TheWineRambler "A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for" - Kingsley Amis



Weingut Ruck, Iphöfer Julius-Echter-Berg, Silvaner GG, 2009

Posted by Torsten 10 Dec 2012

Christmas has come early at the Wine Rambler. No, we haven't changed the calendar and yes I know it is almost Christmas anyway, so this line is less effective than it might have been in July. However, the wines I had recently have been so good there can be no doubt that 'tis the season to be jolly. Exciting sparkling Riesling followed by aged Nectar harmony Muscat and now what may very well have been the most accomplished dry white wine I have had this year.

A first rate Silvaner, the exciting and under-rated German grape variety we have been shouting about for a few years now - and it even comes in the traditional Franconian "Bocksbeutel" bottle.

For those of you who haven't come across it yet: Silvaner recently celebrated its 350th anniversary in Germany (it may have been around longer but that's what is documented) and it used to be one of the most popular German grape varieties. Over the last century however its popularity declined to only about a 5% share of vineyard land in Germany - and its reputation as a mostly bland wine for blending does not exactly make it stand out either. However, as a guest-rambling winemaker reminded us, Silvaner will only be bland if you make it that way. If done right it is a lovely wine with slightly lower acidity that also pairs very well with food such as asparagus and fish.

The unofficial god of Silvaner may be based in Rheinhessen but the spiritual home of the variety is in Franken (Franconia), Bavaria's wine region north of Munich. This is where the Ruck winery is located - founded in 1839 with a cellar dating back to the 12th century. Owning part of some of the best vineyards in the area Ruck have a great reputation and also a few high profile customers, including the current Pope and, allegedly, also Fidel Castro. I have some difficulty picturing the two of them sitting on a Franconian hill drinking Silvaner, but there is something comforting in this picture.

Even more comfort is in Ruck's grand cru (GG) Silvaner from the Julius-Echter-Berg vineyard. The colour is pretty (clean lemon) but more on the lighter side, so it gives no sign of the depth that awaits. What also awaits is a bouquet of cool precision: herbal tea, grassy hay, a hint of paint, peachy nectarine and yeasty apple - all very clear, precise and sprinkled with mineral.
Drinking the Ruck Silvaner was a very interesting experience; it evolved so much in the glass I sincerely regret not having used the decanter (or waited a year or two more). At first it was very clear and crisp, dominated by a dry apple bitterness - with character no doubt but also a little reserved. Over time the fresh, almost sharp bitter touch softened to reveal a lean yet complex, precise wine with herbal (aniseed), fruit (apple) and vegetable notes, citrus freshness, a distinct earthiness and a prominent mineral finish.

What I loved in particular was how distinct it felt: a self-assured wine that was not mimicking anything else, secure in the knowledge that it can party with the best dry white wines out there. This is the class of wine I would expect to be served with a tasting menu in a first rate restaurant; and yet many a good Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or perhaps even Riesling I have enjoyed in such a setting would have to think long and hard about how to develop a similar feeling of being distinct. Who needs Christmas or all those so called "noble grapes" when you have a wine this good?

price

After publishing this I realise I have not explained why there is no price information - as you can see from the tags this wine was given to me by a friend who refused to share the price. As it happens, this was a gift from fellow Wine Rambler Julian, so if you are desperate to find out what it cost drop him a line.


Le dernier cru

I was amused to see that Johann (or maybe Hansi) Ruck is not above a pun - he has also coined the "dernier cru" ('s Hindaletzschde!). Well, my lame attempt of a teutonic translation is probably mishapen; he just used Wine French to create the counterpart to a prime or first harvest (Jungfernlese, which is NOT an Ottoman military experiment of setting up an Janissary amazon reguiment).

His 2009er Rödelseer Schwanleite Grauburgunder alte Reben „dernier cru“ simply was the last harvest before the old pinot gris vines were uprooted and presumably replaced.


wine puns

Ain't no pun low enough that we won't appreciate it from a winemaker, I would say. I have to say I would have almost preferred "'s Hindaletzschde!" but I realise even some Germans would have found that difficult to understand. Thanks for sharing, Alexander!


Riesling versus the rest

I often wonder how seriously one should take German whites other than Riesling - they often appear to offer the sweetness without the hard graft on the side of the winemaker and as for the dry ones the price versus usefulness ratio seems to be high.

When I was a kid my grandfather would occasionally open a bottle of German white, Bruessele from Adelmann was his favourite - the Swabian weather doesn't really favour sweet wines and he was diabetic anyway - for the sake of a drink and conversation. It was different to going for a glass in a pub or wine bar, the bottle takes equal significance with the conversation but the conversation is never about the wine which serves to inspire and complement the conversation - much like we drink Bordeaux with our meals. Under these conditions, and the assumption being that the stuff you drink is of the higher quality (in the case of Adelmann this often merely equates to being expensive), it seems only right that the wine is a Riesling. Or look at another way - why ruin a good wine by eating a meal with it or why ruin a potentially good occasion by a pedestrian wine.

