Knipser, Syrah Auslese trocken, 2003

Knipser, Syrah Auslese trocken, 2003

So we were drinking this German Syrah one night and - Wait, a German Syrah, you say? Yes, that is true - a Syrah from Germany, and a bloody marvellous one too.

It is not only me saying that, but also two wine and food bloggers who joined me for a night of German wine fun on Sunday. Eat like a girl and The Winesleuth came over to try some unusual German wines.

I still sometimes come across people who are surprised that Germany is producing red wines, and even more surprised when they find out that some are quite drinkable. That there is good German red, especially Pinot Noir, was no news to my visitors.

However, not that many people are aware that by now about a third of all wine produced in Germany is red. The most popular red varietals are Pinot Noir and Dornfelder, but you will also find Blauer Portugieser, Trollinger, Pinot Meunier and even some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, among a range of others.
And then there is Syrah.

In 1994, a duo of winemaking brothers, Volker und Werner Knipser, started experimenting with Syrah. Based in the village of Laumersheim in Rhineland-Palatinate, the Knipsers had already gained some experience with the use of barrique barrels in the 80s, and I think it is fair to say that they can be considered to be at the top of their game in Germany. In 2009, they were awarded the title of winery of the year by the German wine guide Gault Millau (and promptly decided to boycott the wine guide, but that is another story).
Joined by Stefan, Werner Knipser's oldest son, the Knipser winery today grows an amazing range of varietals. There is Riesling, of course, but also Chardonnay, Grauburgunder, Weißburgunder, Gelber Orleans, Sauvignon Blanc, Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer. And then there are the reds: Spätburgunder, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Dornfelder, Lemberger and Syrah. Last autumn the Wine Ramblers attended a wine tasting in Munich that featured several of the recent Knipser wines - have a look at our summary to get an idea what the Knipser boys are up to these days.

I could not say what exactly they were doing in 2003, but at least as far as the Syrah was concerned they did something right. If you have a close look at the label above, you can just about read that it says 'aus Versuchsanbau', indicating that this is an experimental growth. Don't let that scare you, this just relates to the infamous German wine law that, among other things, regulates which grapes can be grown - and Syrah is still seen as a bit of an experiment insofar as wineries have to document what they are doing. This Knipser Syrah was matured in French oak barrels for about 20 months and has nothing experimental to it.

The colour is a lovely, intense ruby red with violet. The picture makes it appear almost too dark, thanks to the flash, but it gives an idea of the intensity of the colour. (You can also see Eat like a girl tweeting in the background.)
The nose is also quite something. You can smell the toastiness and vanilla of the oak, but it integrates perfectly well with the intense fruit - dark berries and cherries, but also cocoa, green peppers, liquorice and earthy aromas.
On the tongue the Syrah keeps up the good fruit-work, adding a dimension of baked fruit. Lots of depth, smooth but with muscle - a big wine in the best sense, muscle combined with elegance. Also a really good finish with cherries, cocoa and oak aromas.
What more can I say apart from, surprise, that I really liked this wine? Obviously, for €30.90 you'd expect a really good wine, but even though this Syrah may not be the Spanish Inquisition, it is not quite what one might expect from a German red. Maybe I stop praising the wine now and give my two guests a chance to comment - after all, they are not biased Germans.

Ah, to hell with bias. This wine rocks.


Submitted by torsten Thursday, 04/02/2010

In reply to by Alex

That is a really good point you make, Alex. I agree that using some well known varieties can increase the appeal of German reds, as David also pointed out. It gets really interesting when winemakers blend the 'international' varieties with 'German' ones. For instance, I just saw that Philipp Kuhn, also based in the Pfalz, has a blend of Blaufränkisch, St.-Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. This mix of varieties is very international in some ways, but certainly not in what I would call the boring, standardised international style. It would be interesting to try one of those at some point.

I have also heard good things about Rings, who, as it happens, also produce Syrah...