On the Trail

Vom Boden's Enticing German Collection

Ryan Woodhouse

As a wine buyer, many of my friends and family think I have a dream job: “You get paid to drink wine all day!” But as I’m constantly reminding them, it ain’t all glory. Tasting hundreds of wines a week isn’t always fun—trust me! Among the K&L buying team, one expression that we frequently use is “kissing frogs.” This refers to the amount of frogs we have to kiss before we find a “princess.” I’ve never actually made notes on how many wines audition for a spot on our shelves versus how many actually get a placement, but I would guess one in twenty. 

Once in a long while, a diligent, extremely quality-oriented supplier makes our jobs so much easier. Such has been my experience with the wines of Vom Boden. This small wine importer and distributor, founded by Stephen Bitterolf, specializes in family-grown wines predominantly from Germany. Just about every wine I have tasted has impressed me. They are distinctive, but not weird. They are thought-provoking, but quaffable. They are world-class, but not overpriced. The Vom Boden portfolio has incredible diversity all sewn together by a common thread—Stephen himself sums up the founding concept perfectly: 

“They are all human-scaled wineries. They are small. It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance to us of this ‘human scale.’ Economies of scale make economic sense, but they also seem to neutralize the detail, the personality, the very thing we are searching for in wine.” 

If I had to pick one wine from our German selections right now that encapsulates what I love about Riesling, I think this would be it their 2015 Vollenweider Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett Mosel. From a historic vineyard of own-rooted vines that are up to 100 years old, this wine is a crystal-clear rendition of how the Riesling grape can so faithfully convey sense of place. The wine is loaded with wet slate, minerals, and salt, beautifully contrasted with ripe fruit, dense extract and a mellifluous texture that pervades the palate. I could geek out over this wine for hours or I could pound a bottle of it in fifteen minutes—both would be immensely enjoyable. 

Another Vom Boden winner is the 2015 Peter Lauer “Fass 8” Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett Saar. Lauer under the guidance of Florian Lauer has become a star of the Saar! He farms ridiculously steep hillside vineyards like Ayler Kupp and jokes that “steep mountain winemakers are heroes!” The wine perfectly captures what is so special about the Saar: a fierce battle between intensity and restraint. Grey slate mineral, citrus cut, jasmine, preserved ginger and spice; lees-derived texture and phenolic weight balance the structural acidity; the dash of residual sugar caresses the sharp edges but never dulls them. This is an awesome wine with so much character. 

Before this wine I don’t believe I had ever heard of Elbling or its Hild Elbling Sekt Flaschengärung, but now I have a serious crush on this much-maligned varietal—once the workhorse grape of Germany, now reduced to a few small plantings. However, some producers are dedicated to preserving the grape’s heritage and are making remarkable wines from it. Matthias Hild farms tiny ancient, walled terraces planted to Elbling in the village of Wincheringen. The soil here is the same vein of chalk and limestone you find in Chablis and Champagne. The cool climate and Elbling’s racy acidity make perfect sense for producing Sekt. The “Flaschengärung,” meaning bottle fermented, is dry, intensely mineral and has the acidity to use as an aperitif or with shellfish, crab or crudité.

If there’s such as thing as a “cult” German Pinot Noir producer, Enderle & Moll would be it. Their 2015 Enderle & Moll “Liaison” Pinot Noir Pfalz is a true labor of love (and experimentation) from friends Sven Enderle and Florian Moll. After winemaking school and stints at other wineries, they managed to procure some of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in Baden, planted in the 1950s. Biodynamic farming methods are used. Winemaking is very minimalist: wild ferments, no fining, only used French oak. The “Liaison” bottling has a beautiful interplay between the softer more exotic, seductive elements of the grape but also carries plenty of savory, gamy, animal and soil-derived characters. The light touch in the cellar is evidenced by the wine’s authentic aromas, flavors and feel. It's a beautiful Pinot Noir.

-Ryan Woodhouse