(Continued from “The Standard-Bearers of Württemberg VII” on 2 March 2017)
The love story between wine and oak can be traced back to time immemorial, but the exact origin could not be ascertained, due to the perishability of wood. Herodotus of Halicarnassus recorded in the 5th century BC that ancient Mesopotamians were the first to use wooden containers to store and transport wine, but one must note that the Father of History was far from infallible, as his writing was rarely free of myths and hearsays.
For long periods in history, earthenware such as the amphora used to be the most common vessel, and it was not until Roman times that oak containers began to replace earthenware as the preferred vessel for storage and transport. The use of oak during vinification and/or maturation to influence the colour and flavour of wine came even later.
Regions such as Allier, Nevers, Tronçais, Slavonia and northern Hungary have for centuries been revered for their oak barrels, which have become a sine qua non of their winemaking traditions. Germany lacks neither good oak nor skilled coopers, but most of its reds are traditionally oak-free. Even if they were vinified or matured in oak, it was in old large barrels, which did not impart oak influence.
Germany’s red revolution began in its innovation centre – Württemberg. In 1986, a quintet of estates formed the innocuously named Studiengruppe Neues Eichenfaß (literally: Study Group on New Oak Cask), latterly known as H.A.D.E.S. (an acronym derived from the initials of the member-estates), now comprising a sextet of estates. Of particular note are the 21ha Weingut Graf Adelmann, whose family seat is Burg Schaubeck, a castle first mentioned in 1272; and the 29ha Weingut Fürst Hohenlohe Oehringen, possibly the oldest family business in Germany, now in its 27th generation.
H.A.D.E.S. is perhaps Germany’s Douro Boys, indeed rebel and visionary and pioneer rolled into one. At a time when oak was rejected by some as a false note, when German wine was considered too delicate to withstand oak, and when the mannerism of Oechsle Scale reigned supreme, H.A.D.E.S. fired the first shot of Germany’s red revolution, which spread across Württemberg and the whole country, culminating in the establishment of Deutsches Barrique-Forum in 1991.
The following wines were tasted in the presence of Felix Graf Adelman, proprietor of Weingut Graf Adelmann (W: www.graf-adelmann.com; E: email@example.com), and Joachim Brand, winemaker of Weingut Fürst Hohenlohe Oehringen (W: www.verrenberg.de; E: firstname.lastname@example.org), during a press trip organised by Mrs Diana Maisenhölder (email@example.com) and Mr Dietmar Maisenhölder (firstname.lastname@example.org) of VDP Württemberg (www.vdp-wuerttemberg.de).
To be continued…
Scintillating citrine with shimmering golden reflex, the hedonistic nose effuses grapefruit, apricot, butterscotch and fine oak. Anchored by generous acidity and underlying minerality, the sensual palate emanates physalis, nectarine, dried coconut flakes and smoked salt. Full-bodied at 13.5%, the opulent entry carries onto an elaborate mid-palate, leading to an epicurean finish. As Oscar Wilde put it, “[one] can resist anything except temptation…”
Reddish black with carmine-rosewood rim, the hypnotic nose reveals blackberry, prune, dark chocolate, cigar box and balsam. Buttressed by tantalising acidity, tasty tannins and pristine minerality, the mesmerising palate unveils cassis, mulberry, cocoa, caffè ristretto and forest mushroom. Medium-full bodied at 13.5%, the graceful entry evolves into a melodious mid-palate, leading to an indelible finish. A blend of Lemberger, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from Große Lage vineyards; but for the absence of a cuvée category, this gem would have been a Großes Gewächs.
Dark garnet with crimson-ruby rim, the scented nose offers black cherry, mulberry, clove, tobacco and graphite. Braced by abundant acidity, prolific tannins and firm minerality, the magnanimous palate delivers cassis, prune, black pepper, caffè ristretto and charcoal. Medium-full bodied at 13.5%, the poised entry continues through an intense mid-palate, leading to a lasting finish. This Lemberger is as much the flagship of Graf Adelmann as it is a marquee representation of Württemberg.
Radiant amber with glistening copper reflex, the luxurious nose exudes dried apricot, crystallised orange peel, lemon curd, royal jelly and honeysuckle. Sustained by searing acidity and chiselled minerality, the glorious palate oozes kumquat purée, dried mango, celery salt, marzipan and iris. Thoroughly sweet with 154g of residual sugar per litre and full-bodied at 11%, the rococo entry persists through a palatial mid-palate, leading to an endless finish. This is the Fabergé Egg in Württemberg’s treasury of noble sweet wines.
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