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German Wines



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.  



SPECIAL ORDERS
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.





WINE CRITICS
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 one assessment.


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 unctuous wines.  

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 winery.

Yes...that's the famous Rodgauer Wine Aficionado, Norbert Auth.
He retired in mid-2017 so now he has more time to visit wineries and taste wine.



Here's a shot of vineyard crews working across the river on those steep hillsides:

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 wines.  
 
The winery is run by Dr. Manfred Prum and his lovely daughter Katharina.  They make something like 180,000 bottles annually, depending upon the vintage.

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) appellation. 

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 did arrive.
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 treat.

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 better!  

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."  

 


The 2014 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett is a baby...sure, you can open one now and enjoy drinking it, but if you have the patience, wait until it's close to ten years of age...and it should go another 20 beyond that!

The 2014 Auslese is also a "killer."  There's a faint honeyed note, but all kinds of peach/apricot/ripe pear to the Riesling fruit.  Nicely sweet and with balancing acidity, so this ought to last into the 2040s and beyond if well-stored.

 

 

Katharina Prum in 2014
 
Dr. Norbert Auth sample J.J. Prum Riesling:
 


Currently in stock:
2014 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett $34.99

2014 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese $62.99





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 the Rheingau.
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 early 1980s.  

Today, it's very modern, painted in an interesting shade of blue (matching their label) with extraordinary wines at every level.  These are exceptional! 

.  
 

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 to bottom.

Well-priced and fitting in nicely with our selection is the 2015 "Trocken" (Dry) Riesling.  The fruit comes from a couple of sites:  Kiedrich and Eltville.  They source this from vineyard sites lower on the hills and not far from the winery.  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 being shrill.

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:  
2015 RIESLING KABINETT  "Trocken"  SALE $19.99
The Weil estate...main house.
 
A work in progress.
 
All sorts of different sized tanks.
 
Wonder what these are for?
 
 
 



 

 


FRITZ HAAG
fritzhaag.gif (20114 bytes)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 whenwpeD.jpg (10722 bytes) 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. 

Currently available:   
2009 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenberg Kabinett $39.99
2003 Brauneberger Juffer Auslese 
SALE $44.99


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 fizzy.

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.  

 

We 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.  

 

With 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 quite good.  
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 go.

 


Currently available: 2012 Riesling ARMAND  Sold Out
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.

wpe38.jpg (4351 bytes)


"ESTATE RIESLING" is a term you'll frequently see on recent vintages as German wineries try to please consumers with non-vineyard specific wines.




PFEFFINGEN-(FUHRMANN-EYMAEL)

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 late 1980's. 

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 fans.   

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 matter...


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-LEHNERT

Stefan Bollig has been at the helm of this Mosel property since 1987. 

We've been fans since the turn of this century and are routinely delighted by his wines from both a quality and pricing perspective.

Bollig's parent's began the business in the early 1960s and Stefan took over in 1985.  He and his wife Jill take care of about 18 acres of Riesling vineyards.  And they only grow Riesling.

The vineyards are scattered around three villages:  Trittenheim (home base), Piesport and Dron.

Some vintages show magnificently upon release...others can be a bit quiet and take some time to blossom and strut their stuff.

Bollig has a very consumer-friendly approach to pricing, as well.  We especially appreciate his holding on to some wines for a few years to allow the opportunity to buy a nicely-aged Riesling.  



 
 
 
There's currently a wonderful 2003 vintage Spätlese in stock from the Dhroner Hofberger site.
The vintage was a warm one, but Stefan managed to produce a wine with ample acidity to be cellar-worthy.

This is showing beautifully and you'd be hard-pressed to identify this as a wine with more than a dozen years in the bottle.

It's crisp, nicely fruity and mildly sweet.

And it's well-priced, going for $16.99 a bottle.



 
 
 
 
 

 
 
When we saw Stefan in Germany in early 2017 he was extremely enthusiastic about his new vintages, both in bottle and the various tank samples he was showing.
 
"I've changed my protocols and want to make wines with a bit livelier acidity." he told us.

One of the most charming of his 2015s is the Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese.

The wine is low in alcohol, perhaps around 8% with about 5% residual sugar and acidity in the mid 7/grams per liter range.

The wine is showing tremendous fruit with notes reminiscent of mango and papaya with a streak of lime.  

It's a delight now and should cellar handsomely for many years.

 

 

Currently in stock:  2015 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese $17.99
2003 DHRONER HOFBERGER Riesling Spätlese  Sale $16.99


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!

 

BRENNFLECK

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 Franconia.

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 generation!!

 

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 fragrance.  

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  Sold Out

 

DR. CRUSIUS

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 region.  

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 Riesling.  

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

 

 

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