Württemberg Wines: Worth a Detour

An amphitheatre of vines above Kerner-Stetten, Württemberg

Okay, time for a quick and dirty geography lesson (with apologies to my German readers): Baden-Württemberg is the German Land (state) just across the Rhine from us in Alsace. It’s a prosperous place, home of Daimler, Porsche, Zeiss and a whole bunch of Mittelstand companies, backbone of the German economy. Northerners come down here to play (the Black Forest is at the heart of B-W), and to seek the sun – the state sells itself as the Sunny Side of Germany. Best of all – well, for us near neighbours – this is a region with serious food and wine pretensions. It has more Michelin stars than you could shake a stick at, and the wines (especially Spätburgunder, with Grau- and Weiss- close behind) consistently outperform their peers in international tastings.

Baden-Württemberg is actually two states, united (some claim) only by the hyphen that binds their two names together. I’ve got to know Baden quite well of late – it’s the first bit we hit when we cross over from Alsace. But the more easterly Württemberg has always been a bit of a closed book. At a recent celebratory splurge at Restaurant Bareiss in Baiersbronn, sommelier Jürgen Fendt slipped a couple of Württemberg wines into the tasting menu: a juicy Sauvignon Blanc and an elegant Grauburgunder. Worth a detour, we asked? Definitely, beamed the bespectacled Fendt – and promptly made appointments for us to visit three wineries the next day.

First stop was in the (aptly named) Weinstadt in the Remstal, east of Stuttgart – a region Fendt describes as ‘a real hotspot’. Sven Ellwanger of Bernhard Ellwanger is one of the so-called Junges Schwaben, a loose association of 5 bright, young, complicitous wine growers from this noteworthy valley. They all work independently, making a range of wines (red and white), but every year each puts forward a flagship wine, one that’s especially representative of their particular terroir and house style. This goes out under the Junges Schwaben label – in Ellwanger’s case a crunchy, fruity Sauvignon Blanc (above), which in these days of global warming manages to achieve full ripeness even this far north. Though Ellwanger worked in New Zealand, he describes his Sauvignon as “more Loire than New Zealand”.

Next up was Jochen Beurer in nearby Kernen-Stetten, a resolutely non-interventionist biodynamic grower who left the local co-op in 1997 to focus on quality. His strong suit is Riesling, of which he has a dazzling range from a number of named vineyards with different soils/expositions/microclimates, all scattered around the village. Racy, elegant and low in alcohol (11-12.5%), they’re rapier-sharp and palate-tingling, with a brilliant tension between sweetness and acidity. Beurer takes water conservation extremely seriously: on the back of his VW van is a sign with the recommendation: ‘Conserve water; drink wine.’

barriques in Rainer Schnaitmann's cellar

Last call on our whistle-stop Württemberg tour was Rainer Schnaitmann in Fellbach. Like Beurer, Schnaitmann pulled out of the co-op in 1997 with the aim of taking his wines into a quite different, quality register. In just 14 years, he’s gone from 3ha to 24ha and built up an impressive reputation, notably for his world-class Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). Faithful to his Württemberger roots, he still makes Trollinger, the local red that  Schnaitmann describe as “the worker’s wine – light and thirst-quenching” – typically you’ll find it offered by the glass or Viertel (quarter litre) in any little Gasthof. Schnaitmann’s Trollinger, from old vines and low yields, is in a different league and won him a prize for the best wine from an underrated variety. I loved his spicy, lively Lemberger (aka Blaufränkisch), a variety that’s new to me. The top wine, which has won him countless medals and accolades, is the Simonroth Lämmler Spätburgunder Grosses Gewachs. It sells ex-cellar for 42 euros – “expensive for Württemberg”, he acknowledges cheerfully, “but less than top Pinots from Baden”.

All wines are available direct from the domaine, or from Bernd Kreis’s Stuttgart-based online shop WeinhandlungKreis. Schnaitmann wines are imported into the US by Rudi Wiest Selections.

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