But then I suppose you are right, there are enough questionable Rieslings out there so if one finds a great non-Riesling then why not.

Does this post have a point? I don't think so. Let's give it one - There is a chap I know in Eibstadt makes a great auslese and Sekt with a grape called the Albalonga - might be worth a try (no affiliation or commercial interest on my part).


Firstly, to add another pun

Firstly, to add another pun that certainly must be among the most common ones with German wine drinkers, but which - shame upon me! - only today came to my attention.
As puns often are, it is cheap and short-legged, but good. And it throws a befitting barb at the VdP and their money-making marketing machinations:

"Viele GG waren eher Grosses Gewäsch als Grosses Gewächs." :-)
(Faint approximation: Many GGs were rather big babble than big bottle)
[Originator: Joachim Kaiser in his wine blog here: http://vinositas.com/gedanken-zur-neuen-4-stufigen-klassifikation-des-vdp/ ]


Typically German

Interesting blog - the bits I could keep my eyes open for. Typically German too, over-engineer an issue which bothers nobody else in the world.

Most people buy wine by price - nobody gives a pigs ear for ratings over and above a general guideline. The bigger issue that the VDP has is to find a definition of a "Spitzenwein" that doesn't exclude half its membership. Germans love complicated things but complicated things don't make easially marketable objects. But the foreign public already accepts dry wines with food so there is no excuse for not being able to market any kind of German dry wine abroad. The question is how to handle the great German tradition of sweet wines which should, by any measure, be equal in marketing pull to Bordeaux.
Sweet is an ugly word in English - The Yanks got a grip on it by calling it late harvest. What one should do is market the idea of a Select Harvest and then put a price category on the two - Late (Kab - Spät) for 25 to 50 Euros and Select (Aus - Eis) from 50 to 100 a half bottle. Even better if the number of Select bottles were to be of limited numbers AND sold as needing at least 5 years storage. All you need is the image of a busty/lusty German blond peasant testing grapes for sweetness and your export figures will double.


Lusty German blond peasant

Well, I will pass your suggestion when I talk to German winemakers ;-) Marketing sweet wine is definitely not easy and in the UK at least the following perception is widely shared:

sweet wine = bad wine
German wine = sweet wine
ergo: German wine = bad wine

It is not uncommon for me to meet people who have no idea Germany makes wine in sizeable quantities but those who are vaguely aware of it tend to think in the above "Dreisatz". So getting this right is not easy. I do agree though that at least for the entry level market easier labels (not just busty wenches, also the text) would help. In the premium market I am not so sure though, but that is a different animal.


German whites

Thank you for your comment, Dingbat. The wine should match the occasion, on that we seem to agree. However, I'd like to encourage you to try German white wines beyond Riesling. Sure, there is a large quantity of bland bulk wine and like anywhere else you will find good and bad in Germany too. Even so there are stunning white wines and you don't have to spend two digit figures to find a good German Pinot Blanc, Silvaner, Gelber Orleans (if you can track one down), Chardonnay or whatever may take your fancy. I even had great Sauvignon Blanc if the international varieties are more to your liking.

No reason to give up on Riesling of course, but also no reason to restrict oneself!


Can help out on the price ...

Can help out on the price ... bought this one directly from Ruck in Iphofen, early 2011, 18EUR/bottle. Ruck is in the same quality/price league as other highly-regarded Franconian winemakers (I'm not going to promote anyone here, as I like wine but don't like to trade it, so no names. Would be happy to organize a "Franconian Tasting" if a place and enough interested people can be found), all of them will sell their "ordinary" dry Silvaners/Rieslings starting under 10EUR per bottle and their GG Spaetlese for ~20..30EUR, directly at the vinery. Since 2006, prices (in EUR) have doubled; with GBP/EUR parity, tripled in GBP terms...

But then, purchasing those wines outside Franconia / from elsewhere than directly at the producer is rather difficult. In addition to that, if the wine and/or the year are on the good side, they tend to sell out at maker within less than a year of being bottled. After which, well, let me call them "illiquid liquid assets".
This pretty much applies to most Franconian wines/winemakers; even the more-renowned ones are family businesses and they want to sell out; they don't age their wines except what they keep for their own consumption.

Btw, the "yeasty apple" usually goes away from this wine after about three, four years; from my experience, it's typical for a "new" Silvaner and encountering it I see it as the sign of a too-young one, but tastes vary.

(Really enjoyed reading your blog; there's not many people that know about German wines in the UK, much less so about Franconian ones)