One of Germany’s 16 Bundesländer (Federal States), Freistaat Bayern (Free State of Bavaria) is no doubt one of the most powerful and characterful. Covering some 70,500 sqkm – equivalent to Ireland – Bayern has a total population of approximately 13 million. If Bayern were an independent country within the EU, it would be the 9th most populous, ahead of Belgium, or 8th largest by nominal GDP, ahead of Sweden; once Brexit is completed, en passant, its rankings will move up one place. An immensely wealthy region, Bayern’s nominal GDP per capita is about 250% that of Greece and Portugal.
World-renowned for, inter alia, its Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) and Oktoberfest, Bayern does produce fine wine, and its Franken region (Franconia) is the 6th largest of Germany’s 13 wine regions, with 6,200ha under vine. Bayern is divided into 7 Regierungsbezirke (administrative districts), but the vast majority of viticulture and winemaking is situated in Franken, its northwestern part along the Rhine and Main, stretching from Würzburg to Bamberg, both of which UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Viticulture and winemaking in this region probably began in the 4th century AD, at the twilight of the Roman Empire. By the Middle Ages, Bayern purportedly possessed some 100,000ha of vineyards, the most prolific of all Reichsstände (Imperial States) of the Holy Roman Empire. Due to Franken’s continental climate, frost is a constant risk. Consequently, some 90% of wine produced is white, and the early-ripening Silvaner is preferred to the late-ripening Riesling. This is perhaps the only region in the world where humble Silvaner has the upper hand over noble Riesling.
Franken is known for producing particularly dry, earthy, spicy and minerally wine, stylistically more akin to Alsace or Austria than Mosel or Rheingau. Indeed, whilst German regulation stipulates that 9g/l is the maximum level of residual sugar permissible in a dry wine, the maximum level for Franken is 5g/l. Due to limited supply, keen domestic demand as well as the wine tavern culture (variously called Heuriger in Austria, Buschenschank in Styria or Straußwirtschaft in Bavaria), Franken wine is rarely inexpensive. Nearly half of Franken wine is bottled with the Bocksbeutel, a short-necked, pot-bellied glass bottle flattened in shape. Bocksbeutel has been used in Franken since the 18th century and protected by EU regulation since 1989.
Würzburg is the district seat of Unterfranken (Lower Franconia) and home to one of Germany’s oldest vineyards, Würzburger Stein. This celebrity of a vineyard has been well documented through the ages, and was the personal favourite of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. A 1540 vintage from this vineyard was famously tasted by Hugh Johnson in 1961, when the wine was 421 years old.
Established in 1316, Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist (The Holy Spirit City Hospital) is a VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweing) wine estate and hospital foundation in Würzburg, as well as one of the finest wine producers of Franken. Its Einzellage (single vineyard) wines from Abtsleite, Stein, Stein-Harfe, Frickenhäuser Kapellenberg and Randersackerer Pfülben are amongst the finest expressions of what Franken has to offer. Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist is also the proud owner of one of the few remaining bottles of the 1540 vintage Würzburger Stein wine.
Luminous citrine with pastel golden reflex, the poised nose furnishes pomelo, peach, fresh herbs, wet stone and daffodil. With bounteous acidity and structured minerality, the chiselled palate provides grapefruit, greengage, crushed leaf, rock salt and verbena. Medium-full bodied at 12.5%, the energetic entry continues through a vibrant mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
Limpid citrine with light sunshine reflex, the pristine nose offers lime peel, Tianjin pear, mint, wet stone and orchard blossom. With abundant acidity and articulate minerality, the focused palate lemon peel, green apple, dill, rock salt and citrus blossom. Medium-full bodied at 13%, the invigorating entry carries onto a vivacious mid-palate, leading to lengthy finish.
Rich ruby with amaranth-cardinal rim, the fruity nose effuses red cherry, cranberry, raspberry, fragrant oak and rose petal. With generous acidity, silky tannins and clean minerality, the lively palate emanates blueberry, redcurrant, rosehip, dried herbs and crushed leaf. Medium-bodied at 12%, the berry-driven entry persists through a tangy mid-palate, leading to a herbaceous finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages