WFA German First Growths Masterclass + others

Suntec Convention Centre, Singapore
Tasted Thursday, October 16, 2008 - Saturday, October 18, 2008 by Paul S with 713 views

Introduction

It is a well known fact that dry German whites were priced more highly than the likes of Lafite and Le Montrachet wines in the 19th Century. However, I have never quite understood these wines. In the face of rising quality of Australian dry Rieslings and the rather mediocre Trockens I have had, the German dry style seemed rather moribund and uninpsiring.

This all changed on the first day of of Wine For Asia, when Leonardo of Magma was kind enough to open a couple of dry first growths for me - I was blown away. When spaces opened at the German Embassy organised masterclass for first growth wines, some of them very rare, I jumped at the opportunity to try more of these gems. This turned out to be one of the best tastings of the year so far.

Just in way of a brief explanation, Germany has no "official" first growth denomination. However VdP members (a guile of the top quality prodcuers) have grouped together to create their own version of first growth wines - wines that made using the highest qualities of production from the best vineyard sites. These go by slightly different nomenclature in different regions - Erste Lage, Estes Gewächs or Großes (pronounced and sometimes spelt "Grosses") Gewächs. For ease of reference, I have organised my notes into three sections - the first growth Rieslings that we tasted in the masterclass, the other Rieslings tasted at the Wine for Asia Fair and, finally, the Spatburgunders (Pinot Noir).

Flight 1 - First Growth Rieslings (12 Notes)

12 wines from across Germany in a brilliantly conducted masterclass by oenologist Kirk Baeur

  • 2007 Wittmann Westhofener Morstein Riesling Großes Gewächs 92 Points

    Germany, Rheinhessen

    (10/18/2008)

    Pale yellow flecked with green. Clean, clear nose with citrus lime, a little grassy note, green apple and grapefruit with a sweet lift of ripe gooseberries, white flowers and honeysuckle. The palate was really dry though, with bright acid, lemon rind and a zesty, crisp struture. All this laced with a perfumed, lavender like sent and a counterpoint of streaky minerality. This was at once austere and rich. It finished long, dry and minerally. Laser-beamed focused on the mid-palate as it was, it grew more expansive in the mouth as it lingered. Brilliant, and will get better with time.

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  • 2007 Weingut Prinz von Hessen Winkeler Jesuitengarten Riesling Erstes Gewächs 94 Points

    Germany, Rheingau

    (10/18/2008)

    This super-dry wine may not be everybody's cup of tea, but I thought it was superb and full of character. Only 5,800 bottles produced, so I feel quite privileged to have tasted it. A very pale yellow colour, almost pastel. The nose showed yeasty bread and a lifted accent that brought to mind walks through green grassland. The grassy tone faded a little in time and almost intoxicatingly perfumed white flowers came to the fore. Beautiful, seductive nose. The palate attacked where the nose left off, with tropical fruits like lychee and longan and then and more subdued layer of apricots and nectarines burst in the mouth. But once the wine hit the midpalate, it seemed to change gear completely, and became bone-dry, almost achingly so, with a streak of flinty mineral running like a laser beam all the way into the finish. Right at the end, the gears shifted again. There was a slight linger of stone fruit, almost juicy with the acidity now, and then a mini-explosion of perfume before the wine finally tailed off. Super-impressive, and this will only get better in a few years. The next question is, where on earth can I find more of this?

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  • 2007 Hans Lang Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Erstes Gewächs 92 Points

    Germany, Rheingau

    (10/18/2008)

    Pale yellow with green flecks. This wine had a fresh, clean nose - citrusy lime, perfumed flowers, honey and ripe rock melon and other yellow fruits. The palate showed mouthwatering acidity with rich and layered flavours of apricot and rock melon. This was quite a bit riper, fatter and sweeter than Prinz von Hessen's Jesuitgarten 1st Growth, the only other Rheingau in the tasting on both the nose and the palate. It was still dry but felt round and integrated, and surprisingly forward for a 2007 - probably one of the most forward wines in the masterclass. Nice, long lingering finish with clean mineral running through. Maybe a bit simpler and with less structure and breeding than some that we tried, but an excellent wine nonetheless.

