Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

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Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

One of the goals for my Vancouver trip was to enjoy some wines not so readily available in Australia.  I’ve written about a number of wines already in that regard from both Canada and the USA, but I couldn’t help but pick up this bottle from Germany as well because not a great deal of German wine makes its way to Australia, and those that do are almost entirely Riesling.  So today it’s a wine straight out of Pfalz, the Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008.

This is my third German wine in this blog, with the first having been the Wittmann Silvaner and the second the Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Riesling.  Germany was a curious area to study at the Diploma level because for me it was heavy on theory and light on the practical.  At one point I was expected to be able to list the differences in wine quality levels and identify regions and villages, but sadly I haven’t retained a great deal of that information, largely because in Australia I have so few opportunities to make use of it.  Even here in South Australia, which has a very large German community, Barossa especially, producers may have Germanic names like Kellermeister or LiebichWein but their wines are Australian through and through.  So when I had the chance to grab a bottle of German Pinot Noir, I didn’t hesitate.

Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder in Germany, with the name meaning late ripening Burgundian.  It is the most widely planted red grape in the country, making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir, though it still accounts for a smaller percentage of production than both Riesling and Müller-Thurgau.  Red wine production as a whole in Germany is rising, though exports continue to be dominated by the white wines for which the country is better known.

This wine is from Pfalz, in the south of Germany, hemmed in between the Haardt Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the the east.  Perhaps a more familiar way for some to locate it would be to start in Alsace and follow the natural curve of the region northward and when you cross the border into Germany you are in Pfalz.  The climate is continental, and being situated in a rain shadow, it is one of the driest and sunniest German wine region.  Soil types vary along the lines of Alsace, with granite and basalt influences from the mountains, sandstone and limestone underlying the flats, and alluvial gravel washed throughout.

The J.L. Wolf wine estate was founded in 1756 in Wachenheim.  An assessment of slopes of the region was done in 1828 for tax purposes.  In the style of Burgundian classification, the Wolf estate had a number of grand cru and premier cru vineyards.  It reached something of a pinnacle mid-19th century with the construction of and estate house and villa, featured on the label.  However, in the second half of the 20th century it fell into decline.

In 1996 the estate was taken over by Ernst Loosen (of Dr. Loosen, arguably the best known quality wine brand of Germany) who wanted to produce drier, fuller bodied Pfalz Rieslings to complement the lighter wines he was already producing in the Mosel.  In addition, the Dr. Loosen collection of wines was expanded to include the Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir of the estate, as well as Gewürztraminer and Silvaner.  The current production range includes entry level Villa Wolf varietals (including a Pinot Noir rosé) and Rieslings from village, classified vineyard and first-grown vineyard levels of quality.

[While I'm fairly certain this bottle falls into the entry level varietal collection, it is branded Johann Wolf whereas every other wine referenced on the company website is branded J.L. Wolf.]

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus ruby colour and quick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of raspberry, some sour cherry, and herbs.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus alcohol, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus tannins, medium plus acidity, and medium plus length.  There are notes of raspberry, pencil lead, sour cherry, and just a bit of cranberry.

This is a good wine.  It’s fruity for a Pinot Noir in a very New World style.  The fruit though is fresh – not candied.  The alcohol sticks out a bit even though the bottle only indicates 12.5% ABV.  It’s not overly complex but it is certainly not simple.  I would think this wine would be unlikely to make it to Australia, in that the style is too similar to locally produced wines and with taxation it would be priced above its direct competition.  Still, I am very glad I was able to try it because it was certainly enjoyable and not something I see very often.

Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese 1993

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Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese 1993

Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese 1993

Friday afternoon down here, all was right in the world.  Curiosity was safely on Mars, the US Women’s Soccer team had won gold, and thanks to a tweet from Jancis, tons of people had checked out the WSET Diploma OCW links I set up.  I couldn’t have wanted anything more, really.  And then I got a message asking why my pages were redirecting to some porn site.  Ugh.  Four hours later, everything was back to normal except for me, still a bit shaken and extremely annoyed with my provider.  Rather than holding on to that, I need to focus on what this blog is about, and that’s reporting on what I’ve been drinking.  And with that I’m going for one of the types of wines most beloved by those in the wine trade, an aged German Riesling, the Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese 1993.

Across the industry when you talk with people who are serious about wine, a disproportionate number have a deep-seated love of German Riesling, and with good reason.  They can be things of beauty, ranging from crisp and dry through to luscious, with ageing profiles that can start floral and lifted, transitioning to a delicious petrol.  They can be among the longest lasting wines in the world, made with equal parts artistry and precision.  Even the vineyards themselves are amazing, often on slopes not just too steep for mechanization but even impassable for pickers without the use of ropes and harnesses.  It’s easy to see why people who have tasted and know a little about German Riesling so often love it.

