In Germany, Riesling is King
The VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter in German, which translates to The Association of Quality German Wine Estates), is a wine association of around 200 estates in Germany, whose members vary from the country’s most prominent and elite producers to individualistic and cult wineries. The VDP recently hosted an exclusive luncheon at China Club showcasing both recent to incredibly rare wines from estate members under the group. Most of the bottles are going up for auction in September 24 to 26 as the association celebrates its 100th anniversary, the centennial events taking place in Mosel, Rheingau and Nahe. The line up is predominantly of reislings, Germany’s top varietal, the most outstanding include vintages just after World War II. But there are also other great bottles too- from almost every decade post-WWII- uncorked at the tasting. Aside from withstanding such longevity, these wines shine in versatility as well, marrying beautifully with fine Chinese cooking, as done so by the China Club in Central.
But this tasting wasn’t just about staging rarities. In Hong Kong where burgundys and bordeuxs continue to dominate and prevail, these wines shows how this region deserves to be taken just as seriously. As we tour nearly a dozen German wines served at this pairing, some belong to final lots from the winemaker’s cellars, such as top Auslese producer S.A Prum’s remarkable 1989 vintage, where only a handful are left in the estate. That, and more, are previewed below.
Since German wines labels and classifications are notoriously hard to comprehend (unless you’re familiar with the language, it’s like trying to read Egyptian hieroglyphics), we’ve also compiled a quick guide and glossary at the bottom of this article to aid readers). For easier comprehension, we’ve also arranged the labels and titles in the order of: winery, village or vineyard, ripeness category, vintage year, and lastly, the vineyard region in Germany.
S.A Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Auslese Goldkapsel 1989, Mosel
By the Prüm family, a legendary family of winemaking history that goes all the way to the 12th century, the later generations of this clan has expanded, running wineries throughout Germany. S.A Prüm is one of them by Raimum Prüm (the grandson of the original founder), which he established since the 1970s. His daughter, Saksia, was at the event to explain this vineyard’s1989 vintage, a clean and wonderfully golden white wine. “Everyone talks about the 1970s vintages but we can see from these bottles that there are really great 1980s bottles too, which are very nicely concentrated and refreshing, especially this 1989. It has a very nice refreshing acidity and colour,” says Saskia Prüm. We savour every drop as she tells us, “Only a handful of bottles left from the estate so after that, it’s history.” At the VDP’s autumn auction this year, the winery’s 1911 auslese riesling will also go under the hammer.
Fritz Haag, Brauneberger, Juffer Sonnenuhr, Spatlese 1994, Mosel
Fritz Haag, Germany’s top winemaker continues to reign as a one of the best Mosel reisling producers in the world. It’s 2008 auslese and spätlesewines were auctioned at the VDP last year clocking up high bids. In Hong Kong, bottles from this winery are widely available, including Watson’s Wine Cellar. This 1994 spätlesefrom the winery’s Juffer Sonnenuhr vineyard in Brauneberger (a hillside village in Mosel), was served at China Club, a refreshing and lively vintage with fruity citrus and pear notes. From the historical estate that dates back to 1605, the vineyards are plotted on the landscape known for its blue slate. Like most wines from this winery, this particular vintage evokes crisp, oceanic qualities thanks to the high-mineral soil. The freshness and vibrancy of Friz Haag’s wines, including this bottle, is why countless wine magazines and experts recommend bottles from this winery as summer or spring wine favourites.
Schloss Johannisberger 1945, Schloss Johannisberg, Auslese, Rheingau
Schloss Johannisberg, a 900-year-old estate in the medieval town of Rheingau, is renowned for its late harvested white wines. Remarkable vintages from this estate are often auctioned at Sotheby’s, Christies and The VDP. This auslese is no exception, a true antique dating back to 1945. Uncorked at the luncheon, the cognac-coloured wine is intensely sweet, remarkably rich, each swirl in the glass releasing a perfume of hazelnuts. A spokesperson from the winery claims that although the summer was hot and ideal in 1945, this was difficult year nonetheless. Post-World War II, there was less staff available for harvest and production, which explains the low yield for this vintage.
