Germany


The advocates of biodynamic methods of agriculture range from the mildly committed, who employ bio-dy techniques selectively and ignore the mumbo-jumbo aspects, to disciples for whom the words of Rudolf Steiner and Nicolas Joly are gospel.

The last part of that sentence, or something similar, was much on my mind late in the afternoon of Wednesday, July 8, as the group I was with paid a visit to Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, one of the most highly regarded estates in Germany’s Rheingau region. The winery, situated at the outskirts of the incredibly charming village of Oestrich, offers nothing fancy and neither do the unpretentious Peter Jakob Kühn and his wife Angela, who are friendly and down-to-earth, though she is more forthcoming than he, who is the shyer of the couple. (She is a former German Wine Queen.) Both, however, are passionate about their 18-hectare estate (a bit less than 47 acres) and the wines they produce.

PJK has been certified organic since 2004 and this year became a member of Demeter, the organization that certifies biodynamic estates. Much of what Peter Jakob Kühn does in the vineyard, along with being scrupulously meticulous, seems like common sense. Compost the vineyards with estate-produced materials in the Spring. Plant crop cover between vine rows in the Summer and in the Spring plow it under. Avoid chemical nutrients. Apply minimal pressure in the winery; stainless steel and large barrels for riesling, with a light filtration. Anyone could do that.

Peter Jakob, also, however, follows many of the stipulations of biodynamic agriculture as laid down by Rudolph Steiner in his famous lectures of 1924: horn compounds of manure and silica; teas of horsetail, stinging nettle and chamomile to spray on the vines; careful consideration of the phases of the moon to supplement the “movement” of the wine, including during bottling.

We stood with Angela Kühn by a vineyard that sweeps up to one side of the winery, accompanied by the winery’s 13-year-old Labrador, Acino. Here’s where things got a little sticky. One of the group mentioned that the rows did not have great shoots springing from the tops of the vines; were they cut back?

“No,” said Angela, “in the best parcels, we don’t cut the tops of the stems to give a message to the vines that no one wants to damage them and cut off their lives. If you cut the stems, it creates a sense of urgency and power because their lives are in danger, and they want to regenerate the next generation. This pushes the sugar level up. By not cutting the stems, by reducing the stress and gently tying the stems back” — the stems are wreathed along the top of the row and tied with soft but durable material — “we create a more balanced wine. Vineyards that get not only care and concern but love, we feel the vines will profit from it.”

This is the point where I throw my notebook and pen into the air and say, “Oh, please!” Not really, because my mother taught me better, but come on, the vines think their lives are in danger if you cut the stems? You have to love the vines, not just take care of them? Does the same principle apply to tomato plants and rutabagas? Amber waves of grain? Corn as high as an elephant’s eye?

But these are sweet and gentle people, and their attempts to live and work in harmony with nature are touching, and the wines they produce, which is really the issue here, well, the wines are pretty damned wonderful. (And all the wines are closed with screw-caps.)

Take, for example, PJK’s basic wine, the Jacobus Riesling trocken 2008, made in stainless steel. My notes: “Big, ripe, fleshy; yellow plums, camellia, honeysuckle; intense, concentrated, seductive; full, lively, dynamic; v. spicy; crushed stones, pulverized slate and gravel; really great.” The price in Germany is 8.60 euros, or about $12.50. An amazing wine for the price. Jacobus is named for the founder of the estate, Jacobus Kühn, who started making wine here in 1786.

The next level is the stainless steel Quarzit Riesling trocken 2008, and the name tells it all. My notes: “V. stony, v. pure and intense, v. spicy; yellow flowers, yellow fruit, stone fruit; huge hit of minerals, slate and limestone; v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere.” This is, one admits, a little demanding; it needs a year or two. 13.90 euro, about $19.50 to $20.

We tried two of PJK’s top rieslings. The Oestrich Doosberg 2007, aged in 2,400-liter barrels, is a brilliant medium gold color; the wine is intense and concentrated, coiled like a steel spring, offering incredible energy and nerve and verve; it’s very ripe, very spicy, sleek and lithe and racy, and could stand to mature for two or three years before being opened, or you could wait until 2015 to ’17 and see how it develops. Extraordinary. Not surprisingly, the price goes up at this point, 26.60 euros, about $37.50. The Mittelheim St. Nikolaus Riesling 2005 — current release is ’07 — is powerful and earthy and exotic, an eloquent expression of pure minerality with hints of petrol, jasmine, crystallized ginger and a touch of banana, all leading to a finish that’s almost brutal with granite and limestone. This too needs a few years, say 2011 or ’12 through 2016 or ’17. 24.60 euros, about $34.75.

