Crossing the Rhine

Regions on the border make more sense if you cross over.

Alsace may be in France, but it faces the Rhine. 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 river, Württemberg drinks juicy, glou-glou red from a grape better known in northeastern Italy; Baden grows a bunch of grape varieties whose names mean “from Burgundy”. 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 great growers who make them. We’ll cross the Rhine, drinking as we go, and listen to the story the river tells.

Class was on the weekend of October 8th, 2021. These were the wines:

How it might look on a wine list
Andi Knauss, trollinger, “La Boutanche”, Baden-Württemberg 2020 [1L]

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). They’re all in three villages in the rumpled-bedsheet hills around the river Rems. 
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.

How it might look on a wine list
Wasenhaus, “Grand Ordinaire”, Baden-Württemberg 2020

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.) 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. Their first vintage Vom Boden imported a single pallet of 50 cases. This is zero wine. There is 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.”

How it might look on a wine list
Becthold, pinot noir, “Obere Hund”, Alsace, France 2019

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; see also how Alsace has an older/wider history of grower bottling than Baden or Württemberg). He 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 there is riesling, gewürztraminer, auxerrois, and really good pinot gris — minus muscat and sylvaner, more or less the standard spread for what’s planted in Alsace.
Out of what? Pinot noir (half-destemmed, half whole cluster) from a single west (!) facing vineyard site in the north of the region, west of Strasbourg, called “Ober Hund”, presumably because it overlooks something called “Hund” (I don’t know why it’s a hound dog).

Questions to ask:

We have three red wines, two of the same grape. What feels like producer style? What might be an expression of region? What’s surprising in terms of these wines? Is there a difference between how they look, and how they taste?

Trollinger is schiava in northeastern Italy; does anything about its expression in Andi Knauss’ liter bottle remind you of that part of the world?

All three of these regions are borderlands. How do they match what you expect from wines from the countries those regions are inside of? How are they different?

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