Tasting Nik’s Wines…without Nik

Almost exactly five years ago, I became e-acquaintances with Nik Weis of St. Urbans-hof in Germany’s Mosel Valley. I was the Global Beverage Director for Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges at the time, and Nik’s importer, Bob Shack, was determined that Nik’s wines should be represented on my eclectic, 100 bottle wine list at Spice Market in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Represent Nik’s wines, I did…with great zeal. Along the way, Nik and I became e-buddies. Nik was immensely helpful with the dozens of questions I asked with regard to the Master of Wine examination, even though we’d never met in person.

Just a few weeks ago, sitting on a Frankfurt-bound plane and preparing to attend a weekend of VDP auctions, I received my finalized schedule. St. Urbans-hof was listed. Thrilled, I emailed Nik immediately. It was 1.30 am in Germany, yet Nik responded within minutes. I was dismayed. He was in Canada.

While I’ve still not met Nik in person, I know him through his wines. Here are my notes from a tasting at the estate on 21 September 2012 with St. Urbans-hof’s cellar master, Rudi Hoffman.

Rudi’s Brief Reflections on 2011
“This was an easy year overall,” began Rudi.

The wines’ acidities are relatively low, especially when compared to 2010. Harvest began at the end of September but didn’t finish until 8-9 November. With no threat of rain, there was no pressure to get the fruit off the vines.

2011 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Grosses Gewächs 12.5%
Located around the house, this is a favorite terroir of the vineyard manager, Harmon.
Herbs, petrol and fresh mushroom are abundant. The mouthfeel is racy, thanks to the generous acidity. There is a light oiliness on the palate that isn’t accompanied by leesiness. This is an easy-drinking wine that finishes strikingly dry.

2011 Wiltinger Alte Reben Kabinett Feinherb 10.5%
Wet slate notes are typical in this wine. This wine comes from the Schlangengraben (snake pit) vineyard in the Saar, which is the first Erste Lage they harvest. Fermented in stainless steel. 20 g/L residual sugar (RS).
Super-citrusy notes of orange, mandarin and tangelo accompany wet river rock aromas. There’s also a tinge of celery. The flavors are pure and crystalline. Moderate minus length.

2011 Saarfeilser Spätlese Feinherb 11.5%
From the Schodener Marienberg, this wine has 16 g/L RS. Sold almost entirely in Germany. Only 700 meters away from Wiltinger but giving completely different fruit. The very, very steep slopes have stones in addition to slate.
Yellow plums and pink and white grapefruit rise from the glass. The overall impression is largely savory thanks to the chiseled minerality and extremely lean fruit. Finishes fairly short.

2011 Urban QBA 9.5%
Made from purchased grapes from the village of Mehring, the hometown of Nik’s wife. This wine is sold exclusively in export markets. 33 g/L RS, 7.2 g/L total acidity (TA).
Quartz and marble dominate the initial aromatic profile. The RS gives the wine a silky feel and couples with the bright acidity to show lovely finesse. Quick finish.

2011 St. Urbans-Hof QBA 9.5%
Tasting note for the export bottling with 35 g/L RS. A dry bottling is also made for the German market.
There is a lovely microbial, feral note on this wine that melds into flavors of peach skin and honeydew melon. The acidity is mouthwatering and carries the wine to a short-plus finish.

2011 Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett 9.5%
Rudi estimates this has 40 g/L RS.
The nose is very restrained, surely due to the apparent SO2. Underneath is an array of green-toned aromas: celery, aloe and basil. White grapefruit, wet metal and powered baking yeast add to the wine’s dimensions, the latter two giving the wine a definite savoriness. The texture is silky, and the finish is medium.

2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Kabinett 9.0%
A plot with many old vines purchased from Kesselstatt. 38 g/L RS. Aside from the RS, it’s the loam soil that gives this wine its weight.
Lentil, celery, bay leaf and new cardboard dominate the aromas, yet juicy peach chimes in. The palate is lightly textured with nice breadth, but the acidic tension gives the medium finish a racy edge.

