Posted by Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-26-2012| Posted in
This entry is part of my German Riesling Adventure, a weeklong trip to wine country last August. To read the rest of the posts, including the introduction, click here.
After our visit to Geltz-Zilliken, where we also tasted the wines of Peter Lauer as part of the SaarRieslingSommer festival, we drove to the northern Saar for an appointment at Hofgut Falkenstein.
Hofgut Falkenstein is a relatively young (for Germany) winery, having existed around 30 years, yet everything about the place is traditional and makes it seem like it’s been around forever. The vines are old (over 70% are 30+ years old, the oldest are between 60 and 80). The grapes are harvested by hand and crushed in whole clusters with an old spindle press. The wines are fermented with natural yeast and aged in ancient 1000-liter oak casks before being bottled and labeled by hand. Like I said, old school.
Erich Weber, the winemaker and proprietor, is himself something of a throwback. He calls himself “Winzer Weber,” which means wine grower, as he prefers to let the land and the grapes do most of the work. Lars Carlberg describes Erich as “one of the most genuine and modest growers in the region.” Hofgut Falkenstein is a labor of love, not a financial investment. As Erich told me during our visit, “Too much money is something not so good.”
We tasted through the lineup of 2011 wines with Erich and his son, Johannes, one of three brothers, but the one most likely to take over from his father some day. The curly-haired Johannes attends Geisenheim, the famous winemaking school I mentioned in my introduction, and is every bit as passionate about the land and the wine as his dad. If I had to guess, we were meeting with another future “Winzer Weber.”
Hofgut Falkenstein grows a bit of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, but as this was a Riesling adventure, that’s what we stuck with. The wines overall are of tremendous quality. Pure and precise, subtly sweet, and refreshing. I had no history with the estate before this visit, so I cannot compare the 2011 lineup to prior vintages, but I can say that we enjoyed every wine we tasted. I should add here that this tasting was conducted in perhaps the most serene setting of our entire trip. We gathered with the Webers around a picnic table, surrounded by brick-walled gardens, overlooking steep, slate vineyards beckoning down towards the village below. It was a relaxed tasting, punctuated by wide grins and hearty laughs; the epitome of how good wine and good people can elevate an experience into something magical. Join me below for my impressions of the wines…
The Krettnacher Altenberg Spätlese Trocken is bracingly, startlingly dry (only 1-2g of residual sugar), with blue slate characteristics, and a slightly herbal note, like a citrus tea. The fruit is subtle and clean, and the wine dances on the tongue with both power and finesse. Erich says this wine is “a dancer, not a bodybuilder.”
Compared to the Altenberg, the Niedermenniger Sonnenberg Spätlese Trocken is softer, with a more floral nose. It shows a nice green melon note on the palate, and finishes with the spice of a wine grown in red slate. With nice acid lift, this is a beautiful wine. Sadly, it is not exported to the United States.
Also not available in the States, but equally tasty, is the Krettnacher Altenberg Spätlese Feinherb. The wine is barrel fermented on its lees for around 9-10 months. There is a slightly nutty/honey note on the nose, then nice fruit emerges, but without sweetness (it is around 11g of RS). A lovely, long finish. The overall impression is a bit like Apple Jacks cereal; trust me when I say that is a compliment!
The Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Feinherb (not available in the US) is slightly sweeter (20g RS), but impeccably balanced with ample acidity. It has an expressive nose of orange and grapefruit, and an oily mouthfeel. Erich says that there is a trend in Germany towards earlier bottling, but that he is always glad that they wait. The extended time in fuder really adds a nice roundness to this wine.
According to Lars Carlberg, Falkenstein is starting to make more Auslesen, which “taste more like another producer’s off-dry Spätlesen.” I agree, finding the wines to be sneaky sweet and quaffable—more like a cocktail in a glass than a dessert in a glass. The Krettnacher Euchariusberg Auslese (not available) comes from special soil, in the steepest vineyard of Falkenstein’s holdings. It has a nose of sweet red fruit and cherries and is balanced with bright acidity. It is very, very long. Just a fun, delicious wine.
The Falkensteiner Hofberg Auslese is unlike any of the other wines we tasted that day, and quite possibly my favorite. Fresh and minty on the palate, with loads of acid, it is like a thirst-quenching summer cocktail. This is a wine in need of a beach.
We ended with a red wine, the Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätburgunder Spätlese Trocken, a 12.5% alcohol Pinot. It has a bright red color and a very interesting nose—violets and something meaty or gamey. Cherry and spice emerge in the mouth, and it has a medium finish. It is a nice, if simple, Pinot Noir.
Overall, it was a delightful afternoon that embodied every aspect I highlighted in my introduction about the current state of German Riesling. We got to know two true Terroirists, Erich and Johannes. The latter clearly is part of the younger generation that reveres its elders and is anxious to carry out their traditions, while embracing new ideas to improve winemaking. And the wines are dry, but beautiful, proving the Webers right for sticking to their old-school ways and making only the wine that their land will allow them to make. Hofgut Falkenstein is a gem of the Saar; I only wish more of their juice ended up on our shores.
Next: a crazy day with Stefan Steinmetz!
Special thanks to Lars Carlberg for arranging the visit to Hofgut Falkenstein.