I have posted before about a wonderful, albeit tiny northern German wine region called the Ahr. They predominantly grow Spaetburgunder, which is Pinot Noir in Germany, on this tiny valley just south of Cologne. The valley is almost like a canyon with very steep walls built primarily of slate. Because of the steepness and the slate’s ability to absorb heat, the grapes in this tiny valley get a lot of warmth that one would not expect from such a nordic location. In fact, because the Ahr valley is so far north, the grapes here get exposed to the sun much longer than in more southern locations such as Pinot Noir’s home, Burgundy. Also because if the northern location, the nights are quite cool, which is perfect for Pinots. Welcome to one of the strangest wine regions in the world, where they grow truly world class Pinot Noir: the Ahr Valley of Germany.

One of the top producers in the Ahr is Jean Stodden. I had the fortune to visit with Jean back in the fall of 2007. That is when I picked up this gorgeous 2003 Spaetburgunder Auslese. This is one of Stodden’s top wines, probably among the best of the Ahr, if not of German Pinots.

The first thing that hits me is the clean nose of the wine. It is obvious, as soon as you smell it that we have a Pinot in the glass. Then as you taste it, you get a load of acidity, then the same clean fruit and on the finish you get that minerality that probably comes from slate. It has complexity, but much more, the wine has a beautiful structure that would be hard to find in Burgundies. In fact Jean Stodden does not even like to compare the Ahr to Burgundy, he wants to make wines that stand on their own and have a unique quality that resembles the terroir of the region. Let’s just say, after tasting several others like Mayer-Naeckel and Adeneur, he succeeds at that more than any other from the valley.

Name: Jean Stodden, Spaetburgunder Auslese ***, 2003

Rating: 9 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 56 euros

Got it at: Weingut Jean Stodden, Rech, Ahr, Germany

I had written about the Ahr region, the northernmost Pinot Noir region in the world (perhaps the northernmost red wine region) in an earlier post. At that time I reviewed a Frühburgunder, a little known clone of the Pinot Noir grape. What is planted most in the Ahr is actually Spätburgunder, which is identical to Pinot Noir. Some Pinots from the Ahr stand up to the best of Burgudies in terms of complexity and elegance and today’s wine is one of these examples.

JJ Adeneuer’s Ahrweiler Rosenthal, 2005 is entirely from a Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru) vineyard. Adeneuer is one of the top producers in the Ahr valley and to me his style is probably the closest to Burgundy. Comparisons are difficult and unfair, though, because Pinot Noir in the Ahr do not need to, in fact probably should not taste like Burgundies. The soil is quite different, the Ahr is mostly slate, and the climate is also unlike the Burgundy with cooler days, but longer hours of sunshine.

The Rosenthal Grosses Gewächs is a stunningly beautiful example of a top German Spätburgunder. The nose is very similar to a Burgundy, you can definitely smell the Pinot grape, but it also exudes quite a load of alcohol. The wine has a relatively high alcohol content at 14%, but you can mostly detect it on the nose, not so much in the taste. As I sipped on it the first thing that stunned me was the absolute perfect balance of fruit and acidity. It is obvious that this wine maker is highly skilled, the wine is superbly executed just as a German engineered car. I tasted plum, black cherry, slight roasted coffee and on the finish just a hint bitterness with a vanilla undertone (which I can appreciate that it is weird, but the complexity of taste is amazing). What is perhaps even more beautiful than the taste is the structure of this wine. It is silky, creamy, a bit earthy, extremely seductive, as you want a Pinot to be. Great finesse and absolute elegance is the best words I can use to describe the way it comes across.

We had the fortune to taste several of Adeneuer’s wines with the wine maker and the Rosenthal was one of my favorites. I liked the J.J.Adeneuer N° 1 and the N° 2 as well, though the Rosenthal is in a different league. The N° 1 is relatively light and has a bit less complexity than the N° 2, though both are very nice and elegant. They are not cheap wines and honestly if I were to buy a bottle from Adeneuer now, I would definitely step up to the Rosenthal. The only other Adeneuer that I would compare to the Rosenthal was the Walporzheimer Gärkammer Grosses Gewächs, of which I still have a bottle at home. Look for that review soon.

Name: JJ Adeneuer, Ahrweiler Rosenthal, 2005

Rating: 9/9.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 49 euros

Got it at: Adeneuer winery, Ahrweiler, Germany

JJ Adeneuer’s Ahrweiler Rosenthal, 2005

Name: JJ Adeneuer, N° 1, 2005

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 35 euros

Got it at: Adeneuer winery, Ahrweiler, Germany

JJ Adeneuer, N° 1, 2005

Name: JJ Adeneuer, N° 2, 2005

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 25 euros

Got it at: Adeneuer winery, Ahrweiler, Germany

JJ Adeneuer, N° 2, 2005

Best of Mosel Rieslings

December 7, 2007

I have not posted for a couple of weeks as I was just on a trip around Morocco and the Iberian peninsula. We were flying to Marrakesh from Germany and took the opportunity to spend some time in the Mosel wine region to taste some local wines. The Mosel (formerly named Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) is one of Germany’s premium wine regions, probably the best known along with the adjacent Rheingau. The Mosel is most famous for its Riesling, but they also produce other white varietals here and lately even some reds, such as Spätburgunder. To maximize sun exposure on the grapes, they tend to plant vines on extremely steep south facing slopes in this wine region. In fact most of the world’s steepest vineyards, some reaching a 65 degree incline, are located right here. If you have a chance to drive or bike along the curvy Mosel river, I highly recommend it not just for the fantastic wines, but also for the natural beauty of the land.

