In a few months it will have been 45 years since I first visited Bürklin-Wolf. Little wine-pilgrim me was duly drawn to their tasting room, where I bought what would be a regular stream of wines for my cellar. They were, sensibly, my favorite Pfalz estate.
Fast forward to 1990. I was in the biz by then, and was establishing my reputation as a German wine importer. The first major reviews were coming in, and I was catapulted into the great renown that would form the basis of my delusional nature for years to come. I came to the attention of the gracious and cordial couple who administered Bürklin in those days, and the Racquets invited me for an “official” visit.
For me it was something of a homage, but they were looking for an agent to stimulate what had become a moribund American market. Reading my 1990 catalogue, I see I wrote that I “hoped I could offer at least succor, and perhaps tangible assistance.”
The multiple-importer-broker system had played them false, as it played most of the so-called “great estates” false over time. This is ancient history now, and I won’t bore you with an explanation, but let’s say that it was becoming apparent that the square peg wouldn’t fit in the round hole no matter how hard you pounded it.
But as a curator/importer I was still small, and Bürklin was (and remains) quite large; moreover I had formed my reputation by discovering small and hitherto unknown growers and introducing them to the market. Many would become the next generation of “star” producers, but in those days they were obscure. For me to represent a large blue-chip estate such as Bürklin was opposed to everything I’d done to that point. But I loved the wines and wanted to help.
I requested and received a small tranche of four vineyards whose wines I could offer exclusively. My demands were honestly pretty damned cheeky, but they gave me what I asked for. It was Kirchenstück (which they’re now calling “the Montrachet of the Pfalz”), Hohenmorgen (perhaps the prized site in Deidesheim) and finally the two monopoles, the (Wachenheimer) Rechbächel and the (Ruppertsberger) Gaisböhl.
I wasn’t sure it would work, and told them so. But nothing else seemed to be working, so into the breach I went. I offered Kirchenstück KABINETT, if you can believe that – those were different times. But administration changed at the winery, and after a few years my representation rattled to a gentle and natural demise. I lost contact with Bürklin-Wolf, except for the occasional bottle I’d drink in restaurants while I was back in Germany.
In the last few years, my former associates at Skurnik picked up the agency. The winery was breathing fresh new air, I was told, with a keen young crew and a renewal of vigor. I wrote to ask if they’d consider sending me samples, and received a sweet letter back from Bettina Bürklin, who remembered me and was pleased to be back in touch.
For the last eight days I have been tasting like a fiend, eighteen wines in all, tasting and sipping and tasting again, until I have seen each wine at least a half-dozen times. But don’t forget, the estate is large (80+ hectares) and successful, and when the samples were being assembled there were, let’s say, gaps. That being the case, I can’t really offer the general survey I’d hoped – there were no wines from Forst, for example – but I can offer a detailed profile of what I did taste. Of the eighteen wines, eleven were from Wachenheim, as it happened, and I had to resist the temptation to infer that Wachenheim was Bürklin-Wolf.
And yet, that is where they’re located, and where they have the largest number of Crus. Even then, it’s impossible to know the estate without hearing its “voice” expressed over various and multiple terroirs, so please join me in resisting the notion that as Wachenheim goes, so goes Bürklin.
Fine, but exactly how does Bürklin go? Organic/biodynamic, yes, as many others are. There is certainly a tone-of-voice among the wines, or you could call it an accent or a dialect or even a general consistency of texture. This has long been a Bürklin signature. But when I looked for its cause I found myself stymied.
They do whole-cluster pressing, yet the unruffled surfaces of such wines were only sometimes apparent, and not apparent at all among the 2020 Wachenheimers.
They ferment with ambient yeasts, but I never glimpsed the sponti aroma (milk-chocolate most of all) in any of the wines. Though noteworthy, this isn’t terribly unusual. Still…
They do a lot of aging on the fine lees, yet none of the wines indicated as much on the palate. (There’s a kind of aura around lees-aged wines that I wasn’t finding in these.)
The Premier and Grand Crus are done entirely in cask, but only one wine showed it.
Winemaking, in effect, was invisible.
Taking all of that into account, a few observations are still at least plausible. Bürklin’s are wines of texture above all. They aren’t crystalline or vertical so much as enveloping. They’re like expensive cashmere, wooly socks, warm furry hats. But don’t think they’re soft; they’re just comfortable and giving. They’re analogue and warm, like music on vinyl.
Bearing in mind – again – that my impressions can’t help but skew toward the particulars of Wachenheim, I have the sense that certain vintages play to Bürklin’s strengths while others….not so much. I asked them for some older wines so that I might gain perspective, and this turned out to have been wise and prudent, because if I’d hypothesized based on the 2020 vintage I would have been wrong. In short, at least for Wachenheim, they do best in warm years that correspond to their own warm expressions. The couple 2017s were lovely, and the 2018s were superb to great. I imagine 2019 would have rocked.
But ’20, with its silvery greenness and sometimes-curiously nettlesome texture, was at odds with the halcyon nature of Wachenheim. (In the ’20 vintage, only the estate Deidesheimer indicated a basic accord with the vintage “type,” though one or two Wachenheimers surmounted it.)
I was happy to see the different communes express themselves clearly. There isn’t a Bürklin “language” forced upon them, (though I’d be glad if some Forst were forced upon me). The terroirs are true to type, and I grew better acquainted with the Wachenheim type than I’d ever been. Apropos of which; while we don’t use gender-descriptors any longer, we sometimes need to use words that allude to them, and I need to ask you to follow my logic.
If I describe a wine as “ladylike” that doesn’t mean all women must aspire to that particular personality type. It means that some women are like that, and all of us have known them, and so that word will conjure a vivid image that harms no one. Similarly, if I find one wine to be “pretty” and another to be “handsome” neither word is a diktat for the genders to pursue those characteristics. There are pretty men and handsome women, but we know what the adjectives mean no matter to which gender they might be applied.
I’m not saying that Wachenheim wines are “feminine,” but I will say that many of them are pretty and/or ladylike. In fact it bothers me a little, because I’m concerned those characteristics could be assumed to be (relatively) “slight,” and that is why the sites are classified as (mere) Premier Crus. By my way of thinking, at least one (Goldbächel) is blatantly a Grand Cru, and others are close on its heels.
But please see all of these observations as provisional and based on the limited information I had.