A couple of weeks ago I attended a tasting of wines from Kloster Eberbach moderated by their CEO Dieter Greiner, on invitation by their new Swedish importer Bibendum. At this tasting, I represented BKWine, where my feature was published recently. Here is a slightly modified version of what I wrote for BKWine (translated by me from my original Swedish text, rather than by Per Karlsson of BKWine), plus some vintage commentary and notes on two wines from Hessische Bergstraße that were also included in the tasting.
About Kloster Eberbach
Kloster Eberbach (“Eberbach Abbey”) is a large German wine producer located in the two wine regions Rheingau and Hessische Bergstraße (“Hessian Mountain Road”). This producer is owned by the state of Hesse, one of the 16 states making up the Federal Republic of Germany. Their formal name is Hessische Staatsweingüter GmbH, which means Hessian State Wineries. This producer has a tradition stretching back to Medieval ages, but more importantly, the quality of their wines has improved considerably in recent years, in particular the quality of their dry Riesling wines.
Kloster Eberbach has its historical origin in the Cistercians’ large wine business along the Rhine, which had its centre in Eberbach Abbey. This abbey was founded in 1136 and is located above the village of Hattenheim in Rheingau, at the point where the slopes of the Taunus mountain changes from vineyards to woods. By the way, before its renovation, the abbey was used to shoot many interior scenes of The Name of the Rose, the 1986 filming of Umberto Eco’s book. The Cistercian Order has its origins in Cîteaux in Burgundy, where Clos de Vougeot was their most famous vineyard. When Napoleon invaded, church property was confiscated in the German areas, just as had happened in France during the revolution. In the case of Eberbach Abbey and its vineyards, this happened in 1803. However, after “Boney” and his troops had been driven out a few years later, the church didn’t get its old vineyards back, but has been owned by the secular government ever since. From 1803, this meant the Duke of Nassau, from 1866 Prussia – when this producer first was known as Königlich Preußische Domäne (“Royal Prussian Domaine”) and later Preußische Domänen-Weinbauverwaltung (“Prussian Domaines Viticultural Administration”) – and from 1945 the state of Hesse.
220 hectares/550 acres of vineyards means that they are the largest vineyard owner of Germany, and in particular they own a beautiful set of top-class vineyards spread across Rheingau. Their vineyards are divided into three domaines each having its own production facility and wine cellar: Assmannshausen for red wines from Rheingau, Steinberg for white wines from Rheingau, and Bergstraße (in Heppenheim) for the wines from Hessische Bergstraße.
Their vineyards include the monopole site Steinberg and the traditional red wine vineyard Assmannshäuser Höllenberg. Steinberg is the ”home vineyard” of Eberbach Abbey, located just down the road from the abbey itself. It is wall-enclosed, i.e. a “clos”, and it is half the size of Burgundy’s Clos de Vougeot, both of which were created by monks of the same order. In the range of Kloster Eberbach, I have always liked the Rieslings from Rauenthaler Baiken, that tend to be consistent in style and quality, and show pronounced mineral notes and elegance.
In recent years, Kloster Eberbach have done quite a makeover. They built a new and very modern wine cellar directly outside Steinberg. It stood ready in 2008. From the 2008 vintage, they have eliminated cork taint by introducing screw caps across the range, including those small lot auction versions of noble sweet wines that sell for several hundred euros per bottle. A very commendable decision for a producer so steeped in tradition as this one! As it happens, I’m not too fond of those irritating pieces of bark (natural cork), since I’ve already had to suffer through far too many cork tainted wines, so more screw caps (or glass corks) please! Kloster Eberbach has also changed their labels, and now a drawing of the abbey is shown on the front label rather than the German eagle. This eagle is commonly used for things related to the government, but was apparently seen by some as martial in its pose. However, the eagle has not been removed completely from their bottles, but is now perched on the back label in a reduced format.
The most important part of their makeover concerns the quality of their wines. Already before this makeover, I often found their sweet wines to be good, and their red wines have long enjoyed a good reputation in Germany. But since a few vintages, their dry wines are also of really high quality across the range. This was quite clear when I visited them early this year, when many 2011s were available for tasting (unfortunately, this didn’t result in any blog post), and this impression was confirmed when I recently tasted a number of 2012s. Now, the wines show a lot of purity in their aromas and the elegance I expect from a Riesling. They also show a vineyard-differentiated character, so I suppose I have to use the French T-word although we’re Germany, so here it goes: the wines show terroir.
Their range is structured in three quality levels called Cabinetkeller, Crescentia, and Gutsweine. This division into three levels is a structure used by many producers in the German quality producers’ organisation VDP, and it is not really new to Kloster Eberbach either. Whis is new, however, is that the style of the bottles and labels is now more clearly differentiated between the quality levels, and that they have reintroduced some old designations that were used in the past. However, the designations used may not be that easy to remember or intuitively understandable for those who don’t speak German, but then again, that’s equally true for the entire system of German wine classification.
