Sommelier Wine Awards 2009: Alsace, Germany & Austria

Good stuff again from the Germanics section, with some excellent food-friendly wines in a variety of styles and at all price levels

This is usually a popular section with our sommelier tasters. Not surprising, really, since it tends to give wines with plenty of character, punch and minerality and free from lashings of oak. And so it was again this year, with our tasters luxuriating in both the wines’ personalities and also their food-friendliness.

While last year saw three wines on the Gold List and seven on the Shortlist, this year’s split was two and eight. And the standard was so high that our sommeliers got themselves in something of a two and eight* trying to whittle the final list down.

‘Generally it was a very good flight. All of the wines were quite rich, but with freshness, and reliable with food,’ said Locanda Locatelli’s Virgilio Gennaro. The ‘food-friendliness’ element was conclusively proved by Rabl’s magnificent Steinhaus Riesling, which won the By The Glass food-matching award for scallops.

So, given the overall impressive quality, what set the successful wines apart? Well, value for money for starters. Some of the pricier wines were popular, but maybe just a bit too costly. But there was a plethora of great stuff under £10 to make up for it. Special congratulations to Cave de Turckheim, which managed to get a Gewürz, a Riesling and a Pinot Gris on the Shortlist, all at under £7.

‘I was disappointed with one or two of the most expensive wines,’ said Steven Nisbet of Alan Murchison Restaurants. ‘Those we liked were good value, and the differences were very clear cut.’ Not only that, but the cheaper wines were all drinking well now, which wasn’t always the case further up the scale. The other element was purity, with Olivier Marie not alone in finding the best wines ‘more precise and focused’.

Indeed, the difficulty with this category is not so much finding good wines as knowing how to go about selling them. Despite their excellent food-matching capabilities customers tend to be somewhat suspicious.

‘I think these are quite versatile wines, and people should bear them in mind more often,’ said Winelife’s Philippe Messy. ‘But the “medium” label doesn’t do them any good – people think of medium as sweet, but with most of these the acidity is there.’

The answer, according to Riesling-nut Roger Jones is to look at by-the-glass, with punters more prepared to shell out £7 for a glass than £30 for a bottle on a wine style that, for many, is still seen as something of a gamble. On this evidence, though, there’s great stuff out there that more than justifies the extra efforts of the front of house staff.

* Cockney rhyming slang: ‘Two and eight’ – state

There was much more complexity in this flight. Even for the simple wines, there was much more going on and a lot more variation. Olivier Gasselin, Bluebird

I found some really good wines that performed excellently at the price. Chris Zoeller, Asia de Cuba


Prinz Von Hessen Riesling H 2006, Rheingau, Germany
£7.80 @ Bibendum Wine Ltd
Zingy, fresh and tangy, with a lingering rose-petal spiciness. One for the stinkier end of the cheese board. ‘An expansive wine, but balanced,’ said Agustin Trapero. ‘I’d be happy to have it as an apéritif.’

Rabl Riesling Steinhaus 2007, Kamptal, Austria
£9.88 @ Hallgarten Druitt
A lot going on here. Floral, honey, stone-fruit and mineral nose that is elegant and generous on the palate. ‘Complex, long and terroir-driven,’ said Olivier Marie. ‘Minerally, clean and stylish,’ agreed Adam Wilson.


Sables Et Galets Gewurztraminer 2005, Cave De Turckheim, Alsace
£6.92 @ Boutinot Ltd
Spicy rose-petal and rosemary nose that veers into an almost medicinal whiff of tea-tree, lemongrass and coriander. Creamy length, soft and inviting, it’s a rich spicy palate. Amazing complexity for the money.

Sables Et Galets Pinot Gris 2005, Cave De Turckheim, Alsace
£6.92 @ Boutinot Ltd
Attractive honeyed spice with a good oily texture and some minerality. Not a big wine on the palate, but plenty going on aromatically for this price!

Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2005, Cave De Turckheim, Alsace

£6.92 @ Boutinot Ltd
Concentrated citrussy nose, with a hint of spice. Oily and waxy on the palate, there is a racy elegance here that you wouldn’t expect at the price.

Hugel Gentil 2007, Hugel & Fils, Alsace
£7.20 @ John E Fells
Hints of cucumber and rosemary with stone fruit and an edge of fruit. Stylish, dry, textured and well crafted. ‘This cruises through revealing secondary and tertiary layers,’ said an admiring Angela Mount.

Riesling ‘Silberberg’ 2007, Domaine Pfister, Dahlenheim, Alsace
£9.20 @ Liberty Wines
Candied lemons and honey, this is youthful but still complex, with a palate that takes in everything from floral through mineral to waxy. ‘Aristocratic, with beautiful concentration and length,’ mused Samuel Walker.

Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Hengst 2004, Wunsch Et Mann, Alsace
£9.80 @ McKinley Vintners
Full, rich and unctuous, this wine has plenty of punch behind its lushness and simply oozed class. Terrine, paté and black pudding were some of the more popular suggested food matches.

Scheurebe Trocken 2007, Weingut Weegmuller, Rheinpfalz, Germany
£10.63 @ Novum Wines
Face powder, musk, lychees and Turkish delight, the exotic attack leads into a surprisingly crisp palate, with good balancing, lifting acidity.

Schloss Johannisberg Silberlack first Growth 2007, Rheingau, Germany

£31.15 @ Hallgarten Druitt
Terrific concentration, and very aromatic, but also a winning delicacy on this multi-layered wine. Tasters picked out quince, lemon, hazelnuts and grapefruit. ‘Amazing concentration and substance,’ said Andrew Catchpole.

These are very food-friendly wines, and in a very wide range of styles. There’s lots of flavour without oak. Hamish Anderson, Tate Catering

Editorial feature from the Sommelier Wine Awards 2009.

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