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Scharzhofberger Kabinett, Egon Müller 2012

White Wine from Germany - Mosel - Saar - Ruwer
Egon Müller owns 16 hectares, of which half are rooted in the pure slate of the steep, south-facing Scharzhofberg hill, one of Germany's coolest growing spots, and yet producing one of its greatest wines. Sublime Mosel of lightness, purity and finesse. A keeper.
is no longer available
Code: GE8121

Wine characteristics

  • White Wine
  • 3 - Dry, rich
  • Riesling
  • 9% Alcohol
  • No oak influence
  • Now to 2032
  • Cork, natural

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

These are the best low-alcohol wines in the world, with an extraordinary amount of fruit, character and elegance for only 7%–9% alcohol. The most ageworthy wines here have a greater or lesser degree of natural sweetness which enhances the bouquet and flavour. The villages of the Middle Mosel which have the best-exposed sites (steep slopes facing south are privileged this far north) and soil to match (typically, crumbled slate which conserves the sun’s warmth) are in the villages of Piesport, Brauneberg, Wehlen and Erden. Riesling from Saar, Wiltingen, Scharzhofberg, Oberemmel, Kanzem and Saarburg and from Eitelsbach, Grünhauss and Kasel in the Ruwer have been exceptionally good in recent years too.

Saar rieslings have higher acidity and a steelier character than those of the Middle Mosel (the slopes are gentler and less protected), but have incomparable brilliance in great years.

Germany has suffered something of an image crisis in recent decades when its fame for quality wines that ...
These are the best low-alcohol wines in the world, with an extraordinary amount of fruit, character and elegance for only 7%–9% alcohol. The most ageworthy wines here have a greater or lesser degree of natural sweetness which enhances the bouquet and flavour. The villages of the Middle Mosel which have the best-exposed sites (steep slopes facing south are privileged this far north) and soil to match (typically, crumbled slate which conserves the sun’s warmth) are in the villages of Piesport, Brauneberg, Wehlen and Erden. Riesling from Saar, Wiltingen, Scharzhofberg, Oberemmel, Kanzem and Saarburg and from Eitelsbach, Grünhauss and Kasel in the Ruwer have been exceptionally good in recent years too.

Saar rieslings have higher acidity and a steelier character than those of the Middle Mosel (the slopes are gentler and less protected), but have incomparable brilliance in great years.

Germany has suffered something of an image crisis in recent decades when its fame for quality wines that at one time rivalled the first growths of Bordeaux in price was diluted by a sea of cheaper white wines from undistinguished vineyards, often made by undistinguished co-operatives. However, the high-quality wines were always there, made by conscientious and often brilliant winemakers from very specific sites of historical repute. There is a history of winemaking in Germany dating back to the 1st century BC and throughout the years of the Roman Empire when popular Rhenish wines were exported to Britain. Today, though there are still many mass produced wines, Germany has seen something of a revival, sometimes called the ‘Riesling Renaissance’, and produces more great wines than ever in a wider range of styles, often drier and increasingly red. A new generation of winemakers has arisen who have learned new ideas, often having spent time overseas making wine. In this they have been aided by the warming effects of climate change, giving them consistently ripe grapes to work with, and an increasing pride in German wines within the country itself.

Germany possesses 13 wine-producing areas, called anbaugebiete. These are sub-divided into districts called bereich and within these bereichs are communes, clusters of neighbouring vineyards called grosslage, and named vineyard sites or einzellage that have proved themselves over the centuries to be the places where the elements of terroir all come together in an essential harmony. The majority of these anbaugebieten are in the south and south-west of the country and often along river valleys, with the most famous clustered along the Rhine and in the valleys of the rivers Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It is in these latter two areas that Germany’s most prestigious einzellage reside and from whence come the most famous wines. The rivers have a moderating effect on temperatures, helping to keep them up when it is cold and lowering them a little when it is hot. Steep slopes and the soils found on them can have an effect on the ripening of the grapes by providing propitious aspects and by acting as storage heaters and reflectors of sunlight respectively.

The German wine regions enjoy a continental climate of cold winters and warm summers, with the additional benefit of long, warm autumns allowing grapes to mature fully in the more northerly latitudes. Soils vary greatly from region to region with the weathered slate of the best Mosel-Saar-Ruwer vineyards being the most famous.

