Georg Breuer is one of my favorite wine producers, all categories. There are more bottles from Breuer in my cellar than from any other German wine producer, both because I like them and because I consider many of their wines suitable for cellaring. In my opinion, no visit to Rheingau is complete without a visit to their Vinothek in Rüdesheim for a tasting of the current vintages of their range, and naturally for a bit of topping-up of the cellar.
In a region where several of the well-known properties (in particular those with an aristocratic or ecclesiastical background) have a long history, the history of Weingut Georg Breuer as a notable wine producer is much shorter. On their website, they do point out a background in a wine trading firm – Scholl & Hillebrand – founded in 1880 in Rüdesheim. This company also had some production of their own.
However, the “real” history of WG Georg Breuer as a wine producer to be reckoned with, doesn’t start until about 1980. It wasn’t Georg Breuer (1910-1982) who was behind this, but primarily his son Bernhard Breuer who was the one who created the winery in the form we have come to know it. In the 1980s, their own vineyard holdings were expanded, in a first stage to about 15 hectares (about 37 acres). Today they own about 30 ha/some 75 acres, and supplement this with some bought-in grapes. At the same time, Bernhard Breuer was active as a wine writer, and in the 1980s he wrote a series of wine guides to the various German wine regions together with Hans Ambrosi. They appeared in a new edition in the 1990s under the title Deutsche Vinothek. (As far as I am aware they have not been translated from German into any other language).
Breuer was one of the German pioneers for production of high-quality dry wines in the 1980s. This trend started in Rheingau and meant breaking with the production of off-dry wines as the main product, something that had been the norm for the previous 30 years or so. In 1984, he was one of those who took the initiative to found the Charta association of wine producers in Rheingau. Charta was also used as designation for (more or less) dry Rheingau wines of good quality. By introducing a vineyard classification that was in part French-style and in part historically inspired, Charta later developed into the Rheingau designation Erstes Gewächs for dry top wines from the best sites of the region. The corresponding designation in most other German regions is Grosses Gewächs (although things have become complicated by additional reshuffling of some designation in the last couple of years), but Rheingau was the first region to introduce this type of designation. So Bernhard Breuer was definitely one of the forerunners of the modern era of high quality dry German wines, a trend that started in the 1980s and really took off in the 1990s.
The style and quality of the Breuer wines developed throughout the 1980s. The few remaining bottles from the 1980s may seem less concentrated than the norm today and perhaps not achieve at the “Erstes Gewächs/Grosses Gewächs” standard of the 2000s, but they were very good for their time. Around 1990 they seem to have reached approximately the quality they have held since (except, perhaps, for a slight dip for a few years following Bernhard Breuer’s death). A Nonnenberg 1990 that I tasted in 2005 struck me as one of the very best dry white wines I had ever tasted. Many other producers that today enjoy a top-class reputation only reached their current quality level in the end of the 1990s or a few years into the 2000s. So I suppose that in the 1990s and early 2000s, Breuer must have stood out more among their German peers on a relative scale, since the competition has increased considerably since then.
Already from the start, Bernhard Breuer had his sights set high. The best wine, Berg Schlossberg, carries a vintage-specific artist label since the 1980 vintage, and the inspiration for this pratice came from Château Mouton Rothschild. The vineyard Nonnenberg in Rauenthal, a monopole vineyard for Breuer, was purchased in late 1980s. Breuer considers this vineyard to be their second best after Berg Schlossberg in Rüdesheim. Most wine critics agree, which makes Breuer’s Nonnenberg one of the best dry Rieslings from Rheingau. It must therefore have been very surprising when Nonnenberg failed the test as an Erstes Gewächs-classified vineyard, on the basis of the “physical” parameters chosen. A very high proportion of the Rheingau vineyards did make the cut, something that perhaps isn’t too surprising since much of Rheingau is a well situated south-facing slope between the Taunus mountains and Rhine, providing excellent conditions for wine production. The result of Nonnenberg being left out, despite producing excellent wines, was that Breuer left the VDP (the top-quality wine grower organisation), and chose not to use the Erstes Gewächs designation for any of the wines.
In 2004, Bernard Breuer died quite unexpectedly at the age of 57. The management of the winery was then taken over by his brother Heinreich Breuer and the daughter Theresa Breuer, who started by handling primarily the marketing activities, and thus became the face of WG Georg Breuer. A few years ago, Theresa took over the management of the winery, but she still handles the marketing as well. Since they were of some size, they also had an employed winemaker, Hermann Schmoranz, providing continuity. In recent years, Swede Markus Lundén has taken over as winemaker, while Hermann Schmoranz is now the vineyard manager. Markus worked as a sommelier in Sweden, but wanted to become involved in wine production, and got into Breuer via an internship. I seem to remember that he has said that he has a German mother and thus was fluent in German, so I suppose going to Germany was his natural choice of a wine-producing country to work in. He later became assistant winemaker.
