This in-depth feature on Germany’s ‘Masters of Riesling’ features profiles of six producers and 80 tasting notes.
Those who love them would probably like to keep the secret to themselves: that fine German Riesling offers some of the most thrilling, complex and delicious drinking around. For those prepared to look beyond their undeserved, but understandable reputation, here are wines with the purest, most scintillating expression of fruit, yet real minerality and wonderfully nuanced flavours. It’s no wonder those who follow the path to Riesling enlightenment wear such happy smiles.
Even for Germany’s best winemakers, the past few decades has been a time of struggle, self-examination, and ultimately, change. A huge disservice was done to the German industry through the 1970s and 80s by short-term, profit-driven producers. There was massive planting of mediocre grape varieties on undistinguished sites, vast over-production from high-yielding vineyards, and sugary-sweet wines with little appeal for the true wine lover.
The tide also turned in public taste, with drier, full-bodied whites in demand, and the flavours of the New World appearing on the scene. I drove through the Mosel Valley with Ernie Loosen. He pointed out bare, weed-strewn hillsides. These slopes have been abandoned by the latest generation of winegrowing families, just as the world turned its back on the wines.
Masters of Riesling
I travelled to Germany to meet a group of winemakers collectively known as the ‘Masters of Riesling’. These are independent, family-owned estates from across six German regions. As well as Dr Loosen of the Mosel, I met Helmut Dönnhoff in the Nahe, Fritz Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch in Rheinhessen, Joseph Leitz from Rheingau, JL Wolf from the Pfalz and Rudolf Furst from Franken.
The ‘Masters’ title is little more than a marketing concept, yet there is no doubt that this elite group represents some of the finest Riesling production not only in Germany, but also anywhere in the world.
There has been a certain amount of re-engineering of German wines, with a move to drier, fuller wines with higher alcohol. The Masters of Riesling contains its share of traditionalists and modernisers, and the wines cover all styles, from the rich, Burgundy-influenced wines of JL Wolf’s southerly Pfalz vineyards, to the crisply aesthetic and bone-dry wines of Paul Furst.
But one thing if for sure: this was a cast-iron, dead-cert, absolute banker of a display of tour de force winemaking from the series of excellent vintages enjoyed by Germany in the past decade or so. There were some great wines here, and some fantastic producers flying the flag for one of the world’s great grapes, and some of its greatest wine regions.
Meet the Masters
Weingut Dönnhoff, Nahe
Helmut Dönnhoff runs one of the most highly regarded estates in all of Germany, in the village of Oberhäus in the Nahe region. About 80% of his vineyards are in what is unofficially classified as Grand Cru sites in a system that is really very much like Burgundy. There is a call from some quarters to officially recognise and make legal these sites as German Grand Crus specifically for dry wines, so that the term can appear on labels.
But Helmut is pretty certain it wouldn’t work, just as he’s certain it wouldn’t work if you tried to impose a Grand Cru classification on Burgundy today: there would be so much resistance and so many people would opt out, that the Grand Crus would have little credibility.
Helmut says that the hot, unusually warm and sunny conditions of 2003 gave him “the vintage I’d always prayed for,” where the wines would have as much richness, opulence and ripeness as he wanted. But like many other people he has since learned that in fact those conditions are not good for his wines. Having got the “experiment” out of his system, he realises that the lower alcohols, better acidity, more expressive minerality and finesse of more typical German growing conditions are absolutely right for his wines.
In many ways Dönnhoff is a real traditionalist, not only in his refusal to countenance screwcaps or synthetic closures for any of his portfolio, but in the classic, elegant proportions of his wines with their scintillating marriage of sweet fruit and razor-sharp acidity. This was a most impressive range.
