It’s a while since I last visited Horst Sauer’s domain at Escherndorf by the river Main in the Franken area of Germany. I was introduced to the estate by a very distinguished German hotelier whose hotel also boasted of a Michelin-starred restaurant and a superb wine list. He took me there as proof that in an area not noted for fine wines, there can be a producer, who by hard work and dedication, can turn an area swimming in a sea of Liebfraumilch, into a haven of fine wines.
The Escherndorfer Lump is a BIG hill rising like a beacon above this sea of Liebfraumilch mediocracy and most of Horst Sauer’s vineyards are on it. Here the predominant grape is not the noble Riesling but the more humble Silvaner, perhaps considered second class, but in the hands of a master it has been demonstrated that it is sometimes possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
The winemaking now is fully in the control of Horst’s daughter, Sandra and the 18.5 ha vineyards mainly on limestone soil are divided into three distinct areas. The Escherndorfer Fürstenberg surrounds the Lump both to the east and to the west and produces most of their entry level wines, the Escherndorfer Lump sites are their Erste Lagen (= premier crus) with sloping south facing sites producing more concentrated wines and their Grosse Lage – Escherndorfer Am Lumpen 1655 – with a south facing slope that is as steep as a ski slope, producing their top level wines.
Whilst Silvaner is their main thrust, they do produce wines from Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Bacchus, Scheurebe, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Domina. However, the Masterclass concentrated on dry Silvaners.
The climate does vary considerably from year to year and it can get to 40C in the summer with frosts in the late spring sometimes, although funnily, they didn’t suffer from the frosts that seemed to affect a lot of areas in 2017. Wet vintages lead to them having to remove foliage in order to receive a sufficient amount of sunshine to allow the grapes to ripen evenly, so good husbandry is the order of the day. Most of the vines on the estate are between 20 and 30 years old, so there is reasonable maturity here.
Sandra tutor tasted us at the London Wine Fair through seven Silvaners – six dry and one sweet. The first two were the 2016 and the 2012 Escherndorfer Lump Silvaner S. Trocken just to compare the development of the wine over the years. Why “S”? Well you used to be able to have a spätlese trocken wine but now this is not allowed under German law, so they have called it “S” so that you can ascertain its pedigree. And to qualify as trocken, there has to be less than 4 grams of residual sugar. The limestone soil gives these wines a slightly smoky taste with the 2012 vintage displaying much more maturity, complexity and particularly weight than the 2016 vintage. The balance between fruit and acidity leads to a harmonious experience and is a great food wine.
Three vintages for the Eschendorfer am Lumpen Silvaner GG (Grosses Gewächt) trocken outline the vintage variations. The 2015 – considered a near perfect vintage shows real finesse with ripe complexity and enough grip to last several years yet, 2013 was a much more difficult vintage – the challenge here was that it was a late flowering vintage where they had to remove leaves in order to get a sufficient amount of sunshine on the grapes in order for them to ripen sufficiently. It certainly worked – the complexity and great persistence of this wine was the reward for some real care and attention to detail during the growing season. 2011 was another difficult vintage – a very frosty spring and a wettish summer led to around 5% of botrytised fruit in the wine but, if anything, this prevented the wine from being too austere. The richness of these Grosse Lage wines does put them a cut above the already impressive Erste Lage ones and there is a significant price difference – the latter retailing for around €12 in Germany and the former between €23 and €25.
Next, Sandra showed us her Sehnsucht Silvaner trocken from the superb 2015 vintage. This is a blend of fruit from the Escherndorfer Lump and the Escherndorfer Fürstenberg vineyards and whilst perhaps not having as much of the richness of the previous wines, it nevertheless displays complexity and balance and again is a wine that will keep for many years. €19 in Germany.
Finally, the 2015 Escherndorfer Lump Silvaner Trockenbeerenauslese – 290 grams of residual sugar with a great streak of acidity running down the middle giving it superb balance of sweetness and acidity. 6.5% abv and €36 for a 50cl bottle is outstanding rapport qualité/prix, as the French would have it. And whilst these wines are available in France, there is as yet, no UK importer, which is a pity since these wines would grace any restaurant wines list that prizes quality and diversity over expedience.
Whilst Horst and Sandra clearly demonstrate the heights that can be achieved with this modest grape varietal, they do also produce wines from Riesling and other grapes with equal success.
By Neville Blech
You can read Neville’s assessment on the estate with ratings on their wines on the online version of Wine Behind the Label and their Germany guide. Circle members are invited to one year’s free membership to the website which also scores you a discount on his special wine dinners on The Yacht at Temple station, London.