Friday, 14 October 2011

German Wine Trip: Ahr and Meyer-Näkel

Deciding on our last destination for this wine trip took some time. Both Lady J and I were keen on visiting a region known for its red wines, but while she wanted to go to Baden, I was set on Ahr. Baden is by far the more well-known region with around 16,000 ha of vineyards. Its warm and sunny climate due to its location as the southernmost of Germany's vineyards make it ideal for the production of red wine.

The Ahr Valley in its sunny glory
Ahr on the other hand is virtually unknown outside of Germany. It is one of the smallest (around 550 ha of vineyards) and most northerly (50-51 degrees latitude) regions in the country. The majority of wines are red, with Pinot Noir, known locally as Spätburgunder, accounting for nearly two thirds of all plantings. One would think that the grapes would face difficulty in ripening being so far north, but the process is assisted by a combination of steep, south-facing slopes (angled towards the sun) and heat reflecting soils.

In the end, my carefully thought-out arguments and persuasive skills managed to convince Lady J to settle on Ahr (in truth, I just drove there while she was asleep in the car). Our first stop was Weingut Meyer-Näkel, founded in 1870 by the Meyer family. Its modern name was established through the marriage of Paula Meyer and Willibald Näkel in 1950. Current owner Werner Näkel is assisted in the winery by daughters Meike & Dörte Näkel while his wife Claudia helps out in the selling of wine.

I did not know much about Meyer-Näkel before visiting the winery, other than it was one of the famous names of Ahr. The wines of Ahr are notoriously difficult to obtain due to their limited production, which also ensures high prices. Werner tells us that last year his Grosses Gewächs wines were sold out the week that they were released.

We hopped into Werner's truck to take a drive around the vineyards. Imagine driving around on narrow terraces, just inches from the precipice with nothing to prevent the vehicle from tumbling down except rows and rows of vines. Werner has established a reputation as a great winemaker, but it should also be noted that he is a very skilled driver as well! The top sites of Meyer-Näkel are Pfarrwingert in Dernau, Sonnenberg in Neuenahr and Kräuterberg in Walporzheim. As Werner brings us through the vineyards, something nags at the back of my mind. After a few minutes I realise what it is; the fruiting zone, which is the area where the grapes grow, is immaculately clean. There are no leaves that may shade the fruit, preventing ripening and causing the wine to taste "green". This neatness is a distinct contrast to some of the vineyards of other winemakers we drive past, where the vines grow haphazardly and the plant's energy is wasted on foliage rather than producing fruit. Werner treats his vineyards as if he were coaching Olympic athletes, demanding the best performance and monitoring every aspect of their growth.

Meike Näkel shows us how it's done in the winery

This attention to detail carries over into the winery as well. Much of the work is done by hand, for example the process of "punching down" the must to extract colour and flavour. This is an extremely labour intensive operation, and a testament to the dedication and discipline of his team. You can almost taste the love in his wines, which are a dizzying swirl of aromas and lush, extravagant fruit. Ever the pioneer, Werner also produces wine in South Africa and Portugal.

Tasting notes:

Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Grosses Gewächs 2009 - The Sonnenberg (Sun hill) vineyard is the warmest spot in the Ahr valley. The wine displays varietal characteristics of raspberry and strawberry. A balanced wine with ripe fruit and fresh acidity. Lingering finish.

Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder Dernauer Pfarrwingert Grosses Gewächs 2009 - The "priest" vineyard, named after the Catholic Church which still owns the land. Savoury red fruit, vibrant cherry character with chocolatey notes. A touch warming on the palate. A delight to drink now but this is a wine for keeping.

Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder Walporzheimer Kräuterberg Grosses Gewächs 2009 - A floral, almost musky nose, very enticing. I feel as though Werner could bottle this and sell it as perfume. A delicate mélange of red fruits, herbs, forest floor and milk chocolate on the palate. Fine structure, with juicy acids and lush tannins forming a solid backbone.  Lady J commented that the wine was so fine it "brought a tear to her eyes".

Quinta da Carvalhosa Campo Ardosa - A joint venture between three German winemakers (Bernd Philippi, Berhard Breuer and Werner Näkel), this winery is located in the heart of the Douro region in Portugal and produces dry table wines. I forgot to notate down the vintage of this particular bottle. An exotic wine with rich black fruit, nuances of konbu (Japanese kelp) and an undercurrent of herbal notes. Pronounced tannins, but very well-integrated, giving structure and fleshing out the wine.

I did some research later on and found a company in Singapore that distributes Meyer-Näkel wines (hurrah!). They are available from Wein & Vin.

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