The Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine region. With more than 26 000 hectares under vine, it’s responsible for more than a quarter of the country’s vineyard area, although the Pfalz actually makes more wine.
It’s bordered by the Rhine to the north and west as it loops through 90 degrees. To the east there’s the Nahe river, and to the south the Hardt mountains. The best sites have traditionally been those along the Rhine.
It’s a region that in the past hasn’t been associated with high quality wine production, but this is changing. As with so many of Europe’s wine regions, the younger generation are well travelled, and when they bring back new ideas and fresh ways of thinking to their family domains, things begin to change. Also, there’s now a market for more interesting, terroir driven wines from Germany that simply wasn’t there before: if you have a decent patch of land, then the investment required to make high quality wine has a chance of paying off.
Interesting fact: this is where Pinot first landed in Germany. Charlemagne brought the three Pinot varieties to Ingelheim where he had a residence in the 9th century. These vines were first planted in selected sites in the neighbouring Rheingau where people saw that the snow had melted first.
Part of the revolution in the Rheinhessen has been a move towards organics. This tasting, held in the Vinotek in Bingen, was really interesting, because it was looking at a range of wines exclusively from organic producers in the region.
One of the stars of this tasting was the Silvaner variety. 9% of the region is planted to Silvaner these days, and it’s currently the fourth-most planted variety. Some 50 years ago half of the region was planted with Silvaner, but this variety has steadily been replaced, first of all by the likes of Huxelrebe and other high-producing varieties, and then in the 1990s there was a red wine boom where a lot of Dornfelder was planted (currently the third-most planted variety after Riesling and Müller-Thurgau). There are lots of interesting old Silvaner vineyards left in the region and it does really well here. Many wines are labelled Grüner Silvaner (for green, as opposed to the much rarer blue variant). Some spell it Sylvaner, as it is spelled in Alsace. Silvaner is easy in the vineyard but difficult in the cellar, winegrowers say. If a vinter is able to make good Silvaner you can trust the rest of their range. But Sylvaner can’t reach the heady heights of a Grosses Gewachs in the VDP system, which in Rheinhessen only allows this accolade for Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Kurfürst von Dalberg Sektmanufaktur Riesling Sekt Extra Brut 2012 Rheinhessen, Germany Started just five years ago. Traditional method with long ageing on the lees. Lively, aromatic and focused. Citrussy and intense with good acidity and purity. Has citrussy precision here: lovely detailed, fresh style. 91/100
Sekthaus Raumland Blanc de Noir Prestige Brut 2007 Rheinhessen, Germany
Distinctive herb, cabbage and citrus nose. Some sweet pear notes, too. Powerfu cherry, pear and fig fruity characters. Lovely depth of flavour here with real depth and keen acidity. Some toasty notes, too. Rich. 89/100
Kroenenhof Grüner Silvaner Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
Very tight, lemony and fruity with precise citrus and pear fruit. Very clean and fruity with nice acidity and a stony edge to the fruit. It’s not massively fruity but has a concentration of stone and herb characters. Has a lovely finish. 90/100
Gebrüder Dr Becker Ludwigshöhe Silvaner Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Dr Becker is one of the pioneers of organic winegrowing in the region. Mineral and stony but also lovely richness with sweet pear, melon and apple fruit. Very textural but still has this lively stony edge and nice mineral core, but this has quite low acidity. 91/100
Battenfeld-Spanier Leopold Grüner Sylvaner 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany Some limestone with some red stones too. Beautiful wine that’s appley, stony and grapey with some citrus notes. Very lively with good acidity and a hint of sweetness. Some smoky, mineral notes, and a lovely finish. Lovely acidity on the finish. Delicious wine. 92/100
Weingut Julius Silvaner Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
From the south of the region close to Worms, from a loam/loess soil. Lively and fresh with lovely textured pear and lemon fruit. Has a bit of richness here, with lovely dense, pure fruit and some nice subtle herby notes, as well as some stoniness. Fruity and delightful. 89/100
