Late last year I got the pleasure of meeting Stephen Bitterolf of Vom Boden; German speaker, former wine director / current wine educator, and importer of fine wines Germania (Vom Boden; meaning ‘of the soil’). Stephen did a great interview with Levy Dalton, of I’ll Drink to That (one of my favorite podcasts).
Tasting and learning with Stephen was fantastic, and by far one of my favorite tastings of the year because of his focus on “dry and ‘illegally’ dry Riesling” wines made from sustainably farmed and/or natural winemaking practices. He also spoke about the complicated relationship between rarity, residual sugar, and inflated prices in the flawed Pradikat system, introduced originally in 1971.
Make no mistake, these wines were DRY – all of the fellow sommeliers at the table had a great time guessing the residual sugar, with most of us considerably wrong. Most of the wines ranged from a bone dry 1.5 grams to medium dry 20 grams residual sugar ( for comparison as of 2009 ‘Dry’ Champagne can be 17-35g Residual Sugar)For lovers of learning, wine is endlessly rewarding; I knew so little about the mysterious Saar wine-growing region (pronounced ‘Tsar’) which Frank Schoonmaker describes in his 1956 book The Wines of Germany as, “austerity coupled with delicacy and extreme fineness, an incomparable bouquet, a clean, very attractive hardness tempered by a wealth of fruit and flavor which is overwhelming.” When can I visit?
One thing I particularly like, especially coming from science and finance backgrounds are folks involved with German / Austrian wine because of their proclivity towards technicals. Residual Sugar, Acidity, and Alcohol are always up front and in focus on these wines which I feel really helps the consumer to understand what’s in the bottle as well as make the connection to what they are tasting.
The 2012 Stein Blauschiefer Trocken from the Lower Mosel was so unique I kept returning to it’s bouquet. Blauschiefer means, ‘blue slate,’ a name which rings true for this concentrated and mineral driven wine. The joy of smelling and drinking under ripe fruit is found nowhere else in the wine world than in riesling – here with lemon, peach, and of course apple. Here the grapes are grown from 80-year old, ungrafted vines, something largely unheard of for a wine this crisp and refreshing.
My favorite wine here was certainly the 2013 Peter Lauer ‘Senior’. Stephen explained that the hierarchy in the cellar here is based upon “Fass,” or cask numbers which are based upon the parcels in which these wines are produced from. Long time readers know that I love low alcohol wines; at only 11.7% alcohol this wine was beautifully balanced with extremely pleasant acidity. The Senior cask is based upon a selection done by Peter Lauer’s father, completed annually for his personal consumption. He inscribes ‘Senior’ on this barrel in chalk – I also love this label.
Peter informed us that Mosel is required by law to be placed on this label, but the region ‘Saar’ is front and center, as the viticulture and terroir from these two separate parts of the river are markedly distinct.
Most wine industry folks will tell you that Burgundy, Germany, and Italy are the hardest to because of the considerable amount of linguistic, legal, and historical information required to comprehend the wines. We are lucky to have specialists like Stephen out there keeping these grand wines in our glasses.