Tag Archives: Wine Tasting

Wandering Through Germany: Part 2 – Rhine

In the continuation of our journey through Germany, we stopped by Kloster Eberbach in the Rhine and were hosted by the Director of Oenology Ralf Bengel. It was originally founded in 1136 by Cistercian Monks from Burgundy and the Kloster, which is just up the road, is impressive as is the small prayer chapel that is along a path from the Kloster to the vineyards. Ralf says “With 800 years of wine cultivation, we have a great responsibility to the vineyards.” They have 65 different blocks including 30 hectares of the original “Clos” of the Kloster. This was a very impressive winery and is one of the largest in Germany, farming 250 hectares, 80% of which is…you probably guessed it… Riesling. Some Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc (Spätburgunder and Weißburgunder respectively in German) make up the remaining 20%.

Kloster Eberbach Stainless cellar

One trend I saw with Pinot Noir is that the wineries we visited routinely destemmed the fruit. Ralf attributed this to the quality of the stems not being the same as in Burgundy. He said it would bring more green harshness to the wines and that was not what they were aiming for. It was interesting to note that both in the Rhine and Pfalz the tanks that were used for Spätburgunder had pneumatic punchdown devices inside an enclosed stainless steel tank. It was not something I had ever seen before but it was fascinating!

The winery at Kloster Eberbach is all gravity flow meaning the fruit is received up on the top of the winery then it is dropped to presses (or tanks if red) on a 2nd level then down to the lowest level for fermentation and aging. The highest quality Rieslings are allowed to sit in the press for some skin contact then are pressed off for settling before fermentation. Juice clarification is all completed by gravity because they have found that centrifuging the juice has hindered clarification post-fermentation.

 Kloster Eberbach underground cellar

Apparently in Germany it is considered inhumane to have people working where there is no sunlight so the government required the winery to put in these large windows and a ramp from the upper level down to the bottom so natural sunlight could enter the cellar. It also makes for a much less drab atmosphere. This is their main fermentation room for Riesling as well. The winemakers here do not taste each individual fermentation. The fermentations are monitored by computer which measures their CO2 output and sugar depletion. If one of these measures starts to veer off course then the winemakers step in to assess the situation in person. It seems like a brilliant solution to fermentation monitoring however I still wonder how they know if a fermentation is producing sulfides or not. I assume that can only be assessed in person.

The top lots of Riesling are also fermented in the traditional Rhine Stück (1000 L) pictured below with Martin looking daper in front.

Martin in Kloster Eberbach Stuck cellar

The Riesling has yeast added and is allowed to ferment for several months in some cases. The wines then stay on the lees until bottling which could be close to a year for the top lots.

2012 Steinberger Riesling – Zesty and Fruity

Very floral and peachy with flinty minerality but more generosity on the palate than typical Mosel Rieslings however still a very fresh finish.

2011 Domaine Assmannshausen Höllenberg Spätburgunder Trocken – Elegant and Floral

Delicate and aromatic with soft supple tannins and juicy fruit with a hint of rocky minerality on the finish.

On a completely unrelated note my old stomping grounds of New York State had a banner week this week between New York State winning Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year and Cornell’s College of Ag and Life Sciences (CALS for short from which I am an Alumni) was named number 1 college in the world for the Best Global Universities for Plant and Animal Science by US News.  Way to go to the Empire State!

 

 

Wandering through Germany: Part 1 – Pfalz

Earlier this year I went on a trip to visit some of the German wine regions. I was in Germany for a work trip supporting our European sales team and decided to do a speedy tour through as many regions as I could during 3 personal days I took at the end of my trip. It was an amazing experience which I was fortunate enough to share with my friend and (at the time) fellow MW student, Martin Reyes.

We visited the Rhine, Pfalz, and my personal favorite, the Mosel.

I was extremely impressed with the quality present in the Rhine and Pfalz. Clearly we don’t get the good stuff in the US! In Pfalz we visited two wineries, Weingut Knipser and Geoge Mosbacher, both of whom changed my idea of wines outside of the Mosel which admittedly I have had a very, very small sample set up until this visit.