See all UK stockists of Dönnhoff wines on wine-searcher.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Trocken 2005
Very pale green with a tinge of yellow. Lovely fresh, but slightly mealy nose, with limpid, dry pear and apple fruit. Nice weight and fullness on the palate, with beautifully crisp, zesty lemon acidity and again that dry apply acid adding a quality of tautness, whilst retaining lots of charm and fruitiness into a long, pure finish.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Pinot Blanc Dry 2005
This 12.5% wine is made in large old wood casks. Lovely rich, waxy fruitiness, with plenty of floral and grape skin qualities. Loads of grip on the palate – a really tangy, mineral edged dry orchard fruit quality, but plenty of skinny grip and taut acidity.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Pinot Gris Dry 2005
Rich, leesy, skinny notes, with some peach kernel and hints of dry apricot fruit. On the palate this delivers a shock of dry, rapier like acidity, with plenty of pithy grapefruit and lemon and lots of tension. A very linear style and perhaps needs food, but undoubtedly refined and extremely long. Obvious quality.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Hermannshöle Trocken 2005
Again this has a touch of perfumed, floral character, with a touch of talcum and some waxy, orange peel and pear. Lovely mouthfilling weight and intensity of fruit. There is lovely grip and presence here, with a great core of minerality and very fine lemon zest acidity that tingles on the tongue in a long, racy finish. Lovely. Note that only the vineyard name (Hermannshöle) appears on the dry wine, whereas the village plus vineyard (Niederhäuser Hermannshöle) appears on the sweeter styles.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling 2005
Fine peachy, slightly floral nose, with some pear drop and very ripe, sweet pear fruit. On the palate a little bit of yeast character becomes evident, but the fine, sweet-edged, racy fruit comes through. This is crisp and clean, with plenty of citrus and mineral acidity, and the wine finishes almost dry, with a tangy presence.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett 2005
From a very slaty soil in the Leistenberg vineyard, there’s a sense of ripe pear and melon skins, with hints of herbs and flowers, but really it is minerality that drives this wine. There’s a fine sweetness on the palate, with a clean, pure, racy star fruit and Asian pear crispness. Lovely sweet fruit plays out against a pure, subtle but very decisive white fruit acidity. Very delicate and long.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Norheimer Kirschheck Spätlese 2005
A very fine minerality here, with delicate spice and taut, orchard fruit aromas. On the palate there is lovely fruit here, with masses of quite unctuous, rich, tropical edged peach and nectarine. Fruitier than the Leistenberg, with lots of orangy character too, but that crisp, dry mineral and lemon zest raciness and acidity pushes through, along with that little spiciness, into a very elegant and long finish. A delightful wine.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg Spätlese 2005
There’s an immediate smokiness and even a suggestion of nuttiness to this, with fairly restrained, but ripe, peachy fruit. On the palate the fruit and spicy richness of this wine comes through, with a tangy, full mid-palate of quite weighty, sweet, enriched quality. The acidity gives lovely support, though it impact is lessened by the sweetness of fruit.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Norheimer Dellchen Spätlese 2005
A subtle, delicate orchard fruit nose, with a touch of waxy lime and a stony minerality coming through. Really delightful palate, with such delicate, fine, refined fruit sweetness, pink grapefruit acidity and just beautiful completeness and harmony. Magnificent balance and pinpoint, precise fruit quality into a supremely long finish.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese 2005
Fruit is the overriding driving force here, with sweet, ripe pear and ripe apple aromas, and a touch of juicy nectarine. There is still that signature undertone of minerality. Beautifully smooth, silky palate, where sweet fruit plays very delicately on the palate – there is such purity and finesse, with an achingly pure, ethereal quality to the fruit. Fabulous balance again, with all the acidity and hints of spice and waxy weight perfectly composed within the overall framework. Stunning. From a very special vineyard close to the river (“Brücke” means bridge) with a microclimate that sees warmer days and cooler nights, from soils which are slaty, but covered with a layer of loam.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube Spätlese 2005
Minerals, slate and smokiness, with a rich, almost tropical fruit sweetness. The palate has a lovely, fairly straightforward sweet fruitiness, but it has lovely texture and weight and real persistence. Lovely balance again, with a shot of acidity really streaming through the long, quite spicy finish.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Niederhäuser Hermannshöle Spätlese 2005
Quite subtle, discreet, orchard fruit skin aromas, with a stony, cool precision. Lovely delicacy, with orange and tangerine flavours, racy fruit quality and lots of precision and finesse. The balance is just thrilling again here, with such lovely mouth-wateringly fresh and juicy fruit, that tight, restrained minerality, and fine, delicate but decisive acidity.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg Auslese 2005
Plenty of richness and evident Botrytis, with a touch of honey and touch of ripe berry fruit. Still that fine, clean minerality. The palate has weight and has richness, with a deal of full, nectarine, more sumptuous mango fruit, but as always wit this house it seems, a restraining hand reigns everything back, in this case delicate mineral and lemon acidity and adding a sense of finesse into a very long finish.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Oberhäuser Brücke Auslese 2005
Limpid, fine, sweet pear and light honey notes, a touch of spice and smoke, but plenty of very pure fruit. On the palate less opulence and sweetness than the Felsenberg perhaps, but such lovely harmony and such a holistic wine, with lovely elements of fruit, minerality and acidity just playing delicately across the tongue. Beautiful stuff.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Niederhäuser Hermannshöle Auslese 2005
A subtle, clove-like herbal quality at first, and dominant notes of minerality with wet stones and a delicately peppery quality. Fine, fine, limpidly clear and pure, honey-edged fruit. The palate is wonderfully delicate, with crisp, racy, very nimble acidity, a real core of minerality, and subtle, complex notes of floral and tropical fruit adding layers of complexity in the finish.
Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Niederhäuser Hermannshöle TBA 2005
Not finished sample (cloudy) destined for auction. Yeasty ferment aromas dominate, along with a nutty quality. As you work the wine in the glass the honey and dripping, figgy Botrytis begins to come through. On the palate this is as thick as engine oil, and like a slick of honey and liquidised Muscat grapes, with unbelievable intensity and length, and of course, fantastic balance. Hugely promising.
Dr Loosen, Mosel
Dr Loosen is the biggest name of the Masters collective, thanks to the “Dr L” and “Naked Grape” brands (the latter developed in conjunction with Dr Loosen’s UK Agency), that can be found in many supermarkets and high street stores. But most wines bottled as ‘Dr Loosen’ come from single vineyards, classified as ‘Grand Cru’ in an old 19th Century map of the Mosel. On a visit to the Erdener Prälat, the vertiginous height and steepness of these slopes was breathtaking.
