Dry Riesling from €6.98, £10.95
Dry Furmint from 1,600 forint, €9.80, CA$17.15, £11.95, HK$128
With Michael and Richard busy writing up their experiences of tasting hundreds of just-released 2014 white and 2013 red Grosses Gewächs tasted recently in Wiesbaden, we’re in a very German mood.
Earlier in the summer I tasted Braunewell Riesling trocken 2013 Rheinhessen twice, once blind, and it impressed me both times for its nerve, refreshment value and youth. Like so many 2013s, it has no shortage of acidity, but the concentration of fruit is such that this wine would serve as a great-value introduction to the pleasures of dry German Riesling. It has bright fruit reminiscent of stone fruit – nectarines perhaps – but finishes bone dry. And overall it’s the lively acidity that keeps it all together. Like any decent Rheinhessen dry Riesling (and Rheinhessen is a hotbed of great young ambitious winemakers revelling in the new idioms of German wine – see this 2006 article Undiscovered gold in Rheinhessen, for example) there is no shortage of body. The alcohol level is 12.1%.
The cool, damp summer meant that the 2013 harvest was particularly late; these grapes were picked (by hand) between 25 October and 8 November. The Braunewells go through the vineyard twice, picking the riper grapes first. Stephan Braunewell tells me that 75% of the wine was spontaneously fermented, and 30% of it aged in large old wooden casks. It was bottled at the end of April with a total acidity of 8.1 g/l and a rather higher residual sugar than usual, 4.5 g/l, to counteract that unusually high acidity.
The Braunewell estate just outside Mainz in the cool, far north-eastern corner of Rheinhessen, five kilometres south of the Rhine, was founded by the Huguenot François Breiniville, who fled France to settle in Essenheim in the 17th century, but the family simply grew grapes rather than made wine until the 1960s. Today they have a total of 25 ha of vineyards, looked after by youthful-looking father Axel on the extreme left in the picture below, but the younger generation is closely involved in producing a wide range of acclaimed wines, both red and white. Stefan in the middle is responsible for sales and his younger brother Christian on the right is in charge of winemaking. Everyone else – (left to right) Melanie, Ursula and Ute – helps out, especially at vintage time.
According to Stefan, they see themselves primarily as a Pinot producer with a quarter of their vineyards, marked by a particularly high proportion of limestone, planted with Pinot Noir and another quarter with Pinot Gris. I have found their Pinot Noirs very slightly too sweet for my taste, but Tam is a big fan of their 2014 Pinot Gris/Grauburgunder. Riesling is their most-planted variety, on almost a third of their vineyards, with 10% planted with aromatic varieties Scheurebe and Sauvignon Blanc and another 10% with other red wine grapes St Laurent, Portugieser, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. They produce a few thousand bottles of sparkling wine and expect to begin picking Pinot Noir for this on Monday, with single-vineyard Pinot Noir grapes picked fairly soon too.
When I tasted the Braunewell estate Riesling 2013 blind, it was in this line-up of less expensive whites submitted for serving at large royal receptions. The candidates were shown in what the Clerk of the Royal Cellars reckoned would be a suitable order, so it followed a collection of inexpensive Sauvignon Blancs, many of them past their best. This wine, and a delightfully firm-but-fruity Royal Tokaj Dry Furmint 2012 that is rather more widely available than the Braunewell Riesling, really stood out as having so much more to give than the puny Sauvignons, both currently and in the future.
I’m a big fan of Dry Furmint, the new wave of whites being made in north-east Hungary’s fine-wine enclave. Later in the year I’ll be reporting on a comparative tasting of hand-picked Furmints and Grüner Veltliners. This Dry Furmint says 13% on the label. Both Riesling and Furmint have similar structures: dry, firm wines packed with both fruit and acidity but the aroma of the Furmint is smokier.
Both the Royal Tokaj and the Braunewell wines are usefully screwcapped and the Riesling comes in a handsome green flute, currently on offer in the UK from Lea & Sandeman at £11.95 for a single bottle and £10.95 if part of a mixed case. According to Wine-searcher, it’s also available in Spain as well as from several outlets in Germany.
The Dry Furmint is available in Hungary, Portugal, Canada, Hong Kong and in the UK, where Slurp.co.uk seems to have the best price, £11.95.