I first met Christoph Thörle when Wines of Germany rolled their Next Generation Germany roadshow through Toronto in May of 2014. I know that he knew based on my reactions to his Rheinhessen rieslings that we would need to rekindle the relationship at a later date. That opportunity came again in May of 2015, albeit briefly but it was this past March of 2017 that the true immersion took place. Even then it was too quick and too short. But that’s OK because Christoph and his brother Johannes have really only just begun their lifelong journey of winemaking and understanding in Saulheim.
On day three of ProWein I jumped on the großer Magie Bus with 17 international journalists and headed for the Ahr Valley, followed by the Rheinhessen. We stopped in for a visit with Christoph Thörle at Weingut Thörle in Saulheim, the most progressive winery he started with his brother in 2006 after taking over from their parents. Thörle concentrates on natural ferments and they farm organically without certification. The vineyards are planted to 50 per cent riesling, 25 pinot noir and 25 mixed varietals; including silvaner and pinot blanc. The estate structures are narrow and long, mimicked in the vineyards, a leftover from Napoleonic times. This history must be kept in mind because there are so many different terroirs that all need to be kept separate. Fossilized oysters and mussel shells are found in the limestone, plus there is clay, iron-oxide, loam and yellow sands. The blocks roll out on wave-like, hilly landscapes over land that was once submerged beneath an ocean.
The Thörle brothers make full use of their mixed vines ages and variegated terroir qualities to craft a range of riesling from Villages through Premier Cru and into Grand Cru level wines; Trocken, Feinherb, Kabinett, Spätlese and single-vineyard GGs from Hölle and Schlossberg. Their bottles of Weissburgunder and Spätburgunder are anything but afterthoughts and with climate change gaining speed, pinot noir will only increase in importance, not just at Thörle but across the Rheinhessen.
Christoph came back to Ontario this past May as a special guest speaker of the Terroir Talk Symposium. In advance of that Monday congress we spent a day in Niagara tasting at Flat Rock Cellars with cellar master Allison Findlay and then at Henry of Pelham with Daniel Speck, Ryan Corrigan of Rosewood Estates and Suzanne Janke of Stratus Vineyards. Terroir afforded the opportunity to revisit two of Christoph’s rieslings, the Kabinett and the Schlossberg GG. Back in March I tasted 11 wines at Thörle. Here are the notes.
Off-dry riesling does not always have to be bottled as such but in the Rheinhessen and at Thörle the category of Feinherb is anything but an afterthought. This started as a side fermentation in its first years but is now an important wine in the estate’s multi-tiered processes. The cuvée is gathered from younger vines plus one barrel of premier cru Saulheim fruit. A slight skin maceration (12-18 hours) is employed which helps to temper the tartaric acid though this will be swapped for whole bunch fermentation in warmer years. Hides some of its sugar, especially on the nose which is quite floral, of white flowers and honeysuckle. Honey and wax with sweet herbs bring all into playful light to taste, with plenty of sweet lime and lik-a-maid sour touches. For every Indian Food list in the world. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted March 2017 thorle_c thorleestatewinery univinscanada @ @ @ @
Thörle Riesling Saulheim 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
The Trocken and Feinherb bottles aside, this riesling denoted as Saulheim is the signature Thörle product and with succinct style represents this corner of the Rheinhessen, a renaissance region in west-central Germany, due south of Rheingau and southwest of Frankfurt. The fruit sources are several parcels and soils around the village, from vines 28-37 years old and an élèvage in 50 per cent old oak barrels. The avoidance of oaked flavours is part of the ultimate goal, that and balance in a riesling seemingly quite dry. A slight petrol aroma (perceived, or not, towards its future) submits to pure, crisp orchard fruit. Some glycerin and a mineral saltiness will aid in developing these notes over time. As opposed to other regions in Germany and their four levels of quality definitions, the Saulheim here sits between a villages and a Premier Cru, as it is written on the label and as it is defined by its soils. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Weissburgunder Saulheim 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Weissburgunder from Saulheim is dubious here as a very dry pinot blanc, presented in that between villages and cru level. The Thörle oeuvre is all about combing and combining soils, “to show the other grapes of Germany,” and expressly important for Rheinhessen. The ’15 went into 500L French Beaune (Allier) Tonneaux. A hot summer so clearly lifts ripeness but says Christoph, “we left it a little bit shorter under the flame.” The oak is 30 per cent new and it really hides it, despite the lower acidity but the wood helps to usher it along and replace the tannins not always originally there. The net function is one third naturally unforced malolactic and good crisp orchard fruit with crunch and persistence. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Riesling Hölle 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Hölle is a single-vineyard of high limestone at 35 degree steepness and housing 42 year-old vines, planted by Christoph’s grandfather. Minimal air flow in this valley during the day makes for a warm, still place. So dried fruit results; peach, apricot and plum. I find this streaking in liquid limestone chalk, glistening in glycerin consistency, nearly bone dry and popping in pearls of fine acidity. So focused and precise. This shows precocious acumen, wisdom and patience. Both the fruit and the mineral are never shadowed or will one defeat the other. Let it rest a year or two because the secondary notes will blow you away. Drink 2018-2026. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Riesling Schlossberg 2013, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Schlossberg is a vineyard in the north of the (Saulheim) village, closer to the Rhine, on clay, iron-oxide and further down, limestone. With converse effect (in relation to Hölle) this higher and cooler spot carries with it more wind and airflow. This and the tenet of a cool 2013 vintage results in quite the floral riesling but it’s also noted by the hint of smoke, flint and therefore, great potential development. The nose is full of flowers to suggest glycerin and petrol even if it’s not quite yet in tune. The body is graced by more structure and variegated soil tang. It’s not dry but it acts dry without austerity or unnecessary intensity. More roundness, body and soul. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Spätburgunder Saulheim 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Spätburgunder Saulheim is villages level, aged in 20 per cent (225L) barriques and 80 per cent old barrels for 12 months. It’s a blend of three vineyards, 30 year old and 15 year old vines. Typical for northern Rheinhessen pinot noir, with no stem inclusion, done in open top fermenters and with no added yeast. It’s a palpable mouthful of glycerin fruit, morello cherry, raspberry and a touch of sweet orange. Made in a reductive style, in avoidance of volatile acidity. Quite silky with a liquid limestone, dusty chalk feel. Much prettier and brighter than most and just enough fine grain tannin to make it last five plus years. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Spätburgunder Hölle 2014, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Hölle is pinot noir at the Grand Cru (Grosses Gewächs, Großes Gewächs, or GG) level, from the middle part of the slope where plantings owe their history to the 1971 German clone. The élèvage is 20 months in 50 per cent new barrels, similar to the Saulheim but fortified by an extra year in respect to the single vineyard. The cherries and the raspberry repeat but in a deeper liqueur with bigger grains of tannin. Though a comparison is fruitless this is the most NSG of the German pinot noir. Smoky, meaty, and blessed with full on density in structure that will allow it to travel long. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Riesling Kabinett 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Thörle’s estate level Riesling Kabinett 2015 comes from young vineyards and is harvested at the beginning of October. It’s a matter of natural fermentation in the cold cellar (at a maximum 22 degrees) and takes 8-10 weeks, then cooled further at seven to eight per cent alcohol. Green tinged, green citrus, crisp and fresh like a bite out of both a green apple and a ripe peach. Pure and refreshing Kabinett to drink by the bucketful, on the beach or wherever works, from now through its 10th birthday. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Riesling Spätlese 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
The Spätlese was harvested two to three weeks after the Kabinett and with no botrytis, in other worlds, fully healthy grapes. Looking at it now it shines lucent in a yellow-orange hue. The aromatics and flavours repeat what the colour tells them to. A bit less gregarious than the Kabinett, the nose hints at stone fruit and also a smoky, flinty note. More citrus to taste than you’d expect but this added complexity goes along with ripe peach, apricot, passion fruit and even methinks some guava. So focused, of clean lines, pure, precise, linear and inwardly intense. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Riesling Beerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
Only 350 bottles were produced of the 2011 Riesling Hölle BA (Beerenauslese), an intense Rheinhessen late harvest with “not only a little botrytis but the perfect weather for sweet wine.” Rain in September and the intangible brought on the botrytis and then warm weather persisted through the harvest. The residual number 150 is the minus for sugar but this reached 186 g/L. So much stone fruit with good acidity. Apricot, longan and mangosteen but also this sweet basil note. A wine of clarity, the freshest botrytis, so juicy and as clean a BA as you are ever going to taste. A bit of spice at the end shows further complexity. I’d like to see three years of development so that these notes all contrive to morph and begin anew. Drink 2020-2036. Tasted March 2017
Thörle Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)
The Hölle TBA 2011 is a minuscule 180 bottle single-vineyard production and the vintage was simply perfect for the effort. The process involved the collection of a few berries at a time over the course of three weeks, started in the fridge and was then pressed when the amount of approximately 100L could be obtained. “This is the king’s discipline for creating such a riesling” explains Christoph Thörle. Thick like honey, full of unctuousness and viscosity. It is expressly noticed how the colour and the development have not advanced considering the six year mean. The exoticism is what separates this, with fruits far east, creamy and perfectly easy to assimilate, in flavour, consistency and understanding. Sweet herbology, of thai basil and thyme and candied mandarin rind. Here, a piece of history and legacy from Christoph and Johannes. Drink 2021-2041. Tasted March 2017
Good to go!