J & J Ratzenberger Bacharacher Riesling Kabinett feinherb 2015
Winegrower: J & J Ratzenberger
Region: Mittelrhein, Germany
Sommeliers love Riesling because, as Charlie Trotter, the late, great Chicago chef said: “It gives purity and focus to all flavours on the table.” There is simply no other grape that expresses itself in so many ways while having a profound effect on your palate. From its varying sugar levels, its stunning aromatics, which often defy words, to its high acidity and sensitivity to terroir, a property it shares with Pinot noir, there is simply no other white wine to compare. Jancis Robinson, MW, believes Riesling could be “the finest white grape variety in the world on the basis of the longevity of its wines and their ability to transmit the characteristics of the vineyard.” Today’s wine, an off dry Riesling feinherb from the steep slate rich slopes of Germany’s Mittelrhein and the best vintage of the last 10 years, is a vinous marvel that was crafted by one of the Germany’s top but more obscure winegrowers, Jochen Ratzenberger. Most of his wines never leave Germany and are near impossible to find in Canada.
The Ratzenberger vineyards, with their spectacular 50° to 70° steep, south facing slopes of Devon slate and shale, rise above the beautiful, Hansel-and–Gretel fantasy town of Bacharach in the southern-most part of the Mittelrhein (middle Rhine), where it flows in a straight south to north direction. No German wine region portrays the vision of romantic viticulture more powerfully than this. The vineyards, high above the town and river, cling to their steep cliffs atop picturesque terraces, medieval castles and ruins. This remarkable area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Wines grown here possess the powerful sense of place and crushed minerality characteristic of the world’s greatest Rieslings.
The Ratzenberger family has owned and managed their estate since 1957, but the vineyards have a recorded winegrowing history dating back 400 years. The estate is managed by Jochen Ratzenberger, a man dedicated to producing Rieslings of uncompromising quality, and is located in the tiny village of Steeg on the western edge of Bacharach. The Mittelrhein lies due west of Frankfurt and is on the periphery of viticulture; summers can be hot and winters bitterly cold. However, the Rhine protects the vineyards from strong winds and helps to regulate temperatures. The vineyards are dominated by blue and black slate and their perfect southern exposure receives the most the sun has to offer. The slate absorbs the warmth of the sun’s rays during the day and radiates it back to the vines at night helping to ripen the grapes to perfection. The Rieslings of the Mittelrhein typically have great extract and structure, yet are always marked by outstanding acidity. The estate’s four vineyards: Bacharacher Posten, Bacharacher Wolfshöhle, Bacharacher Kloster Fürstental, and Steeger St. Jost cover just eight hectares.
Vineyard work is entirely by hand and in many areas necessitates a system of guide wires to prevent the workers from tumbling down the perilously steep slopes. There is a little sand cover over the slate and growth in between the vines is sparse. One wonders how anything, including the vines, which are mostly over 50 years old, can grow here. Yields are low, what little fertilizer that’s applied is organic, and pheromones are used in lieu of insecticides to attract beneficial insects and chase away the nasty ones.
The estate’s beautiful, extensive vaulted stone cellars were built in the mid 1800’s and provide a perfect, naturally cool place to age wines. Fermentation occurs spontaneously in old 500 litre wood barrels. The wines are aged in stainless steel and their Sekt, which is one of the Germany’s finest sparkling wines, is made in the traditional Champagne method and is its equal. No additives and little or no sulfur are used, and the wines are not cold stabilized.
The Ratzenberger Estate represents an uncompromising commitment to excellence and is a member of the Verban Deutscher Pradikatzweinguter (VDP). The VDP, and its members, is a bastion of high quality in today’s globalized world. They oppose anything that is artificial and nondescript and represent the highest achievement in German winemaking.
This Ratzenberger Riesling Kabinette feinherb 2015 is the product of 100% estate grown fruit grown. It displays a brilliant pale straw core with green reflections on the rim. On the nose it is loaded with aromas of lemon grass, peach, tangerine and ruby red grapefruit. On the palate this wine has wonderful weight and concentration; the fruit follows through and everything is held together by bright acidity. The classic mineral and savory flavors imparted by the steep slopes of the Bacharach vineyards keep all the fruit in balance while each quaffable glass is enjoyed. As with all white wines don’t serve too cold, 10˚ should be perfect, and use either a Riesling or a white wine stem. This wine is extremely versatile food wise and goes great with everything from lobster and crab to halibut, salmon or sausages but my favourite is this Asian salad with soy and ginger.