“Life is too short to drink bad wine” said President Thomas Jefferson back in the ? He found his way to the little German town of Hochheim, in the Rheingau, as did other illustrious visitors such as Queen Victoria, and Goethe among many others in their day to drink the famous “Hock”. Hochheim boasts less than twenty thousand souls in current times, but it was formerly an important trading post at the heart of Europe, situated as it is on the River Main, only three kilometres from its confluence with the mighty Rhine. The noble Riesling grape was first chronicled here in 1435, though grapes have been grown here for many more centuries.
Bad wine is not something you will find on these sun-blessed slopes, facing south with the light glancing off the waters of the river to intensify the ripening, and lengthen the growing season into the mellow Autumn months. Rather, you will find the purest, most delectable, racy and intense wines made mostly from the noble Riesling. They range from the modern, trocken (dry) style wines, to classic, semi-sweet and intensely sweet wines.
This July, a remarkable winemaker and gentleman, Dr. Franz Werner Michel became the first German producin the thirty years of the International Wine Challenge in the U.K. to receive the award of “White Winemaker of the Year, 2017” for the wines of Weingut Domdechant Werner. They swept the boards, winning the overall title as well as winning a Trophy, four Gold, eight silvers and three bronze medals, one for every wine they entered.
Dr. Franz Werner is of the seventh generation to own this historic estate, bought in 1780 from Count York, by the father of his ancestor, the Domdechant (Dean) Werner of the great Cathedral of Mainz. He has now been joined in the business by the eighth, his daughter Catharina Mauritz.
Domdechant Franz Werner, his namesake, was credited with saving the famous Cathedral from being destroyed during the French Revolution and subsequently rebuilding it. Dr. Franz has been prominent in local community life in this pretty riverside town for decades and is an erudite, cultured and charming man with a great love and understanding for Ireland and its people. With his wife and family he has preserved the wonderful estate immaculately, but also, has kept the traditions of great winemaking in Hochheim intact.
The biggest wine trade fair in the world now is Prowein, held in Düsseldorf every March. There is nothing we look forward to more, at the end of a long day of meetings, tastings and running from stand to stand, than coming to rest on the Domdechant Werner booth, to spend an hour in the delightful company of Franz and Catharina, tasting through the new vintages but also, a vast range of their mature wines.
Very few wine estates will offer you a vertical tasting of so many wines from different vineyards, different vintages and different levels from bone dry to exquisitely sweet. For perhaps the very first time this year, we tried four different vintages through each level from the great vineyards of Domdechaney, Kirchenstuck and Holle, and found that you could read the weather conditions of two very different sets of contiguous years in the wines, 2011 v 2012 and 2015 v 2016, each style remarkable in its own way. The 2011’s and 2015’s were extremely ripe, fruity and almost voluptuous, as a hot sunny vintage will dictate, whereas the 2012’s and 2016’s, cooler years, had a more austere, but no less intense, linear, mineral style which was totally in contrast, but equally remarkable. But the amazing thing was that these characteristics ran right through the flight from each vineyard and from each vintage, with great precision.
Looking at a German wine list is confusing at the best of times, trying to decipher what is the village, the vineyard, the plot or winemaker, but the most recent additions, though introduced to try to make it simpler, have probably made it even more difficult to understand!
In recent years, in addition to the normal labelling requirements of producer, place and designation, there are a host of new descriptions to wrestle with. VDP , founded in 1910, is an association of winegrowers and Estates and is a “terroir” based classification, not to be confused with the official German wine law classification, and encompasses the very top producers and their sites, such as Domdechant Werner, SchlossJohannisberg, Kloster Eberbach, Georg Breuer, and Robert Weil in the Rheingau, and other famous names in three other regions: Pfalz , Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheinhessen.
More recently, the VDP have introduced a system similar in intent to the Grand Cru and Premier Cru classifications in France, for specific vineyard sites. These classifications are divided into Four levels, starting at Gutswein, then Ortswein and progressing up to Erste Lage ( Premier Cru) and Grosse Lage (Grande Cru). The term Grosse Gewachs is applied only to the dry Rieslings and you will see GG on the bottles produced in recent years.
Alken Brothers have listed a small selection of the wines of Domdechant Werner, but the good news is that it is possible to order any of the available wines from the list in six or twelve case lots and they will arrive in a matter of a week or two. This list is a rare chance to buy mature Rieslings which are drinking magnificently now but will keep for many more years. Liquid gold indeed.
These wines can be enjoyed at any time of day or night. A refreshing glass in a deck chair on the lawn, a perfect chilled aperitif, or to accompany all sorts of elegant dishes, from crustaceans, river and sea fish dishes, poultry and white meats, Asian cuisine, bacon and ham dishes as well as savoury vegetable, egg and cheese dishes all work beautifully, and the sweet wines will round off a meal perfectly , either with a luscious dessert, cheese, such as Emmental, Comte, or just on their own.
Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, Eiswein or Trockenberenauslese, you will find your nectar somewhere in this prizewinning lineup. The wonderful World of Riesling will be your oyster!
Domdechant Werner Weingut Website: http://www.domdechantwerner.com/
By Monica Murphy