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
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
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."
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
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 2016
"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
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:
2016 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 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.
"ESTATE RIESLING" is a term you'll frequently see on
recent vintages as German wineries try to please consumers with non-vineyard specific
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 2016s 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: 2016 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling
2003 DHRONER HOFBERGER Riesling Spätlese Sale $16.99 (last bottles)
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!
MAX FERDINAND RICHTER
tempted to say the wines from this estate are earth-shaking and they're measured
on the "Richter Scale," but we're going to resist that temptation and
say we've tasted some pretty good wines from this family-operated winery over
Even if they're not earth-shaking, we've found reliably good wines and they are
typically well-priced, another feature that garners our attention.
They Richter family can trace its Mosel roots back to 1680 in the village of
Brauneberg. Around the time the 13 Colonies were declaring their
independence from the British crown, the family mansion was built and surrounded
by a nice little garden. The winery building was constructed in the 1880s.
The vineyards, averaging these days about 40 years of age, are planted primarily
to Riesling, with a small bit of Pinot Blanc.
The Richters, father Dirk and son Constantin, work the vineyards in an organic
manner. They, like most small vintners, point to the vineyard as the
source of the quality of their wines.
Vineyard parcels in top Mosel sites such as Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Brauneberger
Juffer and Graacher Himmelreich are found here. But if you don't mind
flying a bit below the radar, how about Veldenzer Elisenberg?
The Veldenzer hill is about 11 kilometers due south of Ürzig
and about 7 kilometers east of Piesport. It's a bit off the Mosel river
and the Richters will tell you it's a special site. Richter owns the
entire vineyard there, so you won't find other winemakers offering this.
Apparently it was viewed as an elite vineyard site as it was noted in 1885 as
being in the same league as Wehlen, Brauneberg and Graach.
The property was acquired by the family in something like 1813. The land
was cleared in preparations for planting vines and it was named after a Prussian
Empress named Louise or Louisa. Somehow it's now named after Elise and
it's known as the Elisenberg. Most of the hill faces west, but their patch
of the Elisenberg south to southwest. Grey slate and quartzite soils...the
grapes tend to achieve ripeness after their other, more famous holdings which
are closer to the river.
We tasted a 2011 vintage and found the wine to be very good and in a nice phase
of development. It's still youthful in many respects, but the bouquet is
blossoming in a most handsome fashion. In addition to the someone
melon-like fruit, we find a touch of petrol on the nose. It's off-dry and
sports good acidity,
And the 2011 is well-priced...a mature Riesling with soul and it's just
Currently in stock: MAX FERD RICHTER 2011
VELDENZER ELISENBERG RIESLING Kabinett $19.99
- From an old price-list:
- A snapshot provided by the winery as they were cleaning the tanks in
preparation for harvest and a new vintage.
- MFR=Miraculously Fine Riesling?
Vineyards on the Veldenzer Elisenberg site
- 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