Dr Eva Vollmer Scheurebe Kalkader Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
Today 725 ha in Rheinhessen. Became popular because of its resistance for chlorosis in limestone soils. Popular in restaurants. Lively, spritzy, talcum-edged citrus fruit with some spiciness. Linear and dry with a lovely bright fruity quality. Juicy with a bit of fruit sweetness. Very approachable. 88/100
Weinreich Stein Weissburgunder Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Textured and broad with lovely richness and melon and pear with some spiciness. Richly textured and generous with broad fruit flavours. Nice wine. 89/100
Wittmann Weisserburgunder Trocken Reserve 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Lovely citrus and pear fruit here with some marmalade and spice. Has some melony richness countered by nice citrussy acidity. A bit creamy with lovely depth and some grape character. Serious Pinot Blanc. 92/100
Dreissigacker Morstein Riesling Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
13% alcohol, bone dry. Has 30% cask fermentation, plus some skin contact. Pure limestone here. Lively, textured citrus fruit with some ripe apple and pear. Complex and intense with a lovely mineral character and fine spiciness. So pure and intense with some real complexity and good acidity. 94/100
Gysler Riesling Klangwerk Vum Helle Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Red sandstone soil. 8 g/l residual sugar and acidity. Amazing acidity here – precise and pure with lovely citrus fruits but also a bit of melon and honey detail and richness. Some marmalade notes, too. Very fine and expressive with real complexity. 93/100
Sander Riesling Mettenheimer Schlossberg Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
A pioneer of organic winegrowing in Germany. Loess soils, which tend to make fruitier wines for earlier drinking. Powerful and rounded with lovely baked apple and lemon fruit. Textured and generous with some acidity but also broad pear and apple with a hint of nuts and fennel. 89/100
Hirschoff Riesling ‘S’ Westhofener Aulerde Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
Clay soils. There’s a hint of bacon savouriness with nicely rounded pear and citrus fruit, as well as a bit of sweetness on the finish. There’s an attractive acid core to this wine, which finishes quite mineral. Lovely long acidic finish. 91/100
Arndt F Werner Blauer Spätburgunder Ingelheimer Burgberg Trocken 2013 Rheinhessen, Germany
Cherries and herbs with a hint of cola and some green-tinged undergrowth notes. Lively, tangy acidity here. Warm, spicy and a bit jammy with very sweet fruit. 86/100
Runkel Spätburgunder Trocken 2011 Rheinhessen, Germany
From the south of the region. Aromatic with spices, cherries and herbs. Nice rich texture with some herbiness and a bit of tang on the finish. Vivid, spicy and quite herby with supple sweet cherry and strawberry fruit. 88/100
I’m in Germany. On a press trip focusing on organic German wines. As of 2013, the most recent figures I have, Germany has 7800 hectares of certified organically farmed vineyards, which represents 7.6% of its total vineyard area (figures from Helga Willer’s 2015 report titled Organic Viticulture Worldwide). And the trend has pretty closely tracked global growth in organics (back in 2004, for example, Germany had around 2300 hectares organically farmed).
Over the next few days we’ll be visiting organic growers in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Rheingau, as well as focusing a bit on Sekt and attending the VdP tastings. So it’s a varied program, and complements my earlier visit to Germany this summer pretty well.
Andreas, Stefan and Simone Rings enjoying being papped by the group
Yesterday began with a visit to Weingut Rings in Freinsheim. This is a relatively new producer from a village not previously associated with quality wine. Sister and brothers Simone, Andreas and Steffan Rings run things here, and make some really impressive dry Rieslings.
They also have a love for Pinot Noir, and the results are distinctive. The Pinots are harvested early with high acidity (pH 3 resulting in wines around pH 3.2 after malolactic), which emphasises the bright fruit. This is so they can safely use a low sulphur dioxide regime in the winery. I found the Pinots difficult to love, although I admired their purity and focus. But I really liked the Rieslings, especially the Steinacker 2015 and Weilberg 2014.
Then we went to lunch at Bistro 1718 with Bassermann-Jordan, a historic producer in Deidesheim, which is a very pretty town in the Pfalz. They have 50 hectares farmed organically. Two Rieslings impressed particularly here (it’s their main focus by far).
The 2015 Hoheberg Erste Lage was lively, precise and pure with an almost saline quality, and the 2012 Hohenmorgen Grosses Gewaches was all spicy, nutty, waxy intensity along with ripe citrus fruit, and had the richness to match even red meats.
Volker Raumland, Sekt star
The afternoon began with a focus on Sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine. A lot of Sekt is made, and most of it isn’t great. Just a small proportion is of the more ambitious traditional method style, and we looked at wines from Sekthaus Raumland, Schloss Vaux and Wilhelmshof, in a detailed, well organized tasting at Wilhelmshof. There were a variety of styles, but I found a lot to like. Pictured above is Volker Raumland, whose wines I liked a great deal.
We had a stroll through some vineyards after the tasting. The 2016 vintage has been very difficult for mildew in the Pfalz, and many organic growers have struggled containing it. Some have lost a good portion of their crop to downy mildew.
Riesling that’s been hammered by downy mildew: very few grapes made it
This is the side of organics little discussed: the very real risk of losing money in a tricky year because of the limited disease control options.
The evening was spent at Benzinger, in Kirchheim. Over a lovely dinner we tasted through their range, including three very distinctive orange wines, made from Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, and a blend of the two. These are made without any added sulphites, and they are quite distinctive. They’ve proved very popular with customers, and are currently only made in tiny quantities. Surprisingly food compatible, it’s good to see wines like this emerging.
I had these lovely grower Champagnes in a wine bar in Reims (the excellent Au Bon Manger, 7 Rue Courmeaux). Anyone who thinks of Champagne merely in terms of the Grand Marques needs to think again. Anyone who doesn’t think Champagne is a terroir wine needs to think again. I need to go back, soon.
Champagne Emmanuel Brochet Le Mont Benoit NV France
40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir. Salty, tangy and intense with lovely citrus and herb notes. Finesse here with a lovely lemony finish. 93/100
Champagne Charlot-Tanneux Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Elia NV France From Mardeuil, this is 12.7% alcohol and has 7 g/l dosage. It’s based on the 2006 harvest ad is from a premier cru vineyard, selection massale vines, fermented with wild yeast in small oak, no malolactic. 1900 bottles made, disgorged January 2015. Very pure and fine with some sweetness to the citrus fruit, with depth. Quite linear, though. Fine acidity and a lovely mellow crystalline core. Slightly honeyed, but quite mineral too. 93/100
Champagne David Léclapart l’Amateur 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Pas Dosé NV France
Very fine, fresh, textured and mineral with fine pear and citrus fruit. So pure and linear with notes of anise and a nice savoury edge. Focused and poised. 94/100
Champagne Augustin Cuvée CCC1 Element Feu Cuvée 301 1er Cru NV France
Disgorged 17/05/15. 8.6 g/l dosage, 12% alcohol. Bold, rich and toasty. Very smooth and intense with lovely richness. Great depth here with sweet toasty notes dominating. Rich pear and peach fruit. Powerful and appealing. 90/100
Champagne Chevreux-Bournazel La Parcelle NV France
This spends 11 months in oak, 11.7% alcohol. This has an interesting story. A couple used to work in a steeply sloped vineyard and the owner decided to sell it. He asked them if they wanted to buy it but they had no money. They went to Vincent Charlot-Tanneaux, and he helped them. They now make 650 bottles from this plot. It’s very tight and fresh, linear and mineral, with fresh citrus and pear fruit, lovely lemony acidity and nice spiciness. 92/100
Justin Howard-Sneyd’s Domaine of the Bee is based on three small plots of old bush vines in Cathar country, deep in the south of France near the village of Maury. Normally, the wines are made in a rich, bold, opulent style, but with this new release, a Grenache, they’ve opted to aim for a more elegant style, because that’s what the vintage was giving them naturally. I really like it, and I love the label.
