Monday, February 22, 2010

On Obscure Vines: Elbling

Story has it that Johann Peter Reinert, most of whose estate is situated in the town of Kanzem along Germany's Saar river, travels by tractor along the main road from Kanzem to the Upper Mosel in order to work a small plot of vines he owns on the hillsides above the town of Igel. It's his only plot of vines not situated in the Saar. Traffic backs up for miles, all in the name of keeping an old, increasingly rare tradition alive.

The chalk based soils in Igel are inhospitable to Riesling, which won't properly ripen. Reinert instead makes the long, slow drive to tend his tiny plot of Elbling, a vine that has been planted there since Roman times yet today wallows in relative obscurity — as Jancis Robinson describes it in her Guide to Wine Grapes, "a [vine] to appeal to viticultural archivists." Outside of the Upper Mosel, Elbling's only other major plantations are to be found in Luxembourg, where it is known as Räifrench.

Most of the approximately 1,100 hectares of Elbling planted in the Saar is destined for inclusion in sparkling wine, where its natural tendencies toward high yields and high acidity serve both economically and structurally useful purposes. It takes dedicated farming to turn out still wines of any character from Elbling and the effort yields little in the way of financial return. As a result, very few producers make the effort. Reinert is one of a tiny handful doing so; only six are listed on CellarTracker and I doubt there are very many more. For Reinert, though, working his plot of Elbling is something of a labor of passion. The vines came to him through marriage from his wife's side of the family and he perseveres with production of his Elbling trocken to produce a "summer wine" evocative of his wife's childhood memories.

Mosel Igeler Dullgärten Elbling trocken, Weingut Johann Peter Reinert 2008
$14. 12% alcohol. Diam. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Light as mineral water in the glass, with just a bare suggestion of green-gold hue. The nose is at first a little grapey, then give up scents of white peaches, followed by a dash of szechuan peppercorn and fresh-ground ginger. First and foremost, this is refreshing wine, driven by a raspy, mineral-faceted texture and a very dry, slightly tart finish. With any but the simplest, mild flavored food — I think this would be at its best with filets of trout sauteed in butter, nothing else — the subtlety of its fruit is more or less washed away, leaving behind a vigorous, entirely refreshing mineral wash.

In its second day, the wine took on a little more flesh, showing some green pear fruit, but at the expense of diminished vigor and minerality. A background whiff of egg-y sulfur that I hadn't noticed on day one emerged and it also became clearer, perhaps too due to a slightly warmer serving temperature, that 12% alcohol was a bit heavy for the wine's wiry frame. In both cases, though, these quibbles were not so strong or obvious as to render the wine unpleasurable. Indeed, though much simpler and more direct than Reinert's Saar Rieslings, his Elbling is quite the satisfying thirst quencher. Just right for ice-cold summer quaffing. Of course, I chose to drink it on a couple of ice cold nights in February....

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On a related note, I couldn't help but notice that Reinert's Elbling was sealed with a Diam.

Reinert also alternates between using natural corks and the Vinolok for his various Rieslings. I couldn't think of many if any other producers that — various qualities of cork aside, and not including sparkling wine stoppers — are using three entirely different closure systems. The fact that he's working with so many closure types while farming a total of only 4.2 hectares of vines makes me wonder if he'll eventually choose to stop with natural corks entirely or, conversely, to move exclusively to either the Diam or the Vinolok for his alternative closure of choice.


JollyVino13 said...

Nice note on Elbling. I don't think I have ever tried one but being an amateur for indigenous grape varieties I may have to seek some out.

Love reading your posts.


David McDuff said...

Thanks, Justin. This isn't something I'd say you should go crazy trying to track down but definitely grab a bottle should you come across one. I don't know if it's available in the SoCal Market but I do know that the guys from DeeVine up in SF have been to visit Reinert so there's the off chance they may bring in a little of it at some point.

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