blossom into something amazingly wonderful.
It is easy to understand, if you have an opportunity to taste some really young,
backwards Rieslings how you could be skeptical as to their quality.
We often have "older" bottles of German wines in the shop...it's
really remarkable to taste an 8 or 10 year old bottle of German Riesling and
find the wine to still be youthful and even "fresh." Few
California Chardonnays will develop or even last for 5 years. I brought a
1992 vintage Riesling from Zilliken to a dinner with a bunch of professional
wine judges from around the world...most guessed the wine to be 5 to 8 years of
age. It was 20, but tasted remarkably youthful.
A recent edition of a famed U.S. publication blasted some poor vintner's wines
as being painful to taste and he lambasted the winemaker. Amazingly, the
wines averaged about 90 point scores in this journal, which makes one wonder
what would these have been scored had he actually liked the wines!
Another curiosity with respect to "ratings" of German
wines: Sweet wines almost always garner higher scores than drier
wines. In virtually any critical publication of German wines, you'll
notice the highest scores are almost always awarded to the most sweet and
It's a shame that really grand, less-sweet wines are
judged by the standards one has for really sweet, late-picked wines. (I
have the same criticism of the 100 point scoring system for wines such as
Beaujolais: their scores are reduced for being drinkable in their youth, which
is one delightful feature of Beaujolais. Yet they are judged on a scale
more appropriate for Cabernet Sauvignon wines!)
Well, we don't buy wines by their scores. I have not found that
to be a reliable strategy, so I prefer to taste and select according to my
palate preferences. Of course, every individual has particular taste
preferences and yours may not be the same as mine.
But I know I can show you good wines.
Some German vineyard
sites, especially in the Mosel, are extremely steep...
Here's a snapshot taken in the town of Wehlen, right in from of the J.J. Prum
Here's a shot of vineyard crews working across the ricer on those steep
I was merely at the level of the river, looking across the water.
The photo may seem like it's taken from above the vineyard, but in fact I was
way down the hill from these robust vineyard works.
Here are some wines currently in stock:
- J. J. PRÜM
- One of the world's finest wine producers, this property covers some 20 hectares in prime sites in the Mosel. They grow only Riesling and make extraordinary
- The winery is run by Dr. Manfred Prum and his lovely daughter Katharina.
They make something like 180,000 bottles annually, depending upon the
Wines from this estate reflect the perfectionist winemaker, the vineyard,
the vintage and the quality level of wine noted on the label. It is
one of the few wineries in the world, in my view, whose label not only
indicates what is in the bottle, but that label is a bit of a guarantee of a
good quality wine.
Best known wines here are those bearing the Wehlener Sonnenuhr (the sundial)
They also make seriously good wines of Graacher Himmelreich and Zeltinger
Sonnenuhr. Berknkasteler Badstube is another good wine, if a bit in
the shadows of the others.
Some years ago Prum would send its just-bottled wines to the local importer
to be shown to prospective buyers as part of the "upcoming
vintage" campaign. The wines were remarkably strange and not at
all in condition for showing to customers. If anything, most people
would make note of the wines they'd taste and steer clear of them when they
But this is simply part of the process.
The wines are hugely backwards and even a bit ugly in their infancy, but
when they've had sufficient time in the bottle, they blossom into some of
the Mosel's best Rieslings.
But if you had never tasted a J.J. Prum Riesling with three to five years of
aging, you would wonder why anyone would bother with such curious wines.
For those who drink young white wines or California Chardonnays, for
example, the idea of waiting five to ten years, or more, for a Riesling is
something most would never consider.
But if you're "in the know," then the chance to open a five, ten
or 15 year old bottle of J.J. Prum is a special occasion and a hedonistic
I had been a fan of their 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett...what a
grand bottle this is! It was very showy in 2010 and in 2014 it's even
I served it to an Italian winemaker who loves Riesling and he swooned
tasting this. Another vintner came to town and we opened a bottle of
the Koi Palace. They said they found it a bit sweet, but I said
"Wait til you taste it with the Salty/Spicy Crab."
