In a world where extremes are becoming the paradigms for perfection its a little surprising that one doesn’t hear much of the wines of Saxony. Strike that. One doesn’t hear anything about these wines. And that is not surprising because the production is tiny and the wines almost all consumed locally. But you should be hearing about these wines, if for no other reason than to broaden one’s idea about what cool climate viticulture is really all about. And the wines, well the wines, some of them at least, are worth a trip to Sachsen, even if that does mean putting on a sweater every evening in the middle of summer.
My jobs tends to focus on what is available to consumers. That makes perfect sense since, at its core, my job is to help consumers find wines that they like, but what happens when those wines aren’t even in the marketplace? Do I have any obligation to investigate them? I do, at bare minimum to myself, but more importantly to allow the industry at large to discover wines along with me. It’s how all the great imported wines have made their way to market over the past several decades, and with the incredible success of the wine industry it’s surprising to be able to find a region that is virtually unknown outside of its confines.
Admittedly I went to Saxony to visit a friend, but at the same time the allure of something to discover was quite powerful indeed, particularly when you factor in the potential that this coolest of cool climate regions has for producing world class wines. Wines that in all honesty few of us will ever get the chance to taste. With little land under vine, and a lively local enotourism culture, born from the love of drinking beer outside that seems endemic in the German speaking regions of the earth, and convenient for those off days when a beer, or three, just won’t do the trick. Wine may currently be a bit of an afterthought here in Saxony, but that might very well be a short lived problem.
With only 450 hectares, or just over 1100 acres under vine, there is obviously not a lot of wine to go around, so it remains a bit of a novelty even here at home. Add to that the fact that almost all of the vineyards are hillside vineyards, which must be tended by hand, and produce yeilds that are low, given the difficulty in fully ripening fruit here, and you can see why the market is somewhat limited, and yet there is no wine for export. Perhaps a few bottles make their way to the surrounding states here in Germany, but the numbers really don’t allow for much to be consumed other than locally. Locally by the ways means in and around the city of Dresden.
Bombed to near annihilation during World War II, Dresden has made a series of comebacks over the years. A series which is interestingly parallelled by the wine industry itself. First rebuilding from the ashes, albeit under Communist rule and the accompanying centralized dictats. Dictats that replaced vinifera grapes that had thrived in the region since at least the 12th century, when monasteries built out vineyards that eventually covered an unbelievable, when compared to present day dimensions, 6,000 hectares, with more productive, and certainly more proletariat varieties imported from the east.
Ironically it was this rebuilding of vineyards in the former German Democratic Republic that set the stage for today’s renaissance. From its peak, vineyard acreage slowly dwindled away in Saxony due to imported diseases such as phylloxera, downy mildew and oidium. By the beginning of the 19th century viticulture on any commercial scale had essentially disappeared. The rebirth, encouraged by the GDR, brought vines back to neglected terraces and untended vineyards. While the wines produced were nothing to write home about, they were wine, and they did, in many cases, reclaim historic vineyard sites.
With the weather in the region as it is, offerding just 1,800 hours of sunshine per year, which to put it in perspective compares with just over 2,000 sunshine hours per year in not exactly famously sunny Bordeaux, and average summertime highs of 77F, cool Burgundy manages 79F, and even the Willamette Valley in Oregon gets to an average high of 83F, this is a rather extreme place to be growing grapes, and potentially not very rewarding in some ways. perhaps central planning dictats were the only way a region like this would have been brought back to life.
Though in the face of all the challenges inherent in the region, and as is typically the case, vintners manage to find those south facing bowls and terraces that meander along the path of the Elbe river. Gathering both a bit of reflected light and the retained warmth that the river delivers. Grapes do ripen here, and while the market for premium wine grapes remains small, Muller Thurgau continues to be the dominant variety, there are some remarkable wines being produced here, even from the lowly Muller.
At 51 degrees north latitude these are some of the most northerly vineyards in the world, and certainly the most northerly that I have visited, laying about equal with the vineyards of England and well to the north of Canada’s viticultural areas. It takes a special type of person to make the commitment to farm here, and there are already at least several waves of producers who have helped to reclaim the region’s lost glory.
