German wine is gaining ground on the Belgian wine market, which is of course fantastic. There where however darker times, when Germany was eschewed by many as a proper wine country and considered a mere ocean of flabby, sweet swill. Luckily there were a couple of wine merchants who remained convinced by the quality of German wines.
Among them François Langbeen can be considered as one of the most significant contributors to the image of German wine we have today. For almost thirty years he has focused only on German wines, having built a fantastic portfolio, but even a more impressive treasury of some of Germany’s greatest producers. Every two years, François and Hilde De Jonckheere, who joined the company a couple of years ago, organize “The Ultimate Hallucination”, a presentation of rare or exceptional aged wines. I had seen the lineup presented in previous editions, so I jumped on the invitation. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
Sektwise I was floored by the starter, Georg Breuer’s 1990 brut from magnum (disgorged in 2015). Composed of the three Burgunder varieties (pinot gris, blanc and noir), and topped up with a Riesling-based liqueur de dosage, it was stunningly rich in the nose with blossom honey and candied fruit. It showed none of the richness on the palate, lean yet intense, clean, and nothing of the usual autolysis impressions you would expect from a wine that had spent such a long time on the lies. An absolutely stunning wine.
German Spätburgunder is on the up, there is no doubt about that. It is not just because Burgundian prices are increasing exponentially, but also because Spätburgunder often offers a different interpretation of what pinot noir can be. There is however a misconception that I come across in a lot of tasting notes, both by amateurs and revered professionals, stating that Spätburgunder does not have the ability to age. I have little experience, but the two wines served here certainly confirmed my gut feeling that there is a lot of untapped potential.
August Kesseler’s Assmannshausen Höllenberg 1999 had aged beautifully. Hollenberg is a legendary vineyard and has been the home of outstanding Spätburgunder for centuries. Partially ungrafted vines from clones taken at Clos Vougeot almost 100 years ago, picked quite late in October and aged in Burgundian oak. Aromas of wild strawberries, sweet, succulent cherries and a hint of roasted spices. Very soft on the palate, with acidity only showing near the end, it is exemplary. Elegant, feminine but with a decidedly Germany concentration.
Bernd Philippi’s Pinot Noir R 2003 stands in stark contrast, showing absolutely no hint of evolution, going instead on ripe, fleshy black and red fruit on the nose, leaving a serious impression on the palate with a tannic structure that could easily need another decade to soften. It is less my style of aged pinot noir, but it is impressive in its balance. Interestingly enough, the wine is labelled as Tafelwein. In the eighties Philippi was met with resistance as his pinot noir, matured in small barriques, was labelled atypical and thus denied an appellation. Nowadays his style has become broadly accepted, but the Tafelwein labelling stuck.
Moving on to the Rieslings, palates where reset with a pleasant but not exceptional Karthauserhofberg Spatlese Trocken 2006 followed by Breuer’s Rüdesheum Berg Schlossberg 2001, a wine that was not in the best of places. You could sense that it was coming together slowly with marked ripe fruit, but that it was still a bit unhinged and unfocused. We then moved on to what would turn out to be one of Germany’s iconic wines: Koehler-Ruprecht’s Kallstadt Saumagen Auslese Trocken R 1997.
It is a wine made to last, spending already six years at the estate before being released (a rarity in Germany where the vast majority of wines is drunk far too young), and only beginning to come together at 20 years of age. This one had been on my bucket list for quite some time, and going in blind certainly helped in appreciating its power and quality. Reductive at first, chalk dust, even something left of sponti aromas. Linear and tangy in approach, only to flesh out gradually on the palate, ending juicy with notes of lemon curd, liquorice and succulence, filled with joyfulness and life throughout. A defining wine, already the highlight of the wines tasted this year, and one that will stick with me for a very long time.
Schloss Reinhartshausen used to be one of the leading estates in the Rheingau, but it has gone a bit sideways these days, with scathing scores in Germany’s leading wine guides. In the nineties however, it was a different story, and the role August Kesseler played in the winemaking may have been a great contributor. The 1999 Erbach Marcobrunn Spätlese is at its peak I believe, delivering a nice fruit-driven impression with peaches and apricots. It will never be excelling, but it is pretty good. Moving on to Auslese: Dr. Crusius. Longtime fans will remember me raving about this producer’s Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg 1995 Auslese a while back, and the 1998 Millenium Auslese, sourced from the Traisen Bastei Lage did not fail to deliver. Very clean, fresh fruit jelly but with the sugar fully integrated as a structural element, not showing overt sweetness. A wine that still has a long way to go, and I would confidently stock up on it (alas, impossible to find as this was auctioned off at the time of release in minute quantities).
Karthauserhof has never stuck to me as a top producer. I find them more interesting for their location in the Ruwer valley with an actual monopol vineyard, than for their wines. Even so, the Karthauserhofberg Beerenausslese 1999 auction edition is a memorable wine. Lemon curd, Napoleon sweets, honey and lime jelly are all very nicely countered by freshness. It is not an overt wine, more on nuance than on blockbusting, the type of drink that you will enjoy with every sip, emptying the (tiny) bottle before you realize it. I am curious to see what they will put up for auction in September.