The comment after tasting the wine in the company of the spice was
"Okay, now I get it."
A 2007 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spätlese is wonderfully developed at this stage.
And it's a shade drier than many Spätlese bottlings.
The wine shows a nicely fruity aspect with some green apple and a hint of a
grapefruit or citrus tone.
Add to the mix a mildly minerally streak and you've got a nicely complex
Riesling...it's a good match with spicy "hot" foods or just when you
want to share a bottle of wine with a good friend...
Katharina Prum in 2014
- Dr. Norbert Auth sample J.J. Prum Riesling:
- Currently in stock:
2002 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese $35.99
2004 Graacher Himmelreich Auslese $39.99
2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese $49.99
2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 375ml bottles $26.99
2007 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr
2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett SALE $29.99
The fellow on the right is Wilhelm Weil, famous Rheingau winemaker.
That's the old house at the Robert Weil winery.
- ROBERT WEIL
- At this point in time, Weil is, unquestionably,
a top estate in
I recall visiting this place in the 1980s and we found a rather modest
facility, not much more sophisticated than your basic
"garage"-type, home-winemaking facility. The place is
entirely different today!
With 51 hectares, Weil makes some astonishingly powerful Rieslings. Part of the "secret" is they "cheat." They have
a higher standard for ripeness here, so a Kabinett wine is really Spätlese quality, a
Spätlese is actually of Auslese sweetness, and so on.
The Weil family sold the
winery, some years ago, to a Japanese concern and these guys must really have a yen for
quality. I remember visiting a poor little cellar with decent wines back in the
Today, it's very modern, painted in an interesting shade of blue
(matching their label) with extraordinary wines at every level. These are
The photo, by the way, is entitled "Two Fans of Robert Weil."
At one point the prices for the Weil wines was staggering...they'd escalated
to where even at the entry level, most customers would say "Nein,
danke" to purchasing a bottle.
Weil got the message and today the normal bottles are price within the realm
of reason and the expensive bottles are costly, but not arrogantly priced.
We tasted through the line-up and found the wines to be excellent from top
Well-priced and fitting in nicely with our selection is the 2012
"Trocken" (Dry) Riesling. The fruit comes from a couple of
sites in Kiedrich near the winery: Wasseros and Sandgrub. With a
fairly high level of acidity, this wine is nicely balanced and finishes
"dry," though it has a very small bit of residual sugar. I
think they hit the mark nicely on making a wine that tastes dry without
We've sale-tagged it as it's a brilliant and versatile Riesling to have with
a seafood salad, Asian-styled cuisine or our favorite spicy Crab at Daly
City's Koi Palace.
- Currently available:
2013 RIESLING KABINETT "Trocken" SALE
- The Weil
- A work in
- All sorts
of different sized tanks.
what these are for?
- FRITZ HAAG
- With some
7.5 hectares, this small domain
makes up in quality what it lacks for quantity. They're located in Brauneberg and
are, with von Schubert and J.J. Prüm, the top wines of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.
Wilhelm Haag is very proud of their rise to stardom; I remember visiting some years
ago when my friends had some old German guide book which rated Haag as only a modest
quality estate. Herr Wilhelm saw this book and insisted upon giving them a newer
version, one which placed his estate at the top of the Mosel quality chart!
Wilhelm says he's been making wine since about 1957 and the 2000 vintage was
"...the most difficult I've ever encountered...the wines are very good,
however." Indeed! I was at a tasting of his 2000 vintage
and they were uniformly impressive. Haag's wines are usually rather
low in alcohol and very elegant. Quite. This shows what a master
this guy is.
The 2009, of which we purchased Brauneberger Juffer "Sonnenberg",
is quite fine. It's got the finesse we expect from a Fritz Haag
wine...light, nicely acidic and mildly sweet on the entry but crisp and
clean on the finish.
The warm 2003 vintage threw another curveball at German winemakers.
