Suveræn Orange vin/ naturvin fra Carl Koch lavet på Gewurtztraminer
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Founded in the middle of the 19th century, Weingut Bürgermeister Carl Koch is one of the oldest domains, bottling and marketing wine in the Rheinhessen since 1921. However, the once prestigious domaine was almost forgotten for decades. Since the arrival of director Heiner Maleton—a good friend and a classmate of Thomas Teibert from the Domaine de l'Horizon in Calce (Roussillon), and a creative spirit like Teibert—the quality has risen dramatically. You can find several wines here—not just Riesling but also Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Gris, Chardonnay or Gewurztraminer—that are among Rheinhessen's finest, most innovative and individual wines (not just according to their inventive-enigmatic names). They are less reductive and charmingly fruit-focused than so many modern German white wines. Instead they are focusing more on the individual terroir expression, on structure and complexity. I tend to compare them with fine Alsatian wines rather than Grosse Gewächs, because they have the following qualities: a full and round body (often due to the malolactic fermentation that is never blocked and a long lees aging), a good or high fruit ripeness and great intensity, but they are neither too powerful nor too sweet. Since the vines are often pretty old they give deep, dense and expressive wines without much alcohol (rarely above 12%, even in a vintage like 2015). They tend to taste a bit old-fashioned (like the Mosel wines from Martin Müllen), but that's also one of the greatest talents in a world of conformist wines, even among so-called top producers. However, director Heiner Maleton handcrafts a range of impressive, low-tech wines that are still unnoticed on the international wine scene. They come from excellent, organically farmed vineyards such as the Oppenheimer Sackträger, Kreuz, Herrenberg or the Dienheimer Tafelstein, which have chalkier soils compared to the vineyards on the red slope in the neighboring villages of Nierstein and Nackenheim. These are full-bodied, intense and complex, very well structured and vital wines; they have rather moderate alcohol levels, but a great expression. Despite their excellent, occasionally outstanding qualities, these liquid characteristics are sold for far too cheap, probably too cheap to be taken for what they are—serious terroir wines. The problem is this: The 12-hectare domaine is owned by Heiner's taskmaster Jutta Berkes from the Stieh-Koch family, who made a fortune with Germany’s first quinine factory in the middle of the 19th century); they have important private clients and almost no exports. In a price-sensitive market like Germany, even small price adjustments can have a big negative effect on sales figures. As a result, the family cannot price lower for retailers or importers, since this wouldn't make any sense at all. So, investments take their time here… In fact, the domaine’s charm seems pretty faded and the cellar, although located in a stylishly designed winery in the backyard, may not be state of the art as well. However, Maleton encounters the supposed lack with a great feeling for wine, handcrafting skills and an intentional, low-tech approach. The grapes for the best wines are harvested by hand (in total 50%) and botrytis is never condemned when part of the vintage. Heiner Maleton always starts pretty early for certain wines, such as the Silvaner Candel or the Riesling Weg und Wiese (Path & Paddock); but he is also one of the latest finishing the harvest. For example, in 2015 he started already on September 7th with Pinot Gris, but picked the Riesling Erster Sack no earlier than October 6th. The musts for the finest wines are slightly crushed and then macerated overnight to extract as many compounds as possible from the layer between the skin and the pulp. But there is no cooling facility and the must isn’t sulfured either. "I take the material as it comes in," Maleton says. "I prefer to tame the polyphenols and tannins through natural oxidation. And the pressings are as gentle like in the Champagne," he adds. "Also, oxygen is important for the fermentation. If possible, I don't inoculate our top musts, although in certain years I prefer a smart fermentation to keep the precision and freshness in the resulting wines." Often, the malolactic fermentation seems to occur before the alcoholic fermentation has finished, Maleton believes. But in fact he doesn’t know, he just has the "feeling," since he doesn’t care that much about analytics. The wines are fermented and aged on the full lees for many months and the finest wines are bottled straight from the vats, with just one or two rackings, so some differences between bottles may occur. At the end of June, I tasted just a few wines from the immense portfolio, many of them 2015s, despite that the 2014s are on the market today. Some of the wines carry the traditional octagonal labels with the traditional vineyard names, others are rather white and have strange names—such as CruX, Candel, BWV 988 Goldberg Variationen, Weg und Wiese, Erster Sack, Rechter Sack, Linker Sack (First, right and left sack)—to reflect the fantasy and freedom of improvisation and playing around with names and in the cellar. So Carl Koch is not just a very traditional wine producer, but also a very innovative and exciting one.