Exploring Terroir with Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof

Jun 5, 2008

Last week, I sat down with Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof to taste through his 2007 Mosel Rieslings that will be available soon in the United States.

Weis is a thoughtful grower and winemaker and an astute taster, so it is always a productive and educational experience tasting through his wines together.

Even more interesting is that the estate focuses on two single vineyard wines: Ockfener Bockstein from the Saar Valley and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, one of my favorites, from a stunning amphitheater of vines in the Middle Mosel. Since the 2005 vintage, Weis has added the Leiwener Laurentiuslay to the lineup of Erste Lage, or “First Growth” vineyards.

With the 2007 vintage, now simply labeled Mosel instead of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the characters of the individual terroirs are crystal clear, especially at the kabinett level. The spätlese and auslese wines still need more time to develop and reveal their stamp of place.

We began the tasting with the estate Riesling, a QbA that Weis fashions in a slightly drier style than other estates. He prefers to stop the fermentations by tasting and feels that if the wines are drier, they show better out of the gate and will age equally well, with less residual sugar.

The Riesling QbA ($15) comes from vines in the Wiltinger Schlangengraben and Leiwener Klostergarten vineyards. It shows floral, grapefruit and stone notes, and is fresh and balanced, with nice length (89 points, non-blind).

In 2006, Weis also released a new wine from purchased grapes in the nearby village of Mehring, called Urban Riesling, labeled under Nik. Weis Selection, to distinguish it from the estate wines. It is made in a separate winery. The 2007 ($11) was elegant and crisp with a stony, mineral quality and apple flavor. It’s a perfect summer sipper (87 points, non-blind).

From there, it was on to all the estate’s top sites. The Ockfener Bockstein comes from the Saar subregion. Though further south than the Middle Mosel, the best vineyards are in side valleys perpendicular to the Saar River. That, plus the influence of the Hunsrück Mountains, makes it cooler. The wines retain a certain steeliness.

The Rieslings from Bockstein are often floral or fruity, but always have a strong mineral element and savory quality. The Kabinett 2007 ($19) expressed this beautifully, with its racy structure defining the mineral, orange and smoke flavors. It had terrific length, with a chalky, saline intensity on the aftertaste (90 points, non-blind). The Spätlese 2007 ($24) also exhibited the smoky, pungent and savory aromas and flavors of lime, mint, brown sugar and brown spice accents. It was all backed by lively acidity (92 points, non-blind).

The Auslese Ockfener Bockstein 2007 ($40) again featured smoke and mineral notes, with plenty of orchard and tropical fruit set in relief by the vivid structure. A hint of elderflower emerged on the long finish (93 points, non-blind).

Piesporter Goldtröpfchen is the other major site for St. Urbans-Hof. It’s a warmer site, compared to Ockfener Bockstein, and the soils are a little deeper, resulting in wines with more flesh and mouthfilling richness. There is often a blackcurrant aroma and flavor in Riesling from the Goldtröpfchen and it’s true of the Kabinett 2007 ($25). There are also notes of slate, pastry and herbs, supported by a vibrant structure (91 points, non-blind).

The Spätlese 2007 ($35) reveals less of the black currant flavor and more orange and citrus, with hints of mango and pineapple. Then the acidity comes in, with mineral quality that leaves a firm, iron-like impression. This shows great potential (93 points, non-blind). I found more floral notes in the Auslese ($45), which at this stage is more fleeting and delicate in aroma than either the Kabinett or Spätlese. On the palate, it’s rich and sumptuous, but less-developed. It has plenty of fruit, acidity, concentration and intensity (94 points, non-blind).

St. Urbans-Hof’s Leiwener Laurentiuslay Erste Lage ($45) is a different Riesling altogether. The vineyard is composed of a thin layer of slate, with solid rock underneath. The vines were planted in 1957. It’s a windy site, yet well-supplied with groundwater, and the grapes are typically harvested with lower acidity. Though it’s a spätlese, Weis always makes it drier and therefore slightly higher in alcohol than the Bockstein or Goldtröpfchen. It’s a broad, savory Riesling, with tropical fruit flavors. There’s an orange peel, citrusy bitterness followed by a long saline finish (91 points, non blind).

Since the 1998 vintage, St. Urbans-Hof fermented with indigenous yeast. In 2007, the vineyard-designated Rieslings were also fermented in traditional 1,000-liter neutral oak fuders (German casks that are more than four times the size of the standard oak barrel used in wineries). “We like to use them in vintages where the acidity is good,” explained Weis. “They allow enough oxygen into the wine to create flavors that the acidity can enhance.”

About the 2007 vintage in general, Weis had this to say: “It has beautiful, bright, shining acidity and fresh flavors because of the cool nights. There is also a salty minerality that makes the wines thirst-quenching. Most of all, they are low in alcohol.”

Sounds like the kind of Riesling I like to drink.

Germany White Wines Riesling

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