Finally, there was the Oestrich Lenchen Riesling Spätlese 2008, a pale gold-colored wine of piercing minerality that offered subtle touches of lemon, lemon curd and peach, a wine delicately sweet, winsomely floral and sustained by such a surge of acidic nervosity that the glass feels electrified in your hand, and then from mid-palate back the whole package turns startlingly dry and austere. A lovely and slightly challenging riesling that needs a year or two in the bottle. 18.30 euros, about $26.

So, at this point, Readers, you’re saying, perhaps rather smugly, damn your eyes, “Ah ha, F.K., now you have to revise your negative opinion of biodynamism and admit that it works!” Well, what I will say is that Peter Jakob Kühn is a brilliant winemaker and that he certainly makes brilliant wines, making that judgment on a brief exposure. If biodynamic methods in the vineyard contribute to this brilliance, then I will say that, yes, the principles work here. I wonder though: If Peter Jakob Kühn did not bottle his wines “in a diminishing phase of the moon,” would they be any less brilliant? If he did not spray with, say, the horsetail compound, would the wines be less compelling? Would Peter Jakob Kühn — meticulous, thoughtful, hard-working and attentive — not make brilliant wines under any circumstances?

The wines (or some of them) of Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn are imported to the U.S. by Domaine Select Wine Estates.

Images of the winery and Angela Kühn & Acino are by Ernst Büscher; image of Peter Jakob Kühn is by Tim Wegner.

The times and the tastes they are a-changing in Germany. Look at this statistic from the German Wine Institute: In 1980, the ratio of white wine produced in the country to red wine was 88.6 percent white and 11.4 percent red. In 2007, the production figures are 63.2 percent white and 36.8 percent red. Yes, the German wine consumer is turning away from white wine in favor of red wine, and red in Germany generally means pinot noir (spätburgunder). Plantings of pinot noir in Germany’s wine regions have grown from 3.8 percent of total acreage in 1980 to 11.6 percent in 2007 or about 30,377 acres.

(Though plantings of white grapes are down, plantings of riesling itself increased by about 1,235 acres in 2007. Germany’s total vineyard acreage in 2007, about 102,000 hectares — 262,140 acres — lands it in seventh place in Europe behind Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Moldavia and Greece, but ahead of Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland. Spain’s vineyard acreage — 1,169,000 hectares or 3,004,330 acres, by far the largest in the world — beggars the imagination. What happens to all that Spanish wine?)

The pinot noir grape has a long history in Germany, but the problem is that it’s not easy to get pinot noir grapes to ripen around the 50th parallel, which runs through the upper Pfalz and Rheinhessen. As a result, German pinot noirs tended to be thin and acidic. Climate change in the past decade, however — and if you don’t believe in global-warming, talk to German winemakers — has brought the blessing of milder winters and slightly warmer summers (“slightly,” except for the brutally hot summer of 2003), resulting in the potential for riper grapes all around.

The additional problem, though, is what to do with these fully (or more fully) ripe pinot noir grapes. With a couple of exceptions, the red wines I tasted in Germany two weeks ago seemed unsatisfactory from myriad aspects. Many producers in Germany, like their counterparts in the New World, seem to believe that making serious wine means deploying serious oak, even if the grapes involved inherently don’t take kindly to the heavy-handed treatment with wood. For example, Rainer Eymann, at Weingut Eymann in Gönnheim, Pfalz, gave his Gönnheimer Sonnenberg Pinot Noir 2005 two years in oak, effectually killing any flavor, or as my notes say, “Jesus! Where’s the fruit?” On the other hand, he aged his Gönnheimer Mandelgarten Merlot 2007 one year in barrique, the somewhat standard 59-gallon French barrel, and produced one of the best, most interesting and complex red wines we tasted on our trip.

The so-called “noble” grapes varieties in Germany are highly susceptible to the potentially devastating fungal diseases downy mildew and powdery mildew, and great efforts have been made in the past 20 years to concoct grape varieties that are more resistant. Some of these crossings include, for white wine, Johanniter, Phoenix, Solaris and Monarch, and, for red wine, Regent (the most widely planted, but only about 5,600 acres), Cabernet Cortis, Cabernet Carbon and Prior. We tasted a few red wines made from blends of these or other hybrid grapes and found them mainly sappy, weedy and foxy, as if they were a combination of gamay, pinotage and black muscadine, though they were presented with pride and hope. Better to work with pinot noir and try to get that right than to trifle with these minor, goofy grapes.