In a way the parallels here mirror that of the former East Germany as a whole. The earliest pioneers, or at least remaining successful pioneers, re-established the glory of the region by resurrecting the past, quite literally. They began producing wines, in a slightly oxidative style, with a touch of residual sugar, that people may have recognised from before the war. It is a style that continues to be quite popular in the region and is quite interesting as a unique and particular anachronism. Then there is the second generation, more interested in looking forward than back, but still through the lens of Sachsen wine. Here you find wines that are fresher, more detailed, and certainly more interesting than with the first wave of producers. Lovely wines, arresting wines in fact, but rich wines that speak at least as much about wine making as they do about terroir.
And finally there are revolutionary producers, and I assume that there is more than just one, but on my brief visit to the region this group was defined by Frederic Fourrier. A frenchman, sommelier by trade, who came to Dresden and worked in the finest restaurant in town. Was bitten by the winemaking bug, slowly amassed a miniscule number of ancient terraces overlooking the city and started making wine with a clean slate. The results are profound. They are modern wines in that they are crystal clear and complex. They are also cool climate wines of the type that makes sommeliers around the world, and not an inconsequential number of wine geeks I might add, salivate. And not simply due to the saline minerality and high acidity of the wines. But also the precision, complexity, blend of delicacy and power, and sheer uniqueness.
So this is where Saxony finds itself today. It’s cold, the vineyards are a pain in the ass to revive and maintain, yet the local culture seems to be enthusiastically embracing these wines, and innovation is coming into the region. All that is left is the media to start paying attention, a few importers to show up and bid up the pallet or two of wines that might be exported, and then we can all sit back and watch additional vineyards be planted, or perhaps just moved from the control of the local coop to some more conscientious hands. That is probably fantasy, and the only way to taste these wines for the foreseeable future will be to travel to the region, but that is not an unreasonable requirement.
You see, I am excited by what I tasted in the region and while prices are perhaps a bit on the high side, they remain entirely reasonable, in the 10 to 20 Euro range per bottle. When one considers the efforts made to get the wine into bottle and the fact that since we were buying directly all the proceeds were going to the farmers, entrepreneurs, and even a prince, who are all working to make Saxon wine more than a footnote in Germany’s vinous world, it all seems well worth it.
If there is one wine to watch out for, or grape I should say it would be the Grauburgunder. With the established brand recognition the grape has under the guise of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, it should be a fairly easy sell to consumers and the examples I tried were fabulously expressive of the variety but lighter and more elegant that one typically finds in a place where the grape takes on its typically spicy and rich fruit profile, such as Alsace. In fact the Sachsen Grauburgunder perfectly blends the best attribute of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris to deliver one of the grandest expressions of the grape the world has on offer. High praise indeed, but the proof was in the glass!
So, to all you adventurous wine lovers out there. I suggest you get yourself to Sachsen. The region is well worth the visit with the aforementioned wines as well as the sight of a rebuilt, and rebuilding Dresden. If you get there soon enough you will still find city blocks vacant since the end of WWII, but rebuilding in the region is moving at a feverish pace. Also worth noting is the spectacular scenery afforded from the rocky pinnacles of Sachsen Switzerland, the great beer and sausages that provide the perfect relief from a day’s worth of wine drinking, and the hospitality of the locals.
The only negative experience I had while in the region was sadly at the Wein Kultur Bar, a rather well known and trendy wine bar. Arriving ten minutes after their putative closing timer, though with a bar full of guests, many with plenty of bottles still on their tables, we were denied service even after explaining that I had travelled quite a ways and that we were only interested in a glass of wine. The denial wasn’t even gracious. I’m glad that the bar is doing so well that the owners are comfortable being rude to potential clients, but at the same time I am saddened that in this world of wine lovers we have still have to deal with the pompous attitudes that make wine so elitist and intimidating to consumers. If anyone is more familiar with the wine scene in Dresden I would welcome suggestions for other wines bars at which to spend my money next time I am in town!