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  • 2007 Bürgerspital zum hl. Geist Würzburger Stein Riesling "Hagemann" Großes Gewächs 92 Points

    Germany, Franken

    (10/18/2008)

    This was bottled in the traditional Franconian box-bottle. Only 1,500 of these were produced. Pale coloured like the other wines on show, but this was a little deeper yellow than the others. The nose was somewhat reflective of the colour of the wine, showing a creamy richness, with lemon custard scents and chamomile accent, all this shot through with clean minerality. Very gentle and welcoming, yet complex. The palate was rich and seductive, softer than most of the other wines on show. Yet there was still a great balance, with subtle yellow fruit and fresh lemon-grass tones. The long finish was stony-dry with lingering flower tones. This was more delicate, a little less intecllectual than thos of the Rhine and Mosel, but really pleasant to drink and still a wine with lots going on.

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  • 2007 Juliusspital Würzburger Stein Riesling Großes Gewächs 95 Points

    Germany, Franken

    (10/18/2008)

    This was every bit as good as the fantastic 2006 that I had the pleasure of trying a couple of days before. If anything, I found that this wine had even more stuffing and character and will be simply awesome in the long-run. Pale yellow gold flecked with green. Beautiful, complex nose with apples, pears and peaches along with honeysuckle and a beautifully delineated mineral strain which carried on into the palate and all the way through into the finish. On the palate itself, the wine was complex, rich and layered, with clean slate tones, white fruits, flowers, all wonderful balanced with clean, fresh acidity. There is just so much extract in this wine, yet not one bit was out of place, everything seamlessly sewn together into a beautiful package. It wound down into a really long finish with a little yeast and bread mingling amongst the fruit and flowers. Absolutely lovely.

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  • 2007 Fürstlich Castell'sches Domänenamt Casteller Schlossberg Riesling Großes Gewächs 90 Points

    Germany, Franken

    (10/18/2008)

    Yellow green colour. Nose was rather closed at this point. Rather surprising aftert he expressive of the last two Franken bottlings. I got a hint of mint and yellow fruit along with flinty mineral. The palate showed lemons, lime and more of the flintiness. Only in the finish did some apricot fruit show up, riding along a minerally bed. This was a lot simpler at the moment than most of the other wines we tried, but there was good balance and lots of extract. It certainly will need some time to before it shows fully.

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  • 2007 Dr. Deinhard Deidesheimer Kalkofen Riesling Großes Gewächs 90 Points

    Germany, Pfalz

    (10/18/2008)

    Similar pale yellow-gold with green as most of the other wines. The nose on this one was rather creamy and nutty on the low notes - I thought of the Cantonese almond cream dessert. On the top-notes, it showed yellow fruit like nectarine along with sweet lemons and a touch of lemon-grass. The palate was really bright and super-dry. Quite a surprise after the nose. It was almost a little tast at points. A familiar mineral streak wound its way though the wine into the finish, which was rather rounder and more mouthwatering than tart. A good wine obviouslyu, but this was a little punishing at the moment and needs a lot more time in the bottle.

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  • 2007 Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan Deidesheimer Hohenmorgen Riesling Großes Gewächs 91 Points

    Germany, Pfalz

    (10/18/2008)

    This was deeper yellow than the other wines. The nose showed some almond nutty flavours (a Pfalz signature from the almond trees around Deidesheim, or just my imagination?), along with deeper yellow fruit like ripe peaches, mangoes and nectarines, almost a little marmalde tone, and some chamomile flowers. Rather forward, and very attractive. The palate was rich and layered, with quite a bit of fruit and a little rivulet of bitter minerals running tough the wine. It was certainly the biggest that we tasted at 13% alcohol, and the finish actually showed a bit of this with a whiff of glycerin alongside the flowery tones that carried over from the nose. Good, but it seemed just a little unintegrated at the moment. I prefer the more classic, restrained style, although I think this may have quite a few fans.

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  • 2006 Siegrist Leinsweiler Sonnenberg Riesling Großes Gewächs 91 Points

    Germany, Pfalz

    (10/18/2008)

    The first 2006 at the tasting, this showed some diesel notes on the nose, somehow reminding me of the diesel used in small boats. Underneath this layer was peachy fruit, some pomelo, a little yeast and a strain of mineral. Good acid on the palate, which showed rich, ripe grapefruit and a bittersweet flintginess. The finish was rather short, but satifyingly round. This seem a litle unintegrated and somehow slightly simpler and not as noble or refined as most of the 2007 wines we had. The 2007 wines seemed more measured, more balanced, with brighter acidity and structure. Still, on its own, this was a pretty good wine.

