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Wine, grape and winery reviews and criticism as written by wine veterans


German wines have not been much in favor in the United States during the past 30 years. In the early part of the 20th century German wines were found on the tables of royalty in many of the European capitals, and commanded prices that exceeded the finest Bordeaux’s and Burgundy’s. Economic upheaval and two World Wars decimated the German wine industry and a revival in the 1950s and ‘60s expanded vineyard plantings into areas that produced wines of poor to mediocre quality, with cheap wines like Liebfraumilch and Zeller Schwartz Katz dominating the export market and the little space dedicated to wines in American liquor stores of the era.                                    

During this post-war period fine wine was still made in the Mosel and Rhine river area. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t readily available on American retail shelves. Today efforts by American-German wine importers and German wineries themselves have resulted in a plethora of high quality Mosel and Rhine wines available on retail shelves.

Recently, we met with Nik Weis, the third generation of St Urban-Hof, to learn about Mosel wines and taste his family’s offerings. St Urban is the patron saint of German winemakers and “hof” translates as estate in English.

The Weis family has produced grapes for centuries and in 1947 Nik’s grandfather founded St. Urbans-Hof winery. Nik joined the winery in 1997 to work with his father. Today St. Urbans –Hof owns 85 acres in the Mosel and is the second largest family owned winery in the area.                                           

Nik described how the best vineyards are located on the very steep banks of the Mosel and Saar rivers, prohibiting any type of mechanical equipment to plow the vineyard rows. A plow is hooked to a winch to allow cultivation of these almost inaccessible vineyards. Forests are allowed to proliferate on the flat top of the hills to allow for rainfall to be absorbed and gradually introduced to the vineyards below.                                                                                                                                 

Nik is a skillful wine teacher and readily explains the confusing (at least to Americans) language on German wine labels by using a banana in an analogy. He described the varying levels of sweetness in German wines as kabinett is “a beautiful yellow banana”, spatlese as a “banana with brown speckles” and auslese as “a brown banana.” He also referred to the benefits of the bright acidity of the riesling grape in German wines as “acidity is like dripping lemon juice over your food.”                                                                                                      

We tasted a number of St. Urbans-Hof’s wine and the following were our favorites. All of these wines were allowed to rest on their skins for several hours after pressing, used only indigenous yeasts for fermentation, and were only stored in stainless steel tanks                                                                                                                                                                        

·       St. Urbans-Hof Wiltenger Alte Reben Riesling 2013 ($20). Made from Riesling grapes planted in the 1930’s “alte reben” means old vines. This is a rich, fruity wine with a subtle minerality and a touch of sweetness. Try with Asian foods, or chicken and fish dishes. The 2014 version exhibits a bit more acidity and round fruit.                        

·       St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett Riesling 2013 ($21). This wine exhibits a distinct minerality and ripe fruit flavors of peach, with some floral notes.                                                                                          

·       St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Spatlese Riesling 2013 ($32). 

Although a bit sweeter than the kabinett this wine shows a bit more acidity, which balances the sweetness beautifully. An enticing long creamy finish follows a very distinct mineral streak.                                    


·     St. Urbans-Hof Goldtropfchen Piesport Spatlese Riesling 2011 ($34). Produced from the very low rainfall year of 2011, this wine is made from grapes grown on 80+ years of age and shows low acidity and very rich deep ripe fruit. Much lower acidity than the Ockfener Bockstein. 


Three good harvests in California has built a momentum of sales. In 2014, California wine shipments in this country were up 4.4 percent -- netting a 6.7 percent increase in retail value, according to the Wine Institute,

That's good news for retailers, distributors and producers. Sales growth has increased for the past 22 years.

Although one would guess that it is the cheapest wine that is selling the best, it appears higher quality of wine accounts for much of the growth.  Generally,premium wines make up a quarter of the volume, but half of a winery's revenues.

According to Nielsen, in measured U.S. off-premise channels, the most popular wine types by volume were Chardonnay (19% share), Cabernet Sauvignon (13%), Red Blends/Sweet Reds (10%), Pinot Grigio (9%) Merlot (8%), followed by Moscato (6%), Pinot Noir (5%), White Zinfandel (5%), and Sauvignon Blanc (4%). Red blends accounted for the strongest volume gains, along with Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.