Heymann-Löwenstein – Riesling from lower Mosel

Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein is a terroir-oriented producer of mostly dry Riesling located in Winningen in the lower stretches of the Mosel valley, just a few kilometer outside Koblenz. I’ve appreciated the wines when I’ve tasted them, so I thought they would make an excellent theme for a tasting in a small wine tasting club I held in early June (of 2012, I should perhaps add, due to my irregular blogging in English).

Heymann-Löwenstein is run by Reinhard Löwenstein together with his wife Cornelia Heymann-Löwenstein since 1980. The first few years they were located in Lehmen, and the moved to Winningen in 1983. Before going into wine production, Reinhard had spent his youth being a left wing radical, active in the French communist party, and on Cuba as a volunteer aid worker.

The focus of Heymann-Löwenstein is dry style Riesling wines, but they also produce some sweet Riesling and sparkling wines. They count among the quality pioneers for dry German wines, although they probably weren’t quite as early out as for example Bernhard Breuer of Weingut Georg Breuer. However, aiming at producing dry wines in Mosel(-Saar-Ruwer, as it was called at the time) was probably even more “odd” than doing so in Rheingau or Pfalz. In Reinhard’s opinion, the lower/downstream part of Mosel is more suited to producing dry wines than middle Mosel, where most of the famous Mosel villages are located, and where they have stayed more with off-dry/semi-sweet wines as their standard style. Heymann-Löwenstein must be considered the first really high profile producer in their part of Mosel (at least in modern times), and Reinhard is even behind this sub-region’s current name of Terrassenmosel (“Terrace Mosel”) since hi didn’t like the old name Untermosel (“Lower Mosel”). The name has some logic to it, since there is a lot of vineyard terraces along this stretch of Mosel, which by the way is straighter than middle Mosel.

At the move in 1983 the yield was lowered and the quality improved. An early success was scored with the 1985 vintage, when their Uhlen Spätlese trocken won the first place, tasted blind, at a large German/Austrian wine challenge in 1987. That year the Prädikat designations was removed from Reinhard’s dry wines. He continued to try his way with the wine making, and in 1996 had arrived at the style that he’s mostly kept to since then. This involves a certain time of maceration, and fermentation using indigenous yeasts.

Reinhard has also been an early champion of using a French-inspired wine classification, which in the hands of VDP became Erste Lage/Grosses Gewächs. As support he has used vineyards maps of Mosel from 1868 and 1897 featuring a classification in three classes, where his current four top vineyards all were in the highest class, which included only 3% of the total vineyard surface. Also in other parts of Germany have similar old maps (partly drawn up for land taxation purposes) been located and put to new use, since they apparently were quickly forgotten when the must weight (expressed as °Oechsle) began to be used as the main quality parameter in the German wine laws of 1892.

The Uhlen vineyard with its many terracess. Blaufüßer Lay is sourced from the area closest to the camera, at the lower edge of the image, Laubach from just beyond that, and Roth Lay from the area in the centre of the picture where the terraces can be seen most clearly.

Heymann-Löwenstein uses the vineyard name only on his Erste Lage wines, while the other wines, his “entry level wines”, are sold under the designations Schieferterrasssen (“slate terraces”) and von blauem Schiefer (“of the blue slate”). Heymann-Löwenstein has vineyard holdings in four Erste Lage sites: Kirchberg and Stolzenberg in the village of Hatzenport, as well as Röttgen and Uhlen in his own village Winningen. From the 2001 vintage (for dry wines, 2000 for sweet wines) he has divded Uhlen into three sub-sites with different types of slate: Blaufüßer Lay, Laubach and Roth Lay, often referred to as Uhlen B, L and R. (Lay is a local name for slate.) At wine fairs I’ve seen him bring pieces of slate from they vineyards, so you actually can see that they are of different colour.

Röttgen, also thoroughly terraced.