Breuer’s quality scale
Weingut Georg Breuer use their own quality scale for their dry wines. It consists of the four levels I-IV, and is built upon the Burgundy classification:
- I corresponds to Grand Cru, and at this level we find the four vineyard-designated dry wines, representing the top of the dry range.
- II then corresponds to Premier Cru, but isn’t used for the second-best vineyards. Instead, it is used for a second selection of the top vineyards, blended together and sold under the designation Terra Montosa. So it is a a “collective second wine” of their four vineyard wines.
- III corresponds to Village, and are the two village-designated Estate wines: Rüdesheim and Rauenthal.
- IV corresonds to Regional, and are the two wines that are only specified as coming from Rheingau: the dry Sauvage, and Charm that is designation halbtrocken, meaning slightly off-dry.
The Roman numerals mentioned above can be found on the back label of a Breuer wine, usually at the bottom and in small print.
I’d characterise the “house style” of Breuer to be in the elegant direction, with firm, mineral-driven wines, that have a lot of intensity but still are somewhat restrained or even somewhat lean, rather than being among the richest or most opulent at their level. In many cases, the wines are very well adapted to cellaring, in particular the vineyard wines. Berg Schlossberg is usually the Breuer wine most in need of cellaring. There are other Rheingau producers that produce more powerful, rich and spicy wines, that may be easier to enjoy when young, but those may not always reward cellaring in the same way as a Breuer wine. If I would try to compare to wines of other German regions, I’d say that Breuer produces Rheingau wines that goes in the Mosel direction rather than in the Pfalz direction.
This year’s tasting
A very pleasant and yearly recurring event in the calendar of Breuer’s Swedish importer Vinunic is a visit by Theresa Breuer, to coincide with the launching of a new vintage of their vineyard wines. This usually happens in springtime, about 1.5 years after harvest, which is half a year later than most other German producers launch their top dry wines. This year’s event was a few weeks ago, and this time we tasted the 2012 Riesling wines. In addition, we got to taste two older wines – 1986 Schlossberg and 1991 Nonnenberg, each from two bottle formats: a regular 75 cl bottle and a double magnum (300 cl). These bottles came directly from Breuer’s own cellar.
General impression of the 2012s
Summing up the 2012 German vintage, with a focus on Rheingau Riesling, I’ve found it to be a vintage of rather ripe grapes (but not excessive ripeness), quite pure aromas and high acidity. In my opinion, this is a profile that is excellent for dry wines in a fresh, acid-driven style, and by all means well suited also for lighter-style off-dry wines in an equally fresh style, such as classical Kabinett wines. This makes 2012 the fourth excellent vintage in a row for dry German Riesling! Stylistically, I’d put 2012 somewhere in the middle of the quartet 2009-2012. 2012 shows less ripe aromas than 2009 and 2011, but the acidity is perhaps not quite as prominent as in the 2010s.
By the way, Breuer hadn’t produced any sweet 2012s at all, which fits into the pattern of hardly any noble rot in this vintage (at least not in Rheingau). We’ll have to see what the combination of excellent dry wines and hardly any sweet wines will mean for the overall score of the vintage in various wine guides, because this combination is not very usual for Germany. I’m not sure that we’ve actually seen this combination since the dry wines (re)established themselves as the standard style of German Rieslings, i.e., over the last 15-20 years. In former times, the German vintages were more-or-less judged by the quality of the sweet wines that were produced, and to some extent by the quantity of the higher Prädikat wines.
Dry Riesling, “level IV”
Nose with peach, some citrus including some zest, some typical Riesling perfume. The palate is completely dry with citrus, apple, peach, mineral, good acidity, and a firm and mineral-driven aftertaste. Young, but drinks well now, 86 p.
The 2012 shows a pure style and rather ripe aromas for a Sauvage, that sometimes tends to go more in the direction of green apples. I’d actually consider the fruit notes to be more ripe in Sauvage than in the other 2012 Breuer wines, although it is a lighter wine. That doesn’t mean that the wine gives a “hot vintage” impression, because its acid level is quite good and it shows fine freshness. Compared to the other wines, Sauvage is more fruit forward, and in this vintage I think it could be detected that Sauvage is produced in steel tank, as opposed to the large and fairly neutral oak barrels that are used for the top wines. In any case it is a very good Sauvage vintage!