It’s more difficult to explain why that is not a more universally held opinion.  I’d rather not delve into it more than to state the obvious by saying that German wine labels can be more intimidating than most, wine is a fashion-driven industry so what is popular often has little or nothing to do with wine quality, and finally there are a number of misconceptions as to what to expect from contemporary German wine based on wines that were popular in the 1980s.  Suffice it to say that none of those are good reasons why German Riesling can’t be the next big thing, though bear in mind that people in the trade who love it have been saying that for decades.

I’ve written about Rieslings from Clare, Australia and Alsace, France, so the variety is not new to this blog.  While Riesling is certainly grown in many other places in both the Old World and the New, it’s most closely linked with Germany and is thought to have originated in the Rhine.  Within Germany it is the most widely planted grape with just over 20% of all plantings and over a third of all white plantings.  It is believed to be very expressive of the soil on which it’s grown, and is rarely influenced by oak, though often exposed to very old/neutral oak during fermentation.  As I mentioned, it’s made into wines of a wide range of quality levels, alcohol levels and sweetness, as well as being a major component in German sparkling wine, sekt.

This wine is from the Mosel region of Germany, which takes its name and geography from the river.  It stretches from the area where the borders of Germany, France and Luxembourg meet, and travels northeast to where the Mosel feeds into the Rhine river at Koblenz.  (France and Luxembourg also have their own appellations on the river as it winds its way through their respective countries, though then known as Moselle.)  Up until 2007 the area was named additionally for two tributaries of the Mosel, hence the (correct in 1993) Mosel – Saar – Ruwer origin on the label, but that was updated to simply Mosel with six subregions, or districts, and this wine is from the Saar district.

District Saar is best known for struggling to achieve ripeness, which it has been  historically able to do roughly 40% of the time.  When it does, the wines are prized for their lusciousness, kept in line by sharp acidity resulting in a steely quality.  The climate is continental, with warm summers and winters cold enough to allow some production of ice wine.  Wine production is all about specific sites, and the best vines are planted on steep, south facing slopes in order to maximize sunlight on the vines, and hence chances of ripening.  Soils are generally slate.

Since I mentioned German wine labels, this one is worth breaking down.  Across the top is the name of the region (though now changed).  Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken is the producer, named after Ferdinand Geltz, 19th century Royal Prussian District Forester.  Though his original estate was divided and subdivided subsequently, his daughters and grand daughters (along with their husbands) have carried on the family business, picking up the name Zilliken through marriage in 1947.  Saarburger Rausch is a famous vineyard in the Saar region, just across the river from the town of Saarburg.  Riesling Spätlese refers to the grape and style, with Spätlese meaning literally late harvest, at least a week after the normal harvest date.  Spätlese as a term on its own is used for a semi-sweet style of wine, though it can come with qualifiers for halbtrocken (off-dry) and trocken (dry) styles as well.

This wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour and a quick film inside the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean with medium intensity and is fully developed.  There’s a bit of pear, minerals, and many layers of petroleum products from petrol through to motor oil, with a hint of blossom.  On the palate it’s off dry, but not what I think of as a traditional dessert wine.  There’s some sugar, but the wine is structured such that it isn’t the first thing you notice.  It has high acidity, medium body, low alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and a medium plus finish.  There are notes of grapefruit, kerosene, a hint of honey, and some pear and blossom tea on the finish.

This is a very good wine, though somewhat rare in these parts.  It’s perfectly balanced, between the sweetness and acidity, and has a complex range of flavours.  While I, along with much of the wine trade, bemoan the fact that wines such as this aren’t more widely appreciated, there is some consolation in the fact that it means they can represent a great value proposition, and given their ageing potential there’s no excuse not to cellar a case or two whenever you can.

Wittmann Silvaner “S” Trocken 2005

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Wittmann Silvaner “S” Trocken 2005

Wittmann Silvaner “S” Trocken 2005

Let me start with a quote from Jancis Robinson:  You may well think I have gone barking mad with this week’s choice. Rheinhessen Silvaner? Has she finally lost it?

That is how she started her review of this wine, the Wittmann Silvaner “S” Trocken, though she was reviewing the 2004 vintage while I have a bottle of the 2005.  She liked it enough to make it her wine of the week, despite it being somewhat out there.  I’m tasting under different circumstances, in that she had a wine that was roughtly 12 months old, whereas I’m tasting the following vintage at six and a half year after vintage.

I’ve been meaning to write up a German wine for some time, and would have had a perfect opportunity when I looked to Rieslings a week and a bit ago.  However, I  had just pulled some old, local Riesling out of the cellar, and was given another bottle as a gift, and so I didn’t want to do yet another Riesling in such a short span of time.  So this past weekend I went into a local merchant and asked for a German wine that wasn’t a Riesling, expecting to find a Spätburgunder.  Instead, they managed to dig up this Silvaner, so I get to cover a new country and a new grape.