Among the Winningen vineyards, Röttgen is supposed to show most aromas of ripe and tropical fruit, and be most accessible already in its youth, while Uhlen is supposed to be more cool and minerally, with Uhlen R (the most expensive of the Uhlen trio) the most structured and in need of cellaring. Kirchberg is supposed to show herbal aromas and a salty minerality.

The wine style of Heymann-Löwenstein is mostly dry but not necessarily bone dry. He never uses the ”trocken” designatin on his labels, and it can probably happen that some wines in some vintages actually go up into the halbtrocken range, although with balancing acidity. One of the reasons for this happening, is that his wines are produced in a powerful style, using grapes from a rather late harvest. Despite being from Mosel, I’d describe them as more powerful than the typical style of Rheingau wines, but without really giving a Pfalz impression, since they do show some typical cool features in their aromas. Once I saw the characterisation ”Wachau an der Untermosel” in a wine catalogue, and I do understand what is meant, although they are not actually that similar to Wachau wines.

Among Reinhard’s other merits I could mention that he has written a small book about his wine philosophy called Terroir, where he succeeds in mentioning Karl Marx already in the first sentence.

Winningen Röttgen 2007

Bright yellow colour. Nose of ripe yellow fruit with peach and some tropical fruit, good aroma concentration, some honey and Riesling perfume. Rather dry on the palate, fruity, very concentrated, tropical fruit and yellow fruit, good acidity with a slightly bubbly impression, slightly spicy, a hint of alcoholic bite, and a slight grapefruit bitterness. Approachable now, will stand more cellaring. The alcohol disturbs me slightly. 91 p.

A classical Röttgen in style. Some of the others at the tasting found it a little simple in style – at least in this lineup – and will probably have rated it lower than I did.

Winningen Uhlen B (Blaufüßer Lay) 2007

Bright yellow colour. In the nose mineral with some stone dust and smoke, good fruitiness with ripe citrus fruits and other ripe yellow fruit, discrete perfume. Dry and very concentrated on the palate, quite minerally, ripe fruit in the background, menthol, good acidity, slight alcoholic feeling and spice, very light alcoholic “fiery” feeling also in the aftertaste. Rather young, could gain from more cellaring. 92+ p.

Demonstrated the difference between Röttgen and Uhlen quite clearly. Here, the minerality is much more dominant and the fruit is more in the background. If the very exotic Röttgen hadn’t been next to it as a contrast, this wine had probably come across as fruitier, so in terms of minerality it’s not a pure gravel pit or something like that. This wine also comes across as younger and more closed than Röttgen. A good value in its style since it is the cheapest of the Uhlen trio.

Winningen Uhlen L (Laubach) 2007

Bright yellow colour, slightly deeper than the two previous wines. Minerally nose, slighly smokey notes, wax, ripe citrus fruit and other yellow fruit, some honey, after a while a hint of petrol and some nut. Dry on the palate, very concentrated, mineral, menthol, good acidity, fruit in the background with mostly citrus notes, including zest. Rather young. 92+ p.

In similar to Uhlen B, Uhlen L is clearly mineral. Compared to Uhlen B it is less obviously fruity and more smokey on the nose, more similar on the palate, but spicier and with its fruit notes more citrus-only. The difference between B and L grew with temperature. While much unites the three Uhlens 2007 (B, L, R) in style, in some sense, it is Uhlen L that’s the odd man out in terms of aromas.

Winningen Uhlen R (Roth Lay) 2007

Bright yellow colour. In the nose mineral, peach, some honey, some flower and perfume notes, very elegant. Dry on the palate, mineral, good fruit concentration with ripe and tropical fruit, honey – more specifically honey drops (confectionery) – very good acidity with a sparkly background feeling, menthol, spice notes. Rather accessible, but should improve with further cellaring. 93+ p.

In my opinion, this wine was the most elegant in its aromas of all wines of the tasting. It’s interesting that it comes across as more accessible than Uhlen B and L and shows more fruit notes than those two, while still being mineral, since Uhlen R is supposed to require the longest cellaring. In this tasting its style came across as something in-between Uhlen B and Röttgen with some extra elegance to its aromas. This was my favorite, but in the total vote it ended up in being second.

