Article written for Chambers Street Wines, view it here
Over the past few months I’ve enjoyed assembling a small selection of Austrian and German rot weine (red wines) that are a little outside of the norm. By that, I really just mean that these producers make wines that aren't afraid to exhibit a little more idiosyncrasy, simply by eschewing the use of new oak or modern cellar techniques that often mask the personality and character of the distinct soil and climate in which the wines are made. For some growers this includes restoring and maintaining the health of their soils with organic and biodynamic farming. Some are also experimenting with little or no sulfur at bottling. Though it would be a stretch to say that there is a strong natural wine movement in Germany and Austria, there is no question that there is a small cadre of winemakers moving in that direction and in some cases making wines that are amongst the most expressive, successful natural wines I've tasted from any region.
So we are excited to have wines like Andi Knauss' Trollinger Without All, bravely going against the norm with his first vintage of a wine made without the additon of sulfur and clocking in at 10.6% alcohol. Or, for instance, the Spätburgunders from Hofgut Falkenstein, whose cellar is simply too cold for malolactic fermentation to occur, giving the wines a bright, high-toned energy that is unique and delicious, a true reflection of their origin in the chilly Saar. As a contrast, the Spätburgunder from Holger Koch in the warmer climate of Baden is riper and more lush. But thankfully, Holger, like Johannes Weber of Falkenstein, has a light touch in the cellar and his Spätburgunder is a treat, a glass of ridiculously pure refreshment. From Austria we have wines like Uwe Schiefer’s Blaufränkisches, where even a casual wine drinker can taste the palpable difference between the slate of the Eisenberg hill and the limestone of Königsberg.
All of these wines have the additional benefit of being universally approachable and affordable. There is a growing demand for red wines in Germany and Austria, and though this is hardly a complete list, this is a great place to start for the reds showing off terroir, old-fashioned cellar practices, natural winemaking, and, most importantly, hard work in the vineyards. Jonathan Kemp
Falkenstein, Hofgut 2011 Saar Niedermenniger Sonnenberg Spätburgunder Spätlese Trocken
- There is just no comparison that we've found for the Spätburgunders of Falkenstein within Germany. The partial whole cluster pressing and partial carbonic maceration, combined with the fact that their cellar is too cold for malolactic fermentation to take place, makes these more like Loire Valley Pinot Noirs than anything else. This Spätburgunder, from the gray slate of their Sonnenberg vineyard shows more of the herbaceous character of the stem inclusion, but is still lithe, with dark fruit that reflects the warmer vintage with balanced acidity, lithe focus, and a touch of spice to balance out the darker, savory elements. A nice contrast to the brighter, leaner 2012 Spätburgunder from the Herrenberg vineyard. As with all their reds, the only sulfites added are to the empty barrels before the wine is racked.
Falkenstein, Hofgut 2012 Saar Herrenberg Spätburgunder
- The last vintage of this wine was an unexpected sensation, and the 2012 is every bit as thrilling. Pinot Noir from the anachronistic Weber family of Falkenstein in the Saar, this is unlike any other German Spätburgunder, since it does not go through malolactic fermentation and retains its fresh, energetic cut. The wine is pressed whole cluster and ends up going through partial carbonic maceration and is only raised in the Weber's large, old fuders, with zero sulfur added at bottling. This wine from the grey, blue, and red slate of Herrenberg is astoundingly silky and more transparent, with perfect balance of bright cherry fruit, subtle earth, and unmistakable Saar vibrancy. This will shock people who have preconceived notions of what German reds can be, as this is more akin to wines from Jura and Beaujolais than anything else. A must-try!
Knauss 2013 Württemberg Trollinger 1 Liter
- Trollinger is known as Schiava in Italy. The light, refreshing Swabian version done here by Andi Knauss is similarly not a tannic wine, but it has an irresistible verve and energy not unlike Poulsard that sets it apart from its Italian cousins. This vintage is the best we've tasted yet, with remarkable purity, pleasing, high-toned cherry fruit, and cleansing acidity. Thank goodness this is a 1-liter bottle. It always gets guzzled.
