By Richard Kitowski
Rainer Lingenfelder is known as a rebel, for pushing the limits and breaking new ground when it comes to winemaking. He was the first winemaker in Germany to barrique age red wine (try the Dornfelder Onyx), and when he set his sights on raising the standard for German sparkling wine one just knew the outcome was going to be something out of the ordinary. For anyone who has tasted Satyr – the first commercial release of a new sparkling wine from Lingenfelder Estate Winery – you’ve already discovered this to be so.
Lingenfelder talks passionately about this new wine. While not commenting negatively on the more prestigious Champagne, Rainer quickly points out that the process of making Champagne has not substantially changed for over 200 years – a process, for example, that also allows the addition of crystal sugar at various stages.
By comparison, German viticultural and winemaking philosophies are more “non-interventionist” and unchaptalized wines are considered to be purer, and of a higher quality (Prädikatswein), than those which receive the addition of sugar. Such “natural” wines are therefore the direct reflection of the site (Lage), the ultimate goal of the German winemaker.
This is the model Lingenfelder used when he approached the making of Satyr (named after the minor Greek gods who cavorted with Dionysos, drank wine, danced, played the flute, and generally pursued Nymphs). After small experiments in 1979 (with a Riesling Spätlese from the Goldberg vineyard), 1983, 1984, and 1985, Lingenfelder finally felt confident enough to produce a small commercial quantity of a sparkling wine with the 1994 Riesling Kabinett from Goldberg. A year later, freshly pressed Riesling juice of Spätlese was added, the wine was bottled, and triage began. After five years on the lees, the wine was disgorged and Riesling juice of Spätlese quality from the 2000 vintage was added as dosage.
My tasting notes from a recent German Wine Information Bureau event read: “Satyr, with an alcohol level of 11.5% and about 5 atmospheres pressure, has an elegant, fine persistent mousse, the nose of a wonderfully aged Riesling, ample fruit on the palate, and clean, crisp acidity.” It was a wine that made me think and was refreshingly inviting all in the same glass.
Using the grape as the only source of sugar in the production process, Lingenfelder feels he is “making a sparkling wine closer to the vine, bringing it back to nature.” He has not only accomplished this but has also produced a truly unique, and incredibly wonderful wine. Like all good things, there’s probably not enough to go around – unfortunately there were only 500 cases of Satyr made.
Richard Kitowski is a certified Sommelier, editor of the International Sommelier Guild Newsletter, and co-author of the recently published book “Clueless about Wine”.
This article appeared in the International Sommelier Guild Newsletter, October 2002.