Scharzhofberger P (Pergentsknopp) 2007, Van Volxem

Bright yellow colour. Obvious mineral note in the nose, some honey, ripe yellow fruit, discrete perfume note, elegant. Also a hint of petrol after a while. Dry taste, good concentration, citrus, clearly mineral, high acidity, grapefruit bite, spicy, long and grapefruit-dominated aftertaste. Definitely elegant. Rather young, would gain from further cellaring, but accessible now. 92+ p.

This was the “ringer” of the flight, from another dry wines focussed producer in another part of Mosel, Saar to be more specific. I had expected this wine to stand out more in style from the Heymann-Löwenstein wines than it actually did. Sure, if you looked really closely you could probably find slightly higher acidity and more grapefruit notes, but the difference wasn’t really obvious. None of those who tasted it blind directly spotted this as something different. It did however get a “best” vote from 6 out of 11 participants. This caused some surprise, because some of those who participated had tasted this very wine rather recently, and at that time they were much less impressed. In my opinion, this was behind Uhlen R, but at the same level as Uhlen B and L. This wine originates from a part of the famous Scharzhofberger vineyard, that used to be called Pergentsknopp before the major amalgamation of smaller vineyard sites in Germany in 1971. Van Volxem also sells a “regular” Scharzhofberger at a slightly lower price (at the level of Röttgen); this wine sells at about the same price as Uhlen R.

Winningen Röttgen 2004

Bright- to golden yellow colour. (It got a little cloudy after some pieces of wax from the top of the cork accidentally fell down into the bottle when I opened it.) Obvious smoke in the nose, some petrol, yellow fruit, slightly “muted” in the nose. Quite good concentration on the palate, honey, ripe yellow fruit, high acidity, spicy, slight bitterness, long aftertaste. A wine to drink with food, feel rather ready and fully developed. The palate better than the nose. 90 p?

I tasted this wine another time not too long before the tasting (March 2012), and then it was absolutely amazing – both nose and palate – and should have had potential to come out on top in this tasting. This time, the nose was much less impressive, and indicates that there could be some sneak defect to it, but I do recognise the palate, so I don’t really think it was mildly corked. The wine was the subject of some discussion around the table, with some claiming that it definitely had some cork, while some sharing my opinion, that it didn’t show the dead and metallic taste that typically goes with cork defect, and that it didn’t really get worse. In any case, something probably wasn’t quite right with it, and it got 6 out of 11 worst votes, while I considered it second-worst since I actually enjoyed the taste.

When tasted in March 2012, I gave it the following description on Cellartracker:

Bright yellow colour. Elegant and slightly developed nose with ripe citrus fruit and yellow fruit, some zest, fairly obvious petrol notes (rather elegant for such notes – I’d say they tend towards paraffin wax in this case), some mint and just a hint of exotic fruit. Palate with excellent concentration, yellow apple and other yellow fruits, citrus, lots of minty/mentholy minerality, some spice, excellent acidity that adds lift and freshness, and a long, fresh aftertaste with citrus and menthol aromas. 92 points.

This is a wonderful, slightly mature, powerful dry Riesling in a mold which is both food-friendly and very elegant. My only slight concern is that the alcohol (12,5%) is almost detectable, but that’s almost, it is well kept in check by the wine’s wonderful acidity and excellent concentration. The wine is fully approachable now, but with its high acidity I see no problems at all to cellar it to around 15 years of age/around 2020, for those who would prefer more petrol and more spice, and could live with slightly less fruit concentration.

Winningen Röttgen 2001

Light golden colour. In the nose clear petrol notes and classical developed notes, yellow apple and other fruit, some spice, heather honey. Quite good concentration on the palate, spicy attack with honey, dried yellow fruit, good acidity, light alcohol feeling, spicy aftertaste with some bitterness. Impressive concentration, foody style, slightly disjointed, the most obvious alcoholic feeling of the flight, and a bitterness that’s high enough for me to mark it down slightly. I don’t expect it to improve with further cellaring. 90 p.

