Monday, 21 September 2015

On Franken’s Stein, Animal Parts and Charitable Causes

Producer: Weingut Juliusspital Würzburg

Comment ça va? My activities these past few months have had a markedly European slant, from a visit to Spain (sadly, no wines!), to a party celebrating French culture, and upcoming trips to Vienna and Bordeaux. In August, I was introduced to the wines of Juliusspital thanks to the good offices of Schmidt Vinothek, local distributor of German and Austrian wines. The tasting was held at Joël Robuchon at Resorts World Sentosa, which boasts a luxuriously decked out interior with black accents. This was my first time at Joël Robuchon and I was wondering why the smell of basil was so prominent until Chef Sommelier Kenneth Au pointed out the plants in the indoor garden. Apart from providing an attractive focus for diners, these herbs also act as air fresheners, cleaning up cigar smoke more effectively than any ioniser.

Weingut Julisspital is located within the Franconia region in central Germany. It’s not an area that I am deeply familiar with as my visits have focused more on the wine regions located in the western part of Germany. Identifying a bottle of Franken wine is quite easy due to their distinctive shape, a narrow neck that expands to a rounded body with flattened sides and base, similar to an upside-down light bulb. This shape, called a Bocksbeutel, is thought to have been derived from a booksbüdel, a small sack used to carry books, but I prefer the altogether cheekier explanation that it is another name for a ram’s scrotum which the bottle resembles. In 1726, the Würzburg city council decided to bottle wine in sealed Bocksbeutels to distinguish them as wines of quality. Today this unique shape is used mainly in Franconia and certain parts of Baden and Italy. Those who have drunk Mateus rosé would no doubt notice that it also bears the same shape, which must be vexing for Franken producers considering that Mateus – a high volume, mass-market product – bears little relation to what they are making.

Franconia has a continental climate with very cold winters and hot summers, and here the Silvaner grape is given top billing, unlike the rest of Germany where Riesling holds sway. Silvaner can be bland and typically has lower acidity than Riesling, but in Franken it shows an array of fresh citrus fruit with a hint of herbaceousness. Site selection for this grape variety is particularly important as it is susceptible to frost damage. If the three bottles of Silvaner in the tasting are anything to go by, then this grape is quite the chameleon.

Weingut Juliusspital is the largest producer of Silvaner in the world, and the second largest winery in Germany. Big is not always beautiful in the world of wine, but the fact that Juliusspital is part of the VDP association gives assurance to their commitment to quality. The winery utilises the four tier quality ranking started by the VDP with the 2012 vintage. Gutswein represents its entry level wines, while Ortswein, Erste Lage and Gross Lage are similar to the Burgundy concept of village, premier cru and grand cru. There is an additional term, Grosses Gewächs, which is reserved for dry wines at the Gross Lage level.

A point of interest is that while some producers may donate part of their proceeds to charity, Juliusspital is itself a charity, running a hospital, nursing home and other facilities. Its farms and vast tracts of vineyards (around 170 hectares), help fund its community activities. The founder of this enterprise, Prince Bishop of Würzburg Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn made the admirable declaration that “all manner of paupers, invalids, incapacitated and crippled persons in need of surgical and other medical care, likewise forsaken orphans and also wayfaring pilgrims and needy persons” were to receive treatment. The winery owns several highly rated vineyards, but the area most prized for Silvaner and Riesling is Würzburg Stein (the word stein means stone in German). Here the soil is limestone and its proximity to the moderating influence of a river offer protection against cold winters.

Since the untimely closure of Magma at Bukit Pasoh Road there have been few places in Singapore where you could get a bottle of Germany’s less-known varietals, so I am delighted that Schmidt Vinothek has stepped up to the plate. In line with the best of Germany, these are wines which offer star-bright purity of fruit with exotic accents.

Tasting notes:

Juliusspital Würzburg Silvaner Gutsweine trocken 2013 - Dry, light bodied and refreshing with notes of lemon and orange cordial, and a herbal finish. Mid length.

Juliusspital Würzburg Riesling Gutswein trocken 2014 – Light and refreshing showing unmistakably Riesling character, although not particularly driven or intense.

Juliusspital Würzburg Bacchus Gutswein 2013 – An off-dry style with residual sugar of 15.8g/l. Bright and aromatic with forward notes of fruit salad, green orchard fruit and nettles. Think of it as a riper Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of pleasure to be found here.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Silvaner trocken Ortswein 2014 – Grown on the classic limestone soils of Wurzburg. Shows more restraint and depth than the Gutswein with notes of white pepper and a persistent finish.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Riesling trocken Ortswein 2014 –Youthful, light bodied and supple, this wine displays primary fruit of guava and lime framed by racy acidity. Drier than its residual sugar (7.1g/l) would suggest.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Stein Riesling trocken Erste Lage 2014 – A testament to site selection, the warmer climate of the Wurzburger Stein vineyard has produced a vivacious, youthful wine with remarkable intensity and depth of flavour. Lime and guava notes are predominant, mixed with tantalising echoes of white nectarine. A highly praisable effort.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Stein Weisser Burgunder trocken Erste Lage 2014 – Weisser Burgunder is known more commonly as Pinot Blanc. This wine shows delicate melon and citrus peel flavours alongside a light body and medium acidity. Drinking well now but difficult to see it improving with age.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Pfaffenberg Spätburgunder Erste Lage 2011 – A really rich and serious Pinot Noir from one of the oldest vineyards in Franconia. Light and fresh with complex flavours of black cherry, savoury spices and a hint of crunchy bell pepper. Medium+ alcohol and very persistent.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Stein Silvaner Grosses Gewächs 2012 – Fermented for 30 days in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures. Several months lees contact has imbued this wine with a nutty nose. The most international in style of the Silvaners in this tasting, showing firm citrus fruit and impressive structure. Long and graceful finish.

Juliusspital Würzburg Würzburger Stein Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2011 – Hail and frost had a significant effect on the crop in 2011, but in the end it was an excellent vintage due to benevolent weather during the harvest. This wine is polished and sleek, showing some of the classic petrol aromas of aged German Riesling on top of lime, pomelo and grapefruit. Immense fruit concentration with balanced acidity.

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