It's not every day you get to meet a genuine prince, but last week, Felix Prinz zu Salm-Salm came to Boise, presenting the wines of his family's two German estates: Schloss Wallhausen in Nahe and Castell in Franconia. The first is the winery where he works and lives. Cool summer nights, warm autumns and slate soil provide ideal growing conditions for Germany's most famous grape variety-Riesling. His father Michael owns and operates the estate but Michael is increasingly involving his two sons in day-to-day operations. Records show that vineyards were planted at Wallhausen as early as 1200, a history that proves they must be doing something right.
The young prince (he hasn't hit 25 yet) poured tastes of a 1999 Riesling Kabinet that was surprisingly youthful, with lovely light nutmeg and honeyed caramel aromas, melding with the ripe citrus and apple fruit flavors. The currently available 2003 Schloss Wallhausen Roxheim Riesling Spätlese, $26.50, showed excellent potential. Surprisingly subdued fruit aromas with hints of clover, the candied peach flavors were backed by a nice spice component. Giving the record-breaking temperatures of that summer, the light acid levels are to be expected, but the structure and balance were still impressive.
Felix's connection with Castell is through his mother's family. They can document vineyards at their estate back to 1258 (mere upstarts compared to the Wallhausens). The Franconia region is very different from Nahe. The soils have more clay, the winters are much colder and the early autumn frosts are not conducive to late ripening Riesling. Muller-Thurgau is much more prevalent, and the 2002 Castell 1224 bottling of that grape is delightful. It offers light gooseberry aromas backed by creamy currant and sweet grapefruit flavors, offering great balance and a softly crisp finish. Priced right at $11.99, it makes a great patio sipper.
The 2003 Castell Kerner, Schloss Castell, $12.99, comes in the region's traditionally shaped squat bottle called a "bocksbeutel" (literally translated as goat's scrotum). The variety, a cross between Riesling and Trollinger, has a similar flavor profile to Riesling but ripens much earlier, making it well suited to the region's climate. A charming wine with hints of clover backing soft peach aromas. Lovely stone fruit flavors dominate the palate; the finish adds a touch of orange zest to nicely sweet citrus. Cool bottle, great buy.