A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Huxelrebe - Rheinhessen, Germany

I love German wines.  To be truthful, I love wines from pretty much anywhere, but I have a particular soft spot in my heart for the wines of Germany.  Riesling is my absolute favorite grape and I don't believe that any other country or region can match the range and depth of Rieslings from Germany.  Unfortunately, it seems that in the United States, the Riesling grape has become so entwined with the image of German wines that it is nearly impossible to find wines from Germany made from any other grape.  As I mentioned in my post on Kerner (which was bred in Germany but the only bottles I could find were from Italy), Riesling accounts for only around 20% of the total planting area of Germany, but it seems to occupy 95% of the shelf space devoted to German wines in American wine shops.  German Pinot Noir (red and white) is becoming more common and you can occasionally find something like Scheurebe, Dornfelder, Kanzler or Silvaner if you look long enough, but if you come across a bottle of wine from Germany in your local shop, odds are really good that it's a Riesling.

Which is kind of a shame, because there are a lot of interesting, unique grapes being grown in Germany.  As I mentioned in my post on Scheurebe, many of the unique grapes being grown in Germany are actually crossings that were bred at one of the many viticultural institutions located throughout that country.  In places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, the climate is particularly suited to the cultivation of the vine and so many different varieties have been grown in those countries through the years.  Many of Germany's wine growing regions are not quite as favorable as those in areas further south so few grape species have really thrived there.  Over the past hundred years or so, many German viticulturalists have focused their energies on developing new grape varieties that can withstand the harsher conditions of some of these regions.  The German people are also an efficient lot, so another aim of their grape breeding programs was to create high yielding vines that also produced high quality wine.  While they have been fairly successful in overcoming many of their climatic issues through grape breeding, their search for an explosively yielding vine that produces high quality wine has thus far not been, ahem, fruitful.

One of the more well known German grape breeders was a man named Georg Scheu.  Scheu (1879 - 1949) studied horticulture in the early 1900's and in 1909, he went to the institute at Alzey, where he remained until 1947, to study viticulture.  In 1929, he discovered how leaf-roll disease was transmitted between vines (though the virus that is the underlying cause was not discovered until 1966) and initiated efforts to create clean, virus free vine stocks in nurseries and holding institutions.  Though Scheu was an accomplished scientist and viticulturalist, most wine drinkers know him today, if they know him at all, from the grapes that he bred during his time in Alzey.  The Scheurebe grape is his namesake variety and is the most well known of his creations, but he also created the Kanzler grape mentioned above as well as Siegerrebe, Faber and Regner.  The grape we're interested in today, though, is one of his creations called Huxelrebe.

Huxelrebe was created in 1927 by crossing Chasselas with a grape called Muscat Précoce de Saumur.  Here's how we got Muscat Précoce de Saumur: a Pinot Noir vine mutated into Pinot Noir Précoce (Frühburgunder to you Germans in the crowd) which gets its name from the fact that it ripens two weeks earlier than regular Pinot Noir, and that mutation was propagated, and then one of those mutated vines was self-pollinated and one of the resulting seeds (which is genetically very similar to but still distinct from Pinot Noir Précoce) was planted and grew into Muscat Précoce de Saumur.  I have no idea if there is even a word for the kind of relationship that Huxelrebe therefore has to Pinot Noir, but it's kind of fun to think about.  Huxelrebe was originally known as Alzey S 3962, but was later named for Fritz Huxel, a Germany nurseryman who first brought the grape to prominence in the 1950's.  Huxelrebe is a prolific yielder that is also capable of very high sugar levels which, along with its susceptibility to botrytis infection, makes it a natural choice for sweet wine production.  It is grown on about 635 hectares in Germany (just over 1500 acres) and about 25 hectares (60 acres) in the UK, but those numbers have been declining in recent years.  Though it is a high-yielding variety, its aroma and flavor profile are quite assertive and this seems to have tempered most people's enthusiasm for it as a fine wine grape.

Recently I was able to find a half bottle of the 2008 Gysler Huxelrebe Beerenauslese from my friends at the Wine Bottega for around $35.  In the glass the wine was a fairly light lemon gold color.  The nose was intense with smoky, funky aromas of orange marmalade, orange peel, honey and dried apricot. On the palate the wine was full bodied with fairly high acidity.  It was very sweet with flavors of honey, orange creme, orange marmalade, and dried apricot.  The wine was very well balanced and was a real delight to drink, though the nose smelled really odd and funky.  It wasn't as complex as BA Riesling, but what it lacked in complexity, it certainly made up for in power with deep, intense pure citrus and stone fruit flavors.  I had some duck foie gras pate in my refrigerator and this wine complemented it very nicely.  It's not exactly a value wine, but I felt that the quality lined up pretty nicely with the price on it.  I'd be interested in trying a table wine made from this grape, but suspect I'll be hard pressed to find one anytime soon.


WineKnurd said...

Hey Rob, very interested in how the Huxelrebe BA compares to Riesling BA, especially with regards to acidity. Can you comment on that (more, less, about the same, etc)? Also sounds like the grape has more fruit but less mineral and petrol notes.

Rob Tebeau said...

Hi WineKnurd:

The acidity is nice in this wine, but not as lively and electric as in a Riesling, BA or otherwise. Riesling is all about grace and finesse while this is a much more straightforward, powerful kind of wine. It's nearly all fruit and definitely lacks the depth and complexity of fine Riesling, especially in regard to those secondary flavor characteristics of mineral and petrol. Think of something in between a Riesling and a Muscat or Gewurztraminer and that may give you an idea.