Knauss 2013 Württemberg Trollinger Without All
- From Andi Knauss' 3 favorite plots, 'Without All' is Trollinger that comes in at an ethereal, pure 10.6% abv. Fermented spontaneously with native yeasts and bottled with no fining, filtration, and zero added sulphur. To further emphasize the point, it is lacking even a front label on the bottle. The light, fresh style is accompanied by fruit with a darker, brambly raspberry and blackberry character and some pleasantly chewy, cleansing tannins. Despite the lack of sulfites, there have been no issues with bottle variation or mousiness, and since we received our first shipment in July, the wine has kept getting better every time we've opened a bottle. Pleasing and thoughtfully made natural wine that will absolutely change your mind about red wine from Germany.
Koch, Holger 2012 Baden Kaiserstuhl Spätburgunder
- Holger Koch makes both Pinot Noir and Spätburgunder, and while they are ostensibly the same, the Spätburgunder is made from a parcel of 60-70 year-old vines planted by his father. Koch does not chaptalize, though it is both legal and common in Baden, and so he relies upon his stellar vineyard work and grape selection to produce this soulful, deeply satisfying Spätburgunder. It is subtle, pretty, dark, and there is ripeness to the fruit but it somehow floats cloud-like on the palate, soothing and cool. After a bottle of this wine at dinner one night, for several weeks I was slightly disappointed with every other red I would open, as I wanted them all to have this much purity and finesse.
Muster, Sepp 2010 Steiermark Zweigelt
- Sepp Muster is making some of the most drinkable, exciting Zweigelts in Austria, with biodynamic farming, natural winemaking, and barely measurable levels of sulfur. Unashamedly ripe and red-fruited, but complemented with hints of walnut, sandalwood, and black pepper. A great wine for meats like lamb, where the structure will stand up to the protein and earth and you can enjoy the friendly, warm fruit that is forgivingly moderate in alcohol, and absolutely absent of any spoof.
Schiefer, Uwe 2012 Südburgenland Blaufränkisch "E" Eisenberg
- From a young age, Uwe Schiefer dreamed of exploiting the potential of Blaufränkisch on the Eisenberg's unique slate. And in his hands we can see what he was thinking. This is a lush, fragrant Blaufränkisch of crushed violet, roses, and red plum. Pure, ripe black cherry fruit on the palate is coupled with an elegant, mineral structure and an even tannic structure. There is a polish and balance that speaks of careful selection and thoughtful, but not over-manipulative, vinification (i.e. new oak or over-extraction). Schiefer works without chemicals in the vineyard and uses partial stem inclusion, native yeasts, and neutral barrels of various size. This is a wine of unmistakable terroir, finesse, and age-ability, and the mix of ripeness, moderate alcohol and good structure is reminiscent of cru Beaujolais and Mencia, though with its own charm and personality.
Schiefer, Uwe 2012 Südburgenland Blaufränkisch "K" Konigsberg
- Just a few kilometers from the Eisenberg, Konigsberg is all limestone instead of slate. While it speaks with the same elegance and grace of his Eisenberg Blaufräkisch, this is more subtle and lean. Softer aromas, lovely and coy. With less fruit, the tannins and earth are more noticeable, but there is a deep sense of purity and balance with acidity that likely indicates a long lifespan. The serious, subtle construction of this wine makes it a wonderful ambassador for the potential of Blaufränkisch to not only age but clearly translate the nuance and detail of terroir.
Wachter-Wiesler 2013 Südburgenland Blaufränkisch
- This is a great introduction to Blaufränkisch. Many people have experienced inexpensive Austrian Zweigelts, which are more red-fruited and juicy, but Blaufränkisch is often far more elegant and food-friendly. This basic bottling from Christoph Wachter-Wiesler shows off a remarkable amount of complexity for the price, with blueberry and tart raspberry that is matched with texture, acidity, and focus. Approachable, versatile, and very refreshing with a range of food.
Wachter-Wiesler 2011 Südburgenland Eisenberg Blaufränkisch Ried Weinberg
- Plush blueberry and cherry complemented by a dark, chewy structure that is the result of 15% whole clusters and 18 months in 500-1000L neutral barrel. From a 5-hectare parcel on the Eisenberg, this is serious Blaufränkisch that will continue to develop and improve in the bottle. Focused, stony, and a little tight right now but still excellent. Drink now with some air beforehand, or enjoy over the next 10 years.