German wine law, while perfectly logical on one level and created to protect the interests of growers, is not always clear and user-friendly for the consumer unfamiliar with it. While geographical and grape varieties are governed the distinguishing feature of German wine law is the central role that the sugar level of grapes at harvest plays, expressed in degrees Oechsle. It is the main factor in determining the classification of the wine. The riper the grapes the higher the degrees Oechsle and potentially the higher the classification no matter the location or reputation of the vineyard. Incidentally, this needn’t always translate into sweetness in the finished wine as a must high in sugar may still be fermented to dryness.

The levels of classification, above the most basic Wein and Geschützte Geographische Angabe (equivalent of vin de table and vin de pays respectively) are as follows:

Geschützte Urspungsbezeichnung, previously Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) – meaning Protected Designation of Origin.

Qualitätswein – a chaptalized wine, one to which sugar has been added before fermentation to increase its alcoholic strength, from a named grape variety. The wine is tested for quality.

Kabinett – naturally dry or off-dry (ie unchaptalised) with a distinctive character. Usually lightest of the quality levels but can still be very high-quality.

Spätlese – Spät means late and lese means harvest. Sweeter and fuller-bodied than kabinett due to later harvesting or a particularly beneficial site leading to higher sugar levels, though the wines are sometimes fermented to dryness.

Auslese – Translates as ‘selected harvest’. This level has higher sugar levels at harvest than spätlese’ and may be made from selected bunches of particular ripeness that may have been affected by botrytis or noble rot (known in Germany as edelfaule).

Beerenauslese – Beeren is berries in German so wines at this level are usually made from individually selected berries probably affected by edelfaule. They are luscious sweet wines.

Trocken beerenauslese – Trocken translates as dry. This refers to the shrivelled nature of the berries, affected by botrytis until there is little juice remaining in the grape. They are only made in great vintages and have very high levels of sugar balanced by high acidity. They are mouth-coating, rich wines of great concentration, rare and expensive.

For a fuller description of Germany and its wines and wine regions please see our How To Buy German Wines page on our website.

German wine law

German wine legislation has done its best to make things complicated. Logical in their way, and designed to be democratically fair to winegrowers, the rules lack a common-sense awareness of what wine drinkers want to know. The four most important pieces of information on a German wine label are the name of the grower, the origin of the grape variety, the vineyard and an indication of whether the wine is dry or sweet. The recent move to simplify estate names and origin of the grapes and to remove Gothic script, which made names unreadable and hard to pronounce for linguistically challenged Brits, is welcome.

Germany has a continental climate and this far north it is close to the limit for ripening grapes. Consequently early-ripening varieties are the most successful with riesling chief among them. Though the latitude is not helpful, and rain can come throughout the growing season, the presence of the rivers and the shelter of the valleys ameliorate the effects of cold and heat when it comes. Autumns are often warm and long, providing the conditions for ripening and often allowing vines to hang on the vines well into the colder winter months to be made into sweeter styles.

Labelling
German wine legislation has done its best to make things complicated. Logical in their way, and designed to be democratically fair to winegrowers, the rules lack a common-sense awareness of what wine drinkers want to know. The four most important pieces of information on a German wine label are the name of the grower, the origin of the grape variety, the vineyard and an indication of whether the wine is dry or sweet.

The recent move to simplify estate names and origin of the grapes and to remove Gothic script, which made names unreadable and hard to pronounce for linguistically challenged Brits, is welcome.

The German home market, which buys most German wine, prefers wines that are totally dry to go with food. A high percentage of the wine that most estates produce is therefore dry. The only grape variety for which this does not necessarily always work well is the one that makes Germany’s greatest wines: riesling. The natural balance of wine made from riesling is often made complete by the retention of natural sweetness. The bouquet is enhanced, the wines keep better, and the alcohol level (because not all the grape sugar is fermented out) is lower, which suits the style of the grape.

