Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wines of Germany Day Three

Rested or at least well-caffeinated, we set out the next morning for a return trip to Wurzburg. Our destination, the Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist. The estate was established in 1316 as a home for the elderly "Christians suffering from affliction." The first vineyards were planted in 1334 served to supply the endowment's needs. In 1598, the residents of the "old people's home" were each provided with a tankard - 1.22 litres - of wine. If the residents behaved in an unruly manner, water was mixed with the wine as a punishment. If such behavior went too far, the wine ration was cancelled! Soon, Bürgerspital was financing their  charitable enterprises from their wine  and estate stewardship.

Among the many treasures in their cellar they have a Stein wine from the year 1540. In 1961, Hugh Johnson sampled from a second bottle of this vintage, reporting that it was "still alive. Nothing had made me so clearly aware that wine, in truth, is a living organism, since this brown Madeira-like liquid before me still held the active life elements which it had absorbed from the sun of that so long past summer." 

The estate is also considered the home of the Bocksbeutel, the distinctive bottle seen throughout the Franken. In 1726 the Council of the City of Würzburg decided that the Bocksbeutel would be be the regional mark of quality. It is still used, although some wineries do use more modern shapes. Personally, although I like the history of the bottle, it won't fit in many wine racks, which seems a problem for storage. 

The wine: Their most famous vineyard is the Würzburger Stein, where they have 28 hectares. They have a total of 140 hectares, 90 of which are located within Wurzburg. They are a founding member of the VDP (Association of German Top-Quality Wine-Growing Estates). Of the wines we tasted, my favorite was the 2009 Randersackerer Teufelskeller Riesling Spätlese trocken. 

After our tasting, we had lunch in their restaurant. Remember how your mother always told you not to eat anything larger than your head? Apparently the chef was not paying attention to that piece of advice and served each of us a pork shoulder large enough to serve the entire table. Personally, I fell in love with a sadly unavailable teddy bear that I had hopes of bringing home for K. If you see one like this somewhere, let me know?

On the other hand, perhaps the large lunch was designed to encourage bus napping as it was time to leave the Franken and head out to the Rheingau.

Our first destination there was  Schloss Johannisberg, a site with over 1200 years of viticultural history. Their history is really quite amazing and I've included a few notable dates below:

817 The first documented mention of the vineyards by Louis the Pious  
1716 The Abbey of Fulda under Prince Abbot Konstantin von Buttlar, purchases the property and begins construction of the palace on the site of the monastery 
1720 The entire domain is planted with Riesling, the first vineyard in the world planted exclusively with Riesling
1748 To this day, the oldest bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling lies in the palace’s treasure chamber, the “Bibliotheca subterranea” 
1775 The benefits of a “Spätlese” (late harvest) are first recognized at Schloss Johannisberg 
1802/03 Secularization by Emperor Napoleon
1815 The property is transferred to the emperor of Austria in the presence of Goethe 
1816 Emperor Franz I of Austria cedes the Domäne Schloss Johannisberg to his state chancellor – on condition that one tenth of the annual harvest be delivered to the House of Habsburg 
1971 Under the German wine law, Schloss Johannisberg is declared an independent appellation that requires no additional geographical designation

My favorite of those dates is 1775 for it was in that year that spätlese was first made.  At that time, permission to commence harvesting was granted by the Lord of Fulda and delivered by a courier. In 1775, the courier responsible notified the estate two weeks late, which resulted in the grapes being riper and sweeter than ever before. The wine made from these grapes was of an outstanding quality and from then on the estate continued to allow a proportion of their grapes to ripen longer. This wine was called “spätlese” because it was harvested later than other wines. Why the courier was delayed by about two weeks on this particular occasion is still a matter of contention. The most popular belief is that he was held up by a beautiful woman! 

The wine: The estate is still planted only with riesling. It was here that we had our most involved wine discussion with a wide-ranging conversation that included planting rules, de-acidification, petrol notes, and malo. We tasted 5 wines, one 2010 and four from 2009. My favorite was the 09 Rosalack Auslese, which had an excellent balance of acid and sweetness, with notes of honey, apple and citrus. 
Note that unlike most of the Franken producers, these wines are imported into the US

We then drove to dinner at Schloss Schenke / Weingut Schloss Reinhartshausen. With a relaxed setting and family style fish and vegetables, it was a nice way to finish the day. Or so we thought.  It turned out that there was a local wine festival taking place in Eltville-Erbach. The event was much like a small town American fair, but with a focus on wine. The featured drink was wine with strawberries, though by that time of the day, many opted for beer. It turns out that there are over 1,000 wine festivals in Germany each year, ranging from small town events like we attended to large, regional events. I found a partial list here or in German here

Finally, we set off for Wiesbaden, where we would spend the next two nights.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting post. Great job! Awesome insights!