Considered by many locals to be the best winery of the region, I found that while good, these wines reflected tastes that were more prevalent a decade or two ago. these are bigger wines that trade delicacy for power and richness.
Stoney on the nose with an early hint of banana followed by leesy aromas that are a bit yeasty, polleny and floral. Medium full, dense with good depth to the apple and pear flavors though this turns a bit heavy on the palate. There’s good minerality here but also lots of weight, a hint of wood, and noticeably leesy character, making this quite creamy in the mouth. Showing some bitter fruit on the finish, this is fresh and clean but not complicated. 86pts
Old wood greets the nose with familiar earthy aromas and not inconsequential sulphur. Clear and moderately rich on the palate, this is a bit heavy but the acid keeps this fresh with flavors that are spicy and feature lovely fresh and dried fruit on the palate. Abit short on the finish but the fruit that is here shows nice character and complexity. A bit oxidative, heavy, and old fashioned in style. 87pts
Lemon and herb pop on the nose which is bright and fresh. Fairly dry with nice tension in the mouth, this is more Germanic in style as compared to the Alsacian influenced Pinots that came before it.With nice mineraly river stone accents on the backend and through the long finish which shows just a hint of sweetness, this ends with some attractive tension on the palate but it’s a bit simple 86pts.
Spicy with a bit of botrytis on the nose backed up with fruit and a hint of bitter almond. A bit heavy in the mouth, and more heavy than sweet, there’s not a lot of detail to the nice plump fruit in the mouth. With good flavor, and some nice minerality on the finish, this is very easily drinking with some attractive nuance, though this too is a bit old school, just a bit too sweet and soft. 87pts
Polleny, earthy and complex on the nose with a bit too much sulphur, but plenty of dried fruit aromas as well making this rather sophisticated and complex on the nose. Finely textured, bright and elegant in the mouth with obvious sweetness, good mineral notes and a hint of herb, this is a finely balanced and impressive wine though one that comes off as just a bit heavy and lacks some detail on the backend. 88pts
The nose is gently aromatic with aromas that are mineral, slightly nutty and a bit peachy with some lychees notes and hints of rose petals. Moderately sweet in the mouth with candied flavors that recall candy corn along with flavors of lychees and an almost orange tone to the palate.With a rather clean finish marked by a hint of polyphenolic bitterness, this strikes a nice balance in the mouth, nicely complex, bright and firmly precise. 90pts
A pioneer in the region, the Weingut Aust is housed in lovely little property at the foot of the slopes of Radebeul that are home to some of the regions finest vineyards. You can grab a lovely light bite to eat as you stop in here to try the wines as Aust is one the Sachsen wine route that stretches from meissen in the northwest, a lovely town that is worth a trip to visit even if it is sadly deserted following the devastating floods of last year, to Pirna in the South east. The wines are in the older style, a bit heavy and showing less freshness than one might prefer.
Lightly yeasty on the nose with a hint of candied peach, soma maraschino cherry, and a light hint of smoke and dried herbs. Bright acids, some paired with some obvious sweetness keep this fruity, simple and straightforward, though it is fruity in the mouth with a nice mineral note on the finish, and good length. 86pts
Nice spicy toned nose is full of nutmeg and melon aromas along with plenty of slightly tropical and honied fruits with a hint of ginseng. A lightly toasty apricot pastry note on entry leads to a midpalate that is pretty dry but round and opulent with good acid and nice detail to the melon and apple fruit. The sugar here lends good length to the finish as well which retains the wine’s fruity character. 88pts
Aromas of golden raisins greet the nose lending this an aromatic profile that is a bit heavy and sweet. Mineral on entry then filled with green tea character supported by bright acids, this remains relatively round in style with earthy, slightly oxidative flavors that are savory and honeycomb tinged. There is a nice round feel here and attractive spice notes on the moderately long finish as well. 87pts
Lots of aggressive wood on the nose, smoky, raw, spicy, and minty along with chalky and weedy undertones. This is surprisingly rich, round a moderately fruity in the mouth with ripe tannins helping to flesh out the palate which is a bit soft with a meaty character to the smoky fruit. Short and chunky in the mouth with acids that peek out on the finish. The fruit Is a bit simple here, though attractive, but the wood is aggressive and covers much of the fruit. 83pts
If you are looking for brilliant wines, expressive of place, transparent and dynamic you need look no further but you may have to look quite diligently. Fourre produces decidedly modest amounts of wine from tiny terraces that overlook the Sachsen wine route from the very top of the terraced vineyards of Radebeul. A sommelier first and winemaker second, Frederic, who originally comes from france, brings a sensibility to the cellar that favors delicacy and detail over power, though these wines lack nothing. Truly world class and one of the great discoveries of the year for me.
