Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Rediscovering German wines

If you are of a certain age you will have a very clear memory of German wines – inexpensive, sweet brands (Blue Nun, Black Tower). And then suddenly these wines became deeply unfashionable – our tastes moved South to the sunshine of Spain, Italy and the New World.   Liebfraumilch became the least cool drink on the planet and with it was lost a whole tranche of highly individual wines which are genuinely different and which can be of the highest quality.  And because they are not widely appreciated these wines can be very good value. So, at one level, selfishly, we don’t want too much of a revival! 

IMG_6491-1Andrea Bulcock has a lifelong love of these wines and has worked in wineries in Germany.  Her presentation for Andover Wine Friends concentrated on a handful of top producers – Wolf, Loosen, Leitz, Donnholf – but gave a Cook’s tour both of key areas and styles.  She brought out the diversity of the contemporary German wine scene.  The traditional styles of various weights and sweetness of Riesling have been joined by the new style dry Riesling and by Pinot Noir reds and even Rosé.  And that’s before you get to local grape varieties such as Lemberger or Dornfelder,

Of the ten wines shown, the range of styles was best exemplified by:

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé 2009 Rheinpfalz – J L Wolf is the second estate of Loosen but in the Rheinpfalz, not the Mosel, and so warmer and allowing a different range of wines to IMG_6488be produced.  Although still pretty far North in terms of growing vines (similar to Alsace), it is protected by the Haardt mountains and like many vine growing areas benefits from the warmer microclimate produced by the river Rhine.  This wine, with its pretty salmon pink colour, is a very creditable rosé from Pinot Noir: quite a modest nose but a lovely, surprisingly assertive palate. The trick is that it is off-dry, the small amount of residual sugar adding a lot of impact to the flavour.  At less than £8 it’s very good value.

Villa Noir Gewürztraminer 2009 Rheinpfalz – same winery, same area, completely different grape variety.  Nice and very typical nose of lychees and rose water, this Gewurz is distinctive from the versions you find in nearby Alsace by virtue of being leaner and less alcoholic, only 11.5°.  I like the big Alsace style but this is different and perhaps more food-friendly. And of course, it shows that not all whites in Germany are Riesling or medium-sweet.  Again, good value at under £8.

Johannes Leitz, Rudesheimer Bischofsberg Dry Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Rheingau, 2009.   Ok, it’s a long name in the old German manner: Rudesheim is the village name of the wine region, Rheingau, while Bischofsberg is the vineyard name, like a Premier Cru if we were in Burgundy.  And Spätlese just means late picked for richness, trocken = dry. From a top site in one of the most picturesque parts of the Rhine, this is the new face of Riesling in Germany – dry in style, in response to the numerous good dry Rieslings being made now in the New World and the trend towards uniformly dry wines. At the moment the nose is subtle rather than powerful or exotic, but this probably needs time in the bottle, while the palate is good, fruit balanced with characteristic acidity.  At around the £15 mark, it’s going to have a lot of competition.

Loosen Estate Riesling 2008 Mosel

Loosen Urzinger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2009 Mosel

Donnholf Riesling Leistenberg Kabinett 2009 Nahe

Although it is slightly heretical, in a way you can take your pick from these three, all of which represent versions of the classic German-style, two from the Mosel and one from the Nahe: pale in colour, refreshingly low in alcohol (8°), off-dry to medium sweet but with excellent acidity, long-lasting and will develop in the bottle for years or even decades.   (Kabinett is the first rung of the German quality wine ladder, Prädikat, the lightest and sometimes driest in style.) These wines have been consistently praised by wine lovers and professionals and ignored by consumers.  The first is the ideal summer drink (£8); the second two more substantial and serious, the Urzinger comes out of the glass at you, the Leistenberg is more mineral in style.  Leitz Riesling Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese Rheingau 2009 is another top-quality single-vineyard variation on this theme, if from the Rheingau.  These really need to be tasted side by side to appreciate properly the subtle differences in the depth of flavour, mineral v. fruit, length.  What this post does really not do justice to is the range of terroir – the spectacular Mosel valley, the majestic Rhine and the flatter territories of the Pfalz – which largely determine the variations. 

Leitz Riesling Klosterlay Auslese Rheingau 2006

Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese Mosel 2006

IMG_6502 If the ‘crisp and off-dry’ is quintessentially German, so is wine made in a medium to sweet style with correspondingly high acidity, from late picked Riesling.  Auslese just means ‘picked out’, ie wine made from bunches of late picked grapes, some or all some of which have been affected by botrytis. Similarly, Beerenauslese is the next category up the quality ladder, ie picked out individual grapes often affected by botrytis.  These are fantastic wines, even the Auslese showing honey, orange, apricot and herbaceous notes.  The Beerenauslese has a whacking 150g/litre of residual sugar and comes in quarter bottles, which is perfect for this style. 


Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2008 Rheinpfalz.  It was a surprise to me but Germany is the third biggest grower of Pinot Noir in the world.  This grape, which is what creates red Burgundy, has a devoted band of followers, including me, who trace it down to every corner of the earth in search of its elusive qualities – an earthy, farmyardy nose, sweet raspberry fruit, eventually a savoury perfume.  This was quite fragrant, in quite a light style, some savoury notes, good and, if you have got the bug for Pinot, excellent value at £8.75.

Many thanks to Andrea for an excellent tasting which broaden our horizons and to Tim of Grape Expectations where you can buy the wines – and currently a special offer of a magnum of Villa Wolf’s Pinot Gris for under a tenner!  We will now look at German wines in a new way.

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