Christmann Idig, a Riesling Grosses Gewächs vertical with AuZone

Christmann’s dry top Riesling Idig, a Grosses Gewächs, or “GG” as the label and bottle usually says, was the theme of a recent vertical tasting in our wine tasting club AuZone. Erik H. provided us with this excellent tasting.

A. Christmann is a wine producer located in the northern half of the Pfalz wine region, in the village of Gimmeldingen. This winery was founded in 1845 by two cousins by the name Häusser, but more vineyards were added in the next generation. In 1894, Henriette Häusser, a grandchild of one of the founders, married Eduard Christmann. Their son Arnould Christmann is the one who provided the “A” for the winery’s name. Karl-Friedrich Christmann ran the property from 1965, and his son Steffen Christmann took over in 1994. It is under Steffen Christmann that this producer has become really well-known and counted to the elite in Pfalz, together with e.g. Bürklin-Wolf, Bassermann-Jordan, Müller-Catoir, and Koehler-Ruprecht, which I guess should have counted among the best in the 1990s. (You almost get the impression that a double name used to be mandatory for being counted as a really good Pfalz producer.) Nowadays I suppose that we also have to include von Buhl, von Winning, Knipser, Rebholz, Mosbacher, and Pfeffingen to the upper level (so it seems that the requirement for having a double name has been relaxed). These are the producers who often get four or five stars in the most common German guides. Christmann currently has four stars from Wein-Plus and “four minus” from Gault-Millau.

Christmann has been practicing organic viticulture for a long time, and from the 2004 vintage they are biodynamic. Some of the old-timers at the tasting were of the opinion that the wines were better before the biodynamic conversion, and I got the impression that this was due to a view that they were a bit more elegant and balanced up until the first vintages of the 2000s. Today the wines are more powerful and may even go a bit in the “clumsy” direction – for being wines from a top producer, and according to those that preferred a slightly lighter style, that is. I do agree that the Christmann style is on the powerful side for German Rieslings – but that is something that they share with many Pfalz wines.

Map showing where A. Christmann’s better vineyards (Große Lage and Erste Lage) are located. Note the forested lower slopes of the Haardt mountains on the top of the map – this is actually west, i.e., this map has north somewhere to the right rather than up. Linked from the website of A. Christmann.

Their vineyards include for Große Lage (those vineyards whose dry top wines are called Großes Gewächs, GG) in the villages of Gimmeldingen (the vineyard Mandelgarten), Königsbach (Idig), Ruppertsberg (Reiterpfad), and Deidesheim (Langenmorgen).

They also have three Erste Lage (the second-best category, a recently introduced category) in Gimmeldingen (Biengarten), Königsbach (Ölberg), and Deidesheim (Paradiesgarten).

I explained these categories, and recent changes to them, in my previous post on German Riesling.

Idig is the most famous vineyard in the Königsbach village. Idig has reasonably steep slope  (on average 19%) facing south/southeast, and the location east of the village protects the vineyard from cold air from the west. These factors contribute to give a high ripeness. The soil is marl with a high proportion of limestone. This combination of exposure and soil means that the vineyard also is suited for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), and there is also a red Idig Spätburgunder in the Christmann’s range and not just a Riesling. Christmann is not the only owner in this vineyard, byt none of the other producers are as famous.

The name Idig is is supposed to originate from the inscription I.D. = Jesus Domini on a former field cross. Sometimes the name is written with capital letters, IDIG, due to this.

Idig is usually the most powerful wine from Christmann. Our host was of the opinion that this wine mature rather quickly, and that the somewhat cooler vintages are the best, since the vintage character can balance the excessive concentration and “clumsy” tendencies. The view regarding aging is interesting, since several German sources agree that Christmann aims for long-lived wines and that in particular Idig is a wine for the cellar, that needs a number of years to show its greatness. I believe this is a due to a general difference in opinion about the Grosses Gewächs wines – if they should be drunk young or are suited for more extended cellaring – and also because Christmann seems to be a producer that get a bit of mixed reviews, to a larger extent than many other German producers. The latter can be illustrated by this: Gault-Millau raised a general question mark for the 2012 vintage from Christmanns, while Wein-Plus gave them quite high scores. When it comes to Grosses Gewächs wines and cellaring, I’m favor of cellaring them a number of years, although I don’t consider them as cellaring-worthy as the off-dry wines. This tasting didn’t change my mind, since I voted for the oldest wine, the 2005, as the best.

My impressions of Idig in summary: it is a good and powerful wine, but with rather large vintage variations in style. The 2009 had us scratch our heads as we couldn’t figure out why it was so weird. I got the feeling that I was less disturbed by the powerful and supposedly “clumsy” style than some of the other at the tasting, because in my opinion most of the wines had a good balance. Sure, there can be more elegance in some GGs from Rheingau, Rheinhessen or Nahe, but the balance here was definitely enough.

As usual, the wines were served blind.