2012 Terra Montosa
Nose of ripe yellow apple, citrus including zest, hints of aromatic oil or essence of citrus, mineral, some spice; a rather powerful nose. Palate with powerful concentration and a dominance of citrus, in particular lemon and zest, high acidity, noticeable minerality, and some spice. Rather young, 90(+) p.
Compared to the 2012 Sauvage, the 2012 Terra Montosa shows a more muted nose, higher acidity and is more citrus-dominated, as well as being more foody. Terra Montosa is usually a wine well worth its price, and is often just a little “simpler” (and at the same time slightly less in need of cellaring) than the top wines, at about half their price. The 2012 is unusually good, and it is definitely not far behind the vineyard-designated wines. I actually can’t remember tasting any vintage of Terra Montosa that I considered better than this one, although a few previous ones may perhaps match its quality.
We then move on to the four vineyard-designated wines at the top of their range, where the first three are from Rüdesheim, the home village of Breuer, and more specifically from Rüdesheimer Berg. The “Berg” part is included in their proper vineyard name, but I must admit that “Berg Schlossberg” always has felt a bit like unnecessary repetition to me.
2012 Berg Roseneck
Nose with citrus including zest, mineral with some mint notes, just a hint of spice; the nose indicates a firm and elegant wine. Palate with powerful concentration, citrus-dominated with grapefruit notes and some zest, powerful minerality, some spice, high acidity, and a long and grapefruit-dominated aftertaste with mineral. Young, 91+ p.
Stylistically, Breuer’s Roseneck always tend to be a firm wine in need of time in the cellar, and it is that of “the other wines” that is most similar to the top wine Schlossberg, but usually somewhat lighter in style. Of these 2012s, Roseneck is the wine that is most citrus-dominated.
2012 Berg Rottland
Nose with citrus including zest, yellow apple, some spice and mineral. Palate with powerful concentration, citrus-dominated with some yellow apple and green apple as well as some peach, high acidity, mineral, a hint of spice, and a long and citrus-dominated aftertaste. Young, 91+ p.
Rottland is usually a somewhat more powerful and less firm wine than Roseneck, and that rule of thumb works fine this year as well. Compared to Roseneck, Rottland shows a bit more powerful and less mineral-packed nose (but since it is a Riesling from Rüdesheimer Berg, this doesn’t mean it is lacking in minerality on an absolute scale…), and a more powerful and spicy palate. The 2012 Rottland actually holds 10 g/l of residual sugar, so technically it is not a dry wine (9 g/l being the upper limit of trocken), but is rather halbtrocken, although Breuer uses neither designation on any of their vineyard wines. Due to the high acidity of the vintage, this is not something that’s obvious.
2012 Berg Schlossberg
Nose of citrus with a pronounced zest note, some peach, some perfume with some “heavy” flowery notes; an elegant nose. Palate with powerful concentration, very mineral-dominated attack with mint notes, citrus, some peach and apple in the background, some spice, and a citrus- and mineral-dominated aftertaste. Young, 92+ p.
In this vintage, Schlossberg shows a bit more of ripe notes than Roseneck and Rottland, but not as much as Nonnenberg. As usual, Schlossberg is in a style that is well suited for cellaring. For this vintage, my scores for the four wines come quite close of each other, but it can be difficult to judge the true potential of Schlossberg when it is tasted young.
The 3.8 ha Breuer owns in Schlossberg consist of seven parcels in the lower, middle and upper parts of the vineyard, and can yield wines/barrels of rather different characters. Three out of seven (large) barrels were chosen to be bottled as Schlossberg in the 2012 vintage, and the other four ended up in Terra Montosa.
Nose with peach, citrus, some perfume, some spice. Palate with powerful concentration and a bit of body, citrus, peach, high acidity, spice, powerful minerality, and a long aftertaste with citrus and mineral. Rather young, drinks rather well now, 92(+) p.
Compared to the other three vineyard wines, Nonnenberg is the most fruit-dominated and shows the most ripe notes. This is the case is most vintages, making it the most accessible wine when young, out of the four vineyard-designated wines. There have been exceptions in a few vintages, and sometimes Nonnenberg goes into a less accessible “dumb phase” when it is a few years old. I was very surprised to hear form Theresa that analytically, Nonnenberg is always the highest of the four in acidity, because to me, the perceived acidity is always higher in Roseneck and Schlossberg. Similar to Rottland, the 2012 Nonnenberg is has 10 g/l of residual sugar and is technically not dry, but the high acidity definitely gives a dry impression.
