Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Bureaucracy
The VDP argues that the 1971 system also discourages the production of high quality dry wines. The 1971 laws they opposed made sweet wine production easier and even allowed the addition of Süss-reserve (unfermented grape juice). Sweet wines were once only produced if natural conditions permitted. The VDP’s added the Grosses Gewächs category to help encourage high quality dry wine production once again.
The VDP classification has four ranks for wines and the wines are judged on four components: varietals, quality of the vintage, grower’s skill and terroir. The 1971 Pradikat classification terms are used to identify the grapes’ ripeness for sweet wines (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein). The top three ranks require the use of grape varieties that are traditional for the particular area. The terroir is ranked by a fairly static set of criteria: soil types, topographical position, climate and microclimate. The wines are still categorized by ripeness level unless completely dry.
Think of the four ranks as being a German version of Burgundy’s Classified Growths. There is the basic level of wine, Gusweine, which still has strict standards defined by the VDP that must be maintained. These wines are labeled with a proprietary name and/or the village or region name. This is compared by the VDP to Burgundy regional wines. This category is especially useful to the consumer because it limits the number of named vineyard sites permitted on labels. The second level of classification, Ortsweine, is for wines from a village’s best vineyards planted with region’s traditional grape varieties. Maximum yields are restricted to 75 hl/ha. Think of this as Village wine from Burgundy.
The first of the two upper tiers of wine are the Erste Lage (“first class”). This is similar to Burgundy’s Premier Cru ranking. Erste Lage wines are produced from vineyards with premium terroir and growing conditions. Traditional varieties are required and determined by the region. Maximum yields are 60 hl/ha. The wines are released on the first of May following the harvest.
The “Grand Cru” ranking is the Grosse Lage (“top class”). It has a separate name for dry wines: Grosses Gewächs (often shortened to GG and known as Erstes Gewächs in the Rheingau). These wines are produced from the best vineyard parcels and offer breathtaking expressiveness and aging potential. The maximum yield is only 50 hl/ha. Sweet wines are released on May 1st following the harvest, GG whites September 1st and dry reds one year later.
The Grosses Gewächs wines are specifically highlighted by this ranking system because of their expressiveness and their under-appreciation under the 1971 laws. Grosses Gewächs wines are some of the highest quality dry Rieslings from Germany. They are pure expressions of very specific vineyard sites with distinct terroir, sustainably grown with careful and strict pruning by passionate producers in Germany. The character of the wine is completely revealed, not hidden by sweetness, but instead balanced by body, texture, alcohol and fruit. It is in many ways a classical approach to German winemaking, embraced by producers such as von Winning, who says: “we have resurrected traditions that were believed to be forgotten.”
We think you will find them remarkable.
Terry Theise: “Sterner stuff than the village wine; pointed intense aromas of blueberries and white iris and candied lemon. The palate is off the hinges! Entirely harmonious, rampantly exotic and rich, it’s like a Pfalz GG with more grace and less earthiness. Pink peppercorn and powder-puff, ginger and mustard-seed; stern slate on the finish after this thrill-ride of improbable elements for Riesling. The empty glass even smells a little like Savignin.”Clemens Busch Marienburg Fahrlay GG 2011 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 11 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 90 points “Rich aromas of white peach, quince, and nutmeg. Succulent apricot fruit is complicated by tantalizing slate and lifted by invigorating acidity. Full-bodied, deep, and very long.”
Clemens Busch Marienburg Falkenlay GG 2011 ($59.95) $49.00 special, 11 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 90 points “Mellow aromas of apricot, nut oil, and mint. A bright peach flavor is animated by understated acidity on the palate. Rich but crisp Riesling with a long, clean finish.”
Clemens Busch Marienburg Rothenpfad GG 2011 ($59.95) $49.00 special, 12 bottles available
Donnhoff Dellchen Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($79.95) $57.00 special, 36 bottles available
Terry Theise: “I can’t give you a note here, because the wine was fiercely closed-in. Historically a late developer, it’s also historically a splendid Riesling, so I’ll defer the specifics.”
Donnhoff Felsenberg Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($69.95) $54.00 special, 32 bottles available
Terry Theise: “A big, smoky and determinedly important wine; still very early days, but this made me think of a Grand Cru Alsace with the fat removed and the mineral intact. But this isn’t just mineral; it’s a swollen dialogue of stones and smoke and exotic flowers. By the way, taste this for an exegesis of porphyry flavor.”