Ernie Loosen is a dynamo, whom I have encountered several times over the years at tastings, dinners and conferences around the world. He travels incessantly, and is a wonderful ambassador for quality German wines. Whilst, Ernie buys in some fruit from other growers for the Dr L label, even here he insists that he only every buys from slatey slopes, not from the large flats on the other side of the Mosel. The picture below is taken from the top of Dr Loosen’s Grand Cru Erdener Prälat, looking across the Mosel to miles of vineyard planted on the valley floor by the big German brands.
The estate has belonged to the Loosen (pronounced LOH-zen) family for over 200 years. When Ernie took over in 1988, he realised that with his treasure trove of old, ungrafted vines on some of Germany’s highest-rated slopes, he had the raw materials to create something of real world class. He set about dramatically reducing crop sizes, and stopped all chemical fertilisation. He turned to gentler cellarpractices, with a minimum of handling and use of technology. Back in the charming winery on the banks of the river, I tasted through the 2005 range. Again, this was just a stunning collection of wines, brimming with minerality and a sense of place, but with beautiful fruit quality.
See all UK stockists of Dr Loosen wines on wine-searcher.
Dr Loosen (Mosel) Dr L Riesling 2005
Beautifully clean, limpid, fresh peach juice aromas and lovely sherbetty lemon notes. The palate has clean, fresh, but soft and peachy fruit and a nicely weighty texture. Very nice acidity – like crisp pear and apple juice rather than lemon or mineral, but lovely length and soft, easy summer drinking pleasure.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Bernkasteler Lay Kabinett 2005
A little more smoke and slate, with delicate apple fruit and a certain peachiness, with soft, sherbetty minerality. The palate is flooded with sweet, ripe, very lush and peachy fruit. Plenty of acidity and fruity crisp, racy quality. Lovely length and definition.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2005
Lovely fleshy nectarine and ripe, quite rich melon and delicate floral edged aromas. The palate has plenty of tang and crisp acidity, but the delicate, racy fruit flavours, with an underlying tropical richness and sweetness. Very fine and very long.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Erdener Treppchen Kabinett 2005
Treppchen means staircase. A bottled wine, with less expressive nose, perhaps because of recent bottling. Some fine stone fruit notes. On the palate the fruit sings through, with lots of tangerine and zesty orange zest fruit, with a certain creaminess and soft background strawberry note. The acidity is lovely, in a really beautifully composed and balanced wine. Delicious sweetness and glacial purity.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Urziger Würzgarten Kabinett 2005
Restrained, very refined mineral quality, with a little waxiness and a touch of clove. The palate has lovely weight, with a feeling of opulence and richness, but the racy mineral and crisp orchard fruit character persists. Lovely sweetness, with a perfumed grapy quality, and more of that clove like spice into the finish.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2005
Creamy apricot fruit on the nose, with a touch of nut kernel and a little herbal note. Lovely peachy, stone fruit flavours. The palate has a lovely perfumed, peach skin quality with very ripe, sweet, refined fruit, and a real depth of flavour to this wine. Deliciously tangy orangy acidity in a very moreish, beautifully poised finish.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Urziger Würzgarten Spätlese 2005
Immediate aromas of clove and a certain sweet earthiness, with nice pear and peach fruit. Lovely ripeness and lemon zest and peachy, lightly clove and spicy peach and delightful balance once again.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Erdener Treppchen Spätlese 2005
Again there is spice here, but touches of youthful pear drop and ferment banana notes. Such lovely fruit on the palate, with obvious potential and lovely acidity that is very pure and fine. This has concentration and delicacy, but will be better in a year or two.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2005
A little bit of wet wool, honey, and a small herbal note. Lovely lemon curd and zest aromas, and touches of nectarine juiciness. The palate has that glacial, clean as a whistle acidity and freshness, but lovely sweetness of ripe peach and pineapple juiciness. Delicious wine with real length and delicate balance.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Erdener Treppchen Auslese 2005
Very clean, sherbetty, glacial quality to the fruit. With some delicate spice and a background of really ripe, juicy apples and peach fruit. There’s a little touch of honey too. The palate has fantastic concentration, with an unctuous quality to the fruit, with blossom and peach down dullness, and a lovely nectarine ripeness. Acidity here is quite generous in nature, but there is a lovely balance and cutting edge of beautiful, clean and poised minerality.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Urziger Würzgarten Auslese 2005
Very clean pear and ripe, deliciously fresh and crisp apple and white fruits. The palate has a lovely racy quality, with just delightful racy finesse, with wonderful lemon and mineral acidity and a shimmering array of white fruit and limpid, pure, gently honeyed white fruit. Absolutely beautiful wine.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Erdener Prälat Auslese 2005
Lovely nose, with dazzling, precise fruit quality. Shimmering ripe pear and racy, mineral-laced citrus aromas. On the palate this really sizzles, with shimmering quality of sherbetty acidity and zesty lime fruit, but a luscious undertow of honey and nectarine, with a thick, viscose feeling, but then that rapier like acidity just sheers through and leaves it tantalisingly pure and long. A brilliant wine.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel 2005
Much more obvious Botrytis, with honey and quince jelly fruit, and a delicate lemony nuance. On the palate there’s a beautiful intensity and power here, with a wonderful frisson of zesty lemon and those much riper mango and pineapple notes, with lots of lushness and a little touch of spice. Fantastic acidity here, keeping it beautifully clean and pure and balanced into a huge finish.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Urziger Würzgarten Auslese Goldkapsel 2005
