Varieties of a Lesser God

There are a few great varieties and a few terrible ones. However, most sit in the middle quality-wise and what gets in the bottle is totally on the shoulders of those that make the wines. Put a great variety in a great vineyard and it’s your fault if you screw it up. Put an ordinary variety in an ordinary vineyard and you better know what you’re doing if you’re going to make a good wine.

Such a variety is müller thurgau, the workhorse grape of Germany and the black sheep of Oregon winemaking. Perhaps its bad reputation in Oregon is understandable considering the simple, sugary wines that wineries made there over the decades. Producers were only interested in pumping out cheap, sweet grocery store wines selling for under $10 a bottle. The resulting bad reputation made müller thurgau the butt of the local joke:

What’s the leading cause of teen pregnancy in Oregon?
Answer: müller thurgau

Anyone who has tasted the wines of the great producer Rudolf Fürst in Germany’s Franken region understands that in the right hands this rather ordinary variety can produce a very, very good wine. His Pur Mineral Müller Thurgau is easily the finest example of this variety that I have tasted. It is dry as a bone with a mineral intensity hard to describe. Firm, elegant, racy and complex with a lacy flowery character that makes it both charming and briskly refreshing.

For the first time that I know of, there is an American producer taking a more serious stab at this variety and I’m sure the teenagers will hate it, but that you’ll love it. The 2007 Château Benoit Müller Thurgau Estate Vineyard, produced by Oregon’s Anne Amie Vineyards shows what can be done with such varieties when you actually try to make a good wine. In this case the combination of an outstanding winemaker, Thomas Houseman, and a passionate viticulturist, Jason Tosch made all the difference. By simply trying to make the best wine they could Houseman and Tosch have produced a lovely wine. It is on the drier side of off-dry with a charming bright, fresh fruity character laced with notes of fresh pineapple and wildflowers. It’s hard to think of a easier white wine for summer parties and picnics. It’s important to note that in vintages prior to 2007 you’ll find the Benoit more akin to those wines that spawned the joke mentioned above.

I do not intend to say this is a wine on the level of the Rudolf Fürst Pur Mineral Müller Thurgau, but it is a very good wine that is a pleasure to drink. What it proves that is that effort and attention pays off when it comes to varieties of a lesser god.