Haag hit that one out of the park, though, making a balanced wine with
intense fruit. There's almost a tropical tone to his 2003 and it's
blossoming handsomely now that it's 11+ years old. It may not last 30
years, but it sure is showy at this stage.
2009 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenberg Kabinett $39.99
2003 Brauneberger Juffer Auslese SALE
Wilhelm Haag in July of 2005
Tasting the current line-up at Fritz Haag.
The new wines are quite good! But their old wines are damned good, too.
- REICHSRAT VON BUHL
- I stopped by this place one day (years ago!), in between scheduled appointments
to see if I could taste their current line-up. I interrupted the lunch of Nicole
Rebehn and she, very kindly, allowed me to taste their wines. I was very impressed
and she explained they had hired a new winemaker and were certain this would put the
winery back on track as a leading Rheinpfalz estate. Upon my return I called German
Wein-Meister Rudi Wiest and he was luke-warm in his opinions of these wines. Nicole
persisted and sent a sample or two and Rudi's tasting experience was as exciting as was
mine! He now imports and features the Von Buhl wines. They
are always amongst his most popular Rieslings.
The property covers
vineyards in their home town of Deidesheim, as well as sites in nearby Forst.
- We used to have a good quality dry Riesling, but as so many German wines
come sporting long names which Americans can't remember, let alone
pronounce, the US Importer got them to produce a rather dry wine with a
simple name: Armand.
We have the 2012 in stock presently. It's a marvelously aromatic
Riesling with classic floral notes and a streak of a minerally tone.
It's close to bone dry on the palate, but they left a touch of sugar to
balance the wine. It's drier, for example, than most Brut Champagnes,
but it's not austere or shrill.
If you're having seafood, Asian cuisine or something fairly spicy/hot, this
wine is a winner. No oak, of course...
Many German wineries offer a sparkling wine, or two.
A few wineries are devoted solely to sparkling wines (Raumland, for example) and
make wines along the line of those from France's Champagne region.
Von Buhl makes both Champagne-styled bubbly, but we're fans of their Riesling
It's a "Brut"-designated sparkling wine and it has the floral
fragrances of Riesling with just a faintly yeasty, toasty character.
The wine is dry, if a bit less acidic than a typical Champagne.
To torture a friend who loves bubbly and, at the same time, claims to HATE
Riesling, we served this wine "blind." It was marvelous to watch
the poor thing be so enthusiastic for sparkling wine and then discover the wine
is made from a grape she despises! --- Wouldn't drink this,
though, because it really does have good Riesling character.
have a 2009 Riesling from their Forster Pechstein ("peach stone")
vineyard, a long time favorite.
The site has a lot of everything: volcanic rock, sandstone, basalt,
limestone and clay...
And the wine typically displays a peachy quality, veering into apricot
fragrances and flavors.
This is, now that it's had a bit of bottle aging, showing magnificently.
It was great in its youth and is even more complex with some cellaring.
It's categorized as a "Grosses Gewächs" Riesling, meaning,
essentially, that is comes from a "Grand Cru" site and it's vinified
to dryness. This can be a bit confusing if you've just finished mastering
other basic German wine terminology, so you wonder see the words
"Kabinett" or "Spätlese" on the label, as the winery is a
VDP member ( an organization of many exceptional German wineries holding members
to standards higher than required by German wine laws...one of these rules is
that Grosses Gewächs wines are dry and cannot be labeled using indicators such
as Kabinett or Spätlese or Auslese for wines which are vinified to dryness ).
Some people will be shocked by the price of a $60 German Riesling, but keep in
mind that Grand Cru wines from France's Burgundy typically fetch much higher
prices. Much higher.
the Pfalz region described by some as "The Tuscany of Germany," it's
not surprising to find some red wines of good quality.
