Dr. Martin Tesch
They say that wine always tastes better with the winemaker. I’m inclined to agree, especially when it comes to someone like Martin Tesch, who dropped by Vancouver last week. Then again, I happen to know they show just as well without him. It’s not hard to like Tesch—or his wines, for that matter.
Besides, all he makes is Riesling. And he makes it very well.
Need I really say more?
Dr. Tesch (he graduated in bio-chemistry) is smart, witty and very engaging. In fact, he’s a natural, one of those people who just loves to talk wine but in a way that’s completely un-intimidating. He’s also the first winemaker I’ve met who’s come to a tasting equipped with a 3D vineyard map (that shows the relationship of the single vineyards to each other and the River Nahe) and 3D glasses for everyone…!
However, to really appreciate what he’s achieved you need to understand a little bit about the German wine industry. And how it’s progressed in the last few years—thanks in no small part to the likes of Tesch.
The Tesch Focus …
There was a time, not all that long ago, when it was all but illegal to mess with the hallowed laws of German wine labeling. But Tesch did just that, when he became involved with his father’s estate, which you could say has been in the family for a few years—since 1723 to be precise. (Even that’s relatively recent history. It was the Romans who first brought vines to Nahe, in what is now Germany.)
Tesch decided he wanted to focus on making just one style of wine: Dry Riesling. He reduced the family’s plantings by one third, removing the varieties in which he had no interest—but leaving the Riesling old vines untouched, as well as some Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) and Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).
“I am standing on the shoulders of my father, in terms of these wines,” he says.
Then he went to work on the labels. Tesch really wanted to convey a simple message, so (in 2002) he renamed his principal wine “Unplugged.” In addition to conveying the notion of an unadulterated expression of the grape, the musical reference was deliberate. And remains so. Hesch has no shortage of friends in the music business, including any number of high profile bands.
He says his training as a biochemist came in handy. “I did not know any (wine) rules as in what you should do or not do—so I couldn’t break them on purpose,” he laughs.
Reaction to the renaming ranged from outright shock to amusement. “Although a lot of industry people just hated the package, the consumer loved it,” says Tesch. And so did some of the more popular bans! Riesling Unplugged won rapid fame. And today they’re pouring it by the glass at the Waldorf Astoria… “
As it turned out it was the best thing to do,” says Tesch—who was also the first to introduce the Stelvin screw cap to Germany. And he wasn’t finished.
A Colourful Departure
Even though the winery’s five single vineyard sites date from the middle ages, when the Bishop of Rheims ordained that Riesling would be grown, pronouncing names like Köningsschild, Löhrer Berg or St. Remigiusberg wasn’t easy for everyone. “Reading German wine labels is a black art,” jokes Tesch.
He decided the simplest thing would be to colour code the labels by vineyard. If you are a Riesling lover, do yourself a favour and track down the vibrant, mineral driven and quite spicy Karthauser 2012 (brown label). BCLS $27.99 92 pts.
“Some people couldn’t handle it but it was a breakthrough. Ultimately, people want to know the name of the winery name of the winery (and the vineyard) the varietal and the vintage,” says Tesch.
As for those colours? They were all ‘stolen’ from the London Underground map, he admits!
Yes. Riesling does Rule
There’s (still) much discussion (ad nauseum) as to whether Riesling is, finally, on the rise. I’d say that a tasting such as this underscores the reality that it truly is; and provides no shortage of evidence as to just why.
Tesch poured wines from all five single vineyard sites. Then followed them up with a selection of older vintages for comparison.
It’s hard to pick favourites from a lineup like this. I scored the Tesch Koningsschild 2012 the highest, especially for its complex layers and lingering minerality. (The 2007 offered a demonstration of how it should evolve, tropical and citrus layered with schist notes and even more harmonious minerality.) Watch for it soon at BCLS $34.99 / 94 pts.
The Tesch Karthauser 2012 (92 points) delivers amazing value for $27.99 and if you can find any of the remarkably honeyed 2009 kicking around the LDB you should grab it now.
These wines were served with a selection of shellfish and seafood. I found it interesting how they each paired. Somewhat subjective, for sure but I found the broad palate and bright acidity of the Karthauser superb with the richness of mussels; and the minerality of the Koningsschild was even more enhanced by raw oysters on the half shell. But I’m splitting hairs. While the citrus and slate toned Krone worked well with seared tuna, I wouldn’t have a problem also pairing it with oysters. Let’s just say there’s a reason why this variety is so celebrated by chefs.
If you’re into Riesling, you likely already know these wines. (If you don’t, you should.)
And if you’re not into Riesling, any oneof these wines will soon make sure you are.
Or, as Riesling Guru Stewart Piggot says…
The question is “no longer whether to Tesch or not to Tesch, but how to Tesch and when to Tesch.”
Belly’s Best (value)
• Tesch Riesling Unplugged 2012. Zingy, mineral, green apple and citrus wrapped in juicy, vibrant acidity. Fresh shucked oysters, for sure, and a splash of lemon. Nothing more. BCLS $19.99, 90 pts
(Most of the above material appeared last weekend in the North Shore News)