On the other hand, we tried some pinot noirs that were not just encouraging but outright fine achievements, though, as one would expect, they were individual expressions of the grape; all pinot noir wines don’t have to imitate the Holy Grail of Burgundy, but they need to be recognizably varietal. One of these was the Spätburgunder 2005 from Heiner Sauer, an organic producer since 1987 in the village of Böchingen, in Pfalz. (Sauer also owns Bodegas Palmera, a winery in the Utiel Requena region of Spain.) Sauer’s Spätburgunder ’05 sported a radiant medium ruby-magenta color; a deeply spicy, smoky bouquet of mulberry and black cherry; and a chewy, almost muscular texture that cushioned elements of leather and moss, black pepper and cloves, fruit cake and plums. The wine aged 10 months in barriques, of which 50 percent were new barrels. This excellent pinot noir, both authentic and individual, would sell in Germany for 17.5 euros, or about $24.70.

Another well-made pinot noir was the Rotwein (“Red Wine”) Barrique 2007 from Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, a rigorously biodynamic estate in the Rheingau village of Oestrich (and I’ll write more about this estate and its methods in a few days). As seems to be the case with pinot noir wines from Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz, this one emphasizes the grape’s spicy aspects; is this stylistic choice or climatic necessity? The color was a lovely medium ruby with a slight brick-red cast; the bouquet delivered beguiling aromas of cloves and allspice with spiced red and black currants and plums. The wine was quite dry, earthy and loamy, reminding me of some location-focused pinots from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and while there was a sufficient (though not abundant) quantity of delicious black fruit flavors, the wood really showed itself from mid-palate back. Personally, I could have used a grilled veal chop with this wine, but we were in the tasting room at Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, and no such thing was in sight. If you lived in Germany, you would pay 22.70 euros for this wine, about $32.

The wines of Weingut Heimer Sauer and Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn are imported to the United States by Domaine Select Wine Estates.

Truly, though, the pinot noir that I enjoyed the most in Germany came on our first night in Oppenheim, at the restaurant L’herbe de Provence in Hotel Zwo, a sleek place that, like the other small-town establishments where we ate, consisted of a restaurant that occupied the entire first floor with two floors of rooms above. The main course at this introductory meal was a “back” of a country-style “Donnersberger” suckling pig served with asparagus and polenta; with it we drank a Guntersblumer Eiserne Hand Spätburgunder trocken 2007 from the Gehimrat Schnell winery. This was a lovely little pinot that boasted a ravishing bouquet of plums, mulberries, dried spices and dried flowers and winsome flavors of macerated and spiced red and black currants with overtones of lilacs and brambles. Not a great pinot noir by any means, but immensely appealing and drinkable. It would set you back the lordly sum of 8 euros, about $11.30.

Once we left St. Antony and Heyl zu Herrnsheim, Thursday (July 9) in Rheinhessen turned into a day of contrasts, not that contrast is a bad thing; often one learns the most through the process of give-and-take. The bus took us south from Nierstein, through back roads, to Ludwigshöher, a village about the size of a baseball diamond, where we were scheduled to have lunch and taste the wines of Weingut Brüder Dr. Becker — this is the estate and winery of Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller — and also wines made by their friend Christine Bernhard, of Weingut Janson Bernhard in Zellertal-Harxheim, in the Pfalz region, a sort of preview for our next day’s exploration. Lotte Pfeffer-Müller is chairwoman of the board of ECOVIN. She and Bernhard prepared a spectacular lunch for us, which we’ll get to in a few minutes.

It’s easy to perceive the sensibility of a winery after a few minutes walking around and talking with the owner or winemaker. Brüder Dr. Becker has roots in the late 19th Century, and the facility has accreted gradually over the decades. Even the newer buildings, apparently from the 1960s, seem well-used, practical and rustic. Vines grow abundantly over arbors and trellises, moss furs the paving stones, and close by a rooster protests the presence of strangers in his precincts. Müller took us around the back, into an open shed where old machinery is stored, or simply waits for mechanical eternity, to talk about crop cover in the vineyards. What he showed us was a long table on which stood wide shallow bowls filled with the seeds of the plants — yellow, white and red clover, buckwheat, caraway, wild carrot, black lentils and some kind of pea plant — each type of seed remarkably different from the others, some fine enough that they almost felt like fine meal in the hand, others rough and pitted.

