Seven hundred years of Bürgerspital wines

Sarah Jane Evans MW attended the 700th anniversary celebrations at The Bürgerspital in Germany, with a tasting of its wines dating back over a century. See her top three wines below.

The Bürgerspital in the German city of Würzburg, in Franconia, is 700 years old this year. The charitable foundation, still functions as a care home. The winery kicked off the celebrations with a tasting dating back to 1904.

Winemaker Robert Haller spent two years tasting through the cellar. He selected wines from every decade since then (except the 1910s) to give a historic overview. Würzburg – strategically sited on the river Main – was one of the last cities in Germany to be bombed, in the final months of the Second World War. The cellars and its contents were lost along with the city itself. As a result the Bürgerspital has a consistent collection from 1947, but has subsequently acquired earlier vintages.

Among the guests was Hugh Johnson who tasted one of the remaining bottles of the Bürgerspital’s oldest wine, a 1540 “Steinwein” in London in 1961.

There is some debate about whether this is the oldest wine ever tasted; the cask was topped up for some 100 years before being bottled.

The oldest wine at the anniversary tasting was a 1904, the Würzburger Schalksberg (no variety given on the label). The wine built quickly to a towering acidity with a long, thrilling Madeira-like finish.

My top 3 from the tasting:

Würzburger Neuberg Silvaner 1934   95

The last bottle in the cellar; acquired after the Second World War. No winemaking records; probably an Auslese or Beerenauslese.

Amber in colour with pale gold highlights. Sherry-like aromas, with a layer of roasted walnuts.  The nutty character carries through to the palate. It’s impressively bright and lively, not in the least tired. It broadens to richness, with notes of caramelized honey, pricked and refreshed by lime zest. The finish develops notes of roasted coffee beans. Very long. Does it taste of Silvaner? Perhaps not, but at 80+ years that’s not surprising. Glorious to celebrate the often-overlooked variety at such a venerable age.

Randersackerer Teufelskeller Riesling Spätlese 1970     94

A long dry summer, with little rain. 9.7%. 19g/l residual sugar.

Burnished gold in the glass with brilliant highlights. Vanilla, caramel  and smoke aromas. Palate has the freshness of bramley apples, creamy, with a crisp edge of rhubarb-like acidity. Overall delicate and elegant. Drink now, but there’s still life left.

Würzburger Pfaffenberg Weissburgunder Kabinett Trocken 1980     93+

A cool year, with one of the coldest months of July on record. 11% alc

Glinting gold in the glass. Showy, expressive aromas, with ripe golden plums, and an edge of white asparagus. Bright, refreshing attack. Acid arrives fiercely, and stands apart. However the palate broadens to offer the promised golden plums and yellow peaches.  Succulent, voluptuous, almost exotic, still full of energy.  Really long.  The higher than usual acidity of the cool year gives the Pinot Blanc the freshness it often lacks. As one of my fellow tasters remarked, ‘we should give it credit for being Pinot Blanc; this variety is rarely quite so good’.