By Celia Strong
Yep, sometimes I do amaze myself. What now? Well, I have fallen in love with a German wine. Definitely not my norm, but, at least, I can pat myself on the back for not being too rigid. So many of us jump to the conclusion that German wines are sweet. Many of them are, but, in fact, German wines run from very sweet to very dry. Not only is this sweet perception a strike “against” them in our minds, they also tend to have lower levels of alcohol. And who wants that?
German wines are primarily produced in the west of the country, along the Rhine River and its tributaries. The oldest wine-producing estates date back to the Roman era. The total vineyard area in Germany, though, is only about one tenth of the vineyard area in Spain, France or Italy. The total wine production is about 1.2 billion bottles per year, making Germany the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world.
The wines from Germany are primarily made from Riesling. This grape at its best makes aromatic, fruity and elegant wines. The white grape variety originated in the Rhine region. In addition to its aromatic quality, Riesling displays a flowery almost perfumy bouquet as well as high acidity. In terms of importance to the world wine business, it is usually included in the top three white varieties, after Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling as a variety is highly “terroir-expressive.” (That means its wines reflect the soil where the grapes are grown.) For German Riesling wines, a characteristic balance between fruit and mineral flavors is the style. The grape is rarely blended with other varieties, almost never exposed to commercial yeast for its fermentation and (usually) never given any oak aging. The sugar levels of the grapes at harvest are very important because that is what determines the dryness in the finished wine. The wine makers are very aware of the balance of acidity — partly the green tasting malic acid (granny smith apples) and the more citrus tasting (lemon) tartaric acid. In cooler growing years, the harvest may be delayed until November to reach the desired balance between these two. (None of this comes easy, you know.)
For our wine this week, we go to the Mosel River area. This river flows through the heart of Europe. Temperatures here aren’t too cold but conditions at the northern 50 degree latitude make the Mosel the most northern area for top quality grape vine growing. Viticulture has been present on the Mosel since the ancient Romans brought cultivated vines about two millennia ago. The unique geology and climate of the area plus the cool continental climate from Atlantic Ocean influences coming over the mountains make great grapes the norm. Our wine comes from a town called Leiwen in this area. With about 1,112 acres of vines, Leiwen is one of the largest wine villages in the Mosel region. The Weis family has owned the land for our wine for centuries. The grandfather of the current owner, Nik, founded the winery in 1947. In the early years, he built cellars and winery buildings on the hill of Leiwen’s outskirts. He named his estate for the patron saint of German winemakers, St. Urban Hof (“Hof” means “estate” in German.) In the 1960’s, his son, Hermann, took over running the operations. During this time, the nursery grew to become one of Germany’s largest. Hermann also was interested in expansion and, in 1989, he bought some of the Mosel and Saar’s (another tributary of the Rhine River) top sites in several nearby villages.
In 1997, his son, Nik, came into the family business. He is the one responsible for the lovely wine we’re going to have this week. (At the bottom of the front label, the phrase “Nik Weis Selection” says so.)
For our wine, Nik has sourced the best quality grapes from neighboring vineyards. Just like he is a blend of his family’s traditions and modern life, this wine is a combination of traditional roots and 21 century tastes. Starting with the bottle, it is neither green nor brown, the two traditional German wine bottle colors. It is tall and thin, but no cork — it too has a screw top, like so many more bottles every day. And the wine? Urban Riesling — a nice simple name to remember. It shows brilliant fruit and Mosel-slate mineral flavors, lively acidity and ripe floral aromas. If anything, this Riesling leans more to the dry side, with lemon zest notes and a crispness in your mouth that keeps you sipping and sipping. The extra long finish is like a lingering reminder of what your mouth just tasted.
At $10.99, we can all enjoy this wine often. And, let’s not forget, Riesling and Thanksgiving dinner always work well together. Try it then, try it now, try it often. Then we’ll all be able to pat ourselves on the back! Enjoy!