I put my “worst” vote on this wine, despite the likely sneak defect in the previous wine (perhaps wrong of me), but this wine also got two best votes. The reason for me was that the alcohol and the bitterness, both detectable in several of the wines, was at their highest in this wine, and made it come across as somewhat disjointed and not too harmonic, although it also showed some wonderful aromas. Since I rated it 90 it was not a bad wine by any standard, and it hadn’t collapsed or anything like that. Probably, in this strong lineup, its minor beauty defects were more obvious that they had been if it had been served on its own with food.

Winningen Uhlen R (Roth Lay) 2001

Golden colour, darkest of the flight. In the nose some dried fruit, perhaps a hint of botrytis?, honey, spicy and slightly smokey, some petrol, heather honey. Complex and obviously mature notes. Quite concentrated on the palate, try, cool and minty in the attack, spicy, with notes of baked apples, high acidity, long aftertaste with mineral, slight bitterness. Mature in a positive sense, could probably take some more years in the cellar. 93 p.

To me the second best wine, but it actually got no votes at all, neither best or worst. However, many said appreciative things about it during the discussion, and I heard several who said that they like me considered it the second best. A good example of a powerful dry Riesling that has mature aromas but also fine acidity and minerality. Some thought this was further gone than Röttgen 2001, probably based on some dill notes and that its colour was the darkest of the lineup. I thought on the other hand that it was more balanced, and should have a longer life ahead of it, since it still shows mineral and cool character, and that the alcohol and bitterness hasn’t come through as they have in the Röttgen 2001.

Someone thought that the wine came across as older than expected of an Uhlen from 2001. I’ve cellared the bottle since 2007 under storage conditions that perhaps haven’t been ideal all the time (in particular, drier than what is ideal for corks), but the Röttgen 2001 has on the other hand been stored in a similar way since 2006, and there was no such comment about that wine.

This tasting confirmed to me that these are really good wines that are to my liking! I also think that the 07s display terroir character by clearly being different. All five 07s showed quite a bit of elegance, although the dominant feature of Heymann-Löwenstein wines is power rather than elegance. “Good with food but not for just drinking” was one opinion around the table, but then I would like to add that the two entry-level wines without vineyard designation are somewhat lighter in style. The late harvest and winemaking using skin contact definitely combine to give a rather high alcohol for a cold-grown Riesling, and some bitterness. In most cases these components are kept in check by the fruit, spice, acidity and minerality of the wines and simply contribute to giving them power and food friendliness, but it is a bit of a balancing act. In some cases, the wines are really on the edge of having too much of at least one of these components – alcohol or bitterness.

This tasting led me to somewhat reevaluate these wines suitability for extended cellaring, for the vintages I included here should in general be some of the more mineral and acid driven of the German vintages of the period 2000-2009. (2005, 2009 and in particular 2003 were much warmer in style.) Sure, the wines can be cellared for quite some time and should probably – in particular in the case of Uhlen – routinely be cellared for a few years after release. However, I’m not really sure if there is really any point in cellaring them beyond about 10 years for Röttgen and about 15 years for Uhlen. This opinion may come across as weird for those who would never dream of cellaring any dry white wine for that long, but there are dry Rieslings that do require some 10-15 years to peak, and would be able to take 20+ years. I do suspect that some slightly leaner top notch Riesling wines could react more positively to extended cellaring than these more powerful wines. A preliminary recommendation could be to drink Röttgen from about 3-5 years and Uhlen from about 6-8 years, although that will vary with the style of the vintage. In any case, I definitely do recommend drinking them!

Interview with Reinhard Löwenstein:

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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One Response to Heymann-Löwenstein – Riesling from lower Mosel

  1. I have not had their wines often, but I always enjoy them. Great post!

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