Older vintages in different bottle formats
Deep yellow colour. Nose of yellow apple, citrus, smoke, petroleum, and some spice. A typical older Riesling nose with good development. Dry palate, quite a lot of mineral, citrus, high acidity, green apple, and typical notes of old Riesling. 89 p
This 1986 is definitely leaner than more recent vintages of Schlossberg. Some years ago, I tasted a Schlossberg from the early 1980s and had the same impression, while those I have tasted from the 1990s come across as more similar to those from the 2000s. Theresa also mentioned that several of the 1980s vintages had been difficult. However, this must have been an excellent dry German Riesling for its time, and it is holding up very well for a 28 years old dry white wine.
Deep yellow going a bit in the golden direction. Nose with ripe yellow apple, some honey, hints of dried fruit, some oranges, some smoke, some spice, old winter apples, some petroleum; a typical older Riesling nose but rather that of an old Auslese. Dry palate with a pronounced minerality, old winter apple, some green apple, spice, high acidity. 88 p?
Here we were somewhat surprised, because directly when the wine was poured we could see that this wine was darker than that from the 75 cl bottle, i.e., the reverse of what we had expected. The wine was also more developed in the nose and on the palate than that from the 75 cl bottle. Its nose had reached the state where the petroleum note diminishes and is replaced by other notes, and then a Riesling can safely be called old rather than just mature. In my opinion, this bottle also showed more ripe notes and “deeper” notes in the nose, but didn’t follow up with the same characteristics on the palate. If served blind, I wouldn’t have guessed that the two glasses contained the same wine. The explanation came when we were told that the cork had been found to be wet all the way through when the bottle was opened. This indicates a cork that isn’t in top condition.
Theresa mentioned that the rare 300 cl bottles, that have a cork with a larger diameter, are handled manually when it comes to filling and corking. If what we had here was a variation that originated from the cork itself or the bottling procedure is difficult to know, but it had resulted in a wine that was a bit more oxidised than expected and therefore further in its development. Magnum bottles at Breuer are filled and corked in the same way as 75 cl bottles, though. At the wine journalist lunch earlier the same day, a comparison between 75 cl bottles and magnum bottles had been made. In that case, the difference had been the one expected, i.e., the larger format bottle was better and fresher in style.
1991 Nonnenberg (75 cl bottle)
Deep yellow colour. Nose of citrus, some green apple, mineral, some smoke, and some petroleum; slightly cool impression in the nose and rather developed in style. Dry palate with citrus, green apple, definitely high acidity, quite a bit of mineral; a rather lean profile and very fresh. 90 p
In the vintage tables, 1991 is considered as a medium-quality German vintage. (Medium for real, not marketingspeak “average”, which is usually an euphemism for quite bad.) Decanter rates it *** out of five and considers the wines to be “lean and tart”, which fits the profile found here, once you know that Nonnenberg usually is more full-bodied than this. Parker summarises the Rhine wines with score “87R” where R is for “ready”. The 1990s vintages vary from 85 points for 1992 to 96 points for 1990.
1991 Nonnenberg (300 cl bottle)
Deep yellow colour. Nose with citrus including zest, some yellow apple, some green apple, mineral, some smoke, and petroleum. Dry palate with citrus and some zest, green apple, definitely a high acidity, quite a bit of mineral, a fresh style, and a long and citrus-dominated aftertaste. 91 p
Compared to the 75 cl bottle, the 300 cl bottle shows a slightly deeper nose, with more of a Spätlese/Auslese style, and a slightly more powerful palate. Both the nose and palate come across as younger, but the nose also shows more petroleum. Here, the difference between the two bottle formats was the expected: the wine in the larger bottle was younger in style and a little better. A very interesting comparison!
Some Youtube clips
The online wine shop Weinwelt Rheingau has uploaded a whole series or short “Winzerfilm” clips to Youtube (link to their channel), where a number of leading producers in their range present themselves and speak a little about some of their wines. The clips are in German, though, but well worth seeing if that’s understandable to you. In the case of Breuer no less than eight video clips with Theresa Breuer were uploaded in 2010.
The introduction is here:
And the other clips:
- GB Charm
- Terra Montosa
- Berg Rottland
- Berg Roseneck
- Berg Rottland Auslese Goldkapsel
- Georg Breuer Sekt Brut