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  • 2007 Staatsweingut Weinsberg Riesling "S" trocken 91 Points

    Germany, Württemberg

    (10/18/2008)

    Yellow gold colour. Nose showed all flowery, with honeysuckle and nectar nestling in a bed of minerals. Clean acid on the palate along with flinty mineral, bittersweet lemon seed oil and some citrusy grapefruit. Nice finish with medium length. This was rather straightforward, but well balanced and nicely integrated. I thought it showed lots of extract and some structure and should age rather nicely.

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  • 2007 Weingut Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese 93 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/18/2008)

    Absolutely lovely, ultra exotic. The wine's pale yellow colour with green flecks belied a nose alive with character. A little curtain of classic rubber and petroleum with a cascade of minerals showed at first, but when that was pulled aside, the wine revealed lifted perfurmed flowers, apple fruit and then exotic, fragrant passion fruit scents. The palate was every bit as sweet and exotic, attacking with a little ripe banana flavou and then shifting gears into passion fruit and finally in a linering finish of lychees and perfumy flowers. Full, round, rich, almost a little OTT, but a great wine nonetheless.

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  • 2007 Weingut Burg Ravensburg Husarenkappe Riesling Großes Gewächs 92 Points

    Germany, Baden

    (10/18/2008)

    Similar green-yellow-gold as the other wines, but woah, this had a funky nose. Kirk Bauer, who conducted the class, told us that this was fermented in wild yeasts that grew on the grapes and was usually marked upon bottling by these strange reductive scents. It will take awhile for them to settle down. Right now, it showed a strange whiff of antibiotics, I thought amoxicillin, rather plasticky, rubbery, stinky. Once I got past that though, it really was a lovely wine. Beautiful acidity on the palate, which was richly layered with clean, pure yellow fruit and fragrant flowers. The finish was round and satisfying and well backboned with a nice mierality. I think this will be a beauty when it sheds its ugly duckling reduction.

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Flight 2 - Other Rieslings tasted in the main tasting floor (8 Notes)

  • 2006 Juliusspital Würzburger Stein Riesling Großes Gewächs 94 Points

    Germany, Franken

    (10/16/2008)

    This was served in a traditional round Franken bottle. Years ago, this may have been a sign of poor, sourish wines, but this particular bottle was spectacularly good. A pale yellow gold colour. The nose was sweet, almost Spatlese-like, but with a fine mineral, slate strain running through fragrant, aromatic gooseberries, fresh cut white flowers, grass and bread. All very fresh and extremely complex. After the sweetness of the nose, the palate was really dry, and yet intense and rich, with lovely perfumed flavours that flowed seamlessly from the nose and a lovely mineral backbone. A long, mouthwatering finish closed the wine off. Beautiful.

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  • 2007 Weingut Uwe Lützkendorf Karsdorfer Hohe Gräte Riesling QbA, Großes Gewächs 92 Points

    Germany, Saale/Unstrut

    (10/16/2008)

    One of the first few German first growths I have tried and I can see what the fuss is about. This was miles ahead of the Aussie dry style, one can tell why these wines cost more than a Montrachet in the 19th Century. A pale green gold colour. Complex nose of bread, grass and a perfumed, fragrant soap upper register. Rather lovely and aromatic. Great balance on the palate, which was really dry, yet rich and flavourful with gooseberrie, beeswax and a lovely minerality. It finished round, long and lovely.

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  • 2007 Weingut Gebrüder Ludwig Thörnicher Ritsch Riesling Montis Feinherb 90 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/16/2008)

    Feinherb, yet another sweetness level to add to the confusing German listing. I understand that this lies somewhere just above Halbtrocken and the Pradikats. Pale yellow colour, with a nose of slate and white musk. The palate wasclean enough, but I thought it needed just a little more lift from the acid. Still, it showed good intensity and a nice limey flavour. Sweet, but some dryness carried the wine rather nicely into its long finish. Not bad at all.

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  • 2007 Weingut Gebrüder Ludwig Thörnicher Ritsch Riesling Classic 90 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/16/2008)

    Pale yellow colour. Clean, clear nose with pertoleum and white fruit. Palate was really dry, with a great mineral backbone and a fresh burst of acidity at the finish. This would make an excellent food wine.

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  • 2007 Weingut Gebrüder Ludwig Thörnicher Ritsch Riesling 89 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/16/2008)

    Pale yellow colour. Nose showed wet stone and flinty mineral along with some white fruit. Rather creamy palate, with limes and lemons along with a stream of minerality and some sweet white fruit and flwoers. Nice round finish. Classic Mosel riesling. Well made, but nothing special.

