Szabo’s Highlights from the German Wine Fair
I Chat with a Queen
by John Szabo MS
The annual German Wine Fair featured last week in Toronto, a country going from strength to strength and generating plenty of excitement, at least among the trade judging by the enthusiasm in the room. Read on for my highlights and watch an interview with Josefine Schlumberger, current German Wine Queen, on what it takes to become a Queen (hint: it’s an election, not a birthright, nor a beauty pageant), as well as top drops currently available, and ones I hope will soon be (calling all importers!!!).
On German Wine & Asian Food
The annual German Wine Fair kicked off with a trade lunch + tasting focused on Asian cuisine paired with a dozen wines, hosted by the reigning German Wine Queen, Josefine Schlumberger, and yours truly. Dishes inspired by Thailand, Japan, China and India were designed by the culinary team at the Arcadian Court at 401 Bay Street to challenge and highlight the versatility of German wines from sparkling to spätburgunder (pinot noir), while a German chocolatier supplied hand-crafted chocolates specifically designed to match with German riesling eiswein.
The lunch tasting proved once again what sommeliers have long known: the pure, lively, sweet-tart balance of German whites, with varying degrees of ripeness and flavor intensity, provide an excellent foil for the baseline taste sensations on which southeast Asian cuisine is often built: sweet, sour and piquant. For example, Thai-inspired Citrus Infused Humbold Squid, Nam Prik, Fancy rice, Cucumber, Cilantro, Mango found seamless harmony with Weingut Rudolf May’s excellent 2012 ‘RECIS’ Silvaner Dry, from the Franken (even if half the room thought the superb Weingut Rappenhof 2014 Pettenthal Riesling GG Dry from the Rheinhessen was the top match; it all hinged on how much sweet mango purée you included in the bite).
Older wines develop the savoury-umami taste that is echoed in just about every Asian dish, a requisite for true harmony. Witness the impossibly good combination of China inspired Crispy sweet & sour pork, Fermented Bok Choy, Long bean & Pineapple, Sesame oil & Chili with perhaps the wine of the luncheon, the mesmerizing Weingut Leitz 2004 Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Spätlese from the Rheingau. The pairing was a symphony of sweet-sour-umami; it would be hard to imagine a better match for this pork dish. Perhaps most surprising was the compatibility of Lime scented Lamb Sirloin, Spiced Tomato & Potato, Wilted Mustard Greens, Kaffir Lime, Cilantro, & Clove with a marvellously evolved but still youthful Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt 1999 Josephshöfer Riesling Auslese, Mosel, a sweet but balanced wine than handled the heavy Indian spicing and gamey lamb with relative ease.
Next time you’re eating Asian, consider Germany for the glass.
I Chat with a Queen
Watch this video with German Wine Queen Josefine Schlumberger on what it takes to be a Queen, and on what we can expect to see in the future from German wines.
Buyer’s Guide: Highlights from the German Wine Fair
I was overjoyed to see the wines of Dönnhoff finally available in Ontario, shown for the first time at the German Wine Fair by importer Groupe Soleil. I’ve been following the estate for many years now, always happy to drink the wines in Montreal, Calgary or abroad, wherever I came across them. Helmut, and since 2007 his son Cornelius Dönnhoff, craft wines worthy of a long list of superlatives from a handful of exceptional vineyards in the heart of the Nahe region. There’s really no magic or dogmatism at play here, just hard work and great sites. Sensible farming practices are followed, but not hardline organic or biodynamic. Fermentations are often spontaneous, but Dönnhoff will inoculate with a strain of locally isolated neutral yeast if things are not going “fast and clean enough”. The 2014 Estate Riesling ($29.95) is the entry point into the range currently available, a tight, dry, classically lean blend of vineyard sites with crackling acids. The Kreuznacher Kahlenberg (2014 Riesling Trocken, $41.95) and its heavier loamy-quartzite soils yields a generally richer, more immediately open style of Riesling, even if the cool 2014 vintage favoured tightly wound wines in general.
