Schloss Vollrads, mostly 2009, and some reflections on Rheingau

I just retasted the 2009 Schloss Vollrads Spätlese trocken, and it dawned upon me that I never wrote anything for the English version of this blog about my visit to Rheingau in early 2011, when I bought the wine I retasted directly at the producer. So I’ll do it now instead.

It is often said that the criminal will return to the scene of the crime. Something in the world of wine that I always like to return to is German Riesling, and if I check out my oenological crime record over many years, Rheingau is probably the prime crime scene. I must admit though, that I’ve been paying a lot of attention to some of the classical French regions, in particular Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy, in the last couple of years, but not out of any change of heart regarding Riesling. Although I drink more dry German Riesling than the off-dry or semi-sweet versions, it was actually the latter that initially opened my eyes to Riesling. This was in the very beginning of my “oeno-criminal career” as a wine geek, and this happened recently enough (well, at least on a geological time scale) that the wines with residual sweetness were totally “out” just as they are now, and were considered unsophisticated by people whose knowledge of wine is as deep as the thickness of an average wine label. Yup, that was an opinion.

Rheingau was the the first wine region that I explored more seriously on location, partly because I had encountered wines from there that I liked, and partly because I found many good and interesting activities to visit. It is also a rather compact region of manageable size. At some of these activities also some mature vintage wines featured, so it was really in Rheingau with my nose down a glass of German Riesling that I realised that mature wines are very fascinating and often to my taste. It later turned out to be rather simple to find mature semi-sweet/simpler sweet wines on the domestic German auction market without being completely ruined, at least if you didn’t insist on really well top producer names or really high Prädikat levels, such as Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA).

The vineyards on Rüdesheimer Berg – one of the wines world’s most beautiful sights

So as you see, Rheingau is definitely nostalgic territory for me, even though there may be reasons to be even more positive to other German regions from some points of view. On the German scale, the value for money is not the best in Rheingau. There are many expensive producers in other German regions as well, but the concentration of large-size price tags is probably the highest in Rheingau, with the possible exception of the very small red wine region Ahr, which is a bit of a special case. Several famous Rheingau names have also periodically underachieved compared to what could be expected, given the type of top-notch vineyards they own and the prices they charge. To this category I would count Hessische Staatsweingüter/Kloster Eberbach, and previously also Schloss Johannisberg. It is therefore more common in Rheingau than in other German wine regions to encounter producers surviving on their old name and previous fame. This could of course lead to the drastic view that you could completely ignore Rheingau and choose Mosel for off-dry to sweet wines plus some acid-driven white wines, and choose Pfalz (or in some cases Rheinhessen) for more powerful dry wines and for reliable, good value everyday Riesling. But it is also fully possible to defend Rheingau and say that the region’s Rieslings at their best can combine the elegance of a Mosel with much of he power and concentration of Pfalz into one fairly ideal package. However, elegance should take priority over power for me to consider the wines to be truly typical of Rheingau. Also, no other German region is as good at the combination of dry and sweet wines in producers’ portfolios as Rheingau. Sure, there are several really good producers of dry wines in Mosel (such as Heymann-Löwenstein and Van Volxem), but truly good dry wines is not something you can expect to find in the range of all reasonably good Mosel producers. And actually, it isn’t that hard to find reasonably priced wines in Rheingau, if you’re willing to check around a little. Those who visit the region can for example visit Eltviller Vinothek (in Eltville) to have the possibility to try wines from many producers whose price levels are quite reasonable.

But, I mentioned the issue returning to the crime scene in 2011. 2010 I actually didn’t visit any German wine region, despite that it’s rather close to Germany from Brussels, where I was still living at that time. 2008 I visited Mosel and 2009 I visited Ahr. My last visit to Rheingau was in 2007, which was before I lived in Brussels. So it was definitely high time to come back, which I did the last weekend of February 2011. The reason I chose that weekend was that the spring auction at Eberbach Abbey (Kloster Eberbach) was arranged that weekend. I’ve written up my impressions of pre-auction dinner. Before returning from the auction events, I also visited three good producers that were open on Sundays: Schloss Vollrads, Schloss Johannisberg and Georg Breuer.