Grenache is the Pinot Noir of the south, and I think it works best made in a less extracted style like this.
Domaine of the Bee The Bee-Side Grenache 2014 IGP Côtes Catalans, France
14% alcohol. From the Coume de Roy and Bac de Genievres vineyards. Beautifully aromatic sweet black cherry and raspberry fruit nose. The palate is silky and quite elegant with fruit sweetness but also a stony, mineral core. Ripe, with good concentration, but also restraint. A lovely example of Grenache. 91/100 (£18 direct sales from www.domaineofthebee.com; £14.40 for wine club members)
I’m just on the way home from Lisbon. I’ve spent today consulting for a major Alentejo winery that changed hands a while back. The new owner is smart enough to seek outside opinions before making changes, and through his new winemaker made an approach to me.
So I visited, looked around the vineyards, had a look at the winery, and spent some time tasting through the existing range of wines. What did I think of the style of the wines? What about the composition of the range? How’s the packaging? In the vineyard, is the varietal mix right? Irrigated or dry grown? What about picking decisions? We considered these sorts of questions.
The owner spent some time talking through their own thoughts on how to move things forwards. I shared my views.
Alicante Bouschet, a teinturier (red fleshed) variety that’s popular in the Alentejo
I know it isn’t normal for journalists to act as consultants to wineries. It also creates some ethical issues if the relationship is any more than just a one-off session: for example, if there were an ongoing gig this would have to be declared at every mention of the winery, and it wouldn’t be possible to review the wines in the normal journalistic fashion.
But I’ve begun to realize that after several years of travelling the wine world, visiting wine regions and wineries, and asking lots of questions – coupled with a good grounding in technical aspects of winegrowing – that I have quite a bit of valuable experience. Pair this with good judgement, and an understanding of the various segments of the marketplace, and it makes sense to do some consulting from time to time. It’s also work that I enjoy a lot.
One of the main things that travelling extensively through the wine world has taught me is that there is no recipe. Steps that lead to success in one region or country, or one segment of the marketplace, might be a mistake in others. It’s not an exact science, and you have to spend time considering the specific needs of any one project before you give suggestions. And there’s another thing: good consultants empower their clients, while bad ones keep them in dependency.
Cabernet Sauvignon can do pretty well in the region
It was lovely to be in the vineyards today, in the Alentejo – a region I have a lot of time for. It was hot, close to 40 C, but it’s a dry heat. The vintage here is starting in a few days for the whites, while the reds will begin coming in in a couple of weeks. Cabernet Sauvignon was looking very good, Aragonez a little less so, and Alicante Bouschet, the red fleshed teinturier, was looking pretty smart. It’s always nice to be in the vineyard right before harvest, seeing the grapes on the vines. Soon they will be transformed by the action of microbes into wine. It’s an exciting time of year.
Popped over to spend a very pleasant evening with Daniel Primack, who among other things established Zalto in the UK, to the eternal debt of serious wine lovers across the nation. We had a few lovely wines, including this pair. The Meinklang is a beautiful wine: not perfect, but with immense charm and an astonishing texture. And the Thörle was drinking at its peak. We had it with very good fish and chips, and watched music videos.
Meinklang Konkret Rot 2012 Burgenland, Austria
13% alcohol. This is a varietal Saint Laurent, fermented and aged in 900 litre concrete eggs for 12 months. It’s aromatic and floral with lifted raspberry and cranberry fruit. So floral and focused, with a little bit of sweetness from the subtly elevated volatile acidity. The palate has amazing texture and concentration of smooth, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Concentrated and quite profound, with purity and texture, and a grainy, mineral, slightly chalky edge. 95/100
Thörle Saulheimer Hölle Riesling Trocken 2011 Rheinhessen, Germany
13.5% alcohol. I’ve tasted this single-vineyard Riesling before and loved it. This time, it didn’t disappoint. Rich, powerful, spicy and delicious with some marmalade, melon, lemon and tangerine notes. Powerful and complex with a touch of apricot on the finish, as well as some crystalline fruits. Nice acidity. 94/100
Not to be confused with the Côtes du Rhône domaine of the same name, Domaine Clavel has vineyards in four different Languedoc terroirs: Pic St Loup, Grès de Montpellier, La Méjanelle and Saint Christol, with 33 hectares in all. The farming is organic.
