I'm still very excited about this week's visit to some of the leading German producers, even though today was mostly consumed with driving down to Devon and back (on a Friday before a bank holiday) to pick up older son from school.
It was my first visit to German vineyards, and however much you read, however much you taste the wines, it only really makes total sense for me when I actually visit the patch of land the wines come from. I guess this is why I try hard to integrate pictures and videos in with my content here at wineanorak.com - I want to give you a feel for where the wines I'm talking about come from.
For this trip, organized by ABS Wine Agencies, I was with a group of buyers and merchants - not fellow journalists. It was a great bunch of people, and we had some fun. We began by visiting Johannes Leitz in the Rheingau, and appropriately enough for a gorgeous summer's day, he took us to the vineyards around Rudesheim (below is the Schlossberg vineyard). Some of the slopes were amazingly steep, with the rows planted up and down the hill. This is quite a contrast to the Douro (another steep vineyard area which I'm very familiar with) where the vineyards are terraced when they reach a certain gradient. We went back to Leitz and tasted through a large range of wines, with a bit of lunch, too. The Leitz wines at the top end really shone, and I was quite taken by the Trockens (the drier-styled wines) from 2008.
Next stop was the Nahe, and Helmut Donnhoff (pictured top). He's one of Germany's most celebrated producers, and the wines he showed us in an extensive tasting were absolutely brilliant. We then visited two of his vineyards: the beautiful Niederhauser Hermannshole, and the spectacular Felsenberg. We tasted a couple more wines at the top of the Felsenberg as the sun set, and then headed off for dinner with Helmut and his wife.
The following morning we had a double appointment at Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen. First, Fritz and Agnes Hasselbach showed us their fantastic Gunderloch wines, and then Paul Furst came over to show us his remarkable Franconian whites and Pinot Noirs. We followed this with lunch, before heading out to view the vineyards stretching between Nachenheim and Nierstein.
Then it was off to the Mosel, for an extended visit with Ernst Loosen. We drove along the Mosel, stopping off at the Erdener Pralat vineyard, before making our way to the spectacular Urziger Wurzgarten vineyard (above) with its terrifyingly steep slopes. We also had a look at the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, before dining very well at Ernie's place. Dinner involved an extensive blind tasting of some amazing wines, including 88 Lynch Bages, a 1976 Meursault from Leroy and some old Riesling. Dinner finished at around 2 am, at which point five of us walked back to our hotel for some much needed kip, while the three who were being given a lift back to the guesthouse with Ernie somehow ended up in the bars of Bernkastel, drinking all sorts of strange things, and not getting back into bed until 04 30 h.
They paid for this the next day: they looked rather peaky when they finally showed up, an hour and a half late, for the following morning's tasting of the Loosen wines. 2008 is looking like a really good vintage for quality growers, with the extra acidity bringing brilliant freshness when there's the fruit to go with it. It's a Spatlese/Kabinett vintage, which I like.
The Bernkastel three looked even peakier on the journey to the Pfalz that followed. They were broken men. Ernie, however, was his usual self!
Our final appointment was at JL Wolf, the Loosen outfit in the Pfalz. These wines, while being very tasty, weren't in quite the same league as the others tasted on this trip. But then they are more affordable. Full write-up of all to follow.