Lemon, limes and minerals at first, with a waxy quality and lightly honeyed notes. Clean and precise. The palate has wonderful fruit again – a much racier quality to this wine, with tight, ripe peach and apricot notes, and a fat lemony quality, but the poise and thrilling precision of the acidity begins to tell, with touches of spice, floral notes and downy fruit giving complexity and finesse into the finish.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Erdener Prälat Auslese Goldkapsel 2005
Lovely Botrytis here, with the most delicate honey and guava and lychee exotic fruit. Masses of sweetness here, with a waxy quality to it, like nectarine and white peach skins, with a beautiful poised juiciness. The fruit is just beautifully refined and limpidly pure, and the delicacy and poise of the finely tuned, mineral acidity just keeps it perfectly balanced and compellingly complete and poised.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Urziger Würzgarten Beerenauslese 2005
Some very fine herbal and fennel notes joining the quite discreet Botrytis richness of barely sugar and honey (this wine is 100% Botrytis grapes). Though it is opulent, this is really very pure and glacial. There is weight on the palate and a rich texture, but this retains a sense of freshness. The sweetness is beautifully ripe and mouthfilling, with an intensity of sweet, ripe, burstingly sweet nectarine, and fabulous balancing acidity. Great length too in an amazing wine.
Dr Loosen (Germany) Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr TBA 2005
A touch of nutty, herbal character at first, but then plenty of honey and nutty, walnut character. On the palate there is weight again, and an even more unctuous edge to the texture, but once again it retains freshness. There’s such a massive concentration of sweet, ripe, candied and nectarine fruit, a flood of honey, and figgy notes of concentrated, deep fruit. The whole picture is framed by that lovely acidity, with an orange and red berry fruit acidity giving a beautifully balanced finish.
Weingut Gunderloch, Rheinhessen
Fritz and Agnes Hasselbach run this neat cellar in the middle of the town of Nackenheim. An important influence on the estate’s recent history is assistant winemaker Charlotte Hess (far right), who brings experience from Australia, Greece and other countries to the Gunderloch operation. Carl Gunderloch, a banker from Mainz, founded the estate in 1890 and is the great, great grandfather of Agnes.
With strong backing from Fritz and Agnes, Charlotte has made a lot of small changes to the regime here, including how grapes are transported to the winery from the vineyard, and a longer skin contact for the ‘Jean Baptiste’ label. There has also been a wholesale move to screwcap, as Charlotte explains: “Our entire range available in a choice of screwcap or cork. But the facts speak for themselves: right now, any stock we are still sitting on is under cork – everyone wants screwcap.” Agnes explains the thinking behind putting even their top Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines in screwcap – something that is anathema for most producers: “We knew we wanted to put the entire range in screwcap, as we didn’t want people to think that screwcaps were only good enough for cheaper wines, but weren’t good enough for the more expensive bottles.”
Temperature is controlled during fermentation at 2 – 6 degrees, which means the fermentation can takes 80 days to complete. The Hasselbachs do not de-stem, crush lightly, and have changed from a pump system to a gravity-fed system, so that skins are not bruised causing bitterness and allowing pips to impart “negative phenols.” Fritz explains that they try to harvest very, very late so that pips are brown and ripe, but he is 100% happy that the terroirs of his vineyards are still apparent: “Riesling is a perfect indicator of terroir.”
There was no chaptalisation at all in 2005, with perfect must weights and beautiful quality. For 2006 things are dead on schedule too, with hopes high that the string of excellent vintages of the last decade will continue.
See all UK stockists of Gunderloch wines on wine-searcher.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Trocken 2005
Very pale green, beautifully clean apple aromas, with a touch of smoke and honey, and just a little mineral edge. The palate has lovely clean apple fruit, with a ripeness and limpidity. It is pretty much dry (7.5 g/l sugar, 8.5 acidity) with just a touch of sweetness filling out the grapefruity, lemon zest finish.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Nierstein Pettenthal Trocken 2005
Pale again, with a touch more green. There’s a lovely suggestion of peach down and floral notes, with again apple fruit and a touch of camomile or something herbal. On the palate there is a racy array of citrus and crisp apple flavours, with that slightly herbal quality persisting, and a very clean, dry, pithy grapefruit finish.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling ‘Villa’ 2005
‘Villa’ because of picture of the estate house on the label. Pale green colour. There is more of the minerality and herbal quality here. Grapy qualities and firm green apple fruit. The palate has more sweetness, with that herbal edge to really quite ripe, mouthfilling fruit, before the acidity comes through again. There’s a firmness and skinny quality to this that for me slightly detracts from the purity perhaps.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Kabinett Jean Baptiste 2005
Named after a play written by a contemporary of Carl Gunderloch, that included a character called Jean Baptiste Gunderloch and was loosely based on the family history. Play is still performed in the winery grounds every year. Yeasty nose, with more skin contact quality of mealy richness. Orangy and lemon aromas come through. Mouthfilling fruit on the palate, with a core of minerality, but plenty of flavour hinting at complex smoke, peachy fruit and good balancing acidity. Easy to drink, though Fritz recommends with sushi.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Spätlese 2005
Very pale. Pear and apple skin aromas, with a slight waxiness and plenty of fruit. The palate is flooded with sweet fruit, with delicate sweet-edged nectarine and peach, but still that white fruit cleanness and firmness at the core. Acidity is lovely, with plenty of verve, but the sweetness balances to give a soft, elegant finish.