This, their entry level red, is really smart. It’s from Grès de Montpellier, and comes from sandstone pebbles over a clay/limestone base. It’s remarkable value for money. A blend of Carignan/Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache fermented and aged in concrete tanks with no oak.
Domaine Clavel Le Mas 2015 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
13.5% alcohol. This organic southern red has a lovely floral black cherry nose with some peppery hints, and some wet stones. The palate is juicy and bright but has lovely depth of cherry fruit with a touch of meatiness and some gravelly grip. Satisfying and delicious. 91/100 (£9.50 Tanners)
This is a lovely Roussanne from California’s Santa Maria Valley.
It’s made by Peter Hunken and Amy Christine, the duo behind Black Sheep Finds, based in Lompoc’s famous wine ghetto. Peter was previously with Stolpman Vineyards, working with winemaker Sashi Moorman. Along with Sashi, he started Piedrasassi and Holus Bolus, in 2003. In 2008 Sashi and Peter parted company, and Peter took Holus Bolus and Sashi Piedrasassi. In the meantime, Peter had started Black Sheep Finds with Amy in 2005, and so Holus Bolus was incorporated into that winery project.
The couple now have a 30 year lease on five acres of the Hayes Ranch in the Santa Rita Hills, so soon they will be part estate/part negociant. Peter is now full time on this project, while Amy, who in 2013 became and MW, still works for Kermit Lynch, and also does a bit of sommelier work.
This is their fourth vintage of the Roussanne, and this time the grapes were sourced from the Bien Nacido vineyard. The wine is made from a small block, just under an acre, that’s biodynamically farmed, and it’s fermented and matured in seasoned 300 litre barrels, with partial malolactic.
Black Sheep Finds Holus Bolus Blanc Roussanne 2014 Santa Maria Valley, California
13.5% alcohol. Lively and bright but with some richness. Slightly pithy and lemony with white peach fruit and some fine almond and spice notes. This has some white Rhône-like richness and texture but it is beautifully balanced with a spicy, lively, citrussy finish. Depth allied to freshness, this is a restrained, detailed New World take on Roussanne. 92/100
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my twin sister, Anne. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but the conversation came on to the subject of being healthy at our advanced age.
‘Well, at least I’m not fat,’ I said.
There was a pause. Quite a long pause. This wasn’t good.
‘But you have a belly,’ she responded eventually. I was gutted. It was true!
You see, these things don’t just happen. You don’t go to bed one night and wake up in the morning with a fat belly. You get fat in increments so small that you hardly notice it. And you deny it whenever you see yourself in the mirror. I lost quite a bit of weight a few years back, dropped down a waist size, and have hovered around the same weight since, until fairly recently, it seems.
Travel has done it. When you travel in my job you eat more and exercise less. Also: I love food. I love wine. I hate the thought of dieting. So exercise is important. I ran the Marathon du Medoc in 2013 and 2014. But since then, without the focus of training for a long run, I have been exercising less. So the dreadful realisation of my belly has prompted me to decided that I need to get back to running properly. Maybe I need to do another long run?
Back in 2013, I really loved the whole experience of taking up running, with a goal in mind. And although I have done sporadic runs of late, I’ve not been running long enough distances. So it’s like starting again. At first it seems too hard: the body isn’t used to being punished this way. But it gets better. The big difference about coming back to running is that I know I can do long distances. And running is very psychological. It’s about deciding to keep going even if it would be far nicer to walk.