The highest level in Kloster Eberbach’s range is called “Cabinetkeller“. It includes the best dry wines – corresponding to Großes Gewächs from other VDP producers – and sweet (“noble sweet”) wines from Auslese and up. The labels can be recognised by having a lot of red text and a “retro look”, with a jagged edge and the word “Cabinetkeller” written in an old typeface taken from the labels of Preußische Weinbaudomäne around 1900. Why this name? The explanation is that the Cabinet Cellar (that’s what it means) was that cellar in the abbey where the best wines were stored to be sold later. This more or less corresponds to some uses of the wine term ”Reserve” in French and English. The old spelling Cabinet is used to try to avoid to the much more recently introduced official designation Kabinett, which was introduced only in 1971 and has a different meaning.
The middle level is called “Crecentia“. At this level we primarily find vineyard-designated wines from good vineyards, either top wines from vineyards that don’t qualify for inclusion in the top level, or “second wines” from less ripe grape from the top vineyards. A few non-vineyard-designated wines are also included. Both dry and off-dry wines are included here, and in terms of official classification they are at the level Qualitätswein, Kabinett, or Spätlese. On the front label, Kabinett or Spätlese is used only for off-dry wine. The dry wines are simply indicated to be “Trocken” (that’s “dry” in German) on the front label, although the grapes are usually of Spätlese quality. The labels of the Crescentia have a rather large drawing of the abbey with “Crescentia” written under it, and rather prominent golden edges. On the Crescentia level, we nowadays find a lot of quite good wines at a very reasonable price for their quality!
The lowest level is called “Gutsweine“. These wines do not carry any vineyard designations, only the grape variety and region. The label of these entry-level wines have a smaller drawing of the abbey and much less use of golden colour. Screw caps of a simpler look, with a visible thread, are used on these bottles. Some of them are sold in a Bordeaux-shaped bottle. The term “Gutsweine” means “Estate Wines”. To those more familiar with New World wine traditions, it may seem strange that this term is used for the simplest wines. However, in Germany, this term indicates that the wines are only labelled with the estate name in terms of geographic origin, and not any vineyard name, which is the practice for the best German wines.
Some vintage commentary
2012 was a vintage almost completely without botrytis, which meant that Kloster Eberbach didn’t produce anything above Spätlese, i.e., no truly sweet wines, which is quite uncommon for the. I realise that I forgot to ask if this means that they also didn’t produce any Eiswine. When I was in Germany in early December 2012, it was rather cold for the season, and the combination of non-botrytized grapes and a cold winter seems like an excellent combination for good Eiswein – if good grapes were left on the vines. In my opinion, this vintage – which primarily consists of dry wines – shows pure and characteristic Riesling aromas.
We also heard some words about the 2013 harvest at Kloster Eberbach. This vintage resulted in good Pinot Noir, which for the first time in five years yielded a large crop, but also a good one. Riesling shows quite a lot of botrytis, but of a “clean” character (meaning noble rot rather than grey rot, I assume), but quantities are small.
Riesling, dry wines
Wiesbadener Neroberg trocken 2012 (Crescentia)
Nose with apple, some elderflower, a hint of citrus and mineral, some spice. Rather discrete nose for a young Riesling, at the same time the spiciest nose of the flight. Dry on palate but noticeably fruity with melon, honey, good concentration, and good acidity. A foody style. 87 p
The Neroberg vineyard was returned to Kloster Eberbach from the city of Wiesbaden in the year 2005, after Wiesbaden bought it in the year 1900, and it is a bit special for a Rheingau vineyard by having volcanic soils.
Nose with apple, some white peach, some mineral, some blackcurrant buds, elderflower and typical Riesling perfume. Dry on the palate with yellow apple, quite good concentration, honey, some mineral, a hint of spice, good acidity. A foody style, drinkable now. 88 p.
As mentioned above, Steinberg is a very classical vineyard, and the wine is equally classical Rheingau Riesling with reasonably ripe character and typical perfume notes. In a way, the style of this wine can be described as intermediate between the two wines from vineyards in Rauenthal.
Rauenthaler Baiken trocken 2012 (Crescentia)
Nose with apple, some elderflower, mineral, some blackcurrant buds, and Riesling perfume. Dry on the palate, noticeable minerality, apple and citrus, high acidity, and an aftertaste dominated by mineral. Rather young, drinks reasonably well now, 88+ p.
As usual, Baiken was my favorite. Among the Crescentia wines, it is also the one that most demands cellaring and is most packed with mineral.
Rauenthaler Gehrn trocken 2012 (Crescentia)
Nose with ripe yellow apple, some melon and white peach, a hint of honey, some mineral, and a slightly flowery note. Dry on the palate but the attack shows some sweetness of fruit, yellow apple, honey, some spice, good acidity, aftertaste with apple and citrus. Drinks well now, 88 p.
Apparently, Gehrn is the favourite vineyard of their winemaker. This wine shows the most ripe fruit of them all, and this is due to a steep southern exposure.
Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland trocken 2012 (Crescentia)
Expressive nose with white peach, elderflower, some mineral, blackcurrant buds, and a strong perfume note. Dry on the palate but the attack shows some sweetness of fruit, good concentration, and a fruity aftertaste. 86 p.