Frederic has been making wine here for 12 years on a collection of tiny little terraces that he has cobbled together over the years. each terrace offers a significantly different terroir with their altitude, exposition to the sun, and subtle soil changes, not to mention the crazy diversity of planting which can have a Blauburgunder vine planted next to Muller on the same tiny terrace. Now producing 8000 liters of wine, Frederic hopes to eventually produce 40,000 bottles from four hectares of terraces.
High toned on the nose with hints of mint and lemon verbena framing a core rich with white peach and floral aromas. This shows off some impressively big fruit on entry with just a jot of sweetness helping to add oomph to those flavors. The midpalate firms up a bit as the acidity kicks in and displays gorgeous purity and length to the fruit, which is zesty and frankly fruity with real precision. Hints of herbs emerge on the finish, followed by salty minerals, which blossom in the mouth and show excellent persistence. Really top notch Muller. 92pts
Intensely aromatic on the nose with huge aromas of slightly jammy golden currants deftly framed by notes of slate, white pepper, tarragon, and quinine. Spicy and sweet though ever so slightly on entry, the palate here is draped with dusty mineral notes laying under small ripe yellow fruits that show fine persistence on the long spicy finish. This is a beautiful wine nuanced, finely focused, with energy and tension in the mouth and great balance between acid and sugar. 91pts
Three harvests, first was fermented in three year old tonneaux, lowest in acid
Deep, with slightly earthy aromas on the nose including some old wood notes, and low spicy stemmy tones, and hints of rose petal, just a touch of linden, and some hot rocks.While lighter bodied than the nose suggests, this is quite round in the mouth with a super juicy, supple texture that supports gorgeous fruit on the back end, fine length. This gains a bit of viscosity in the mouth with it’s hint of sweetness but the super acids keep this extremely well balanced and lend it sneaky length,. A truly superb example of Pinot Gris, so zesty, subtle and elegant. 93pts
Lemon drop and pollen greet the nose along with complicating notes of saffron, fig, and grape leaf. Obviously sweet in the mouth but very well balanced, though this does have a bit of a treacle character in the mouth nicely balanced by a hint of polyphonic bitterness. That sugar lends this nice length in the mouth which shows off perfumes of rose petals and lemon on the palate and through the long finish which picks up hints of ginger and ginseng. Perhaps a little short once you get past the sugar, this is nicely perfumed and fairly complex. 88pts
Proschwitz is in many ways the 800lb gorilla in the Sachsen wine scene. A historic property, now used as a very successful event space as well as as a cellar, the vineyards of the weingut Schloss Proschwitz cover almost 90 hectares, or about one fifth of the land under vine in Sachsen! Originally the domaine of the Prinz Zur Lippe, and since the fall of the berlin Wall once again under their control, Proschwitz is a symbol of what can be done with determination, time, and of course some money. Today the restored property is just beautiful, and the vineyards once again planted to noble varieties, with a bit of regent, Dunkelfelder, Fruhburgunder, and the local Elbling augmenting the more common varieties. the wines here retain just a hint of what i would consider the classic style of the region. they have a little more weight than Fourre’s wines, but are beautiful examples of their type. With six meters of clay loess covering granite bedrock the soils here provide for rather fruity wines and that is what the winery does with a certain elegance and grace. And the view, looming over Meissen as the vineyards do, is simply stupendous.
