Jamie Goode and Treve Ring explore Sekt, Germany's sparkling wine
Part 3, Reichsrat von Buhl

One of the biggest boosts to quality Sekt production in Germany was the arrival at Reischrat von Buhl of ex Bollinger chef de caves, Mathieu Kauffmann (pictured above), in time for the 2013 vintage.


This was once one of the world’s great wine estates, but over the years, bits of the estate were sold off, and it ended up at its current size of just over 50 hectares of vineyards. However, its vineyard holdings, albeit reduced, are quite amazing, with many grand cru and premier cru sites across Deidesheim, Forst and Ruppertsberg, including Kirchenstück, Pechstein, Jesuitengarten, Freundstück, Leinhöhle, Herrgottsacker, Kiesleberg and Paradiesgarten.


In 2005 the winery was bought by Achim Niederberger, but at the time it was still under lease to Japanese businessman Toyohiro Tokuoka, with the lease expiring in 2013. So Achim had eight years to build his team, and in 2013 managing director Richard Grosche and winemaker Mathieu Kauffmann (who previously completed a 12-year stint in charge of Bollinger, after working on sparkling wines in Alsace) took over. Grosche had convinced Achim (who sadly died in 2013) that von Buhl was a sleeping giant, with its astonishing vineyard holdings. Our tasting of Rieslings showed that the new regime is nailing it: these are truly brilliant wines.


The vineyards are now being managed biodynamically, and the cellar is new, and impressive. Mathieu has had to start again, buying new large oak (2400 litre dopplestücks, which differ markedly by manufacturer, he says) each year to repopulate the stunning underground facility so that he can make the wines he likes. He favours large oak, minimal use of sulfur dioxide during vinification, long lees ageing and minimal movement of the wine.

How has the transition been for Mathieu? ‘Well, I’m originally from Alsace, so it is quite easy for me to speak German. Alsatian dialect is my mother language so it is quite easy to understand and speak German, and my wife is a German teacher, so it was easy for me and my wife, but a little more complicated for my children. But they are speaking quite good German after 3 years.’ He went on to say that life in the Rhine Valley is a little different than life in Champagne.


‘The potential of German wine is very big, in still wines and sparkling wines, and the potential of Riesling is enormous,’ says Mathieu. ‘Riesling is more current that Chardonnay now, and the potential of Riesling is huge, with the acidity and the fruit, and the different types of soils – sandstone, basalt and chalk.

Mathieu has already been here three years, but it is still early days in the sparkling wine project. ‘To make a big sparkling you need a minimum of 10 years, so you have to invest a lot of money. I don’t know a lot of people who want to do this. You cannot make a sparkling in 2 years, you need 10 years.’ He says that lots of people make ordinary Sekt, but few make serious Sekt. The long-term nature of the von Buhl project was one of the factors that encouraged him to make the shift from France to Germany.

 Until the estate sparklings from biodynamically-grown grapes are ready (this is the 10 year project), he has made what he calls ‘normal’ sparkling wines, and these have already won awards. Current production of Sekt today is 200 000 bottles. Most Sekt, he points out, is made from normal still wine base, which is then turned into Sekt. ‘It’s a normal wine with normal pressing and normal bitterness. I choose the grapes and I use only the cuvee and so I have the acid and the fruit and not the bitterness.’

‘The big difference is the time of harvest, the pressing and the sulphites. I have I think 5-6 ppm, which is 10 times less than the others. Here I put 10 ppm with the dosage - at Bollinger it was zero. People say “wait 6 months and Kauffmann will make bad things, because you can’t make sparkling without sulphite.”’

He also picks early: 10 days before the main harvest. ‘I pick the grapes with maximum 11 potential alcohol. Sparkling has to have acidity and freshness.’ Yields matter: ‘dropping crop from 5000 to 3000 kg/hectare makes a world of difference,’ he says. Interestingly, while in Alsace Mathieu could buy good base wines, this isn’t possible in Germany because there are none available.

He’s another believer in sparkling wines from Riesling. ‘A lot of people said to me: you cannot do a good sparkling wine with Riesling. Some Riesling has the petrol tone and it is not easy to drink in sparkling wine. I think it is like the bad tone in Pinot Meunier. If the wine is pressed badly, the wine ages very fast. Pinot Meunier can do this in Champagne. I said, let me make a test. The first Riesling I made, after two or three years it has no petrol, it is all about the fruit. In my Riesling, it is not the full set of Riesling aromas because of the ripeness and the pressing. Some aromas from the skin of the Riesling grape I cannot extract because of my light pressing. It is not a big Riesling typicity.’

Mathieu says it is hard not being able to show his best wines for a number of years. ‘It is crazy to wait several years without selling any bottles. I want to prove that the potential for German sparkling wine is big. I cannot do it twice in my life.’

Goode Notes

Reichsrat von Buhl Brut Réserve NV Pfalz, Germany
2013 and 2014 blend, bottled in 2015. 80% Pinot Blanc, 20% Chadonnay. Half of each vintage. 80% stainless steel, 20% wood. 5 g/l dosage. Fruity and intense after 12 months on the lees. Bright and fruity with some creamy hints and attractive citrus fruit. Pretty with some pear and grapefruit. Linear and focused with really pretty fruit. Not massively complex but delicious. 90/100

Reichstrat Von Buhl Riesling Brut 2014 Pfalz, Germany
Very pithy, lively ad intense. Lovely pure citrussy fruit with a bit of pithiness and hints of ripe apple. Deliciously focused with nice clean, linear fruit. Has really nice acidity and purity. Has a hint of ripe apple and apricot on the finish. Lovely stuff. 91/100

Reichsrat Von Buhl Rosé Brut 2014 Pflaz, Germany
100% Pinot Noir. It is only skin contact, it’s direct pressing. Destem grapes into press, wait a few hours and then press. 100% skin contact. Vivid red/orange colour. Lovely direct cherry and citrus fruit here. Very fresh and fine with a bit of grip. Lovely purity of fruit: raspberries and red currants with lively lemony acidity. Needs a bit of time to settle down. Lovely. 90/100


Ring Notes

Reichsrat von Buhl Brut Réserve NV Pfalz, Germany
A blend of 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Chardonnay from 2013 and 2014, this spent 12 months on the lees and was blended 2015, before a release of 2018. 20% of this wine was in wood, with the remainder in stainless steel. Bright lemon, crisp green apple, with lovely drive and brisk, refreshing pithy acidity on the finish. Quenching. 5 g/l dosage. 90/100

Reichstrat Von Buhl Riesling Brut 2014 Pfalz, Germany
This structured and proper fizz brings light dough, nuts and fine yeast to a creamy palate, one that drives with lemon, green apple and fine, firm acidity to the finish. Light apricot and a dusting of chalk and fine salts lends texture. The 2014 was picked very early, so a splash of the later harvested 2013 was blended in to complement and balance the vibrant riff of acidity. 92/100

Reichsrat Von Buhl Rosé Brut 2014 Pflaz, Germany
Deeper, bright pink hue, this 100% pinot noir is from the 2014 vintage. Skin contact for a few hours, and then direct press into stainless. Beauty freshness and purity. Brisk, fresh and bright, with fine wild strawberry, subtle cherry, white grapefruit pith acidity and subtle raspberry blossoms on the finish. Pristine. 91/100


Wines tasted 09/16  
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