Idig AuZone 20140626

2005 A. Christmann Gimmeldinger Biengarten Spätlese trocken

A more full yellow colour than most of the rest. Nose with almost overripe yellow fruit, clear notes of tropical fruit, overripe melon, banana-flavoured candy, botrytis, and petroleum that is rather well embedded in the fruit. Quite a sweet nose for a dry wine of this type. Dry palate, fruity attack with botrytis a glue note, good acidity, powerful concentration of fruit with citrus and tropical fruit and a small hint of alcohol. Better balance on the palate than the nose indicates, but a bit odd. Developed, sticks together well. 90 p

Blint, my though was that this could be a 2003, since it was so “sweet”, but I should of course have considered that it could differ by being a different wine.

1 best vote.

2005 Idig Grosses Gewächs

Nose with citrus, smoke, noticeable minerality with stone and slate character, well integrated petroleum notes with a slatey impression, very slightly flowery – elegant and developed. Definitely the most elegant and classical nose of the flight. Dry on the palate, with citrus, mineral, high acidity, powerful concentration, very fine balance, some viscosity and alcoholic feeling, and a long aftertaste with grapefruit and mineral. Classical and well-balanced GG style with development, but still has a long life ahead of it. 93 p

This is the way a Grosses Gewächs should be when ready to drnk! I guessed that it was a 2004 (due to the citrus notes and the high acidity), with 2005 as a backup guess.

2 best votes (including mine) and 1 worst vote.

2007 Idig Grosses Gewächs

Nose with ripe yellow fruit, partly fried yellow apple, citrus, hints of honey, mineral, smoke – rather elegant and fruity but balanced and developed. Dry palate, citrus, very light alcoholic fire, good acidity, mineral, rather noticeable viscosity, citrus-packed aftertaste. A wine with good “punch”, but not quite the same elegance as the 2005, and with a bit more alcoholic feeling. 91-92 p

I guess that this could be the 2005, but that was a consequence of my guess of the previous wine as a 2004, which could mean that a slightly more powerful and a tad less elegant wine could be a 2005. Although I didn’t really find that note in this wine, many high-end 2007s has some botrytis character that makes them powerful in style, so I suppose that the style of this wine is consistent with the overall vintage character.

1 best and 1 worst vote.

2008 Idig Grosses Gewächs

More full yellow colour than most of the rest. Nose with ripe yellow fruit, yellow apple, some citrus, pronounced honey note with hints of botrytis, mineral – noticeably fruity with development and balance. Dry palate, noticeable minerality, yellow fruit including citrus, high acidity, finishes with a good mineral note, Good balance, but a bit more “disjointed fruit” than the 2005 and 2007. 91 p

I guessed that this could be a 2007 or possibly a 2009. I didn’t think it was the in-between vintage, because although a rather good vintage (but not a great one), the wines tends to be a bit leaner with some green hints compared to 2007 and 2009. (This is based on Germany in general, not Pfalz specifically.) A wine with a deep colour and hints of botrytis excluded this supposedly leaner vintage.

2 best and 2 worst votes.

2009 Idig Grosses Gewächs

The palest colour of the flight. Nose with yellow fruit, some tropical fruit, notes of slightly unripe banana, some apple, a hint of vanilla, some botrytis, slightly flowery – slightly odd in the company of the other wines. A definitely dry palate, pronounced minerality, generally fruity impression with hints of a green notes, a hint of bitterness, high acidity, slightly viscous, and an aftertaste with mineral and again some green notes. A good wine, but the small green note comes through when compared to the rest. 89 p

I guessed this was a 2008, or possibly a 2006. To me, this wine does not show any 2009 character; it is a good vintage with high maturity that shouldn’t come across like this at all. I can’t recall any 2009 German Riesling that has been like this, and I’m not really sure if a “closed-down phase” – which could be in effect at five years of age – could explain this character. So the question is if something is a bit amiss with the 2009 Idig, or if it was just this bottle that was a little weird. It was surprising, though.

5 worst votes, including mine, and voted the worst wine of the flight.

2010 Idig Grosses Gewächs

Nose with ripe yellow fruit, some honey, slightly spicy, some botrytis, hints of petroleum – powerful and fruity. Dry palate, citrus, powerful concentration of fruit, high acidity, powerful minerality, very light (mineral) bitterness, dry aftertaste with grapefruit. 92 p

I guessed this wine was the 2009 or the 2010. Our host expected the 2010 to be the best wine, and it won the vote. I preferred the 2005 with its slightly more mature character, but the 2010 can surely come up to the same level if it is given a few more years.

4 best votes, and voted best wine of the flight.

2012 Idig Grosses Gewächs

Nose with ripe fruit, winegums, some “Riesling perfume”, some flowers and some botrytis – a typical youthful Riesling note. Dry palate, citrus including grapefruit, rather noticeable mineral and grapefruit bitterness, rather high acidity, and a fruity aftertaste with some bitterness. 91 p

It was obvious that this was a young wine, that could benefit by calming down a bit. I guessed it was a 2011 or possibly a 2012. I believe this wine will be better with cellaring, but this bitterness is a bit higher than ideal for my taste, so I don’t think it will quite reach the level of the 2005 and the 2010.

2 best and 3 worst votes.

For those who can read German, there is information on Idig at Riesling.de. I might also mention that the vineyard has an entry in Die 100 besten Weinberge Deutschlands, a small 2006 book by Frank Kämmer, where a total of 14 Pfalz vineyards are included.

Swedish version here.

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