Steinberger, Staatsweinguter Kloster Eberbach, Trockenbeerenaauslese 1959, Rheingau
Another regular at major auction houses are vintages from the Steinberger, a state-owned estate in Rheingau. It’s renowned for trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines from Kloster Eberbach, a historical site where a centuries-old monastery carved a great foundation for viticulture in this region that we can appreciate to this day. This 1959 TBA reflects how great these wines are in terms of aging potential. The amber liquid also conveys a briny aroma (like fresh oysters!) that makes this bottle stand apart, an expression of the area’s potent mineral soils from the land defined by medieval stone mountains and hills.
Weingut Wittmann, Grosses Gewächs 2005, Morstein
Weingutt Wittmann winery has become a serious player in the wine scene, its bottles clocking up a battery of accolades recently. When Wine Spectator released its annual Top 100 list last year, only two German wineries surfaced in the rankings, including Weingutt Wittman’s 2007 riesling. With four estates throughout Rheinhessen, including this Morstein site in the southern region, you can tell the landscape here is known for its limestone roots after a sip of this fine 2005. A sip grants a tart mineral-rich impression instantly. This dry white, with great acidity, becomes a great partner to robust or fatty flavours in Chinese cooking, such as spring rolls and steamed dumplings served at the China Club.
Weingut Robert Weil, Kiedrich Grafenberg, Trockenbeerenaauslese 316º Goldkapsel 2003, Rheingau
This TBA Goldkapsel 2003 from Weingut Robert Weil winery stands out amongst the rest of the wines at this tasting, from the white wine’s dense caramel colour and consistency, almost sharing the same body and weight as maple syrup. Little crystals sediments are also visible, sunk at the bottom of the glass. Wilhelm Weil, the fourth generation winemaker for estate (he is the great grandson of the original founder, Dr Robert Weil), explains: “This is the highest weighted wine we have at our estate. TBA’s are not easy to ferment but this is highly concentrated with a high sweetness and acidity as well.” He adds, “It also shows what is possible from this type of grape. I think it would be hard to have this type ever again.” This overwhelmingly sweet TBA Goldkapsel 2003 will be presented at the VDP’s fall auction.
A Guide and Glossary to German Wines
German wines are categorized by ripeness or sugar levels, which all depend on how and when the grapes are harvested. The later the harvest, which means the grapes have been under the sun longer and left to ripen more, the sweeter and more concentrated the wine. Here is a simplified snapshot of German wines in these various tiers.
Kabitnett wines are the lightest in Germany’s wine category, based on normal ripe grapes plucked early in the harvest. These wines can be dry or mildly sweet.
Spätlese wines are “late harvest” wines, more concentrated than the Kabitnetts including sugar content. Since the grapes are ripened longer (about a week more in harvest time), these wines are also richer.
Auslese wines are “selected from the harvest” wines, where the overripe grapes are plucked in selected bunches. This range is known for high sugar levels more concentrated than the Spätlese variety.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines are selected from profoundly overripe grapes (intentionally left on the vines longer so the grapes become shrivelled almost like raisins. These honey-like wines are distinctively syrupy, and classed as dessert variety.
Other label terms to convey the quality and character of the wine:
Goldkapsel wines (“gold capsule” in German), is like a stamp from the winemaker that this range is extra good or top level. Auction-worthy wines often convey this title.
Grosses Gewächs is a relatively recent classification from the VDP, established in 2001 to which are wines produced under the various criteria (from specific yields, traditional methods, inspections and examinations, selective harvesting, etc). These white wines are also noted for being dry.
For more information about German wines under the VDP association, go to www.vdp.de. Some of these wineries are available in Hong Kong, such as Fritz Hagg bottles at Watson’s Wine Cellar.