He took us into the winery, down two flights of stairs to the cellars where large oval barrels slumbered in the dim light. I promise, My Readers, that once you have seen a thousand steel tanks and 10,000 barriques, you never want to see another, but oddly shaped, venerable casks — some of these were from the 1930s and ’40s — silently hunkered down in a cellar carved from stone, highlighted by the unforgettable aroma of young wine and old wood, make for an experience of which I never tire.

Back upstairs, we walked into a room set for lunch in a manner that would have made the editors and stylists at Food & Wine and Gourmet magazines weep with envy. Out came the cameras to record this sight: a long, long table, overflowing with bright, colorful flowers and set with platters and bowls of the most gorgeous food imaginable, everything artistic yet artless, beautiful and carefree. There were slices of quiche with nettles; baby carrots wrapped in mint and thin slices of ham; lamb meatballs with feta cheese; pancake-like wraps of tomato pesto and feta cheese; bales of herb salads; home-made herb butters and dipping sauces, all made from organic ingredients and as locally-grown as possible. As delightful as this feast was, it didn’t make the best setting for tasting wine; there was too much going on, too much to eat and talk about, but, being the professionals that we were alleged to be, we forged professionally ahead.

While we ate and tasted, Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Christine Bernhard provided commentary, each weighing in with a zinger. “If you don’t produce ecological wines,” said Pfeffer-Müller, in her motherly yet uncompromising way, “then you don’t make real wines. If you don’t grow ecologically, then you cannot talk about terroir. It’s a kind of lifestyle.” And when we were trying Bernhard’s irresistible Zeller Klosterstuck Riesling Spätlese 2007, she said, “Riesling is unforgiving, but he’s adorable, too.” She always referred to the riesling grape in masculine terms. Both women asserted that since changing to organic methods in the vineyards, the grapes are “healthier” and the wines “better,” but, again, we had no standards of comparison. The wines we tasted, as these briefs notes should convey, ranged from appealing and delightful to profound. (Sorry, I only recorded prices for a few of these wines.)

>Janson Bernhard Zellertaler Silvaner trocken 2008. Clean, fresh and spicy; vigorous acidity and minerality; lemon and yellow plums; thirst-quenching, delightful. 9 euros. ($12.70)

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Silvaner trocker 2008. More substance to this sylvaner, a little fatter, spicier. 5.80 euros. ($8.20)

>Janson Bernhard Zellertaler Schwarzer Herrgott Riesling & Traminer trocken 2008. Another delightful wine, a blend of 50 percent riesling and 50 percent gewurztraminer; lively and spicy, very floral.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Dienheimer Riesling trocken 2008. Fresh, clean, bright, floral; very dry, tremendous minerality. 6.90 euros. ($9.75)

>Brüder Dr. Becker Tafelstein Riesling 2007, Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru). Gunflint and lilac, very pure and intense, very dry; profound minerality (limestone & shale), scintillating acid; awesome.

>Janson Bernhard Zeller Klosterstuck Riesling Spätlese 2007. this is beautiful; pure and intense and concentrated; great balance among ripeness and acid and minerality; peaches and apricots, touch of apple and pear; rigorous acidity, yet lovely, delicate; very dry finish. A lesson in the balance of delicacy with power.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Scheurebe Spätlese 2008. Deep, earthy and spicy; lime and grapefruit, very floral; poised between spareness and opulence; towering minerality, a sense of balance that’s actually exciting, electrifying. Wow.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Traminer Beerenauslese 2005. Close to angelic yet years to go, as in 2015 to ’18.

We also tasted a red wine from each estate, which I’ll save for a post on red wine in Germany.

After leaving Brüder Dr. Becker — late, of course — we wended our way through fields and lanes and minuscule towns to the southern fringe of the Rheinhessen and a broad windswept hill in Hohen- Sülzen, home to Weingut BattenfeldSpanier and Weingut Kühling-Gillot and the forward-thinking and purposeful couple Carolin Spanier-Gillot and Oliver Spanier, whose marriage in 2006 united two old wine families. If Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller look like farmers, a sort of “Pleasant Peasant” version of American Gothic, Gillot and Spanier look like young gods, poised, elegant, modern. Their tasting room resembles one of Philip Johnson’s Glass Houses; their website could be a series of still photos from a film by Wong Kar-Wai, all poetry and shadows and evocation — and not very helpful.

Oliver Spanier, we discovered, takes self-confidence to steroidal levels, and as he poured wines for us, he delivered his opinions in rapid-fire and authoritative fashion, and in impeccable English.

