Monday, 9 March 2009

Terra rossa

This is my Weinrallye piece, so I feel I should include a preface in German:

Lange habe ich überlegt, ob ich diesen kurzen Artikel auf deutsch oder englisch schreibe. Fürs Letztere habe ich mich nun entschieden. Dafür bitte ich meine deutschsprechende Leserschaft um Verständnis. Ich schreibe in meiner Muttersprache, da ich mich bei diesem Thema möglichst "praxisnah" ausdrücken möchte. Ausserdem steht schließlich unter den Spielregeln zum Weinrallye nirgendwo, dass man seinen jeweiligen Artikel unbedingt auf deutsch verfassen sollte. Diese Regellücke nutze ich also heute dankend aus.

As it says in my blog profile, I live in the German region of Südbaden, or to be more precise, in Markgräflerland, an area that stretches from Freiburg down to Weil am Rhein where I live - a town which hugs the border with Basel and is thus situated at Germany's southwestern extremity. I have a lot of affection for the wines of Markgräflerland, especially Gutedel, which is still very much the local speciality. However, the Pfalz is my native wine country, so to speak. It's where I first "discovered" German wine, and where I always enjoy returning - for pleasure, if not for business.

I first fell in love with Riesling during a four-week placement at von Buhl in Deidesheim in the summer of 1997. My time at von Buhl entailed a lot of hard work but was ultimately rewarding. Apart from numerous menial tasks in the cellar (labelling, loading pallets, remuage etc.) , I also spent time "auf dem Feld", i.e. trimming, defoliating and generally taming the vines in Ungeheuer and Pechstein. However, more glamourous assignments included pouring the wine at a function for a party of visiting Japanese. Extra-curricular activities tended to involve weekend trips to local wine fests in the company of my cellar rat peers, all of whom were Portuguese.

As fond as my memories are of Deidesheim and the surrounding villages of Forst, Ruppertsberg etc., I realise that the Pfalz is much, much more than just the "three Bs" (Bassermann-Jordan, Bürklin-Wolf, Buhl) or famed vineyards such as Kirchenstück, Grainhübel or Gaisböhl.

While on a short break in the Pfalz in autumn 2005, I was not only able to explore some of the rolling wine country south of Neustadt but also the area north of Bad Dürkheim. One of the wineries I visited then was Weingut Pfeffingen Fuhrmann-Eymael, a wine estate surrounded alone literally in a sea of vines just on the outskirts of Bad Dürkheim. Although harvest was in full swing at the time, both Herr Fuhrmann and Frau Eymael were kind enough to stop for a minute and chat and give me an impromptu taste of some of their Rieslings and Scheurebes, despite the fact I had arrived unannounced. Herr Fuhrmann was even kind enough to give me a lift in his car to the next village (Ungstein). Apart from the wine I tasted, it was this warmth and friendliness which left an impression on me.

The Grosses Gewächs vineyard, Weilberg - my intended destination that day - was just a short walk uphill from Ungstein. One prominent geological feature characterises Weilberg: its red clay soil called Terra Rossa (see my photo below), which is not too dissimilar to the soil found in the Coonawarra district of South Australia. According to the Pfeffingen website, it was the Romans who first recognised the advantages of Weilberg's favourable, generally south-facing exposition. Weilberg is clearly a vineyard of great tradition. To underscore this fact, the remains of an old Roman villa and wine press are situated on the crest of the vineyard. The (scanned) photo to the right was taken that warm, hazy early-October day in 2005.

Today's wine is from that same 2005 vintage:

2005 Ungsteiner Weilberg Riesling "Großes Gewächs" (Weingut Pfeffingen)
For me, Weilberg tends to produce wines that somehow combine exotic spiciness and lusciousness with elegance and minerality. This "GG" is no exception. On the nose, it has developed what Hugh Johnson once described as "the whiff of the forecourt" - the obvious sign of an aging Riesling. However, this is no geriatric. It is barely out of its short trousers on this showing. Whether it is still to undergo a moody adolescence (or even middle age?) is anyone's guess, but this is just beguiling at the moment. On the palate, it is extremely succulent and fresh, yet also tightly woven. However, to me, the core inside feels more like technicolor and sunlight than dark volcanic brooding. And, more to the point, this wine is well balanced. I can taste exotic grapefruit...maybe even oranges, wrapped in a lovely ripe acidity. At the risk of simplifying matters, this is "Pfalz in a glass".
Weilberg may be less heralded than your proverbial Kirchenstücks or Pechsteins, but, for me, it sums up better than any other vineyard all that is special and different about the Pfalz.

(Photo of the VDP Pfalz map hung up in my study ("Die Herkunft der Großen Gewächse des VDP Pfalz" (2005)). In the caption, the village name "Ungstein" is shown to the north of Weilberg - but that should really be Kallstadt, proud home of Saumagen.)

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