As our tour bus drove on to the ferry that was to take us across the Rhine River, I had to chuckle to myself as we all noted that the Germans were very precise about signposting their vineyards with large white letters reminiscent of the famous Hollywood sign. They know their terroir in a way that most people cannot comprehend, and these giant signs prove it.
They were not just for tourists, though it makes a nice distinction while you are cruising down the Rhine. We were leaving the Rheingau region to explore the Nahe region on the other side of the river, and as this was my first time crossing the Rhine, I had to make a mental note of the history, thinking of how many people crossed this river going back to pre-history. Travelling European wine regions is always a class in history.
We were on our way to visit Prinz Salm, where thirty-three generations have lived and produced wine. If we give a conservative 20 years per generation, we’re talking about at least 660 years, which is almost inconceivable in California. This is why they know their land intimately, and being German, they keep detailed records. On this tangent, I was fascinated that every vineyard we visited mentioned Global Climate Change. “It’s been getting warmer here, at least over the past 15 years,” said Prince Felix Salm. For them, this was not a political statement, it was just a fact based on years of climate recording, and the last twenty years are an anomaly. A couple of growers even joked that if it gets warmer they’ll have to start planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Mosel, a shocking idea.
Prince Felix, one of the “Two Princes” met us in his vineyards, because that is where the story of his wines begins. He showed us the green slate of the Nahe (green because of trapped sulfur) and his prized vineyard sites: Roxheimer Berg and Felseneck. We marveled at the near verticality of his slopes, grabbed some stones and headed to the family castle and cellars. His nephews were playing around the castle and it felt like a truly living home, not some piece of dusty history, though the cellars were pretty dusty. He also loves Riesling, which he feels is more diverse than any other white varietal and Germany makes 50% of the world’s Riesling. I was again surprised at how dry these Rieslings were, and I certainly was challenged to come up with new synonyms for lemon and mineral flavors.
Most ABCs carry the “Two Princes” Riesling, which has amazing balance, and happens to be 100% organically estate grown. Up front, I get lemon bars with lemon curd, a clean, yet perfumy nose, with none of the Rheingau petroleum notes. Big and bright acid hit me on the palate first, with hints of limestone and slate, rounded by citrus and green apple, brisk and refreshing, yet not too sweet. They paired their wines with excellent charcuterie and cheeses, but I would’ve loved to pair this with sushi or Asian food, or fresh-caught salmon. What a perfect Florida summer wine!
Their family crest shows two salmon, back to back, which is the design of the new labels. “Salm” means fresh water salmon in German, while “Luchs” (like Lox) is salt water-sourced. After a tour of the cellars and the estate he gave us a history lesson about his family (and their original three kingdoms) we sat back and listened to stories of their wines, the last few vintages and the new “Great Growth” classifications with four new levels to German wines beyond the old Pradikatt system based on sugar levels and time of harvest (Kabinett/Spatlese/Auslese). Now there are four levels of drier wine classification:
- Estate, meaning one owner from a number of properties
- Village, meaning only from one village (and one terroir –style)
- Erste Lage (“Premier Cru”) and 4. Grosse Lage (“Grand Cru”); 3. and 4. are from single vineyard sites only. Whew! Leave it to the very precise Germans to find a new way to confuse the American public, but it’s worth doing a little research to discover these new “Cru” wines, which are drier and even more complex. Visit your local ABC and take a small trip to Germany this summer; you will be pleasantly surprised!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine consultant and
Wine Pairing Examiner for Examiner.com
Follow me on Twitter @ABCWineDanE