The Dornfelder grape is one that's particular to Deutschland...bred for making
red wine in a relatively cool climate region. And some of these can be
Think of this as a dark Beaujolais-styled wine. It displays deep ruby
color and loads of berryish fragrances. This is a delight served lightly
chilled and it pairs with all sorts of foods, so be adventuresome and give it a
- Currently available: 2012 Riesling ARMAND Sale $19.99
- RIESLING SEKT (Sparkling Riesling...dry!) $24.99
2010 DORNFELDER $14.99
2009 FORSTER PECHSTEIN RIESLING "Grosses Gewächs" $59.99
The 2009 Pechstein was delicious with this Sea Bass dish...really good!
Von Buhl is working on its Pinot Noir...and making good strides, in fact.
"ESTATE RIESLING" is a term you'll frequently see on
recent vintages as German wineries try to please consumers with non-vineyard specific
- Easier to
remember the Pfeffingen name at this estate, a 12 hectare property in Bad
Durkheim in the Rheinpfalz. The property is run by Karl and Helene
Fuhrmann's daughter Doris Eymael (whose son is now enrolled in a wine
school). The vineyards were, for the most part, re-planted in the
Though Riesling accounts for more than half of the production here,
Pfeffingen makes quite an assortment of wines. You'll find Chardonnay and
Pinot Noir here, along with Dornfelder, Silvaner, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer.
They grow a significant amount of Scheurebe, a variety of which we are big
The 2007 vintage Gewürztraminer is marvelous! The aromas are amazingly
intense, very fruity and floral. I like the spice notes and rose
petal aromas & flavors. Doris explained they are increasing
their production of Gewürztraminer as this wine is finding many fans here
in the United States market. The wine is moderately sweet, but
finely balanced thanks to its bright acidity.
The other wines we tasted from the 2007 vintage from this estate are really good
and the property seems to have become a very reliable source of fruity and
aromatic wines. The 2008s are better than most, for that
Doris Eymael shows off her cellar...stainless steel on one side and
traditional wooden casks on the other.
Currently in stock: 2007 GEWÜRZTRAMINER
Spätlese Sold Out
Bollig has been at the helm of this Mosel property since 1987. We
wonder how we could have missed his wines all these years, since we tasted a dynamite Piesporter
Goldtröpfchen that's a Spätlese level from the 2003 vintage. His
wines have attracted our attention ever since...
We're usually allergic to paying a premium price for Piesporter
wines. These tend to be popular in the U.S. because American
customers are too lazy (or shy, or both) to learn to pronounce the names
of German wine villages. As a result, easy-to-say places such as
Piesport are popular here and producers can command a higher price than
their neighbors who might make something called "Klüsserather
Bruderschaft" which will injure any American attempting to say those
But Bollig did a fine job with this wine and we're delighted to have it in
the shop. The wine displays really ripe tropical fruit notes and has
ample acidity to balance its modest level of sweetness. Very
His Piesporter from 2011, a Spätlese level wine, is also outstanding.
It's amazingly fruity, floral and complete. Not too sweet...just
right since the acidity is crisp and zesty. Beautiful tropical fruit notes on this wine, too.
A 2009 Kabinett Riesling from the Trittenheimer Apotheke is a recent
arrival...we tasted it alongside some 2011s and were impressed at how
lively and energetic the 2009s were showing. And the price is
Currently in stock: 2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling
2009 Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett Sold Out
Stefan shows off a steep parcel of his vineyard along the Mosel.
Prime vines make prime wines.
Stefan maintains a nice cellar of old bottles.
We found a lovely set of wines on our July 2005 visit.
Tasting the new vintage before bottling.
The cellar has some old, neutral casks which are perfect for maturing the
Riesling. It's a cool and moderately humid cellar and the wines seem to
age very handsomely here.
We appreciate cellars full of shiny stainless steel tanks, but also appreciate
more traditionally-made wines as well.
This fellow makes some terrific wines...very showy!
- The Silvaner grape finds its home in Germany's Franken region, though
you might find it planted in other areas. And, of course, it's found
frequently in France's Alsace region. But it's a specialty in
We tasted a delightful and well-priced example from the small,
family-operated estate of the Brennflecks of the little town of Sulzfeld.