Rottland is also a good wine, but didn’t quite show the precision of the other Crescentia wines of this flight.
Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg 2012 (Cabinetkeller)
Elegant nose with citrus including zest, apple, noticeable mineral, discrete perfume notes. Dry on the palate, powerful concentration with citrus, some apple, noticeable mineral, high acidity, aftertaste with green apple and mineral. Pure and elegant notes, young, 91+ p.
This wine comes from the highest level of the dry range, corresponding to Großes Gewächs, which means that we’re dealing with wines where cellaring and pairing with food is almost mandatory. Here, Kloster Eberbach shows that they are quite capable in handling the steep vineyards in Rüdesheimer Berg, because this is what I expect a Riesling from there to be!
Riesling, off-dry wines
Nose with peach, citrus and mineral. Off-dry on the palate, good concentration, honey, citrus, peach, good acidity. Young, drinkable now, 88+ p.
This is a higher quality of Kabinett than the two wines below, since it is vineyard-designated. It is not heavier in style, and with its slightly higher acidity it rather tastes less sweet. This wine shows a bit more elegance, more noticeable mineral, and I expect it to gain more from cellaring.
The next two wines are as far as I know sold only on the Swedish market. They are not found in their German catalogue, which does not include non-vineyard designated wines at this level of sweetness. But I include the tasting notes here nonetheless. These two wines are sourced from various vineyards, and the grapes that go into these wines include overripe grapes or grapes affected by noble rot that are sorted out from the harvest in vineyards earmarked for the production of dry wines in a specific vintage. The ambition of Kloster Eberbach is to use primarily the vineyards of higher altitude for these wines, but the origin can vary. The Kabinett wine carried a ”Gutswein” label and the Spätlese a ”Crescentia” label.
Kloster Eberbach Riesling Kabinett 2012
Nose with peach and some honey. Off-dry on the palate, some spice, rather good concentration, good acidity, fruity aftertaste. Rather young, 86(+) p.
Interesting enough, my gut feeling (or would that be “palate feeling”?) in this vintage was that the Kabinett could gain more from cellaring than the Spätlese.
Kloster Eberbach Riesling Spätlese 2012
Nose with peach, honey and some winegum. Off-dry on the palate, going in the semi-sweet direction, with peach, honey and good acidity. Rather young, 87 p.
Slightly sweeter and heavier than the Kabinett, and showing more botrytis, but the difference between them wasn’t really too large.
Nose with raspberries, red currants, flowery notes, and a hint of spice. Palate with raspberries, tart berries, rather light fruit, mild tannins, and an aftertaste with tart berries. 83 p.
Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder trocken 2011 (Crescentia, Spätlese trocken)
Nose with strawberries, light cherries, a hint of herbs, some spice and animal notes, slightly flowery and a hint of oak. Medium bodied, palate with rather ripe strawberries, noticeable spice, medium(-) tannins, good acidity. The aftertaste is spicy and juicy. This is a wine that definitely shows a serious Pinot Noir taste and good balance. 88(+) p.
Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder 2008 (Cabinetkeller, Spätlese trocken)
Nose with strawberries, a hint of dried red berries, some undergrowth, animal notes and some development with a slightly smoky note and some oak. Medium bodied+, palate with a lot of ripe strawberries, some sweetness of fruit in the attack, mineral, slightly viscous impression, medium tannins and some alcoholic bite, and an aftertaste with sweet strawberries. Rather impressive for a vintage that is basically a lighter one, but with some notes of overripe fruit. Not a particularly Burgundian impression of Pinot Noir. 89 p?
Pinot Blanc and Gris/Weiß- und Grauburgunder from Hessische Bergstraße
The wines from the very small wine region Hessische Bergstraße (only about 440 hectares/1100 acres of vineyards) are almost never seen on the export market. Two white Pinot wines were shown. These varietals are not produced by Kloster Eberbach in Rheingay. Both wines were produced from monopole vineyards.
Heppenheimer Centgericht Grauburgunder 2012 (Crescentia)
The grape variety is Pinot Gris. Vinified in steel tanks, no oak.
Light to medium yellow. The nose shows fruity notes with pear and ripe melon with candy flavouring, and some spice. The palate shows powerful concentration of fruit, mixed yellow fruit, a bit of sweetness of fruit, spice, good acidity, and a fruity and tart aftertaste with spice. Foody, but the impression goes somewhat in the off-dry direction. Somewhat similar to a “modern” basic level Alsace Pinot Gris (and better than some of those). 85 p.
Schönberger Herrnwingert Weißburgunder 2010 (Cabinetkeller)
The grape variety is Pinot Blanc. Oak barrel-aged.
Medium yellow colour with some gold. Nose with ripe yellow apple, some melon, discrete spice notes, well integrated oak and a nuanced impression. Palate with good concentration, yellow apple, ripe fruit with some sweetness of fruit in the attack, some citrus, high acidity, some mineral, some spice notes. Good balance, foody, 88 p.
In summary, the wines of Kloster Eberbach, and in particular their dry Riesling wines, definitely deserve more attention!
The Swedish entry here!