Donnhoff Grosses Gewachs 6-PACK 2012 ($499.95) $324.00 special, 7 packs available
2 bottles each of the 3 grosses gewachs bottlings from 2012: Dellchen Felsenberg Hermannshohle
Donnhoff Hermannshohle Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($89.95) $59.00 special, 3+ cases available
Donnhoff Hermannshohle Grosses Gewächs 2012 1.5L ($169.95) $125.00 special, 1 bottle available
Stephen Tanzer 91 points “Sumptuous aromas of dried apricot, blackberry and oyster shell, complicated by a smoky, herbal character. Dense passion fruit and finely polished minerality animate the palate. Rich, elegant and spicy on the persistent finish, this will certainly improve with bottle age.”
Adam Hofberg Grosses Gewächs 2010 ($84.95) $66.00 special, 1 bottles available
Adam Hofberg Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($79.95) $59.00 special, 22 bottles available
Terry Theise: “A lot of color and a commandingly serious walnut and slate fragrance; the palate is proud, monumental and almost solemn, Riesling as Serious Business, Riesling in its fundamental mineral being. Picked “only” at 94º for elegance and drinkability (bless him!), the wine has inscrutable depth; a Doctoral thesis of slate.”
Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Erstes Gewächs ($69.95) $39 special, 3 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 92 points “($74) Exuberant bouquet combines star fruit, honeysuckle and bay leaf. Dense apricot pit flavor and slate-driven minerality are nicely juxtaposed on the palate. Finishes with excellent depth and spicy character.”
Von Winning Langenmorgan Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 12 bottles available
Terry Theise: “It’s the manly side of Pfalz Riesling, and we debate whether this is a Grand or just a Premier Cru; yet the wine is articulate, herbal and peppery, cedary and woodsy, long, studious and spicy, with an almost urgestein minerality, suave even while it’s rural, and gentle even as it prods with its leafy message.”
Von Winning Kalkofen GG 2012 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 10 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 90 points “($80) Bright aromas of white peach, sage, resin and lemon oil. Bright, penetrating apricot pit fruit and chalky minerality are nicely entwined on the juicy, pliant palate. The wine’s depth and spice rise above the austerity that this site often shows in its youth.”
Von Winning Kieselberg GG 2012 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 9 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 92 points “($80) Apple blossom, persimmon, nut oil and a smoky earthiness on the nose. Glossy, dense nectarine fruit with sweet herbal inflections animate the palate. The opulent depth, spicy juiciness and twist of clove ensure a compelling finish. Excellent potential!”
Von Winning Kirchenstuck GG 2012 ($149.95) $109.00 special, 10 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 91 points “($144) Rich scents of white peach, toasted almond, lemon zest and mint. Bright star fruit and spicy minerality give shape to the luscious flavors. Full-bodied yet graceful, this riesling ends on cool spices, with pleasing length.”
Von Winning Pechstein GG 2012 ($119.95) $89.00 special, 12 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 92 (+?) points “($110) Exotic aromas of apricot pit, muskmelon, nutmeg and lemon oil. Rich and dense in texture, with pleasing depth to its peach pit and smoky spice flavors on the mineral lattice typical of the site. With its tantalizing herbal lift on the finish and impressive length, this is certainly the estate’s best dry riesling this year.”
Grosses Gewachs Wines on Pre-Arrival:
PRE-ARRIVAL ETA MARCH 2014 John Gilman 97+ points “Not to be outdone by the Dellchen, the 2011 Hermannshöhle Grosses Gewächs is also profound! The deep and completely kaleidoscopic nose soars from the glass in a magical blend of white cherries, pink grapefruit, crystalline minerality, citrus peel, lemongrass and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, pure and Porsche-like in the passing lane, with stunning mid-palate depth, ripe, racy acids, brilliant focus and grip and a very, very pure and very long and elegant finish. A seamless and utterly stunning young wine! 2020-2050.”Diel Burgberg Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($79.95) $69.00 special, 8 bottles available
PRE-ARRIVAL ETA MARCH 2014 Stephen Tanzer 91 points “($81) Tropical fruit, persimmon and lemon oil on the nose, with a floral twist. Intense, full-bodied papaya fruit is highlighted by flinty minerality. Rich and concentrated on the finish. A bit youthfully closed today, but with excellent potential.”
PRE-ARRIVAL ETA MARCH 2014 Stephen Tanzer 90 points “($75) Bright aromas of white peach, acacia blossom and pine nuts. Crisp pear fruit paired with subtle saltiness gives the palate a vibrant character. Pure and clean, with a delicate spicy character lingering on the finish.”Diel Pittermannchen Grosses Gewächs 2012 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 10 bottles available
PRE-ARRIVAL ETA MARCH 2014
Muller-Catoir Breumel Mauern GG 2012 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 18 bottles available
PRE-ARRIVAL ETA MARCH 2014 Stephen Tanzer 89 points “($72) Subdued aromas of white peach, clove and mineral salts. Taut, spicy apricot pit fruit and lively acidity make this riesling stand out. Although built more on elegance, this wine also has very good depth, length and potential.”