Gunderloch (Germany) Nackenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Spätlese 2005
Cask sample. Some yeasty ferment aromas. Ripeness and roundness is obvious, with a lovely floral note here and plenty of minerality coming through. The palate is flooded with a peachy ripeness of fruit, with a downy, softness and a riper pear fruit that is fleshy and mouthfilling (for a Riesling) before some beautiful dry, mineral acidity.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Nackenheimer Rothenberg Auslese 2005
Cask sample. Again some yeasty banana notes, with a touch of sulphur too, all of which will resolve when bottled. Really ripe, slightly honeyed white fruit on the nose, with a weighty flood of broad-textured fruit: lots of intensity and fruit richness here, with slight clove and spice coming through. Gorgeous complexity and hints of exoticism, with delicious ripeness, sweetness and balancing acidity. 105 g/l RS and 9% acidity. Made from 100% Botrytised grapes, picked in January (so technically a 2006!)
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Nackenheimer Rothenberg Auslese 2004
Slightly yellowey, green tinged. Opulent richness and ripeness here, with exceptional Botrytis character coming through, and plenty of smoke and minerality and just a touch of yeasty character. The palate is crammed full of gently figgy, nectarine and mango fruit, with a delightful mouthfilling richness and plenty of crisp, clean acidity giving a long, gloriously focused finish.
Gunderloch (Germany) Riesling Nackenheimer Rothenberg TBA 2004
The 2005 is still fermenting, so tasting the 2004. Dramatically dark, syrupy tawny colour. Incredibly thick, unctuous, honey and liquidised raisin and fig aromas. Laden with marmalade and hints of clove and spice. The palate is as thick as honey and as sweet, with formidable intensity of sweetness, but such complexity too, with nutty flavours, quince and ripe, bursting fig. The acidity is like a spine of glacial steel running through this, in an utterly compelling wine.
Weingut Josef Leitz, Rheingau
Johannes Leitz is the latest generation to take over this estate in Rüdesheim, and he has really put it on the map with a string of awards, accolades and plaudits for his wines from the world’s top commentators. Jancis Robinson said: “one of the absolute superstars, not just of the Rheingau but of German wine in toto.” He has reduced yields and made huge efforts in the vineyards and winery, with notable effect.
For a big, powerful man Johannes achieves remarkable delicacy and elegance in his wines, fermented with ambient yeasts and a very Burgundian attitude to winemaking. But I firmly believe that is part of the soul of the man coming though: he cooked lunch for me after our tasting, a dish of plump langoustine grilled and served in a creamy, spicy and sweet yellow pepper soup infused with lemongrass, Galangal and other Thai flavours. In many ways this precise cooking with modern, global influences and pristine, vivid flavours is perfectly suited to his intense, aromatic wines that each display their terroir differences, but in a focused, beautifully delineated style.
