Posts Tagged Baden

White And Gray Burgundian

10 July 2013

Tasting at A. ChristmannGerman wine and Riesling are practically synonymous, and considering the quality of fine German Rieslings, it’s no wonder. But Germany grows other varieties as well, of course, and quite successfully at that. Some tend to be duds (like Müller-Thurgau), but some are quite delicious, such as Weissburgunder and Grauburgunder. These varieties, which translate as “White Burgundian” and “Gray Burgundian,” respectively, are in fact nothing more (and nothing less) than German Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Wines made from Weissburgunder or Grauburgunder tend to be richly flavorful, and yet, it’s rare to find them here in the United States. Perhaps these semi-pronounceable varieties are overshadowed by Riesling, or perhaps the Germans prefer to keep these wines all to themselves!

Whatever the case, they are worth seeking out. As you might have guessed from the names, both varieties are direct descendants of the highly regarded Pinot Noir variety (Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Gris). This noble pedigree shows in the wines these varieties produce.

I tasted a number of delicious examples of Weissburgunder and Grauburgunder during my recent German sojourn, and there wasn’t a single disappointment:

2011 Weingut Max Ferd Richter Weissburgunder: This wine from the spectacularly scenic Mosel Valley — my favorite German wine region — had a fresh and spicy aroma, floral fruit, limey acids and a tight finish. Cheerful and refreshing.

2012 Weingut Wolf Weissburgunder Trocken: I sampled this wine from the Pfalz region, which is really a northern extension of the famed Alsace, in a thoroughly delightful Munich restaurant called Halali. The Pfalz produces some of Germany’s best wines, though this is quite an inexpensive Weissburgunder, offered for just €5.50 per bottle on the winery’s website. I would have guessed it cost at least triple that. Almost clear in color, it had a bright and spicy aroma in keeping with the variety. Its ripe fruit tightened quickly into tart, focused acids. Not bad for a $7.00 bottle of wine!

2012 Weingut Christmann Gimmeldingen Weissburgunder: Now we’re really getting somewhere — the “climatically pampered” vineyard of Gimmeldingen produces some of the Pfalz’s best wines, according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. I had a feeling this Weissburgunder would hit a home run when I smelled its bouquet of rich white fruit. It tasted very fruity, and its lush texture was well-balanced by tightly wound acids, some distinct minerality and a hint of earth. Excellent.

2011 Schnaitmann Grau Weiss: I’m cheating a little bit here, but bear with me — I loved this one. The Grau Weiss is actually a surprising blend of 20% Grauburgunder, 20% Weissburgunder and 60% Chardonnay. It sounds crazy to me, but I suppose if anyone could get away with it, it would be a winery in the warm and sunny Baden-Württemberg region. A green-yellow color, the wine started with tart fruit, giving way to a buttery, sophisticated, almost Burgundian midsection. It sealed the deal by lifting into an aromatic, spicy finish. What a ride!

Weingut Dr. von Basserman-Jordan2012 Dr. von Basserman-Jordan Grauburgunder Trocken: Another Pfalz wine, this Grauburgunder smelled bright and fresh, reminding me a bit of a swimming pool. On the palate, it was sprightly, sweet and green, resolving into some limey acids on the finish. Unusual and fun.

2008 Winzergenossenschaft Kallstadt Erpolzheimer Kieselberg Grauburgunder Auslese: I hereby award the prize for the longest wine name to ever appear on this blog. Only a German could come up with an overblown jumble of syllables like this. The first two words are the name of the cooperative which produced the wine, and the second two words are the name of the vineyard. This vineyard has the misfortune to be located in the Rosenbühl Grosslage, which Sotheby’s claims has “no outstanding villages, vineyards, or growers,” but I beg to differ. This Auslese was sheer delight, with aromas of green apple and spicy pineapple and marvelously rich fruit. The decadent texture didn’t become at all cloying, however, because of some incredibly lively acids and gingery spice. It had me yearning for some choucroute, and a second glass.

Keep your eyes peeled for these wines. You won’t see them everywhere, but a large wine shop may very well carry one or two, and a more ambitious restaurant wine list might also contain an example. Your hunt will be well rewarded.

Worth Traveling For

15 December 2012

Ihringen

Baden will always have a special place in my heart. This extravagantly beautiful ex-duchy in Germany’s far southwest was the first (and only) wine region where I’ve actually lived. From my base in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, the beguiling capital of the Black Forest, I remember striking out on my bicycle along unpaved paths to villages like Staufen, nestled at the foot of hillside vineyards leading up to a ruined castle. Some friends and I even biked across the Rhein River to Colmar in the Alsace region; I love that my first entry into France was by bicycle rather than airplane.

Some of my Mitstudenten gathered for a 10-year reunion in Freiburg back in 2009, and in between visits to our dorms and a favorite Biergarten or two, we took a train to Ihringen, an important wine village in the Vulkanfelsen (“volcanic cliffs”) section of the Kaiserstuhl, just across the river from the Alsace. This is a “first-class wine district,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, and indeed, we tasted some lovely things at Wasenweiler, a cooperative winery we toured.

Despite Baden’s many fine wines, there’s a very good chance you’ve never actually tasted anything from this region. Even Binny’s, one of the largest wine stores in the country, carries precisely zero wines from Baden. Because of the marketing success of the massive Zentralkellerei Badischer Winzergenossenschaften (ZBW), almost all exports out of Baden are “well-made, but rather basic, characterless wine,” as the Encyclopedia notes. But an array of smaller producers makes very high-quality wines, as the Encyclopedia and I agree, and it’s a shame we can’t find them outside of Germany (or even outside Baden, for that matter).

I brought back one bottle from Wasenweiler, a 2007 “Kreuzhalde” Gewürztraminer Spätlese. It’s quite a mouthful, both in terms of pronunciation and flavor. “Kreuzhalde” is the name of the specific vineyard, a hilly, sunny site that requires harvesting by hand (you can see a photo here). “Spätlese” refers to the level of the fruit’s ripeness at the time it was picked, as measured by the amount of sugar in the grapes. It translates basically as “late harvest,” but it falls in the rough middle of the scale, between Kabinett and Auslese. And Gewürztraminer is the wonderful grape variety, which The Oxford Companion to Wine calls “Deeply colored, opulently aromatic and fuller bodied than almost any other white wine.”

And so it was. The Wasenweiler looked honey-gold in the glass, and the aroma! A heady honeysuckle perfume. But my worries that this wine had aged too long were only finally dispelled when I gave it a try. The acids remained mostly intact, ensuring balance and liveliness. It tasted exotic and spicy, with flavors of ripe pear, cinnamon, ginger, jasmine and incense, yet it was surprisingly dry. It stood up quite well to a dinner of vegetarian choucroute (sauerkraut cooked with veggies, spices and wine) and Käsespätzle (noodle-like dumplings with caramelized leeks, butter and Emmentaler cheese).

What a wonderful reminder of that sunny day in Ihringen, when we got semi-lost on the way to the winery and wandered for a while along vineyards and well-tended gardens. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that wines from Baden are so hard to find. Now, whenever I have the chance to drink one, it’s a truly special experience, bringing me right back to that glorious piece of German countryside. It makes me hunger for a return trip, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have lived there for a time.

And somehow, it’s reassuring to know that there are still some things you can get only by traveling to the source.