The Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter (VDP), Germany’s association of 200 top-quality estates is celebrating its centennial this year. In 1910, four regional groups of estates from Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau and Rheinhessen formed the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer to promote their natural wines, made without the addition of sugar or blending with wines from other countries. They sold them exclusively through auctions, a tradition that continues today with some special bottlings.
The VDP hosted a lunch last week at Le Bernardin, showcasing a number of its members’ wines, including some rarities from the 1959, 1953, 1949, 1935 and 1921 vintages. Reinhard Lowenswtein, owner of Heymann-Lowenstein, the VDP’s national vice president welcomed a small group of mostly journalists, along with Marcel Tyrrell of Karthäuserhof, one of the founding estates, Hans-Jörg Rebholz of Ökonomierat Rebholz, the president of the VDP Pfalz and Tim Fröhlich of Schäfer-Fröhlich, the VDP winemaker of the year in 2009.
Lowenstein noted that in the late 19th C. and beginning of the 20th C., German wines were found in all the great cities at prices matching those of Bordeaux. The first German Wine Law was enacted in 1892, to promote the concept of “natural” wine as opposed to “industrial” wine. Industrial wines were blended and enhanced, with no guarantee of authenticity. It was in this setting that the VDP was founded, its goal to ensure quality and truth in labeling.
He described winemaking as an intersection somewhere within a triangle between industry, craft and art. “Wine is not a natural product, but a product of civilization,” Lowenstein said. “The VDP embraces different cultural approaches to winemaking.”
Today, the VDP has 200 members. That’s a fraction of the roughly 20,000 growers in the Rhineland-Pfalz (includes Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz and Rheinhessen regions). The association really formed its current status under the leadership of Prinz Michael zu Salm-Salm, from 1990 through 2007. During this period, more than 99 members joined the VDP, while 68 left the fold.
Hans-Jörg Rebholz, whose estate became a member in 1991, recalled a movement toward more natural viticulture under Salm’s guidance (Salm began organic farming at his own estate in 1989). It began with “integrated viticulture” and today, more than 50 percent of the VDP estates work organically. “Our goal is to produce the maximum of terroir and unique wine character,” he stated.
To enjoy with the delicious lunch menu prepared by chef Eric Ripert and his staff, the VDP representatives provided almost two dozen Rieslings, including the selected older vintages. Here are some highlights, in the order they were tasted.
We started with some dry wines, including a tropical fruit-scented and mineral Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Nahe Dellchen GG 2008 from H. Dönnhoff (92 points, non-blind) and racy, elegant Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Gold Cap Nahe Bockenauer Felseneck 2005 (93 points, non blind) that was really starting to strut its stuff. There was also a powerful, aromatic Riesling Qualitätswein Mosel Uhlen L Laubach 2009 from Heymann-Lowenstein, with intense peach and mineral flavors (94 points, non blind). All were Grosses Gewächs from top-classified vineyards, part of the VDP movement to emphasize terroir through classification of the best vineyard sites.
The aperitif wine was the Riesling Rheingau Rüdesheimer Hinterhaus Cabinet Naturrein 1921 from Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach. Nicely mellow, it was full of wax, honey, spice and smoke aromas and flavors, very complex, with a lively structure and long finish (93 points, non-blind).
A Schloss Johannisberger Riesling 1945 was one of the highlights of the event celebrating the VDP centennial.
The Karthäuserhof Riesling Spätlese Trocken Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg 1997 (91 points, non-blind), with its citrus and mineral and dry, vibrant profile was an ideal pairing with the first course of marinated hamachi Vietnamese style bathed in Nuoc Mam vinaigrette.
But it was the intermediary bottle, the Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Spätlese Rheingau Grünlack 1945 that stepped up to the plate, featuring a gorgeous bouquet of lanolin, honey, dried apricot and oily, burnished furniture. It was essentially dry, with honey, lemon, mineral and smoke flavors propelled by bracing acidity (95 points, non-blind).
There was a slight cork taint to the first bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Auslese Rheingau Rosa-Blaulack 1959. Le Bernardin’s wine director Aldo Sohm quickly produced another bottle, this one much cleaner, with petrol, wax and dried citrus bouquet leading off, followed by citrus and mineral flavors supported by a dry, firm structure (93 points, non-blind). From Dr. Loosen came the Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Wehlener Sonnenuhr 1988, with its fresh, delicate lime, floral and slate notes, all beautifully balanced and long (92 points, non-blind). I liked its profile and flavors with the crispy black bass, lup cheong and beansprout risotto and hoisin-plum jus.
We finished the meal with a flight of dessert wines. The standouts were Bassermann-Jordan’s Riesling Auslese Pfalz Forster Ziegler 1935, a moderately sweet white offering dried orange peel apricot and a hint of honey that finished dry (92 points, non-blind) and Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach’s Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Rheingau Rüdesheimer Hinterhaus Cabinet Naturrein 1953. The TBA was magnificent, from its appealing light amber color to the lingering, complex flavors of caramel, honey, dried apricot and smoke, all wrapped in an elegant profile (97 points, non-blind). Interestingly, the Ziegler vineyard no longer exists, but I could not find which of today’s sites incorporated it.
I have had a lot of experience with wines from VDP member estates over the past 25 years. Though some have been occasionally disappointing, this is an excellent organization with passionate and talented members. For those interested in German wine, Rieslings and other varietals bearing the VDP logo of the eagle with a cluster of grapes are worth seeking.
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