2011 Ockfener Bockstein Zickelgarten Spätlese 9.0%
Rudi called this wine “a diva”. He believes their site is the best in Bockstein. It’s their first vintage of this wine. Fermented in oak with the fermentation stopping naturally. 50 g/L RS.
Serious white pepper and gunflint notes with a whiff of rubber (possibly SO2?) White peach flavors lace between the aromatic layers. Very long finish.

2011 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spätlese 10.0%
Rudi labels this their “lucky barrel” because of its unique flavors and structure. He declared, “You feel something in the room when you taste this.” In December 2011, they sulphured it because they liked it so much just as it was. They made only 100 cases. The rest of the barrels fermented to dryness. 42 g/L RS.
Zesty with pepper, fennel seed, cilantro and pink grapefruit zest. This wine is chock-full of minerality. Power is general impression on the palate to the extent I think of the phrase often used for Vosne-Romanée, “Iron fist in a velvet glove.”

2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 9.0%
Approximately 60 g/L RS. With this wine, ripeness and weight begin to significantly increase in this tasting. Complexity ratchets up, too. Rudi commented that 5-10% botrytis is fine, but he doesn’t believe there should be enough that Spätlese could be confused for Auslese.
Fresh peach preserves, tangy apricot, celery root and slate sing on the palate. The RS gives the mouthfeel a satin quality, yet there is still a delicacy and lift of aromas that declare Mosel provenance. Thankfully, the finish lingers!

2011 Ockfener Bockstein Spätlese 9.0%
Before tasting this wine, Rudi pointed out that the perception of minerality in a wine makes an incredible difference. I agree. 70 g/L RS and 6 g/L TA.
Über-flinty, the aromas were reminiscent of fine Pouilly-Fumé. Gunpowder joins with fresh-ground, white pepper and celery seed. The fruit character is resolutely peach: fuzz, skin and nectar. Fantastically long finish. My final word was an astonished, “WOW!”

2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Auslese 8.0%
Botrytis seems at bay in the aromatic profile despite the Auslese classification. However, Rudi estimates there is 50-60% botrytis. Discussing how the wine tastes, Rudi laughed, “When you ask three people what they think, you get four opinions.” Genau!
The nose begins with notes of honey-drizzled nectarine then picks up undercurrents of hazelnuts. Striking acidity corsets the velvet texture. Very long finish.

2011 Ockfener Bockstein Auslese 8.0%
A swift change of pace from the Piesporter, not surprising as the Bockstein site has less loam and is located in the chillier Saar Valley.
Aromatics of cilantro and green apple immediately suggest this wine’s cooler provenance. On the palate, cantaloupe and orange sherbet harmonize with the leaner intonations. Don’t wait for the finish to end. That will take a very long while.

2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Trockenbeerenauslese 6.0%
This wine’s harvest required 30 people picking for two days – berry by berry. They achieved an impressive 400 g/L RS! Only 250 375 ml bottles were produced. At the winery, a half bottle goes for € 300.
The appearance is more syrup than wine. The mouthfeel is reminiscent of pure, New York State maple syrup. (Canadian maple syrup tends to be less viscous.) Its texture resembles Tokaji Essencia. The flavors are generously tropical: mango purée, guava and baked pineapple. An intensely long finish.

2011 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Trockenbeerenauslese
As the TBAs are so unctuous and incredibly young, hence in need of development, we skipped this second one to taste an older vintage.

1997 Ockfener Bockstein Zickelgarten Auslese NA%
Nik bought Zickelgarten in August 1997. This is the first vintage, but the winery had not been in control of the vineyard during the growing season. Overall, 1997 was not a high sugar content vintage. The winery has only 100 bottles left.
The aromas are driven by petrol. Following on are lactic notes, especially cheese rind and buttermilk. Lemon pith and nectarine liven the flavors. There is a light feral note here; Rudi confirmed cultured yeast was used. The finish surprises as it feels more “clean” than sweet due to the vintage’s high acidity.