Weingut Knipser

 At Weingut Knipser we were hosted by Volker Knipser who was enlightening, not just for the wines but also for his eloquent statements which I felt driven to write down.

On Brands: “We are not a region for brands. Our name is our brand. You can be sure if you have a Knipser you have a good wine.”

On Reputation: “You can only work on your name. That is all you have!” – I could not agree more!

On Terrior: “ Wine is a mosaic. The site is a part of the picture but also important is what you plant, how you train, and what grows. The cellar, not so much but the producer is important.”

Their 2011 Blauer Spatburgunder was amazingly elegant and aromatic made from native yeasts. “If you are looking for body, look to other varieties” – Volker Knipser on Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir). I was starting to think this guy is a genius!

The 2009 GG (Große Gewächse meaning “Great growth” or the German equivalent of Grand Cru) Mandelpfad Spatburgunder was amazing! Super aromatic with lovely soft supple tannins and fresh acid.

At Gerog Mosbacher we were treated to a lovely tour and tasting of some amazing Rieslings. Of course a super friendly winery dog accompanied us on all of our wanderings here.

Georg Mosbacher Pfalz sm

Here the current proprietors, Jürgen Düringer and Sabine Mosbacher-Düringer were our hosts. They were incredibly enlightening on the German wine classification system which was still completely greek to me until this point and the VDP’s (Verband Deutscher Prädikats or the German Quality Winegrowers Association) role in German wines. If you are a wine person, particuarly a Riesling person then it would probably seem that the VDP own most of the acreage in Germany however according to Sabine only 4% of the wineries in Germany belong to the VDP. They are invited to join by consensus of current group members. We tried several Rieslings grown on three different soils; Sandstone, Soils from near the forest, and Calcarious soils. The Sandstone had a decidely mineral flavor with lemon-lime hints, orange blossom, pear and apricot. The near forest soils had very sweet fruit, light minerality, apricot and grapefruit. The Calcarious soils were zesty and more linear in focus with sweet hay and very ripe apricot flavors.

2012 Deidsheimer Mäushöhle Riesling Trocken (Sandstone)

2012 Forester Musenhang Riesling Trocken (Near the Forest)

2012 Wachenheimer Gerümpel Riesling (Calcarious)

We also had a fantastic discussion regarding the aroma of petrol in Riesling. Jürgen weighed in on this and stated that his opinion was that Petrol showing up within the first 2 years is definitively a fault in the winemaking process that comes from high pressure in the press and a high level of phenolics in the juice. However if it shows up after the wine is 10 years old it is the normal Petrol aroma of an aged Riesling. He also stated that atypical aging disorders come from sunburn, drought years or green phenolics from un-ripe years.

It was truly fascinating stuff!

Their top two wines were the following

2012 Pechstein GG (Basalt soil) – Stone and Chalk

A Very mineral driven, rich palate with linear acid which is almost Mosel in style. Lime zest and flinty characters on the nose and palate.

2012 Ungeheurer GG – Zesty and Fruity

Ripe apricot, melon and cantaloupe with light minerality and ripe, rich fruit on the palate with a concentrated long finish.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 – Rhine!

Georg Mosbacher cellar Pfalz

Life After the MW Exam: Hindsight’s Look at My Past 4 Years

Three weeks ago I was one of the 98 students to attempt to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exam. Full details of the exam questions are posted here.  However unlike the majority of other students (in Napa at least), I was taking the full exam for what will be my last time.  I originally went over the possible exam outcomes in detail in an earlier post but the short version is I fail both sections again, pass one or the other, or pass both.  Naturally, I’m hoping for the latter but only time will tell. I think very few people outside of the program truly understand the level of dedication and commitment it takes to even attempt to sit the exam, much less actually pass it.  I was reminded of this while reading the comments generated by a blog from Dr. Vino last week. 

