I have to admit that the name of Weingut Staffelter Hof wasn’t one I was familiar with, that is until I was invited to a tasting of its wines at Hanging Ditch. When I learned that it is one of the oldest vineyards in Germany, having celebrated its 1150th birthday just over two weeks ago, my ignorance was all the more embarrassing. Winemaker and current scion of the family that has owned the property since 1805, Jan Matthias Klein, was in England for a few days visiting several independent wine shops to present a selection of his wines.
Jan was a very engaging and interesting chap as well as a very generous host, pouring nine of his wines instead of the advertised seven for a large and appreciative audience.
First from this most historic of estates was a pair of sparkling wines, beginning with a modern Mosel take on Italian Prosecco, the punningly titled Mosecco Perlwein Trocken 2011 (11% ABV, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Sauvignon Blanc, £12.50). Its grapey, grapefruit and white pepper nose led into a fresh, fruity but dry palate that had a touch of apple and a gentle spritz. Carbonated rather than traditional method, the bubbles did start to fade in the glass but this pleasant and uncomplicated wine is ideal for enjoying now, should our summer ever arrive.
The 2009 Staffelter Hof Riesling Sekt Brut (12.5% ABV, £15.00) was a different kettle of fish altogether. Made with the traditional method, it spent 20 months on its lees and a 2004 Auslese was used as dosage, resulting in a residual sugar level of 10g/l. The medium sized, persistent bead made it tingle and dance on the tongue and autolysis had given a fresh mushroom and bready character to the nose. The palate was dry and elegant, streaked with minerally apple, lime and peach Riesling fruit fading into a long, rich, pithy and slightly savoury finish. Just 2000 bottles were made, drink yours now or at any time over the next 3-4 years.
Medium hued, violet-tinged pink and somewhat inexpressive on the nose, the 2011 Wolf Casanova Rosé (11.5% ABV, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Regent, £12.50) had hints of candyfloss and gentle spice on its soft, dry and not aggressively acidic palate. More savoury than fruity, this was a very easy drink and was nothing like many of today’s overly sweet and alcoholic rosés. Drink now.
The 2011 Wolf Magnus Riesling Trocken (12% ABV, £12.50) was partly matured in 1000 litre old oak barrels which gave a whisper of tannin to the wine, aiding its longevity. A spicy, green apple and slatey nose complemented the dryness of the fresh, firm, citrus fruited palate with a lick of honeyed white fruit to counter the austerity. Modern, dry and concentrated, this should be drunk over the next five years or so with a good fish pie.
Number five was both an interesting concept and an interesting wine. Named for a pun on the German for alpine rescue, The Bergrettung Riesling Trocken 2011 (12% ABV, £17.50) is one of the wines produced by an admirable collaboration of dedicated Mosel winemakers. The Klitzekleine Ring is a community of eleven wineries in and around the town of Traben-Trarbach, brought together by a mutual love of winemaking tradition and a desire to protect their region’s culture. “Berg” means “Mountain”, in reference to the vertiginous character of Mosel’s finest vineyards, and “Rettung” is German for “Rescue”. Through the production of these wines, The Klitzekleine Ring is dedicated to the recovery, maintenance, and thus rescue, of some of the world’s steepest and most expressive vineyards which would otherwise be abandoned in favour of easier to cultivate land. Good, bad or indifferent, these are wines that deserve to be drunk.
This had a riper, more honeyed nose than the previous wine, more mango than peach in character with notes of quince and blossom over. Dry but with a fullness to its body, a firm, slatey acidity balanced the fruit on the palate. Touches of apricot, ginger and honeysuckle were reminiscent of a leaner, drier style of Viognier. Very good indeed and not just because of its provenance, although a year or two of bottle age wouldn’t go amiss.
The Wolf Paradies Feinherb 2011 (11% ABV, £12.50), grown on blue and grey slate soils, had an aromatic nose, redolent of apricot and lime. Just off dry and rather exotic on the palate – mango scented oolong tea, honeysuckle and sweet spices - balanced by slatey acidity and a refreshing minerality. Absolutely lovely and again definitely a food wine. It will probably keep for longer, but enjoy this in the prime of its life over the next couple of years.
Steffensberg is a west-facing vineyard situated on a bend in the river where it benefits from both direct and reflected sunlight as well as from beneficial humidity. The Heraldic Kröver Steffensberg Riesling Spätlese 2011 (9%, ABV, £15.00) had a complex, honeyed ripe fruit and smoky/slatey nose. Peach and pineapple fruit, rich and medium sweet on the palate balanced by a firm, refreshing acidity and a mineral structure that was drying and almost tannic in its effect. An excellent wine, Jan declared that this will keep for twenty years or so, but it’s tough to resist enjoying it now.
From the same vineyard, the Heraldic Kröver Steffensberg Riesling Auslese 2005 (9%, ABV, £22.50) showed both the extra degree of maturity and the extra richness that its vintage and its quality level would have you expect. A deeper yellow/green colour than the 2011 Spätlese, the nose was hugely aromatic, bursting with the kerosene and savoury toast aromas of a Riesling with a degree of bottle age plus quite a bit of botrytis character, too. The very complex palate was a fruit salad of fresh and dried yellow fruits with substantial acidity preventing the sweetness from becoming cloying. It was almost delicate despite its richness and viscosity. A beautiful wine that will keep some years yet, although I don’t know how much more it can improve.
The third wine from the Kröver Steffensberg vineyard, and the final wine of the evening, was the 2006 Trockenbeerenauslese (7.5% ABV, £95.00/37.5cl). The price reflects both the degree of patience and effort required to produce this style of wine and the scarcity of it. Even in the exemplary vintages when conditions permit the production of a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), only 50 – 100 litres can be made. German TBAs are unlike any other wines, and this one was no exception: golden in colour, syrupy in texture and with huge quantities of botrytis, raisin/sultana fruit and a nostril-tingling volatility to the nose; the palate was creamy, rich and sweet with such a high level of acidity that the finish was mouthwateringly dry. Whilst this was an unexpected and most generous treat from Jan, I must confess that it was the only wine he served that disappointed me slightly. The sweetness and acidity were beautifully balanced, I just felt that a degree of complexity was missing from the mid palate. Maybe I was being hyper critical, but I don’t think that I was being unreasonable in my expectations of a wine of this calibre.
Although I might not be rushing out to buy the Trockenbeerenauslese, in many ways that can only be a good thing as it leaves me with far more money to spend on the Bergrettung, the Paradies Feinherb and the Kröver Steffensberg Spätlese and Auslese which were all truly lovely wines. If you haven’t yet had the chance to try the wines of Staffelter Hof, head down to Hanging Ditch and educate yourself.