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Wines of Germany Master Class

The Wines of Germany and the Guild of Sommeliers hosted a Master Class at Pappas Bros Steakhouse taught by Master Sommeliers Matt Stamp and Laura Williamson.  I was excited to attend this class because I think this is probably my weakest area of knowledge when considering the major wine producing countries. I am happy to report that this was a fantastic class with a great tasting.

The first flight was a grouping of wines made from the Sylvaner grape from Franken. Sylvaner is a natural cross between Traminer and Osterreichisch Weiss. Its higher acidity makes it a good food wine particularly with salty foods- cured meat, smoked cheese, fish and asparagus. Franken, in Bavaria, is called the spiritual home of Sylvaner. Franken Sylvaner typically has a fuller body with more texture and light floral and fruity aromas.

The wines we tasted were:
Juliusspital Kabinett Trocken 2010- the softest of the three with more floral and saffron notes.
Wirsching "Dry" Iphofer Kronsberg 2010- the lightest body of the three with seemingly higher acidity, very citrusy and mineral driven.
Castell Kugelspiel 2009- The fullest body of the three with a more herbal/lemon verbena quality.

The second flight were wines from Pfalz which is the second largest wine region in Germany. I learned that this is "Ground Zero for the best Pinot Blanc (known as Weisburgunder) in the world". In addition to two Pinot Blancs, we also tasted one Riesling. The common characteristic in the three wines was a saline quality that was particularly noticeable in the finish.
The wines we tasted were:
Friedrich Becker Reserve Pinot Blanc 2005- I found this to be surprisingly fresh as I always thought Pinot Blanc was best consumed while young. On my tasting note, I had written almond and apricot with a citrusy, salty finish. Laura said it had hazelnut and pear with a salty minerality. This was my most divergent tasting note when the MS's went over the wines after we had written our own tasting notes, just an interesting side note that I thought I would include.
Rebholz Grosse Gewachs Im Sonnenschein Pinot Blanc 2007- A light tropical fruit aroma, very mineral driven.
Christmann Grosse Gewachs Idig Riesling 2007- Smoky nose, slightly creamy peach finish. Slightly fuller body than the previuos two, more medium+ while the others were medium/medium-.

The third flight was all Rheinhessen Riesling. Rheinhessen has been thought of as more of a bulk wine region in the past but is now considered to be a very dynamic and improving region with a new generation of well-educated winemakers (Message in a Bottle Producers) who are identifying the better vineyard areas while also investing in both their wineries and vineyards. "All three wines were fermented with ambient yeast". This comment elicited quite the debate from not only Laura and Matt but also from Drew Hendricks-MS of the Pappas company with an attempt to pull in commentary from Guy Stout-MS who was also present. I am not going into all of that here but the gist being- Can you call it ambient (aka natural or indigenous) if you have used cultured yeast in the past, whereby that now makes up part of the "natural yeast" in your environment? Great fun for all the wine geeks present but not something I am going into in depth here, feel free to check out some of the natural wine bloggers on-line. These three wines also had a common salty mineralty and were fuller bodied when compared to the prior Riesling. 
The wines we tasted:
Thorle Saulheimer "Kalkstein" 2010- Peach aroma, medium+ acidity,  creamy texture, grapefruit finish with a bit of a Hops note.
Wittman Grosse Gewachs Morstein 2010- Apricot and mushroom aroma, medium+ acidity, creamy texture, peach flavor, grapefruit finish. My favorite Riesling of the day.
Keller Grosse Gewachs "Abts E" 2009- Earthier, truffles, talcum powder, high acidity, rich texture, apricot flavor with a grapefruit finish.

The fourth flight was Pinot Noir, known as Spatburgunder in Germany, from three different places.
The wines were: 
Meyer Nakel Blue Slate 2009 from Ahr which was the least expensive of the three and it also was my favorite. Aromas of red Bing cherry and leather, medium acidity, medium- tannins, a cherry cordial with a bit of mushroom flavor.
The common factor of the other two Pinot Noirs was the use of new French oak which wasn't fully integrated and which I found to be a bit overpowering. It will be interesting to taste these again in a few years to see how they age and if they become more approachable.
Furst Grosse Gewachs Centgrafenberg 2009 from Franken- Vanilla and spice, very little fruit on the nose or palate, medium acidity and tannin.
Huber Grosse Gewachs Sommerhalde 2009 from Baden- Pronounced leather aroma, medium+ tannin and acidity, vanilla flavor with a bit of a dried cherry finish.

The final wine was the only one with any sweetness. It tasted somewhere in between off dry and medium. The wine was Gunderloch Rothenberg Auslese Riesling 1997. It had a kerosene aroma, medium acidity with a fruit cocktail finish. A very nice ending for the tasting.

Other topics of interest to me from the class lecture and discussion:
Vintage variation- For instance, 2009 was a very ripe vintage while in 2010 vintners were faced with the side effects of the volcano eruption in Iceland which had created a gauzy, filtered light which slowed grape ripening.
The rise of organic and bio-dynamic wines in Germany and the decreased use of synthetic agents even by conventional growers. For example, the Rebolz wine from the Pfalz flight became bio-dynamic certified in 2009, two years after the vintage we tasted.
Global warming influence- Most German wine-growers do believe in this based on temperature increases over the past twenty years which have led to their growing riper grapes, more extreme weather throughout the year they must deal with and the increased problem of new vineyard pests arriving from warmer regions.

*I am a bit late posting on this as I attended this event right before I went to France, I misplaced my notes during my packing and I had only written up half of my experience before I left. Anyway, I cleaned up my desk yesterday and I found my notes which I was quite delighted about as it was a great event and I wanted to include it in my blog. I expect to get back on track posting events in a more timely fashion.


  1. How did the German Rheinhessen Riesling compare in body to the California ones?

    1. Luis, that,s a good question, but I think the cooler climate Rieslings of Washington and Oregon beg for the same question.
      Sandra, thanks for being brave enough to use the phase "kerosene aroma" which to me can be quite obvious, but an insult to others; not an aroma or flavor I like.

    2. Hello Luis and Dennis,
      I have to tell you that I am not very familiar with California Riesling at all and I have only had a few from Oregon and Washington. I have mainly enjoyed German Riesling and some Australian, mainly from Clare or Eden Valley. I have had a few from New York as well. I generally find most Riesling to be of medium body but I have also found lighter and fuller expressions.
      I would love to know which California Rieslings that you have enjoyed, Luis. I hate to think that I am missing out on something. Also an Oregan or Washington State if you have a favorite, Dennis.
      I would recommend the ones from above to you if you are interested in trying out some dry German versions.

  2. Sandra, I've had a handful of NW Rieslings, of which the Chateau Ste Michelle 2009 Eroica Riesling (Dr. Loosen from Mosel in Germany had a role to play)was the best in my palates humble opinion. Well, actually, there was three of of us and we all voted that one the best of the bunch.
    I'm certainly interested in German Rieslings, but the NH offerings are slim-pickens, so I'll taste what I can find, and if I can find more like the Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Spatlese 2007 Riesling, I'd be glad.


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