See all UK stockists of Josef Leitz wines on wine-searcher.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg Spätlese Trocken 2005
A little sous-bois note of damp vegetation, with some waxy nectarine skins and pear skin notes. On the palate it is smooth and savoury, with a bite of lemon and lime pithy acid fruit. There’s just a hint of sweetness there, probably from the sweeter fruit, but the crisp delineation of the acidity makes this finish dry and crisp.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Alte Reben 2005
Alte Reben means old vines. At one time the wines of the Berg were more expensive than Grand Cru Burgundy. A lot of minerality on the nose here, and bruised apple and slightly herbal qualities. There’s a waxiness, but minerals drive this wine. On the palate there’s a great deal of power, but a poised, lean fruit quality with an almost endive or chicory note, and again that sweetness of fruit just adding a touch of light and shade to a dry, mineral , herbal finish.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels Alte Reben 2005
A much purer lemon and lime fruit quality, but again with wax and a pear skin minerality and apple. On the palate there’s a blast of pure lemon juicy, racy acidity and fruit, but there is a touch of enriching residual sugar just to fatten and take the edge of the lean, focused minerality of the finish. Very fine and elegantly racy.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Alte Reben 2005
Grey slate soils. One day cold maceration. There’s a tiny note of honey and a richness in this wine, which fermented to April in old wooden casks, losing 2% of alcohol during that time. Having been harvested at 120 Oeschlese. Beautiful fruit balance on the palate. Definitely off dry, with a core of very pure fruit, and a hugely racy and steely backbone of minerality. There is a constrained weight and fruitiness here that will surely broaden and soften into a beautiful wine.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Kabinett 2005
There’s a very delicate fruit character here, with a deal of ripe, soft pear and pear skins, and a slightly sherbetty quality. The palate has a lovely depth of fruit, with some red berry qualities, and a soft, apricotty richness. The acidity here plays against the juiciness of the fruit, giving a lovely freshness to the finish. Beautifully clean but easy to drink too. From slaty soils.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Spätlese 2005
From a much richer loam soil, this is fine on the nose too, with fresh, quite grapy flavours and plenty of fine stone fruit aromas. Fine, crisp, elegant fresh sherbetty fruit with lemon and lime and plenty of sweetness. There’s a suggestion of tangerine and orange, with just beautifully poised acidity and a lovely, dazzling fresh and fruity finish. A beauty.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Spätlese 2005
A fine, fine confectionery and greengage fruit quality, with a very tight, racy style, and lots of poise and finesse. Delightful acidity here, with lovely elegance, a peach-down softness and sweetness, and just beautiful poise and length. There is a persistent minerality, but elegantly behind the sweet, composed fruit.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Spätlese 2004
A nice little weight of wax and extra richness, with fine lime and apple notes. The palate has a very fine, dazzling, with such pure, sweet nectarine and very lightly tropical guava notes. This has rounded out and gained a touch of lovely mid-palate weight, but all that cut and verve of the acidity shimmers through to the finish.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Spätlese 2004
Overnight cold maceration, and uses only botrytis grapes. The nose has a touch of oily, waxy fatness and honey, even a touch of toast, but the thrust is beautifully pure pear and apple fruit. The palate is another shimmering beauty, with the sweet, ripe, essence of very ripe pear, a touch of lemon zest, and a very, very fine acid structure that just runs as a beautiful edge to the sweetness.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg Auslese 2004
Lovely nose of gently honeyed ripe fruit, with notes of nectarine and a little hint of guava or very ripe fig. On the palate it is light and elegant, with the Botrytis very much in the background to limpidly clean, pure, superbly racy fruit. There’s a real crowd-pleasing sweetness and purity of fruit here, but that denies the fantastic, shimmering acidity and undoubted finesse.
Josef Leitz (Germany) Riesling Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg TBA 2005
This has a fairly light golden colour, but the nose reveals a huge, honeyed nose, crammed with ripe nectarine and peach juice aromas, and with a tang of marmalady orange. The palate is sumptuously rich and full and textured. There’s a weight of honey and nutty qualities, with magnificent weight and mouthfilling sweetness. There are complex notes of leaf tea and spices, some tangerine and a lovely orangy acidity giving the edge on the finish. 300g/l RS, 13g total acidity.
Weingut Weingut Rudolf Fürst, Franken
The Fürst family has been involved in viticulture since 1638. In 1975, whilst attending the Geisenheim School for viticulture, Paul Fürst’s father passed away suddenly. Paul was immediately thrust into the role of winemaker and estate director at the age of just 21, inheriting 350 years of winemaking history.
Under Paul’s management, the estate has grown from six to 50 acres, and a new winery has been built. The vineyards are planted 40% to Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) in which Paul specialises, with 20% to Riesling, 15% to Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and the remainder to other varieties. Their main vineyard is the Bürgstadter Centgrafenberg, a south-facing moderate to steep site of weathered sandstone and loam.
All vineyard work is done by hand, including green harvesting to assure reduced yield and very careful selection during the harvest. Treatment of the vines and soil is “as near organic and as close to natural as possible.”
Though a Spätburgunder specialist, Paul also concentrates on very dry, mineral whites, fermented in stainless steel on their lees at very low temperatures. I confess I found these young wines to be incredibly austere when tasted in isolation, during a morning tasting session. The wines are extremely ‘steely’, with extraordinary minerality and precision – even his Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner, two varieties which rarely aspire to more than pleasing fruitiness. I’d love to reassess these wines with food sometime, or even just with a few years in bottle.
See all UK stockists of Rudolf Fürst wines on wine-searcher.
