Joe and I were pretty excited to host a dinner last Sunday at Hearth in NYC starring none other than Van Volxem's owner: Roman Niewodniczanski. Pretty much everything you've heard about him is true. He is very tall and he is very opinionated. He's not shy. And he's also making some of the most serious dry Rieslings in the Saar Valley. As an heir to the Bitburger beer fortune he's applied a "spare no expense" philosophy to his estate: Manic vineyard work, crazy-low yields sourced from some of the top sites of the Saar: Scharzhofberger, Altenberg and Gottesfuss to name a few. This was the first tasting of his 2007 single-vineyard wines, so it was sort of a treat to be the first in the U.S. to taste these dry Rieslings.
So how are the wines? In one long and semi-rambling sentence I'd say they are rich yet very detailed, blunt but not inelegant and definitely more for the "rock head" than for those looking for lavish fruit. As blunt as they are, they are also very nuanced and subtle in the expression of terroir. Rieslings to ponder. Seriously, I liked them a lot and I think they're real values in the world of high-end, single-vineyard dry Rieslings. (OK, that was two sentences. Sorry.) The Saar Riesling is a pretty crazy sub-$20 value, though when you step up to the single-vineyard Rieslings the difference is noticeable. Find my random notes below. If you're interested in any of the wines, large-format or the rare "1900" bottling, please call the store and ask for Stephen or Joe.
2007 Van Volxem Wiltinger Braunfels
All about the smoky, salted minerality. A nose of cured meats, sea salt and dark slate, earth and stone. The palate is big, this is a rich wine though the fruit profile is simple (or closed at the moment). A core of lemon pith edged by an oily slide that keeps it from being brutish, though it's still a sort of simple, solid wine.
2007 Van Volxem Goldberg
A small site, apparently up in Wawern. Honestly, I had never heard of this vineyard though Roman thinks a lot of it and the wine is banging. A VERY distinct, high-pitched nose of anise, dried black licorice, black tea and a dark, smoky salt that is very well integrated - somehow both uplifting and brooding at the same time. The palate is suave and complex with red fruits, soft peach and apricot. A really beautiful florality sort of hovers above the wine. I really liked this, for me one of the surprises (as I'd never had a Goldberg before) and I think a really good value. As for Goldberg and Roman's winemaking there, he ownes about 12 hectares of vines of which 3.5 hectares consist of older vines, between 40 and 80 years old. The soil is rich in iron.
2007 Van Volxem Volz
A blue slate site, apparently a subparcel of Wiltinger Braunfels. In 2007 these vines had a very long hang-time at about 165 days. This, matched to yields of about 30 hectoliters per hectare, produced a wine of deep expression. Amazing purity of peach and apricot and for me the most fruit-driven of the 2007 Van Volxems, and also the most sexy and elegant, though I heard others talking about the minerality so who knows. This was one of the favorites of the night though maybe not in my top 3. Maybe number 4?
2007 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger Pergentsknopp
Another blue slate site, this time a small parcel within the prime flank of the (drum roll) Scharzhofberger site. This is one of the few Scharzhofberger's in my opinion, outside of Egon Muller, that lives up to the potential of the site. It wasn't showing a tremendous amount of complexity (it could very well have been - probably was - shut down) but it was just wildly intense, angular and jutting, scraping the inside of your nostrils. Dried, crusty sea salt, dark earth and dried spices with some fresh green notes like fennel. On the palate, a very forceful delivery of lemon pith and deep melon fruit with tremendous focus. One of my top 3.
2007 Van Volxem Wiltinger Gottesfuss Alte Reben
Perhaps the thickest and creamiest of the bunch, with a well-balanced stone fruit core and plenty of minerality. Great balance and poise and probably not showing itself fully.
2007 Van Volxem Kanzemer Altenberg Alte Reben
The razor's edge of the Van Volxem lineup. Everything about this wine is super-fine. A subtle but really intriguing nose of fine salt, dust and earth and a great, dried florality. Just so, so precise. The palate is sort of shockingly rich, given the detail of the nose, but it works and is very broad and again shows this sort of kinky, oily edge to it. Great stuff.