We stayed in the village of Reil, right on the bank of the Mosel river. Reil is in the Mittelmosel district, where much of the best Mosel wines come from. One up and coming winery of the Mittelmosel is Melsheimer, which in 2007 the prestigious Vinum magazine rated as the best Riesling producer in Germany. We were fortunate enough to visit this winery and meet the winemaker, Thorsten Melsheimer, a young, energetic very talented person who tasted 6 or 7 of his wines with us. While I must say all of Melsheimer’s wines were fantastic, and good value, two stood out to me the most:

The first one was the 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling Spätlese Trocken. This wine is a dry late harvest (Spätlese) Riesling. Most late harvests that I know are at least a bit sweet, but Spätlese can actually be dry, in fact very dry, such as this beauty. The acid is perfectly balanced with the fruit in this wine, you get a taste of both but neither kills the other. You also get quite a lot of minerality, which is typical for Mittelmosel wines. This is a serious, complex dry Riesling, while perfectly paired with dishes that go well with dry whites, I would recommend it by itself to enjoy the complexity it delivers. Be careful, the alcohol content of this white is above 14%!

The other standout from Melsheimer was the 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling, Auslese #36. This auslese is from the same vineyard, but Mr. Melsheimer left the fruit on the vines a bit longer to give it a more concentrated, fuller body. Also, this wine has much higher residual sugar content and is definitely sweet. The minerality is still there, but you get a lot of peach, honey, and a hint (not much more) of oiliness that we come to expect from German Rieslings. Again, while the wine pairs well with some dishes (for example it would be perfect for spicy thai food) I would recommend it standalone as it is amazingly beautiful.

Melsheimer is a fantastic producer and I think the young winemaker has not reached his limits just yet. It is a winery to watch over the next years. Let’s hope the prices will be contained as he gains reputation. Speaking of prices, I wish I could have tasted some of his Beerenauslese, but paying hundreds of euros for a half bottle was not exactly in my budget. He only makes 100 liters of Beerenauslese per year, but it is reputed to be among the best in Germany. And that means it is among the best desert wines in the world.

Name: Melsheimer 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling Spätlese Trocken

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 12.90 euros

Got it at: Weingut Melsheimer, Reil, Germany

2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling Spätlese trocken

Name: Melsheimer 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling, Auslese #36

Rating: 9 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 18 euros

Got it at: Weingut Melsheimer, Reil, Germany

2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling, Auslese #36

One of the most unique wine regions I have ever been to is the Ahr region in Germany. It is unique, in that the Ahr is I think the northernmost predominantly red winemaking area. In an earlier post I was shocked that they made wine in Holland, but that is white wine. That is somewhat understandable. But the Ahr is almost as far north as the Maastricht area of Holland, and it makes predominantly red wines! Just to put it in perspective, we are talking about a region that is about 350 miles/550 kilometers north of Burgundy.

The Ahr sits in a narrow valley in which the predominantly western cold winds are blocked creating a micro-climate that is fantastic for making Pinot Noirs. Because the Ahr is so far north, it enjoys lower intensity sunlight but for significantly longer hours of the day than the Burgundy does and at the same time the valley cools down considerably at nights, which is very good for the Pinot grape. Couple this with unique slate/volcanic rock that is predominant here and you have a small area (you can drive through it in about 10 minutes) that is remarkably well suited for growing world class Pinot Noirs.

We have visited three of the best winemakers of the Ahr Valley, Jean Stodden, J.J. Adeneuer and Meyer-Näkel. They are all quite different in their styles, Stodden perhaps the most elegant (also most high in acidity), Adeneuer quite Burgundy like and Meyer-Naekel perhaps the most approachable of the three.

Frühburgunder is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape that is predominantly (or only?) grown in the Ahr Valley. Even in the Ahr it is much less planted than its cousin, the Spätburgunder, which is the Pinot Noir. Meyer-Näkel’s 2006 Frühburgunder is a great representation of the Frühburgunder varietal. It is medium bodied, very straightforward, a bit of berry fruit, some complexity, but somehow something is missing from it. It is elegant, made in Burgundian style but unlike the top end Burgundies (my favorites) this one delivers most of its “value” in the first two seconds as you sip it and then it stops. It is not that it does not have a finish, but the finish is sort of flat, does not say much.

Frühburgunder is an interesting varietal and I think Werner Näkel, the winemaker, brought out much of this grape’s potential, but perhaps because of style in which this wine was made, I have to compare it to Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and I would favor the latter. One thing I liked about the other winemakers in the Ahr, namely Stodden and Adeneuer, is that they are distinctly different than Burgundies, and in my mind they are in a different category. Watch this blog for reviews of other Ahr wines in the future.

If you love quality unique wines you have to give this Frühburgunder a shot. In Europe you should be able to get it from the winery itself and in the US these guys carry it:

Cellars International, Inc.
1780 La Costa Meadows Dr, Suite 100
San Marcos, CA 92078
800.596.WINE (9463)

For more information on the Ahr Valley and our experience there you can read a post here.

Name: Meyer-Näkel’s Frühburgunder, 2006er

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 17 euros

Got it at: Meyer-Näkel Winery, Dernau, Germany

Meyer-Näkel’s Frühburgunder, 2006er IMeyer-Näkel’s Frühburgunder, 2006er II