Rudolf Fürst (Franken) Müller-Thurgau Pur Mineral 2005
Very dry, almost salty aromas with a mealy quality and dry orchard fruits. Intensely dry, linear, salty and lemon flavours with a hugely bracing acidity and just shot through with a nervous, pithy, white acidity.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Silvaner Pur Mineral 2005
In a traditional Franconian flask bottle. Again, a mealy, creamy note softening a pure citrus and very dry mineral notes. There is that hint of leesy richness and texture, but once again an uncompromising, steely minerality and lemon pith dryness. These wines really need food, but are beautifully pure and elegant. Paul suggests as a match for fish.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Silvaner Karthäuser Spätlese Trocken 2005
From a more stony, limestone vineyard. Much more intense fruit on the nose here, with a floral character and a slightly leafy note, with some dry, but brighter fruit. On the palate another wine braced and defined by that dry, salty minerality, with a touch more weight of fruit on the mid-palate, but then the finish is bone-dry and very taut and crisp.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Weissburgunder Pur Mineral 2005
Fermentation in large old foudres. The nose has a hint of fruit sweetness and little notes of angelica and lemon peel. On the palate a very dry apple fruit, with a stony, dry and pithy acidity again, but that purity.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Riesling Centgrafenberg Kabinett Trocken 2005
Lots of slate and smoke on the nose, with obvious minerality. Fine lemony fruit comes through, and a touch of leafy, herbal character. The palate has a tangy, fizzling palate of pure lemon and lemon zest fruit, with again that salty-edged, crystalline minerality into the bone-dry finish.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Riesling Centgrafenberg Spätlese Trocken 2005
Slightly less aromatic, with just a hint of riper, peachy fruit notes as well as apple and dry citrus pith. Massive attack of intense lemony fruit and a touch of celery, but that massive white fruit and mineral acidity just fizzles through the finish.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Riesling Centgrafenberg ‘R’ 2005
The ‘R’ is a declaration of the best wine of the vintage, and basically stands for ‘reserve’. There’s a distinct herbal quality here, and a touch of wax, but a flood of minerality and stony dryness. The palate has a stony character, and almost sour plum fruit, with a touch of dry, gooseberry quality, but all submerged and constrained by that lemon and mineral acidity. Hints at complexity already here, though like most of these wines, Paul says the wines are best as they reach 3 years old.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Riesling Centgrafenberg Spätlese Trocken 1997
Much deeper colour in this 12%, nine-year-old wine, which Paul says would have been ‘R’ had he started the concept then. A definite touch of waxiness and a hint of petrol, with a lot of ripe, slightly bruised apple quality. On the palate this has barely budged an inch it seems at first, with a little more oxidative quality with some of that bruised fruit, a little more weight and texture, and a distinct note of creamy, but barely ripe strawberries. But still the acidity just pushes through, with that fine, zesty lemon and mineral quality into a very long finish.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Spätburgunder Tradition 2004
Made in big, old wooden foudres. Fairly pale crimson colour. A certain amount of smoky minerality comes through on this wine too (though there’s also a hint of sulphur that dissipates). There’s an earthiness, with more smoky notes, onto a palate that is dry and quite herbal and meaty, with lots of spice and acidity, but very concentrated.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg 2004
Much rounder and creamier, with some almost minty oak qualities, and a creamy quality of red berry fruit. The palate is very intense and meaty again, with a very spicy and rich character, and masses of acidity still evident into a structured, savoury finish. Will be better once acidity integrates slightly more for me.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg ‘R’ 2004
Yield of around 30hl/ha, which is almost half of the ‘Tradition’. A touch of coffee and creamy, toasty vanilla with oak overlaid on top at the moment. (15 months in 100% new French oak). Very deep and meaty character, with still that smoky minerality coming through. The palate is extremely concentrated, with masses of structure and grip, and a great density of meaty, charcoally fruit and tannin.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg ‘R’ 2003
Harvested 4 weeks earlier than normal (earliest harvest ever). Very deep, slightly meat stocky, but harmonious wine, with lots of spice and tobacco notes, and plenty of spicy, rich fruit. The palate is hugely dense and structured, with enormous weight and depth of meaty, spicy, super-concentrated fruit, a weight of tannin, and masses of spicy acidity. This lacks a little generous flesh, but is so meaty and dense that it may well come round very well over the next few years I’d guess.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg ‘R’ 2001
This wine has integrated very well, showing that these wines probably do need time I the cellar. The fruit has come through the oak a little more, with more elegance and light and shade. There is tobacco and smokiness, with spices and a touch of mint leaf. On the palate much more charm too, with more dry, extracted but more pleasurable fruit. The acidity and massive tannic background is still there, with a wrapping of smoke and cedary oak.
Rudolf Fürst (Germany) Frühburgunder Centgrafenberg ‘R’ 2003
A long tradition of Frühburgunder, which was very popular 100 years ago in Franken. Was down to last 1500 square metres, when Paul bought it from the owner – 50-year-old vines, with first release in 1985. A degeneration of the Pinot Noir, with smaller bunches and berries, and more prone to virus. Now quite common across Germany. Nutty, smoky and toasty on the nose, with quite plush autumnal berry fruit notes, and lots of smoky depth. Quite a velvety plushness, with masses of clove and spice, with a black fruit quality, but all wrapped in an intense layering of oak, and with massive tannic presence. A real mouthful.
J.L Wolf, Pfalz
J.L. Wolf is Ernie Loosen’s ‘other’ estate, situated in the Pfalz, many miles south of the Mosel and close to the French border near Alsace. These vineyards are protected by the Haardt Mountains, in a very similar way to the Vosges in Alsace, of which they are an extension. This gives a rain shadow: the mountains cause a lower air pressure on the vineyard side, which means warmer evenings and fresher mornings.
Those warmer evenings are part of an almost Mediterranean climate, in which 1800 hours of sunshine per year allow farming of figs, kiwis, and lemons as well as vines.
It was this potential to really ripen grapes for fuller, dry white wine styles that attracted Ernie Loosen to buy the property. Wolf was established in the early 19th century, before the owner married into the Bürklin family and the Bürklin-Wolf estate was born.