On winemaking: “I don’t cool wines, I don’t heat wines. I do nothing. It’s all about fantastic sites and fantastic grapes.”

On biodynamic practices: “I don’t like to talk about bio-dy. I need minimum 20 years to see the results. Many young winemakers are doing biody and maybe it makes a great job to show the wines, but bio-dy is only part of the picture. I don’t believe in the moon and the constellations. The oceans go up and down whether there’s a full moon or not. When I do something, I must show it in science. I hate teas, teas do nothing. [Spanier is referring to some of Rudolph Steiner's root, plant and herbal teas that are sprayed at intervals on the vines.] We do spray the horn manure. This definitely works. You can see it in the grapes.”

On Rudolph Steiner (inventor of the biodynamic method of agriculture): “Steiner was a sick man. That says it all for me.”

On fruit in wine: “I hate all this discussion about fruit. All this makes me crazy. These writers are writing that a wine tastes like strawberries picked when the dew is still on them! [And I'm thinking, 'Hmmm, where can I use that?'] I like wines that are spicy and interesting. With this kind of wine, you can’t talk about flavors and boring things.”

On Bordeaux red wines: “I hate Bordeaux! Latour tastes like Coca-Cola!”

The wines, though, I thought were pretty damned wonderful, but they were controversial in our group. One of my colleagues acknowledged that they were well-made but “soulless.” That was not my impression. Brief notes:
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Last Thursday morning, our group drove to Nierstein, not far up the road from Oppenheim where we were staying, to taste wines at Weingut Heyl zu Herrnsheim and St. Antony. The facilities for these estates are housed under the same roof and presided over by young winemaker Felix Peters. Heyl zu Herrnsheim has been producing organic wines since 1980, while St. Antony is in the process of changing to organic winemaking. We are in the Rheinhessen.

By the wine, the phrase “organic wine” is not allowed on German wine labels; the proper term is “made (or produced) from organic grapes,” though that situation may change by 2010 or 2012. The logic is that in order to be called organic wine, the entire process of making the wine must be “organic” and regulated as such. In any case, Felix Peters does not use the word organic on labels. “We don’t see it as dogma,” he said, “even though it’s important for the estate and the wines. Organic farming is very important for riesling because it’s a very late-ripening variety.” Indeed, we heard this comment wherever we went, from Prof. Kauer at the Wine Institute to many of the winemakers, that with organic and biodynamic methods, the riesling grapes ripen earlier. There’s a trade-off here: Longer hang time for the grapes versus the threat of late frost in the spring.

Readers may think it odd for a group of 12 people to belly up to the bar and start drinking before 10 a.m., but I promise that we spit and poured out far more wine than we swallowed — we’re all professionals here — which in a way was a shame because these were terrific wines. It helps not to eat too large a breakfast; you don’t want to feel bloated and slow when it’s time to analyze wines in rapid succession. Besides, the night before, we hadn’t gotten back to the hotel until midnight, after a long dinner with many wines, and after laying my head on the pillow about one, I rose at 6 a.m. to work on blog postings. See what I do for you, My Readers? Anyway, in those circumstances it’s best to be circumspect and not eat and drink like a fool.

The Rhine River originates in Alpine glaciers in Switzerland, flows north and then west to Basel and then heads north into Germany, picking up tributaries and power as it goes. At the city of Mainz, where the Main river adds its waters to the Rhine, the Rhine, confronted by granite hills, abruptly turns southwest for a few miles before shaking off the geological confines and continuing to flow north-northwest into the Netherlands and to the sea. Along that southwest bend, among steep hills, nestle the vineyards of the Rheingau, on the river’s north bank, and the Rheinhessen, on the south.

The Peter Antony and Heyl zu Herrnsheim estates consist of 85 percent riesling and 15 percent pinot blanc vineyards. The grapes go through spontaneous fermentation, that is, the winery relies on wild yeasts, not inoculation with manufactured yeasts, and the wines see a lot of skin contact for complexity and depth. These are, indeed, wines of complexity and depth, with the Heyl zu Herrnsheim rieslings having a slight edge over the rieslings of St. Antony, though in the final call, such distinctions hardly matter.

Here’s what we tasted that morning a week ago, with brief notes. My attempt here is not to spend heaps of verbiage on each wine but to offer an impression of the style of the house.