The Brennfleck family can trace its roots back more than 400
years! Today, Hugo Brennfleck and his wife represent the 13th
I liked their Silvaner Trocken wine quite a bit and made a stop
there to learn more about the winery and its wines.
Wine Grower, Wine Maker, Wine Salesman Hugo Brennfleck
We feature their Silvaner Trocken that's called Cuvee Anna Lena,
named after Hugo's oldest kid.
It's her silhouette on the label, drawn when she was a little squirt.
The company farms 22 hectares of vineyards, more than half being
planted to Silvaner. And they make a good one. Dry.
Fresh. Crisp. Mildly floral with a faint 'green' or leafy
And our customers seem to like this wine, even if they can't remember the name
Brennfleck or Silvaner...they remember the image of the little kid on the label
(and that the wine tasted good!).
Currently in stock: 2011 BRENNFLECK
"ANNA-LENA" SILVANER $17.99
- We first
visited this estate back in the 1980s. It was, in those days, just
about the most highly-regarded winery in Germany's Nahe
As mentioned elsewhere on our site, today the most prestigious Nahe winery
is that of Donnhoff, with Emrich-Schonleber being high on the list,
too. And there's Schlossgut Diel, of course.
Crusius was the leader, though, back in the 1980s when nobody had heard of
those other estates and today we'd add Schafer-Frölich to the list.
Hans Crusius put the winery on the map, though, starting in the 1950s with
the novel idea of bottling wine and selling those bottles. He had
some seriously good vineyard sites, what with parcels in their hometown of
Traisen. Here you'll find lots of volcanic rock and the vines sink
their roots deep into the earth looking for sustenance.
We had met Hans Crusius back in those old days and he was a rock star to a
small degree. British wine writer Hugh Johnson highlighted the
estate as the leader back then and we tasted some good, fairly acidic
Rieslings according to my vinous notebook. Of course, the terms
"global warming" and "climate change" were completely
unheard of and there were some vintages which produced lean, very crisp
wines. Interestingly, though, some recent harvests have produced
fruit of remarkably high acidity, too, so go figure.
Hans passed away in 2009 and the estate has been run by son Peter Crusius
(the Doctor of Dr. Crusius) and Mrs. Peter, Birgitta.
- Peter's Mom Ella is still active and capable of picking grapes during
the harvest season when it's "eiswein" picking time. He
regards her as the "heart & soul" of the business. But
there are four young Crusius kids also involved, from time to time, though
they are, for the most part, grown up and working in other fields.
We stopped by the winery, years after our first visit. We found a
new sign out on the road, but apart from that, the cellar was virtually
stuck in a time warp.
It's a real winery, not a museum or showplace.
There are old, neutral wood tanks and a bunch of these small stainless steel
tanks which allows them to make small batches of various wines.
And the wines we tasted with Peter and Birgitta were really good.
- Peter makes a terrific range of wines including a modest amount of
Pinot Blanc and some Auxerrois.
- The estate currently comprises 18 hectares with two-thirds devoted to
Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois blend are quite nice here.
We tasted some really well-made Rieslings and the local importer brings in
the Traiser Rotenfels.
We have the 2012 Kabinett bottling and it's a delight...really crisp,
floral and fruity. It's remarkably complete, too. The balance
is very fine, as there's ample sweetness which is shortened up on the
palate thanks to the brisk acidity.
It's a wine which is showy in its youth and we suspect this wine will
remain in good condition for 5 to 10 years if well-stored.
The vineyard holdings extend beyond those near the cellar...they have some
vines in nearby Norheim, as well as Niederhausen down the river...and even
further downstream, there's a patch in Schlossbockelheim.
My tasting notebook has many 'stars' in it after our Crusius visit.
This is a really good producer and a vintner which, these days, is a bit
below the radar.
Currently in stock: 2012 DR. CRUSIUS Traiser
Rotenfels Kabinett RIESLING $23.99