Ernie Loosen shakes his head in disbelief when he talks about his decision to buy J.L Wolf in 1996: “With global warming we are now getting the temperatures and sunshine hours in the Mosel that I couldn’t even dream of 10 years ago. I shouldn’t have bothered buying Wolf to make this style of wine – soon it will be possible in the Mosel!” he jokes.
Under the supervision of winemaker Günter Mayer, the JL Wolf wines – in Burgundy-style bottles – combine good acidity and some minerality with riper, fuller fruit flavours and once again, the 2005 vintage is blessed with some really terrific wines.
See all UK stockists of JL Wolf wines on wine-searcher.
Villa Wolf (Germany) Pinot Blanc 2005
Delicate, fresh, apple fruited nose with no oak influence and gently peachy, floral notes. On the palate there’s a decisive attack of very dry, white fruited and slightly chalky acidity. This is quite lean, but very nicely balanced and crisp in the finish.
Villa Wolf (Germany) Pinot Gris 2005
A smokier, richer nose, with more spicy fruit character and a touch of toast. Very fresh on the palate, with just a touch of residual sugar sweetness, but all swept along with crisp orchard fruits and racy lemon and lime acidity. Plenty of dash and verve here, with a tangy orangy quality into the finish.
Villa Wolf (Germany) Pinot Noir Rosé 2005
Lovely pale salmon pink. Soft, herb-tinged strawberry and gentle, creamy raspberry fruit. The palate has a deal of residual sugar, and this finishes with an off-dry character, despite plenty of acidity and a mouthfilling fruitiness running through.
Villa Wolf (Germany) Riesling Dry 2005
Nice delicate fruit nose, with lemony aromas and a hint of peach. On the palate the fruit is very citrussy, with a dry sense of minerality too, and plenty of lemon acidity. Tangy and vibrant, and very nicely balanced. This has plenty of quality and will soften slightly in time.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Wachenheimer Spätlese Dry 2004
“Village wine” A lovely note of honey and a touch of peach kernel, with some nutty and rich stone fruit aromas. Just a touch of wax developing. On the palate very clean, firm, quite austere lemon fruit, with just a touch of waxy lemon rind quality fattening the mid-palate slightly. Plenty of acidity here in a long, racy finish.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Wachenheimer Goldbächel Spätlese Dry 2005
“Premier Cru” according to the old 19th century tax map. A touch of herbs and a touch of yeasty clove character, with dry apple fruit aromas. The palate is extremely tight, with searing levels of acidity, but there is terrific, clean, citrus fruit. A touch austere this, and definitely needs food if drinking now.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Wachenheimer Gerümpel Spätlese Dry 2005
More perfume here, with some almost lychee like notes. Small herbal notes. This seems more robust and a little more powerful, with a mouthfilling fruit and acid attack, and a certain spiciness. Plenty of thrust and vigour in this wine, with a peppery quality, though still good balance and clean acidity.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Wachenheimer Belz Spätlese Dry 2005
Monopole. A fair bit of ferment character here still, with solid fruit beneath, though little notes of clove and banana. Lots of racy lemon fruit. Bone dry and a touch austere at present, with some real minerality in the finish of this. Bone dry, but that minerality will make this very interesting once the fruit character comes through.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Forster Pechstein Spätlese Dry 2005
From basalt rich soils (originally thought to be pitch or tar). There’s a more gentle, peachy and tropical nuance on the nose of this wine, with some spice and lemon zest. A little more generosity just sneaking through in this wine, with a herbal note again, some leafy qualities and plenty of white fruit and lemon acidity.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Forster Ungeheuer Spätlese Dry 2005
Translates as “the monster”. Some leafy, waxy, and Sharon fruit aromas, with touches of perfume and talcum. One of the more aromatic vineyards at this stage. Lovely fruit evident here, with a sweetness and purity, and plenty of spice. Lovely acidity here, in my favourite wine so far, but that may be just because it seems a little more open and forward. Delicious and complex.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Forster Jesuitengarten Spätlese Dry 2005
Fairly restrained, but lovely discreet aromatics of spices, clove and white flowers over tight white fruit. On the palate this has a very composed feel, but at this stage with just masses of acidity dominating any fruit character. This is shot through with lemon and lime, and masses of minerality. This definitely needs time, but seems to have beautiful intensity and decisive structure.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Wachenheimer Belz Spätlese 2005
More fatness and sweetness immediately apparent on the nose, with a peach and nectarine note as well as a fatter lemony character. The extra sweetness just softens and flatters the palate here, making this much more approachable at this stage, with some clove spice and ripe apple and pear fruit salad notes. There is very good minerality and lemon pith acidity, and little spicy and buttery notes into the finish.
JL Wolf (Germany) Riesling Forster Pechstein Spätlese 2005
Quite a nice open wax and very lightly paraffin aroma (but very discreet) with some sweet, ripe fruit. Lovely fruit on the palate, with plenty of sweetness and hints of tropicality. Lovely length here, and nice balancing acids that are already quite well integrated. Seems a touch drier than the Belz, but still has the lift of sweetness before the acidity kicks in.