>St. Antony Bodenschatz Riesling 2008. Crushed gravel, yellow plums, jasmine, roasted lemon; lime leaves, citrus, gun-flint; spicy finish; fresh and vivid, bright minerality and acidity. Delightful. The price in euros is 6.90; the dollar equivalent would be $9.73. One impressive factor on this tour was the inexpensive nature of German wines. Of course when one gets into the realm of limited edition, late-harvest wines the cost goes up, but generally the wines we encountered, even of high quality, were relatively cheap. And there’s no ridiculous three-tier system to drive prices up along the way from winery to consumer.

>St. Antony Rotschiefer Riesling 2008. “Rotschiefer” is a brand for the two estates, their “most important wine,” Peters told us. This is fermented and aged 50 percent in 70-year-old wooden casks and 50 percent in stainless steel. The wine is a little fatter, smokier and fleshier than the preceding riesling, with deeper spice from start to finish. My notes end: “Incredibly vibrant and resonant — what life and vigor!” 9.80 euros ($13.82)

>Heyl zu Herrnsheim Rotschiefer Riesling 2008. The HzuH “Rotschiefer” derives form different vineyards than the St. Antony rendition, and more wooden casks are used in its production. Peters described this wine as having “a more typical riesling profile.” Perhaps it was slightly more intense and concentrated than the St. Antony. Lemon, pear, hint of peach; a blast of clean acidity; “big” for a riesling, almost forceful, trenchant minerality. 9.80 euros ($13.82)

>Heyl zu Herrnsheim Nierstein Brudersberg Riesling 2008, Grosses Gewächs. Grosses Gewächs, whimsically called “GG,” is an attempt by the estates of a region to agree on an official, though non-federal, ranking of the best vineyards; the equivalent is the French term “Grand Cru,” as it’s used in Burgundy. The notion of ranking vineyards was not only neglected by the Wine Law of 1971 but was actually dismissed as elitist, dealing a severe blow to the structure of German wines at the highest level. (I’ll discuss these issues more fully in a later post.) Anyway, Brudensberg is a monopole for HzH, that is, an instance of an entire vineyard owned by one estate. My notes: Wonderfully floral, flint and limestone, talc; tremendous presence & weight; squingeing acidity, crystalline purity and intensity — but earthy, almost “wheaty.” 30 euros ($42.30)

>St. Antony Nierstein Orbel Riesling 2008, Grosses Gewächs. This spends six months sur lie, 30 percent in wooden casks, 70 percent in stainless steel. Fat, fleshy and earthy, very spicy; dense and chewy; a riesling for chardonnay-lovers, maybe; a little bready and wheaty, dynamic minerality. 18 euros ($25.38)

>St. Antony Nierstein Ölberg Riesling 2008, Grosses Gewächs. Shimmering intensity and purity; peach and pear, very spicy, vibrant and resonant; very dry, huge minerality; jasmine and lilac, also the bready/wheatmeal factor. Superb. 22 euros ($31)

>St. Antony Nierstein Pettenthal Riesling 2008, Grosses Gewächs. Wow, earthy, dense, intense and concentrated; very dry, fathoms of limestone and skeins of vibrant acidity; taut, lively yet almost lush; bready, cheesy and leesy, but slick as a whistle and clear as a bell. Needs three or four years. Superb. 25 euros ($35.25)

>For a treat, Peters pulled out a bottle of Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991. (“halbtrocken” = “half-dry.”) At almost 18 years old, this wine was young, fresh and clean, offering lovely balance, vibrancy and resonance, aromas of peach and pear and jasmine buoyed by riesling’s requisite petrol aspect; silky in the mouth, slightly sweet entry that immediately goes dry, almost achingly so; towering minerality and acidity. Wonderful riesling with another five to eight years of life.

After the tasting, we took the bus out along a one-lane road to the vineyards, stopping to peer up at the steep inclination of Orbel and Ölberg. The broad river Rhine flows about 100 yards away, down the slope. The vineyards are so steep that small tractors are required for cultivation between the rows. Someone asked about using horses, but Peters said that the land is too steep for horses. The vineyards are not separated by fences or walls, as they might be in Burgundy. The territory is marked by hedges and drainage ditches and nothing else. I suppose that when vineyards have been in existence for 500 years or so, everyone knows where the boundaries are. You just grow up with it in this wine country.

This was a satisfying visit. The wines ranged from enjoyable to great, and we appreciated Felix Peters’ low-key, self-affacing and accommodating manner (which can’t be said, as you will see, for every producer we visited).

The wines of St. Antony are not imported to the United States, but small quantities of Heyl zu Herrnsheim wines seem to be available in Chicago and, oddly enough, Tennessee, though I think not in my part of the state. (Like Gaul, Tennessee is divided into three parts.)

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