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  • 2007 Weingut Gebrüder Ludwig Klüsserather Bruderschaft Riesling Spätlese 90 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/16/2008)

    Pale yellow colour. Clean, limey nose which carried through into a lively palate which was simple yet pleasant. Long, noteworthy finish. A decent Spat, but nothing to shout about.

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  • 2007 Weingut Gebrüder Ludwig Thörnicher Ritsch Riesling Kabinett trocken 89 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/17/2008)

    Pretty decent. Green grass, mineral and white fruit on the nose along with a fragrant perfumy edge. The palate was clean and fresh, with a sense of sweetness to the fresh white fruit along wuth limey acid, apple core and some flowers. Good round finish that showed a touch of bread and yeast and more flowers.

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  • 2005 Markus Molitor Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spätlese (Green Capsule) 90 Points

    Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer

    (10/16/2008)

    Pale yellow colour. Nose showed an accent of fresh cut grass, bread, a slight petroleum note and minerals along with some smoke and ash. The palate was beautifully balanced, with a great sense of minerally structure. Decent finish, very good Mosel typicity, with slatey mineral being the strong feature. My handwritten notes strangely had no mention of fruit. It was sweet enough, and expressive enough, but somehow not as fruit-driven as I would have expected. I think this may be a little closed at the moment. Still, a nice wine with quite a bit going on.

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Flight 3 - Spatburgunders (Pinot Noir) (4 Notes)

Still not too impressed with German Pinots in general

  • 2006 Jean Stodden Spätburgunder 88 Points

    Germany, Ahr

    (10/16/2008)

    Wow this was sweet. A strange light pinkish colour, lots of candied cherry sweets on the nose along with more candied sweetness on the palarte. The only thing that rescued the wine was a firm minerally backbone and nice fresh acidity on the palate, along with its rather decent finish. Diabetes inducing. Not a bad wine, but not one I would broach again. I would have thought new world if tasted blind.

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  • 2005 Jean Stodden Recher Herrenberg Spätburgunder Großes Gewächs 89 Points

    Germany, Ahr

    (10/18/2008)

    For a first growth, this was rather disappointing. Garnet coloured. Tons of buttery oak and mocha on the nose. It when down a little with time to show some spritzy cola scents, funky loam and some candied cherried fruit and a touch of plums. All this was rather burried under the oak though. Much the same on the palate, which showed lots of extract, good clean acidity and some velvety tannins, but flavourwise just a lot of mocha and dry woody accents. There was some cherry swimming around in there, but I could not quite get to it. The finish was all coffee-ish, like the local Kopiko milk-coffee sweets. This reminds me of a young Dominique Laurent - far too much oak, but with plenty of extract. It would be interesting to see if this ages like one of Laurent's low-end bottlings (badly) or his higher-end ones, which integrated very nicely and become rather excellent as the oak subsides.

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  • 2005 Weingut Bercher Burkheimer Feuerberg Spätburgunder Erste Lage 89 Points

    Germany, Baden

    (10/18/2008)

    Deep purple colour with brown tones. Nose showed funk, wet earth, fur and a little sweat. Not altogether pleasant. There were some nice meaty, gamey notes, a touch of mocha and lifted dried earth scentsw beneath that though. The palate showed clean acid, pepper, cherries and plums. Not bad at all. Finish was decent, a little bittersweet, with lots of creme brulee and vanilla notes. Far too oaky and unintegrated at the moment. This needs time. Not too impressive for now.

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  • 2005 Weingut Landmann Freiburg Spätburgunder Rotwein 92 Points

    Germany, Baden

    (10/16/2008)

    This was really good - almost like a Burgundy 1er Cru. The wine maker tells me that Baden and Burgundy share a lot history and wine making links. You can tell it though the wine. Aged in Allier oak, 80% new, this showed a very subtle touch, with earth, minerals and cherries on the nose along with just the slightest hint of the oak. Clean acid on the palate and a nice mineral backbone supported sweet cherry fruit, more earthy notes and a little woody twist. More clean minerality rounded of the finish. While note the most complex of wines, this was really nicely balanced and poised and extremely well put together. Very good effort indeed.

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Closing

I should add a note that I found the 2007 to have generally really high quality wines with lots of extract and potential for aging. Even the more mediocre wines did well. However, the difference between the top wines and those lower down the scale seems to be in the balance of the wine. While the high achievers managed to get clean, vibrant acidity out of the grapes to balance the weight of the wines, quite a few of the lower-end wines turned out a little hollow or lacking in life and freshness.

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