Red Wines and Royalty from Württemberg, Germany

It’s not every day that a prince walks into your wine shop, particularly one from the southwest of Germany bearing bottles of red German wine, but that’s exactly what happened to me this past Friday—lucky day I suppose!

In fact, the prince’s visit was quite fortuitous for many reasons. Since returning from Bordeaux, I spent the larger portion of my summer writing my MBA thesis (which incidentally is focused on raising the profile of German wines in the U.S. market), as well as working at a local wine shop in Providence, RI. In my thesis, I argue that Germany should place more emphasis on promoting other grape varieties outside of Riesling when marketing its wines in the U.S. I especially believe there is great opportunity for red German wines such as Spätburgunder (aka. Pinot Noir), Lemberger, Dornfelder, and others.  

At the wine shop, I had the chance to test my theory after we brought in a case of Messmer Pinot Noir (from the Pfalz region). Sure, these wines needed some hand-selling initially, but overall I didn’t have much trouble finding takers. In fact, I was able to sell through the entire case of 1L bottles within a few weeks (arguably my biggest achievement this summer).

The von Neipperg Family Winemakers

However, the shining moment was the arrival of Benedikt Graf von Neipperg. Benedikt hails from the German wine region of Württemberg (near Stuttgart, see red area on the map) where his family has maintained its existing vineyards since the 15th century and bottles its wine under the family label, Weingut des Grafen Neipperg. Incidently, Benedikt’s uncle, Stephan von Neipperg, operates the largest share of the family’s winemaking business outside of Germany in Bordeaux called les Vignobles Comtes von Neipperg. There he manages eight chateaux, as well as a new property in the Bessa Valley of Bulgaria.

A Royal Mission

The Württemberg wine region is the area in red

Benedikt arrived just last week in the U.S. to embark on a two-month tour to promote both his family’s wines and also the wines of Schloss Wallhausen, a Nahe property he is currently employed at. I was already familiar with Schloss Wallhausen’s QbA Riesling called “Two Princes” (a wine we had been selling for some time at the shop). However, Benedikt delve into the history of the property, explaining it was Germany’s oldest family-run winery (dating back to the 12th century I believe) and showed me a brochure with pictures of the current generations—a father and son team after which the label “Two Princes” was developed.

“So, they’re real princes, then?” I asked. In the most humble and down-to-earth manner possible he responded, “yes, they are, and I am a prince, too.”

[slight pause] Wow… In fact, as I later learned, the von Neipperg counts are descended from a noble line dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and have been making fine wine since the 12th century. So, between the wines of Weingut Graf Neipperg and those of Schloss Wallhausen, American wine drinkers are quite literally in for a royal treat.

Bring on the red German wines!

Much discussion later, Benedikt poured for us the wines from his family’s estate. He had with him three Lembergers (from the ’05  and ’06 vintage, as well as a single-vineyard ’05 selection), an ’03 Dornfelder and a single-vineyard ’05 Samtrot.

A bunch of Samtrot grapes

Samtrot???  My thoughts exactly.

Samtrot is a clone of the grape Pinot Meunier, which is probably most famous for being one of the three main grapes authorized in Champagne production. In German, the name Samtrot literally means “red velvet”.  

Here are my impressions, as well as some interesting notes, on the wines themselves:

  • Definitely great food wines, particularly the Lemberger and Samtrot. Both varieties are light in color (brick red, transparent) with nice red fruit flavor and good acidity.
  • Both Lembergers also had a nice black pepper finish to them—spicy, but not overtly spicy (like a more subdue Zweigelt in regards to the spicy finish).
  • ’06 was a great vintage for Württemberg and the difference is quite apparent between the two Lembergers. Though I’d consider the ’05 to be an all-around good wine, the ’06 completely outshines it. It is much more concentrated with fresher aromas and more intense fruit flavors. A truly fabulous wine and a tremendous value considering this wine would retail at around $17.  
  • The Dornfelder was deep purple in color with a very smooth, almost leather-like texture and nice dark fruit flavor. I can’t say I was blown away by this wine, but considering it would retail for about $12, I can see it as a nice everyday red wine for those looking for a Cabernet alternative (for sure lighter than your average California cabernet, it would probably be best consumed with food).
  • The single vineyard Samtrot was hands-down one of the more exciting wines I’ve had in recent time. It had depth, very interesting aromas of red fruits, mushrooms, as well as a slight smokiness with bright red fruit flavor, black pepper, great acidity, and plenty of toast and wood notes coming from 18 months of oak aging in new German oak barrels (from the nearby forests). This particular wine, the ’05 Neipperg Neipperger Schlossberg Samtrot Trocken, is a single vineyard wine that would retail for around $33.
  • As a final note, I feel these wines (particularly the Lembergers and Samtrot) would appeal to those accustomed to drinking red wines from Northern Italy. They are fairly light, earthy wines with a fair amount of fruit and great acidity that let them show well with food.

After having spent two days touring the Rhode Island market (predominately Newport and Providence), Benedikt told me that his wines have been well-received and that orders are already underway. I am quite excited to hear of this early success, in part because it further backs up my thesis regarding the acceptance of red German wines in the U.S. market, but also because I look forward to drinking them!

So, prost to Prince Benedikt and I wish him the best of luck as he continues his U.S. tour.

Wortschatz

Whenever I talk about German wine I feel like I’m giving a language lesson. So, I’ll end my post with some appropriate vocab terms you should have memorized after reading this column:

  1. Graf: count (or prince)
  2. Prost: Cheers!
  3. Samtrot: literally means “red velvet”; regional name for a Pinot Meunier clone grown predominately in Württemberg (from the words “samt” = velvet + “rot” = red)
  4. Schloss: castle
  5. Spätburgunder: literally means “Late Burgundian”; otherwise known as Pinot Noir (“spät” = late + “Burgunder” = Burgundian)
  6. Weingut: winery
  7. Wortschatz: vocabulary 😉

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