Even when I was running marathons, though, I was a little lazy. I ran the second marathon a bit overweight and a bit under-trained. I took it really easy. I would love to get to the stage where I’m running at a good pace, like my buddy Greg Sherwood. We’ve run together quite a bit, but he’s just that much faster than me. It probably helps that he runs most days, something I’ve not been able to commit to.
It made a big difference to me to run the first marathon. It showed me that I could be self-disciplined enough to train, and brave and strong enough to get round the 42 km course only 14 weeks after starting running. It showed me I had the potential to do better than I’d have imagined at something I’d always believed myself to be poor at (at school, I used to loath cross country runs, and would be one of the stragglers at the back of the pack).
In my job, at my age, it takes quite a lot of discipline not to become fat. I guess it’s biology. I’m grateful, though, to my sister for her honesty. Having a belly is a big risk factor for blokes my age, and I have lots of plans, there’s lot’s to see and explore, and I want to be around for a while. So I shall be running regularly.
If you are thinking about running, I’d recommend either downloading a running app to your phone (I use Runkeeper, and a shift to the iPhone SE which is smaller has helped make strapping the phone to my arm easier), or buying a GPS running watch (I had a Garmin that was pretty good). Keeping track of your distance and pace is a good motivator.
And if you see me packing on the pounds, help me out of my denial by pointing it out. But do it gently, please.
Takaki Okada came to New Zealand’s Marlborough region in 2003, and began working with Clos Henri. In 2010, he bought an 8.5 hectare vineyard that had been established by Fromm in the Brancott Valley. He began making his own wines.
Marlborough is quite dry (growing season averages around 340 ml of rain, with 640 ml the long term average for the full year) , and irrigation is normal. But Takaki did something brave: believing that the soils in this part of Marlborough have good water-holding capacity, he switched off the irrigation in 2011. Since then, he has dry-grown all his vines, except for the young ones, and also reserving the right to water in very dry seasons. For example, he did 8 h or irrigation in 2016, which had a very dry start to the year.
The picture above shows the difference between the vines at harvest time in 2011 (first year of dry growing) and in 2016 (the sixth year). The vineyard looks completely different. Growing season rainfall was 358 ml in 2011 and 256 ml in 2016 (plus the tiny bit of irrigation earlier in the season).
‘The Sauvignon Blanc is from riverbed Soil,’ says Takaki. ‘There is a small creek which dries up in the summer time, which is located at the bottom terrace of our vineyard. The Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is from clay-based soil which is located on the top terrace.’
Both blocks have not been receiving irrigation since 2011. ‘We have tested Leaf water potential just before the harvest this year,’ he explains. ‘Vines on the clay area suffer from water stress, and is not doing photosynthesis anymore. However, the vines on the stony soil are still active. I believe these vines are now reaching to the water table.’ He also points out that the vineyard has a high density of 4200 vines/ha, and he controls yields so as not to exceed 60 hl/ha, which is about 2.2kg of fruit per plant. ‘By having these conditions we could manage to operate dry farming.’
These are really interesting wines, and show that Marlborough isn’t just a one-trick pony as a wine region.
Folium Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand 14% alcohol. Concentrated and dense with lovely textured quince and citrus fruit. There’s some grassy greenness in the background, but this is a ripe, concentrated style with richness and texture. Very bold and intense. Mineral, pure and linear, showing real finesse and purity. 92/100
Folium Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol, sealed with DIAM. Smoky, spicy, mineral edge to the citrus and pear fruit nose. Intense, concentrated, mineral and textural with ripe citrus and pear fruit. There’s a lovely lemony spiciness here and good acidity, with a hint of tangerine. 93/100
Here’s a video of me tasting the Pinot Reserve 2013:
Folium Pinot Noir Reserve 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Cork-sealed. Really elegant stuff with a brooding black cherry nose and hints of spice and herbs. This is beautifully floral and opens out with time in the glass. The palate is elegant with black cherries, plums and fine grained structure. There’s a subtle hint of meatiness here. Really expressive with lots of potential for future development. 94/100