The Must-Visit Wine Region Full of Surprises

Embracing the Juxtaposition of Modernity and Tradition in Pfalz


I spent my first afternoon in Pfalz strolling through the quaint village of Deidesheim. It is classic Germany – story book houses, window boxes overflowing with colorful flowers, and a welcoming fountain surrounded by cafes in the town square. As this was my first visit to a German wine region, I assumed I would be enjoying a bounty of Riesling (presumably with an abundance of sausage and sour kraut) all week. I was wrong. Pfalz is a dynamic region full of surprises – most notably a tension between tradition and modernity.

A quarter of all vineyard plantings in Pflaz is Riesling. But the dynamic winemakers in Pfalz make great wines from a wider variety of grapes than anywhere else in Germany. Dornfelder, Müller-Thurgau, Spätburgunder, Grauburgunder, Portugieser, Weißburgunder, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay are all seen in portfolios throughout Pfalz. Sadly, not many of these varietals make it to the United States, making Pfalz a vacation must.
Pfalz lies within Germany’s Rhineland; however, its climate is less influenced by the Rhine River and more by the Haardt Mountains, allowing for extended sunlight and resulting in wines that are fruitier and more approachable, while still maintaining high levels acidity. This means two things – in Pfalz trocken means bone dry, yet rather than austere and piercing the wines are relaxed, round, and approachable.

Throughout the week in Pfalz, my experiences kept taking me to the intersection of tradition and modernity.

Dr Bürklin-Wolf
The first wine I tasted was a 2013 Dr Bürklin-Wolf Wachenheimer Riesling. It was fresh on the nose – floral, stone fruit, citrus with loads of lemon zest and graphite, a fabulous first sip. The dryness challenged my expectations, a modern wine from a winery dating back to the 16th century. I proceeded to enjoy many additional Dr Bürklin-Wolf wines at the winery and at dinner, including a sparkling, a gorgeous sweet Auslese Riesling, and my favorite – 2015 Gaisbohl Riesling GG, a single vineyard Grand Cru that was rich, elegant, a pleasing balance of fresh fruit and minerality, and bone dry. The wines were paired with fresh local food, goat cheese, salad, roasted fish with root vegetables, demonstrating their flexibility with modern food pairings from a winery steeped in tradition.  

Weingut Hammel
Christoph Hammel embodies Pfalz’s embrace of modern individualism. He is opinionated, outspoken, and charming. This 8th generation winemaker at Weingut Hammel shared his concerns about climate change as he poured a deep pink rosé. He witnesses the German climate evolving to become more like Marlborough, New Zealand. With this in mind he has adoptrosé into his portfolio to prepare for the future. He believes “Germany is a sleeping giant when it comes to rosé,” noting as the climate continues to change “rosé is becoming a year round wine.” As a renegade, he is also producing Scheurebe Trocken and Liebfraumelch (a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, and Chardonnay). It was here I met a lovely transgender German Wine Princess, a long standing German tradition with a very modern twist.

Weingut Ludi Neiss
It wasn’t until visiting Weingut Ludi Neiss that I stepped into my first German vineyard and enjoyed my first Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) in Pfalz. With a favorable climate due to the Haardt Mountains, many historical vineyards in Pfalz are today biodynamic, organic, or sustainable. Additionally, like many Pfalz producers, Ludi Neiss has forgone the complicated wine labels, opting instead for an easy to read label marketed to the United States wine consumer. I found the labels a refreshingly modern change.

Weingut Georg Mosbacher
Weingut Georg Mosbacher, a well-respected Pfalz winery, fit right into the dynamic reputation of the region. Sabine Mosbacher shared her 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 Cabernet Blanc, and many grand cru single vineyard Rieslings. It was my first experience tasting Cabernet Blanc, a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon with a hybrid grape that tastes similar to Sauvignon Blanc with a Riesling texture. Highly recommend seeking out Georg Mosbacher wines.

Weingut Pfeffingen
While in Pfalz I attended my first Hoffest at Weingut Pfeffingen. The quintessentially German community wide food and wine celebration was a blast. Along with Weingut Pfeffingen’s high quality Riesling, Scheurebe, Spätburgunder and Gewürztraminer, I enjoyed modern offerings of fresh avocados, salad, focaccia bread, and mozzarella. A food and wine feast!

Weingut Von Buhl
Weingut Von Buhl was founded in 1849, with cellars dating back to its beginning. However, its production techniques and wines are fully modern. I could not believe my nose when I was handed a glass of the 2015 Riesling Sekt Brut, the autolysis notes took me to Champagne. I was equally struck by the 2017 Bone Dry Riesling and Rosé, both modern in style and label presentation. I later learned winemaker Mathieu Kauffman spent twelve years as cellar master at Bollinger and grew up in Alsace. Kauffman’s background is a recipe for success as Von Buhl looks to the future.

Weingut Weegmüller
Weingut Weegmüller is run by Gabrielle and her sister Stephanie, the first female wine maker in Germany. Stephanie faced obstacles in a male dominated occupation, mainly saying with a smile “there was only one toilet.” Her first vintage was in 1984 with her father, she took over winemaking in 1988. Weegmüller focuses on white varietals, mainly Riesling, Scheurebe, Weißer Burgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Gewürztraminer. They, like many others, have embraced organic wine making. Gabrielle explained making organic wine in Pfalz is easy because “they are living in the Garden of Eden.”

Weingut Jülg and Weingut Friedrich Becker
The next two wineries visited further illustrate the dynamic nature of Pfalz because both wineries’ vineyards lie in France. Weingut Jülg and Weingut Friedrich Becker lie within a stone’s throw of the French border. Prior to World War II both wineries owned vineyards in Alsace, which at the time was Germany. After the war the French retained possession of the vineyards until the mid-1980’s when, according to Johannes Jülg, it was returned to the Germans. Today, both wineries are producing high quality Riesling, Weißer Burgunder, and Spätburgunder. The wines are young, modern, fresh, and easily drinkable.

A delicious homemade lunch at Weingut Jülg was the only time in my week in Pfalz that I experienced “traditional” German cuisine. Saumagen (a popular Palatinate dish of “sow’s stomach”) was served alongside liver, sausage, salad, sour kraut and roasted potatoes. To be honest I ate vegetarian at this lunch, but the sour kraut and roasted potatoes were incredible.

Weingut Bassermann-Jordan
My educational Pfalz week was coming to an end, but not before one last delicious dinner and wine tasting. Weingut Bassermann-Jordan, along with Dr Bürklin-Wolf, is one of Pfalz oldest wineries and founding members of the VDP, Germany’s top wine quality assurance organization. A fitting end to a dynamic week included enjoying many high quality Bassermann-Jordan wines ranging from single vineyard dry Riesling, to the 2015 Deux Nez – a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, and concluding with beautifully balanced Gewürztraminer Auslese. Each wine paired beautifully with pesto salad, truffle ravioli, and a light hazelnut parfait. After a modern meal with modern wines, my final Pfalz journey took me into the Bassermann-Jordan cellar dating back to the early 19th century. I found this an apropos ending to a dynamic week exploring the juxtaposition of modernity and tradition in wine, food, and culture – Pfalz.

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