Dr. Heger, Oktav, Grauburgunder Kabinett, 2008
Imagine a hilly landscape somewhere in Europe. The sun is burning down. The temperature is way above 30° C. Sitting on a porch, you look around an area that was shaped by volcanic activity. While there is no lava any more, you have been told by locals that this small town is the warmest in the country. Your host returns to pour more Pinot Grigio. Southern Italy, you may think? Not at all! Chances are that you are sitting in the town of Ihringen in the South West of Germany, drinking a Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder I wanted to say, made by the Heger winery. Well, it is still winter while I am writing this, but a few days ago I opened a bottle of a Grauburgunder, as the Pinot Grigio/Gris variety is called in Germany, for two friends here in London - Dr. Heger's Oktav.
The Heger winery was founded in 1935 by Dr Max Heger, a GP and wine lover. It is based in the town of Ihringen in a region of Germany called Kaiserstuhl (emperor's seat/chair), an area dominated by volcanic hills. It is one of the warmest regions of Germany - Ihringen is said to be the town with the highest average temperature. It is no wonder that the Heger family is growing red wine such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, most of the wine produced is white, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Silvaner. Heger specialise in the use of barrique barrels for maturing wine, even for some of the whites. I am usually very sceptical if it comes to white wine aged in barrique - 'If I want my wine to taste of wood I go to the carpenter.', as a winemaker once told me -, but some of the Heger barrique wines that I tasted over the last few years were just gorgeous, robust yet elegant.
Robust yet elegant is also a good way to describe this Grauburgunder. While the colour is a delicate yellow, the aromas are quite robust indeed, but without being overwhelming. The nose combines apple and other fruit, such as quince and mirabelle plum, with a little honey and a certain toastiness that indicates that this wine may have seen some oak (it is by no means heavily oaked, just a bit). Delicate aromas of orange peel or orange blossom add that little something extra to the bouquet. On the tongue the Oktav is well-balance and round, with good fruit - in comes a little melon -, some spice and a pleasant acidity. While the finish is more on the medium side, it leaves you with an almost tingly sensation on the gum that again reminds you that the Oktav combines a well-structured body with pleasant freshness. One of my guests remarked that the acidity almost reminded her of a Riesling, although not as intense.
If you like Pinot Grigio it could be an interesting adventure to try this somewhat different German interpretation of what many people know as the quintessential Italian white variety. And if you do not like what the Italians do with Pinot Grigio, well, perhaps the German interpretation could be something for you?
Pinot Gris and oak
I've had a few oak-influenced Pinot Gris (I drink more of the Alsace flavour of this variety than the Italian) wines; they can be downright odd. Andre Ostertag's offerings of this vinous weirdness are occasionally attractive when young, but lose that charm quite quickly. Jean-Michel 'Bonkers Person' Deiss has made some largely Pinot Gris based blends that have seen oak and I can only say I found these to be badly made (often oxidised) at best and quite horrible when they are not oxidised. All these wines have been more expensive than this one you review, so it could well be that upping the cost of the oak treatment is not the way forward with Pinot Gris.
Still, many thanks for this review, it sounds quite interesting for a German Grauburgunder. I'll be looking out for this producer's wines.
In reply to Pinot Gris and oak by David Strange
re: Pinot Gris and oak
White wine and oak is a mixture I am not always comfortable with; actually, even some reds I find over-oaked. Having said that, a few wineries demonstrate that it can be done to great effect. In Germany, Heger is one of them. Knipser and Salwey would be two others to look out for. Last year, we went to a wine tasting in Munich where they showed off some of their top wines, which included several oaked Pinot Blancs and Pinot Gris.
Generally, the oaked whites are of a somewhat heavier type, expected to mature a few years in the bottle before reaching their full potential. A representative from the Heger winery told me that he finds their barrique matured whites needed 3-4 years before he really enjoyed them. Having tasted a few of those I can say that they do indeed age quite well - it is just a different style from the lighter, fruitier Pinot Grigio that many people would be used to. This wine is somewhere in the middle.
Glad you enjoyed the review. And thanks for your perspective on the Alsace, David!
In reply to re: Pinot Gris and oak by torsten
Thanks for the reply
Unless the oak was extremely carefully handled I'd be of the opinion that ageing an oaked Pinot Blanc would be a risky business. This is what my experiences with Alsace and Burgundian (yes, some producers do make Pinot Blanc in Burgundy, Gouges to name but one) examples have taught me. I can see that Pinot Gris has more body and weight to stand up to such treatment, but I am yet to taste an offering that has really floated my boat.
I will keep my eyes peeled for Dr Heger wines, they sound fascinating; a very different style to the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rieslings I love and try to drink as often as possible. Riesling, as I've said before it is the way forward with white grapes.
Do keep up the good work telling us about these interesting wines!
In reply to Thanks for the reply by David Strange
Oaked whites; Riesling
Thank you very much for your encouragement! It seems to me at some point I should host an oaked Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio tasting...
I see a lot of interest in Riesling these days and it also is my favourite white varietal. If it will really be the next big thing I am not so sure; in Germany at least there are concerns about the impact of climate change - the lighter Riesling style just needs the cooler climate and I wonder what will happen to the Mosel in thirty years from now.
Anyway, right now the climate allows both marvellous whites and reds to be made in Germany, and we will certainly keep looking for those.
In reply to Oaked whites; Riesling by torsten
I'd happily attend such a tasting
Torsten old bean,
I hope if you do put on such a tasting the Elitist Review editorial team will be invited; it'd be fascinating! We could bring some oaked red Pinot Noir to add to the experience.
I'm not sure how much we should be worried when it comes to climate change and German Rieslings. Certainly there have been some warm vintages recently, but none as crazy as 2003 since then; I don't see a trend. 2008 produced light German Rieslings of beauty and precision; lovely Kabinetts from the M-S-R. I think we'll be drinking such refined, beautiful wines for a very long time to come.
If I may briefly rave about about the 2003 vintage all over Europe, I found almost all European 2003 whites to be poorly balanced and just too heat-affected. The normally racy Clos St. Hune Riesling lacked its normal excitement factor. I even have doubts about my Egon Muller 2003s; his wines are normally so refined and balanced, the 03s I got just seem heavy and ponderous. The only European white 03s which I have tried and do not regret purchasing are Jean Boxler's; A review of one is here. If you can suggest any more I'd be interested to know.
In reply to I'd happily attend such a tasting by David Strange
Excellent - so let's have a tasting in the not too distant future and explore some, I trust, very pleasant wines and perhaps a few surprises too. Pinot Noir, after all, is always tempting!
With regards to possible effects of climate change I am not really concerned for the foreseeable future. As you rightly point out, right now the weather seems to support the German wineries in going from strength to strength and I am sure they will be able to deal with both the odd very hot and also rather cool year. I wonder more about long term trends, thinking several decades ahead - not that my brain can really compute climate change models for the Mosel forty years ahead...
With regards to 2003 I actually came across a few really good ones. The Reinhold Haart winery made some excellent late harvest Rieslings, for instance, and Knipser also delivered good wines in that year (but then both wineries seem to do so pretty much every year).
All the best and keep up that good working finding interesting wines!