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Hofgut Wörner
the shimmering, shocking
crystalline high-altitude
world of the unknown Baden

{ How could Riesling from Baden be so clear, so invigorating and soil-driven? I just couldn't wrap my head around it. That's when Matthias Wörner, the young winemaker sitting across the table from me, said: "You know these are among the highest-elevation vineyards in Germany... and they all face east and west, none face south. }
sold out

And that's when I put down my glass and just started shaking my head in disbelief.

Now, these vineyards are only around 400 meters (just over 1,300 feet) high. So they are not wildly high-altitude but it's a factor I just honestly hadn't considered.* A big part of the journey of Source Material is exploring the meaningful world of German wine beyond the regions we know. Honestly, this is the absolute greatest part of this gig - the discovery.

The truth is I went to northern Baden to scratch an esoteric, German-wine-dork itch: to taste the historic wines of the Klingelberg - to taste a Klingelberger. In the late 1700s a vineyard here was planted only with Riesling, becoming what most historians believe was the first single-varietal vineyard in all of Baden. In the centuries since, out of respect, this tiny corner of Baden has used the term Klingelberger as a synonym for Riesling.

When you read books on German wine from the first half of the 20th century, the term Klingelberg comes up often in the discussions of Baden, even though the word has faded from our more contemporary consciousness.

If Baden has any reputation in the U.S. at the moment, it is likely as the most important red-wine region in Germany - the land of Pinot Noir. The names of the top growers come quickly and easily to mind: Enderle & Moll, Wasenhaus, Ziereisen. However, as counter-intuitive as it might feel to us now, the culture of fine wine in Baden in the early days was likely neither red, nor did it start in the warmer, more southern parts of Baden. It started here and it started with Riesling.

Sitting in the tasting room of young Matthais Wörner, you can look out a window and see the actual castle of Klingelberg, the origin story of Baden's fine-wine viticulture.

Given all this history, what I found here shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. I guess I expected to find a sort of mediocre, plump Riesling with all the energy of a lazy summer afternoon.

What I found instead, at least under the obviously talented hand of Matthias Wörner, was a white wine culture of freshness; wines with a vibrating energy that made them resonate and shimmer. I also found one of the best affordable bottles I've had in a long, long time - the "Steillage Weiss" - and I drink a lot of affordable bottles. Grab as much as you can because this wine, at the moment, is hen's teeth.

Matthias said when he was young other winemakers used to laugh about how long the snow stayed in their vineyards in the spring, with the altitude and east-west exposures. He added quietly, "They don't laugh anymore."

Yes, the wines have a sheened and glossy fruit, a sort of saturating, ultra-polished mid-palate. They have some punch; there is an extract-rich glaze to the mid-palate that might remind one of the Rheinhessen, yet there is also something very unique about the mineral expression.

For the second time in our short tasting, I looked at him a bit confused. That's when he said, "You know the soils here are pretty unique for Germany - granite and gneiss."

Again with the head shake; there is always something a bit textural about the expression of granite, something exceedingly gripping. This is what gave the wines their energy and definition, this is what held it all easily in check.

Matthias Wörner's first vintage was only 2017; the fact he is making wines of this clarity and fine-ness only a few years into his career is sorta mind-boggling honestly. The family has grown grapes for many decades; growing up here he worked the vineyards, but the grapes were then sold to a local winery. Matthias said to me: "I knew the taste of grapes, but not the taste of wine." He went to work with a few wineries in Baden and developed that taste for wine. This brought him to Geisenheim and then back to the estate to try to bring this region, Durbach, back to its historic fame. Or just to make some honest wines that speak to this truly unique place.

A "Hofgut" is a small farm, normally something more than just a winery. Beyond the five hectares of vineyards the family owns (Matthias uses only about 1.5 hectares for his own project, these wines, the rest is still sold to another winery for the moment), Matthias works two hectares of orchards and manages seven hectares of forests up beyond the vineyards in the Black Forest.

This is obviously just the first page in a narrative that is just beginning. Yet I implore people to indulge here. First, the wines are incredibly affordable. Second, they are great - and third - here is your chance to achieve a truly elite wine-dork status by bringing a Klingelberger to your next birthday party.

And finally, support the younger generation as they begin their careers and continue this beautiful and delicious work.

Hofgut Wörner

2020 "Steillage Weiss" 
This is the "entry-level" wine - it's the first wine Matthias poured me as we sat down and... what can I say - somehow it's perfect. This is easily one of the most put-together and delicious-yet-thoughtful affordable wines I've had in a long time, a curious 50/50 blend of Müller-Thurgau and Riesling. This is a blend that I'm not sure I've had before, in these proportions, and I sorta wonder why not after having had this: the Müller-Thurgau gives the wine a little more airy fullness, a little more width without weight, and the Riesling gives it well... that deliciousness factor, the zip and cut and energy. This is just a great damn bottle that you will empty quickly. I can't exactly articulate why, but it felt like a *very* well put-together bottle. I loved it. We are bringing in everything Matthias will sell us, so grab as much as you can because it's not much.

2020 Riesling "Klingelberger"
This is it, your ticket to the wonderful and eclectic world of German wine culture and history - your first bottle of Klingelberger? Hell yes. This is 100% Riesling sourced from the steep, high-ish altitude Riesling vineyards surrounding Matthias' farm. The soil here is granite and gneiss. The fruit is direct-pressed (no skin contact) up to very high levels of pressure (5 bars), to really squeeze out all the extract, leading to an über-dense wine. The fermentation is 100% natural and the élevage is normally a mix of old barrels and stainless steel. The resulting wine is both sleek and fruity, showing a sheened glaze of fruit that never hits the "exotic" level, but can be quite expressive... and all of this is wrapped up tightly by this invigorating acidity and very gripping mineral structure. This push-pull of density and lift makes the wine have a really compelling intrigue, like a cool vineyard of Alsace being put in the Saar - something like this. A truly beautiful and singular expression of Riesling... I mean Klingelberger!

* Considerations in elevation: I don't want to play this up too much, but I also don't want to short sell this factor simply because I hadn't considered it much in regards to German wine. Still, some context seems useful. The general elevation of the Mosel seems to be around 100 or so meters - Piesport is at exactly 119 meters. Klausen, a small village at the top of the Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, sits at about 245 meters. In this context, 400 meters is not nothing.

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