I have a love-hate relationship with German red wines. They are either too thin, containing mere superficial fruitiness, or they are too concentrated, displaying alcohol levels up to 15% and tasting more like watered-down port. To make matters even more complicated, whereas you can find a more than decent Riesling for as little as 9-10 euros, a decent Spätburgunder will often set you back at least 20 euros.
Nonetheless, German Spätburgunder can be world-class and well worth its price. The downside is that you have to spend quite some time working your way through half-decent or downright disappointing wines until you find that one bottle that acts as an eye-opener.
The top regions for Spätburgunder are the Ahr and Baden. Franken is in general not a reputable red wineproducing region. For the better part of the area this holds true, except for Mainviereck. I briefly touched on this in my previous post, but the terroir here is distinctly different from the rest of Franken. Red sandstone in the soil, steep and mountainous landscapes and a less continental climate make this part more suitable for red than white wine in most cases. One of the leading domains in the region is Weingut Fürst. The family has been growing vines for centuries, and their recent ascent to stardom started in the eighties when Paul Fürst took over the reins after the death of his father. His son Sebastian joined the estate in 2008 and mainly focused on the domain’s red wines over the past years. Roughly 60% of the wine produced is red, and over the years the family has acquired tiny parcels of land all around the region. As the domain also produces outstanding whites, I’ll focus the discussion below on terroir and the effect on both red and white wines.
The family’s main plantings are located on the Centgrafenberg. This slope close to the town of Bürgstadt is mainly planted with Spätburgunder and Riesling. It is one of the warmer and sunny areas of the region. The loam topsoil ensures good drainage while the sandstone you encounter when you go deeper serves as a water reservoir to help the vines survive hot and dry conditions. Furthermore, the red sandstone contains a fair amount of iron, which allows for rich, dense wines that benefit from some time before they open up. Green harvesting here is important as the conditions allow yields up to 70hl per acre if not kept under control. Selection in the vineyard itself is further enhanced through manual picking, ensuring that only the best grapes are used in the wines.
The white wines here are incredible, tight, balanced and elegant. The Pur Mineral 2013 (July ’14) is the entry wine. Minerality on the nose but dominated by fruitiness, a lighter substance which is supported by just enough acidity in the mouth. This is approachable and deceptively simple. Most people would like this, and winelovers can appreciate the character it displays. We get to the more serious work with the Centgrafenberg Riesling 2013 (July ’14). You get a bit more subdued fruit at first, but the nose is quickly dominated by a spiciness that apparently is typical for the vintage. Acidity is more apparent in the mouth and you get the same spiciness that you had on the nose in the finish. The top white wine is the Centgrafenberg GG Riesling 2013 (July ’14 and September ’14). Enormous depth on the nose, fruit, just a bit of spice but above all well-structured minerality that really enhances the fruitiness. When we tasted it in July it was a bit closed in the mouth, a bit too straightforward and tight, but upon tasting it again a couple of weeks ago is was a bit more balanced, more elegant with the acidity a bit more in place.
The Centgrafenberg Spätburgunder 2012 (July ’14) showed a lot of ripeness on the nose, warm fruit and it came off as a bit wounded up. It was a lot friendlier after some time in the glass and the mouthfeel was elegant, showing softness, finesse and well-balanced acidity that accentuated the fruitiness. The Centgrafenberg GG Spätburgunder was more open on the nose, fresh little red berries and cherries, an incredible structure in the mouth, juicy, elegant and held together by its acidity. It was more closed towards the finish, but the potential to be absolutely stunning in a couple of years is there.
When we move further along the slopes we arrive at Hundsrück. This used to be part of the rest of the Centgrafenberg but achieved Grosses Gewächs status in 2003. The vines here are around 40 years old and as the soil here is stonierit is perfect for Spätburgunder. I had the opportunity to taste the Hundsrück GG 2013 at a tasting in September ’14 and it was a wine that needs time. Very tight on the nose, a lot of depth and power but not yet ready to reveal itself. You could sense that the structure was there, the basis had been set but the rest was not there yet. It would take a couple of years to show what it can be at its best.
Finally we arrive at what is perhaps my favourite terroir, Klingenberg, located further up north from the estate. It was only recently acquired by the Fürst family and has been replanted over the years. Steep soils, terraced and well-exposed to the sun make for a lot of potential but also a lot of work. The wines are definitely worth it. We only tasted the village-level wine, Klingenberger Spätburgunder, but in two vintages (July ’14). The 2012 was incredibly soft, showing little red sour cherries, structured tannins and a great amount of openness right until the finish. The elegance and the finesse that shone through was even more present in the 2005. A sense of autumn, truffle enveloped with an even more delicate fruitiness made this a wonderful wine. Seeing as the vines had only just been replanted in 2005, the potential of the later vintages will only become greater and greater and I am dying to find out how these will evolve.
The Fürst wines are impressive. They all have a distinctive character, the whites and the reds, but the elegance that you can sense in all of them really shows you were they come from. Dedicated vineyard management and the careful use of wood that adds just enough structure to uplift the wines are proof of the skill, time and effort involved in making these wines. Though they are not cheap, they are well worth seeking out if you want to discover what Franken can be capable of.