The slate soils of the Norheimer Kirschheck (2014 Riesling Spätlese, $51.95) vineyard yields particularly fragrant and floral – cherry blossom-scented riesling with pitch perfect balance, while the slate mixed with volcanic rocks of the Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle (2014 Riesling Spätlese, $75.95), the Nahe’s most famous vineyard, delivers riesling of astonishing delicacy and power, finesse and complexity, with a finish that reverberates for minutes. Available by private order only is Dönnhoff’s greatest pure volcanic site, the Felsenberg, which in 2014 has an almost brutal quality, edgy and untamed, particularly smoky and salty and aromatically closed up for now. “Felsenberg is not always charming in its youth”, Cornelius offers. “It needs time to open.” All of Dönnhoff’s wines are worth a look. – Agent: Groupe Soleil, Stephen Cohen, email@example.com
I met Christoph Thörle for the first time at last year’s German Wine Fair and I was impressed then; this year was no different. From his various vineyards around Saulheim in the limestone-rich northern part of the Rheinhessen just south of the Rhein River and within site of the Rheingau, he makes a cracking range of Rieslings (and an impressive pinot noir) from wild ferments. Top of the range is the 2014 Riesling dry Saulheimer Schlossberg, a wine of terrific tension and finesse from half-century old vines at the highest point in the village, on iron oxide-rich soils. Give this at least another 2-3 years in the cellar. The top value in the portfolio, however, is surely the 2015 Riesling Feinherb (August 2016 VINTAGES release, $18.95). It’s an off-dry but beautifully balanced blend composed of the barrels of riesling that didn’t completely finish their natural fermentations, carrying 17 grams of barely noticeable residual sugar. The secret is that it includes wines from Thörle’s top vineyards – only fully dry wines are bottled as single vineyards (and sold for much more) – a reflection of the current German obsession for totally dry wines. – Agent: Univins and Spirits, Robert Walcot, firstname.lastname@example.org
Weingut Heitlinger, Baden
Heitlinger is a well-funded operation in Baden, with a brand new winery featuring all of the current cutting edge wine producing technology. It shows in the precision spot-on profile of the wines, as in the 2013 Pinot Noir, Baden ($21), a light, pleasantly spicy-stemmy wine with perfectly polished, light tannins and bright red fruit. The top white available in consignment is the 2013 Riesling dry Husarenkappe GG ($58) from a predominantly limestone site with depth, crackling acids and excellent length. – Agent: Halpern Enterprises, Elizabeth Sinclair, Elizabeth@halpernwine.com
Königschaffhausen Cooperative, Baden
For sheer value it’s tough to beat the finely-tuned Königschaffhausen co-op located in the southern Baden region. On LCBO shelves now is the 2016 Vulkanfelsen Grauer Burgunder (pinot gris) (VINTAGES $16.95), an aromatically subdued and delicate wine, elegant and notably salty-saliva-inducing, with fine, lingering finish, versatile at the table.
Dr. Loosen, Mosel, Pfalz
The best value red wine at the fair was hands down the delicious and dangerously drinkable 2014 Villa Wolf Pinot Noir (LCBO general list, $12.95) from Ernst Loosen’s estate in the Pfalz. It’s a pinot in the pale, light, fruity, easy-drinking style best with a light chill, but, by God, it tastes like pinot noir. And at $12.95, that’s a rarity indeed. When you can’t decide on white, red or rosé, choose this.
Wish List Germany: Calling Ontario Importers!
Weingut May, Franconia
Among the unrepresented wineries showing their wares at the wine fair, there was plenty of excitement around the table of Weingut May (rimes with “eye”), a family operation launched in 1998 but with 300 years of grape growing history and plenty of old vines in the Franken region. May joined the highly respected VDP in 2014, an association of some 200 of Germany’s top producers that is as close as it comes to a genuine seal of quality in the wine world – it’s a clear indication that the estate is entering the big leagues. The family farms without insecticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers, and ferments are carried out with wild yeasts. In the Franken silvaner is king, and occupies nearly 2/3rds of May’s 13.5ha of vineyards, including many old parcels, on predominantly muschelkalk soils (shell limestone). From the lovely, fun and fruity 2015 Silvaner Orstwein (“village” wine) in the classic flagon-shaped bocksbeutel (reportedly modelled after a goat’s scrotum – yes you read that right) to the superb 2013 Silvaner dry Rothlauf, from a VDP-designated grosses gewächs or grand cru vineyard with substantial weight and striking flinty minerality, the range is excellent. Pricing is attractive, too. Contact Rudolf May, email@example.com
Weingut Frey, Rheinhessen
Young Christopher Frey was in Toronto for the first time to present the wines produced by him and his brother Philipp in the equally limestone-rich southern part of the Rheinhessen near the Pfalz border. 2014 was the first vintage under the Frey label, a new name for an old family grapegrowing/winemaking affair. The house style leads toward very rich and ripe wines, all harvested at spätlese level but vinified dry with wild ferments. Reds are still a work in progress, but rieslings are a strength. The entry-level 2015 Riesling Dry is a classy, firm but giving and succulent example (approximately 3.5 euros ex-cellar). 2014 Hangen-Weisheim Riesling ‘village’ steps up the concentration, shifting into the riper peach spectrum, while top-shelf 2014 Sommerwende Riesling from the estate’s oldest vines (30 years) strikes the palate with sharp flinty-stoniness, aged for the most part in large, 80 year-old wooden casks. Contact: Christopher Frey, firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Szabo MS