My visit to Schloss Vollrads (Wikipedia article) was actually my first to them. It is one of the truly old properties of the region. It is also one of a handful of German vineyards or properties where the vineyard name doesn’t have a village name attached, by ways of an exception from the wine law. The full and formal single vineyard name of Schloss Vollrads is thus Schloss Vollrads(er). Compare for example to the vineyard Baiken in the village of Rauenthal which is Rauenthaler Baiken, and Kirchstück in Hochheim which is Hochheimer Kirchstück. Some other vineyards excused from a village name are Schloss Johannisberg, Steinberg and Scharzhofberg. While this may not seem like a big thing, it’s a very exclusive club, and only traditional and very highly regarded vineyards were given this status.

And now over to the wines I tasted, first dry and then sweet, arranged roughly in order by increasing price and increasing sweetness. Schloss Vollrads produces a very long range of wines at different Prädikat levels under the vineyard designation Schloss Vollrads, as well as a few extra designations, and from dry to sweet. The bottles are slightly differentiated by “capsule” colours (they generally use Vinoloc glass closures rather than corks), but there is a need to pay attention to the label, and be aware of what the different Prädikats signify, if you want to avoid becoming confused. The top vintage 2009 was available at all levels in early 2011, and in many cases 2008 could also be tasted, and in one case also 2006.

Dry wines

The wines are guarded both by a watch tower and by moat monsters – that can’t be matched even by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti! This again shows how technologically advanced Germany is…

Schloss Vollrads Qualitätswein (QbA) trocken 2009
In the nose peach, Riesling perfume, good nose for a QbA-level wine. Medium bodied, palate with peach, grapefruit, some spice, good acidity, rather powerful. 85-86 p.

Schloss Vollrads Kabinett trocken 2009
Perfumed, elegant and aromatic nose. Medium bodied, palate with peach, grapefruit, good acidity. Lighter in style than the QbA, but more elegant. 86-87 p.

Schloss Vollrads “Edition” Qualitätswein trocken 2008
In the nose citrus (grapefruit), Riesling perfume, mineral, rather elegant nose. Medium bodied on the palate, an impression of good sweetness of fruit (but it is a dry wine), grapefruit, good acidity. 87-88 p.

Schloss Vollrads “Edition” Qualitätswein trocken 2009
Clearly flowery and perfumed nose, mineral, very elegant. Medium bodied on the palate, peach, impression of good sweetness of fruit (but is dry), grapefruit, mineral, just a hint of alcohol, but very elegant. 88-89 p. Compared to the 2008, the 2009 shows aromas of more ripe fruit.

Edition is a wine sold at almost exactly the same price as  the Spätlese trocken, but is formally classified as Qualitätswein (QbA) trocken. The idea is that this wine should be consistent in quality level and style, and was said to draw upon grape material that could otherwise have been used for Spätlese trocken and Erstes Gewächs. In the 2009 vintage though, I found the Spätlese trocken a small notch better. Based on the four wines I tasted, and the prices directly from the producer, I would consider both the Spätlese trocken and the Edition QbA as very good buys.

Schloss Vollrads Spätlese trocken 2008
In the nose citrus, mineral, herbal, rather elegant and restrained. On the palate good acidity, grapefruit, slightly herbal, a hint of bitterness. 87-88 p.

Schloss Vollrads Spätlese trocken 2009
Feb 2011: In the nose perfume, flowers, peach, fruity. More than medium bodied, some impression of sweetness of fruit on the palate, good concentration and acidity, peach, some grapefruit bitterness, good aftertaste. 89-90 p.

Retasted Nov 2012: Nose with ripe yellow fruit, including peach and ripe citrus, a hint of tropical fruit and perhaps a touch of banana, some perfume notes and a hint of mineral. Elegant nose. Dry palate with ripe fruit and good fruit concentration, good acidity. Also some mineral and some grapefruit bitterness that linger in the aftertaste. 89 p.

Fully approchable but still rather young, though not quite as explosive in its flavours as 1,5 years ago, and now probably comes across as slightly drier.