The study of German wines has been a challenge for me as a student, and it has little to do with the wines themselves.  First there is the language, which I don’t speak, and so it adds a slight level of complexity to the situation as a whole.  Of course, most wine is made outside the English speaking world, but the wines of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and South America share a romance language base.  So Pinot Noir and Pinot Nero seem to have more in common with each other than they do with Spätburgunder even if they’re all the same grape.  There’s also the complexities of German wine laws as well as the same again with regard to labels.

The second main problem with studying German wines is that they just don’t turn up that often around here.  There are areas of South Australia with major German influences, and even a few that are growing some lesser-known German grapes, but in terms of actual German wines, you’re likely to find some Dr. Loosen Riesling (which is excellent) but very little beyond that.  Around here it’s relatively simple to do a tasting tour around France or Italy just using widely available imports, but much more difficult to do the same for Germany.

However, rather than bemoaning the problems with appreciating German wines, instead I should start appreciating the one I have right here.  This wine is from Rheinhessen, which is roughly in the southwest of the country.  The region is defined by the river Rhein as it’s northern and eastern boundary, with the classic notion of German vineyards being one of vines planted on steep slopes down to the water’s edge, in just the right aspect to make the most of the direct sun and the reflected light from the water.  While the best vineyards are in the east by the river, in truth, there’s a large area under vine, some of it quite a ways from the river and some on rather flat terrain.  While firmly continental in climate, the area is sheltered from wine and rain by hills to the west and the Rhine itself is a moderating influence on temperatures, providing frost protection.

There are a variety of soils in the area, with the most famous being a red slope of slate in the east between Oppenheim and Nackenheim, along the Rhine, which is well known for it’s white grape cultivation.  Wonnegau, between Alzey and Works in the south, is best know for chalky soils and the production of fine dry Silvaners.  It is also the region in which Wittmann is based.  Much of the rest of the region has relatively bland, fertile farmland which is used for a mixture of crops, with grapes being but one.

Grapes grown is Rheinhessen are primarily white, with Müller-Thugau, Riesling and Silvaner being the most widely planted, though Dornfelder, Blauer Portugieser and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) have considerable plantings as well.  While the vast majority of wine produced is sold as bulk wine, with much of it bottled outside the region, there has been a movement toward fine wines, particularly Riesling and Silvaner, by some producers.

I can’t write about Rheinhessen without at least giving passing mention to Liebfraumilch, meaning ”beloved lady’s milk”.  It’s a semi-sweet white wine that is produced in the area, as well as a few others, and sold mainly as an export.  Black Tower and Blue Nun, both of Rheinhessen, are likely the most famous such wine brands, though Blue Nun no longer uses the classification.  While such wines certainly have their place, and can be wildly popular, they represent a challenge to producers of fine wine in terms of differentiation.

Silvaner is a classic German white grape, though thought to have originated in Transylvania.  It is early ripening, sensitive to frost, and fairly productive.  It is known for high acidity, though not as high as Riesling.   It is otherwise relatively mild, which can be seen as a blank slate through which terroir can be expressed.  It’s Germany’s third most planted white grape, after Riesling and Müller-Thugau, though it’s popularity is somewhat in decline of late.  It has not made many inroads internationally, though there are plantings in California and Australia.

Weingut Wittmann is a family run winery in Westhofen, in the southern area of Rheinhessen.  Run by Philipp Wittmann and his parents, Gunther and Elisabeth, their vines are organically and biodynamically grown.  They produce a wide range of trocken (dry) wines, largely varietal, from Riesling, Silvaner, Scheurebe, Weisser Burgunder (Chardonnay),  Greuer Burgunder (Pinot Gris), and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), as well as a number of sweet Rieslings, and a sparkler.  Likewise their have wines that are easy drinking, everyday wines to much pricier single vineyard releases.

This wine, their Silvaner “S” Trocken, is in the higher end of their range, though they seem to have reorganized their categories slightly since 2005 as their “S” line now only has Chardonnay.

In the glass, this wine is pale lemon, with green highlights.  The nose is clean, with a strong citrus character of bitter lemon.  It’s still developing, despite the years.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus acid, medium plus body, and medium alcohol.  I get notes of lemon, pear, some lanolin, honeycomb, and sandalwood.  It has a slightly waxy finish, with only a medium minus length.

I like this wine, and I’ll certainly put it in the good category.  It’s not overly complex, but it is very pleasant in a linear way.  I had been told that Silvaner can resemble Riesling in the glass, but I’m not finding that to be true in this case, certainly not with this older example.  If I had been served this blind, I would have put it somewhere between Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris.  The pear notes and the way it’s become slightly honeyed are showing very well.