Class Recap: “Crossing the Rhine”

Alsace may be in France, but it faces Germany. There is sausage, and coq au vin made with riesling, and grape varieties named on the labels of your tall, fluted wine bottles. Across the Rhine, Baden grows a bunch of grape varieties whose names mean “from Burgundy”. Württemberg drinks juicy, glou-glou red from a grape better known as schiava in northeastern Italy. Neither place has seemingly heard of riesling at all.

It’s a topsy-turvy world, not quite German, not quite French, where there are intensely local feelings of place and belonging.

Just as crucially, there are so, so many delicious wines to encounter, along with the growers who make them. We’ll cross the Rhine, drinking as we go, and listen to the story the river tells. Regions on the border make more sense if you cross over.

Class was on the weekend of October 8th, 2021. Some questions to ask while you taste:

1. We’re tasting two wines from the same grape variety. Do they feel similar, or dramatically different? What about the wines feels like it might be producer style, and what feels like it might be an expression of regionality? Do either of these taste like “pinot noir” to you?

2. Trollinger is called ‘schiava’ in northeastern Italy’s Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol. Can you guess why the region has two names? Have you tasted anything from this part of the world? (If so, does the first wine remind you of something you’ve tasted?)

3. Whether it’s packing, flavor profile, style, or even the language on the label, do these wines match your expectations of ‘French’ or ‘German’ wine? If not, what about them is surprising?

How it might look on a wine list
ANDI KNAUSS, trollinger, “La Boutanche” WÜRTTEMBERG

In one sentence
A liter of Württemberg’s signature super-drinkable light red.

Who made it? Andi Knauss, who took over from his father in 2004. He’d worked for organic wineries in Austria, and set about converting the farming and purchasing additional vineyard plots. Today he farms 15 hectares (so he’s on the small side of medium, or the medium side of small) scattered across 18 different sites (so, a lot of different, small plantings).
Out of what? Trollinger (big-berried, thin-skinned, known as schiava in Alto Adige in northeastern Italy). Andi farms some other varieties that might be more familiar in Austria or northeastern Italy than in Germany, like kerner, muskateller, zwiegelt and lemberger (aka blaufränkisch in Austria), in addition to the varieties you find west in Baden (pinot noir/blanc/gris, müller-thurgau). There’s even a little bit of riesling.
From where? Plots outside of three villages in the rumpled-bedsheet hills around the river Rems. 

How it might look on a wine list
WASENHAUS, pinot noir, “Grand Ordinaire” BADEN

In one sentence
Infusion-style pinot noir from an overnight cult of the German new wave.

Who made it? Alex Götze and Christoph Wolber, two young Germans who met in Beaune and worked in Burgundy. (Alex still had his day job as the vineyard manager for de Montille when they began making wine in 2018. The commute is about two and a half hours.) The first vintage Vom Boden imported was a single pallet of 50 cases. This is zero wine. They make weissburgunder (pinot blanc), chardonnay, and gutedel (chasselas in Switzerland, mountain spring water) in addition to the spätburguner/pinot noirs.
Out of what? Whole-cluster, semi-carbonic zero-sulfur pinot noir bottled in the spring, formerly known as “Baden Nouveau.”
From where? They own very tiny plots in the south that amount to about 1.5 biodynamic hectares (tiniest of tiny), in the shadow of the Alps, and also buy grapes from the famous vines of the Kaiserstuhl, the volcanic fist where Baden’s most celebrated vineyards live.

How it might look on a wine list
BECHTOLD, pinot noir, “Obere Hund” ALSACE

In one sentence

Who made it? Jean-Marie Bechtold, who took over his family’s estate back in 1995 after working with his father for 15 years. (Which is…a long time to work for your father.) This timeline also says something about Alsace’s older/wider history of growers bottling independently relative to Baden or Württemberg, which are much more dominated by co-ops. (Alsace was historically dominated by merchant houses.) Jean-Marie began biodynamic conversion a decade and a half ago, and was the only organic grower in his village for a loooong time. In addition to pinot noir they grow riesling, gewürztraminer, auxerrois, and really good pinot gris.
Out of what? Pinot noir (half-destemmed, half whole cluster).
From where? A single west (!) facing vineyard site in the north, west of Strasbourg, called “Ober Hund”, presumably because it overlooks something called “Hund.” (I don’t know why it’s a hound dog).

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