Schloss Vollrads Erstes Gewächs 2006
In the nose peach, some developed notes, some spice and mineral. More than medium bodied, palate with yellow apple, some peach, green apple-style acidity with slightly disjointed impression, somewhat typical for 2006 in its profile (although not bitter like many other) 89-90 p.
Definitely a good wine for the vintage. 2006 was not a particularly good vintage in the more northern German wine regions, and in particular not for the dry wines. Most dry 2006 wines show a varying degree of bitterness, and lack in elegance. Medium sweet/sweet wines fared better in 2006, because there the bitterness doesn’t come through, but they often tend a bit towards clumsiness.

Schloss Vollrads Erstes Gewächs 2008
Some herbal notes in the nose, citrus, some perfume, mineral. On the palate peach, good acidity, mineral, grapefruit. Elegant, but not too concentrated for being an Erstes Gewächs. 90-91 p.

Schloss Vollrads Erstes Gewächs 2009
Definitely perfumed in the nose, flowers, peach. More than medium bodied, palate with impression of sweetness of fruit, a lot of peach, some spice, good concentration. 91-92 p. Still young, could possibly get a higher note wihen mature.
More perfume and concentration than the 2008. Rather similar to Edition in its style.

Off-dry to sweet wines

Schloss Vollrads Spätlese 2009
In the nose peach, some Riesling parfume, ripe citrus fruit, some mineral. Typical Spätlese sweetness (or slightly above), palate with good acidity, peach, grapefruit, good concentration. 88-89 p.

Schloss Vollrads Auslese 2009
In the nose perfume, very ripe peach, some dried apricots (some botrytis?). Typical Auslese sweetness (or slightly above), palate with peach and some perfume, some acidity, very nice aromas. 90-91 p.
Vollrads only produces one Auslese, i.e. they don’t produce any separate “Auslese Goldkapsel” or something similar. To be honest, many of those who apply that philosophy and charge quite a lot more for the Auslese than for the Spätlese (here more than three times as expensive), tend to do “heavier” and more concentrated Auslese than this, although it is a fine wine.

Before this occasion, I hadn’t tasted more than two Vollrads wines at the same time. I came away with a very positive impression, both of the quality in general, and of the value of many wines, in particular in the middle of the range. My earlier impressions of Vollrads from a quality point of view was they they were just OK rather than this good. To be sure, the top vintage 2009 played a role here, but the wines from 2008 and 2006 were also good. In terms of style they show what I expect from Rheingau: elegance and mineral, pure fruit notes and a clearly chiseled Riesling character. A peculiarity was than all the 2009s from Vollrads came across than more “perfumed” than the wines from the three other producers (Kloster Eberbach/Hessische Staaatsweingüter, Schloss Johannisberg and Georg Breuer) that I visited on the same weekend. This didn’t disturb me at all, but it made them seem quite young. However, they can’t have been newly bottled, because those on the level below Erstes Gewächs should have been available for sale since more than half a year before.

Finally, I should perhaps mention a little more about Vollrads’ earlier problems. From 1210 to 1997, the property was owned by the family Matuschka-Greiffenclau. Count Erwein Matuschka-Greiffenclau took over in the 1970s and also became president of the Rheingau branch of VDP, the organisation of German quality wine growers. In connection with the “dry wine quality leap” of Rheingau, he was probably the leading personality involved in the region’s foreign marketing. However, he didn’t succeed eqally well with his own property, which had a period of varying quality and was faced with increasing financial problems. The origin of these problems were substancial investments aimed at increasing the quality, that had not resulted in sufficient increase in revenue, or at least not fast enough. 1997, when the debts stood at over 20 million Deutschmarks, Schloss Vollrads’ bankruptcy was requested by the regional bank Nassauische Sparkasse in Wiesbaden. The next day, at 59 years of age, Matuschka-Greiffenclau committed suicide. More specifically, he went out into the vineyard and shot himself.

After the takeover of the probably, the bank wasn’t able to directly sell it at an acceptable price, so they instead opted for “active management” which would include running Vollrads in such a way that it would increase in value. A new manager was hired in 1999 to implement this. In 2005, the bank decided that they didn’t want to sell Schloss Vollrads, and would remain its owner.

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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