German wine laws classify the quality of a wine according to the degree of sugar the crushed grapes contain, but this is a pretty unhelpful guide. A wine may be called Spätlese (literally ‘late-picked’ but in reality, not necessarily so) if the minimum must weight (also Oechsle) is about 80° (a potential alcohol of 10%). But Spätlese wines are often made from grapes with higher must weight than this, and can be fermented out dry to 10% alcohol, or left with some sweetness at 8.5%. Auslese (literally ‘a selective picking’) has a minimum must weight of about 90° Oechsle with a potential alcohol of 12% if the wine is dry, although in this country we are more used to Auslese being sweet, and around 8% alcohol.

Remember, however, that a German wine with a sweetness of 4 or 5 (medium dry to medium sweet) will be delicious as an aperitif and with food, because the natural sweetness is always balanced by fruit acidity. Think of a perfect British-grown ripe Cox or Ribston apple.

Many other grapes are grown in Germany successfully, particularly in the warmer more southerly vineyards, and there are increasingly fine pinot noir wines from the Ahr valley, but they produce wines that can be equalled and usually bettered in other parts of the world. Riesling, of course, is successfully grown elsewhere, but nowhere does it produce such delicate, multifaceted results as it does in Germany’s great vineyards. Reds are increasingly made and some 40% of Germany’s total vineyard area is planted with red varieties.
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Weingut Egon Müller-Scharzhof

There are many who would make the case that the Scharzhofberg vineyard is the very best riesling estate in Germany. A steep south-facing slate slope in a side valley just off the Saar river, it has excellent drainage and warms quickly in what is a relatively cool location. Here the riesling grape ripens slowly and evenly to develop wonderful concentration and complexity.

Egon Müller IV took over the stewardship of his family's share of this famous estate from his father in 1991. Born in 1959, he comes from a long, long line of winemakers there, dating back to 1797 when Müller’s great-great grandfather Jean-Jacques Koch bought the land from the Republique Francais who, at that time, occupied the Electorate of Trier.

The winemaking philosophy is one of minimal intervention. Egon Müller, like many a winemaker intent on producing the very best wine they can, believes that quality can only be created in the vineyard. He harvests late, unsurprisingly by hand given the precipitous slope, with a team of forty pickers who each carries two baskets – one for the healthy grapes and one for grapes infected with botrytis which will go to make superb sweet wines. Each parcel is vinified separately, and fermentation in old 1,000-litre fuders can carry on into January. The wine then matures in the Fuders until March at which point it is bottled. Though this is relatively early to bottle, Egon wants to capture the freshness of the wines and he says that they drink beautifully for the first...
There are many who would make the case that the Scharzhofberg vineyard is the very best riesling estate in Germany. A steep south-facing slate slope in a side valley just off the Saar river, it has excellent drainage and warms quickly in what is a relatively cool location. Here the riesling grape ripens slowly and evenly to develop wonderful concentration and complexity.

Egon Müller IV took over the stewardship of his family's share of this famous estate from his father in 1991. Born in 1959, he comes from a long, long line of winemakers there, dating back to 1797 when Müller’s great-great grandfather Jean-Jacques Koch bought the land from the Republique Francais who, at that time, occupied the Electorate of Trier.

The winemaking philosophy is one of minimal intervention. Egon Müller, like many a winemaker intent on producing the very best wine they can, believes that quality can only be created in the vineyard. He harvests late, unsurprisingly by hand given the precipitous slope, with a team of forty pickers who each carries two baskets – one for the healthy grapes and one for grapes infected with botrytis which will go to make superb sweet wines. Each parcel is vinified separately, and fermentation in old 1,000-litre fuders can carry on into January. The wine then matures in the Fuders until March at which point it is bottled. Though this is relatively early to bottle, Egon wants to capture the freshness of the wines and he says that they drink beautifully for the first three years before closing up a little for a further ten. The structure and complexity to allow them to mature even further has been provided by the site and Egon Müller's care, and the longevity of the estate’s wines is legendary.
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Germany Vintage 2012

An outstanding riesling vintage made from generally low yields from a long growing season. There was plenty of sunshine from August through October without temperatures getting too hot and allied with cool nights, for the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly, and riesling in particular benefited from such conditions to develop aromatics and flavour.

Low yields (the best producers were down by some 30%) after a tricky beginning to the year were a further aid to concentration. There is great freshness, balance and length of flavour in the best wines.

2012 vintage reviews

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