 There seems to be a great misunderstanding about the purpose of the tasting portion of the exam particularly.  The Practical exam (as it is called) is not a parlor game where one has to name the wine, vintage, variety, and producer but a logical deduction based on what is tasted in the glass and clues given by the questions themselves.  Case in point, one particularly popular question format in the past has been 4 wines in a flight, same variety but from 4 different countries.  Initially this could mean any number of potential varieties however students are generally discouraged from chasing “flying zebras”.  Thus while Gruner Veltliner may be found growing in 4 different countries it is highly unlikely that you are actually dealing with Gruner in this question.  If it is Practical Paper 1, the white wine paper, the odds are that it is Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, or Pinot Gris since those are more internationally used varieties and incidentally the varieties that show up the most over the past 13 years of exams.

 How do I know that?

 Like any good MW student, I’ve studied the past 13 years of exams in great detail of course!  They are available on the MW website in the student section and are really like manna from heaven to people interested enough to take the time to really get to know them.  The exam is not a fixed thing however and changes can happen in the design from year to year.  Imagine my surprise when this year’s Theory paper 4, Contemporary Issues, after 4 years of being pick 2 of 5 questions switched back to the 2005-2007 format of the “pre-fix menu” (Pick one from section A and one from section B) similar to that of the rest of the exam (Theory Papers 1-3 require 2 questions from section B).  Of course that format only came into existence in 2005 where before that there was one compulsory question and then 4-5 options for the additional essays needed.  Personally, I liked the 2008-2011 formats but not being an examiner I have no control over it.  Also, since I did not pass my attempts in 2010 and 2011 perhaps this minor change will yield better results.

 For myself, part of the fun of the exam (yes, I know, I’m crazy to think it is fun on some level) is seeing how the examiners are able to never ask the same question twice but cover the same material regardless.  Take the following two questions from Paper 2 for example…

 In order of priority, what quality assurance procedures should a producer have in place to avoid contaminated or defective wine? (Paper 2, 2011)

 As the Quality Assurance manager of a contract bottling operation, what actions will you take when microbial contamination is found in routine samples taken off the bottling line? (Paper 2, 2009)

 Both cover QA but each question needs to be answered in a very unique way.  The first asks for an order of priority of QA procedures while the second asks for actions that will be taken once contamination is found. If one had written a practice essay for the 2009 question and then answered the 2011 question in the same way one would likely fail. Not because of lack of knowledge about QA but because you didn’t answer in the question that was asked.  This is a common theme on the examiner’s report which is released after results are announced and goes over the common pitfalls and what the examiners were hoping to see in the answer to each question.  It is another invaluable resource for the MW student and I think I can safely say that any student that does not read it is setting themselves up for failure.

 Now, after 4 years (6 if you count the WSET programs) of all my free time being spent studying, tasting, analyzing, and compiling information in an effort to mentally “master” the wine industry, I find myself with some down time.  Time that I’m sure will come to a swift and fast end around the middle of October when my husband and I are expecting our first child. I know I didn’t mention that but, yes, I did just sit the MW exam 5 months pregnant! It definitely added an extra dimension of challenge to the whole thing, if it wasn’t challenging enough.  Regardless of the outcome of this exam, I’m happy.  I’m happy with the level of knowledge that I’ve reached and skills I’ve developed through the program to constantly seek new knowledge which I know I will continue long after the stress of the program is forgotten.  I’m happy to have met all the wonderful people that are in the program or involved with the institute in some way.  I’m very blessed to have been given opportunities to travel and speak with some of the top experts in the industry worldwide.  Most of all, I’m happy that I did not give up, ever, regardless of how depressing or challenging the program was.  I’ve always been serious about getting the MW certification and I would have always regretted it if I hadn’t gone for it, 100%. I know that even if I fail this third time, I tried my best, studied my hardest, and worked tirelessly towards that goal.  That is all anyone can be expected to do and it gives me peace to close this chapter of my life and move on, either through the rest of the program or not.  I’m excited to see what the next phase of life brings with a more personal distinction…Mother.