Wine produced here then sent to the Pfaltz for secondary fermentation.
Mineral and fruity on the nose with a little sweetness on the nose but no liqueury notes. Bright acids balance the moderately sweet nature of this on the palate which is full of lemony fruit carried on a nice creamy, slightly waxy texture with a fine mousse. This is fairly impressive, with lovey pithy fruit flavors, a hint of peach, very lightly leesy floral notes and some spice on the finish. Pretty, but a little simple. 87pts
Virtually crystal clear
Lovely aromatics of white flowers and almond skin greet the nose followed by fruity aromas of very light citrus pith, lime leaf, and green melon. Medium bodied with a light hint of rs well balanced by nice acids in the mouth lending this a bright and very fresh feel with great transparency to the subtle apricot, honeydew and lime flavors on the palate. Nice quartzy mineral notes on the moderately long finish add detail to the lingering hints of white peach and mint. This is very clean and zesty with good length and fine snap on the refreshing finish. 90pts
Melon, cucumber, mineral, almond and ripe apricot fruit come together on the nose here. in the mouth this starts out as just a little sweet, though great acids quickly kick in and while this has huge richness in the mouth, the acids keep it tense and wonderfully vibrant. The flavors here are subtle, with hints of melon, minerals, and flowers on the palate that pick up a green plum nuance on the long, elegant finish. Really a unique and lovely wine. 91pts
Tight on the nose, with slow to emerge aromas of bitter almonds, minerals, gorgeous hints of vanilla and finally notes of apple. Big acids are obvious on entry followed by a midpalate that shows nice richness and power with fine depth of spice and tart orchard fruit flavors. There’s nice hint of polyphenolic bitterness on the moderately long finish that adds attractive detail here though this shows lovely, well knit integration throughout the mouth and picks up hints of wax and white pepper with air. 91pts
Passion fruit aromas explode on the nose layered over mineral notes with hints of peach and lime emerging with air. These are gorgeous aromatics so ripe and yet so cool. On entry this is all lime candy in the mouth with nice cut from acids that keep this is firm and vivid in the mouth. Flavors of Asian pear emerge on the midpalate which really marries richness with a clothesline of acid that stretches out the classic inner mouth perfumes on the finish. A wonderful blend of ripeness and tension. 91pts
Lovely on the nose all white fruited, with a hint of sulfur, lemon blossom aromas and very mineral top notes. with big acids on entry, this turns surprisingly rich and ripe on the palate, gaining some creaminess from the RS here. Filled with lemony white fruit, and big tart peachy fruit almost baked fruit, along with hints of apple, this gains some energy on the back palate with the emergence of deep mineral notes. The big acids drive the finish, which shows off flashes of unripe pineapple and more of that assertive minerality, though it does drop off a bit on the finale. 90pts
Floral and a bit meaty on the nose with lot of polleny tones and hints of beeswax and church incense lending this a spicy aromatic profile. Balanced and elegant in the mouth, though fairly sweet, though technically still a troken. There’s a bit of fat here on the palate, this is a big wine, powerful and weighty on the palate, which delivers flavors of honey and apricot along with nuanced cherry pit, candied pumpkin and white pepper accents. gaining some citrussy notions on the moderately long finish, this ends in the mouth on a rather elegant note with a hint of dusty tannin refreshing the mouth. 90pts
A bit smoky on the nose with well judged but obvious wood layered over aromas that recall cherry pie along with hints of stemmy herbs, clay, and forest floor. Nicely ripe in the mouth, though just a bit too oaky on entry, this shows off fine balance between good acids and tannins that support nicely ripe cherry fruit on the palate. Pretty with, detail on the palate and a fine mineral note on the finish, this has good length, and is certainly acid driven through the cherry pit and fire pit laced finish which does show a bit of alcoholic warmth. 89pts
Origin: Snooth – Articles