Rieslingreise

The theme for the blind tasting group in Overton for February 2013 was nominally Germany. But as most people brought wines they already had in their collections, it turned into something of a Rieslingreise, a Riesling journey. Even though there were eleven wines, this was no bad thing as the variation in age, sweetness and textures were quite remarkable.  There were three non-Riesling wines – a Chardonnay, a Portugieser and an Ortega – to add some variety. On the other hand there was no example of the dry style, Trocken, which has been fashionable in Germany for the last quarter of a century – it clearly hasn’t caught on with English wine lovers.  And within the various gradations of off-dry to medium-sweet Riesling there were some happy coincidences …

Kessler

The evening started with a bonus bottle, a sparkling wine which we agreed was not Riesling (not acidic enough).  The best guess was that it was Chardonnay for its simple apple fruit, and pleasant, short, off-dry palate – and this surmise was correct.  Germans buy unimaginably huge quantities of sparkling wine much of it of the most basic quality. This rose above that level, with the bottle proudly declaring that this is bottle fermented and supposedly a ‘top growth’. If it had been Riesling we could have had predictable jokes about the ‘diesel aromas’ as the wine is presumably sold by, rather than made at, Stuttgart airport.  Kessler, Hochgewächs, Chardonnay. 

2010sThe Riesling trail proper started with this pair of young wines, both from the 2010 vintage.  It was fairly obvious that they were both Riesling from the apple and lemon aromas, the high acidity and the light palate weight/low alcohol.  There was a point of difference in that it turned out that one was Kabinett Feinherb (in effect off-dry) from the Rheingau while the other was a Spätlese  from the Mosel, but we are getting ahead of our selves.  Schloss Vollrads, Kabinett Feinherb, Rheingau 2010  was pale gold in colour, with sharp green apple fruit and a lily of the valley fragrance followed by a delicious, off-dryness. The sweet-acid balance is superbly done. Meanwhile, Alfred Merkelbach, Kinheimer Rosenberg, Riesling Spätlese 2010 was a paler mid-lemon in colour with lemon and sherbet aromas but more opulent tropical fruit and was geninely sweet, rather than off dry.  While this wine come from further north than the first one, the fruit was more intense both because of it being picked late and because it is carried on the higher residual sugar level (or at least perception of sugar).

A further pair of wines followed with a contrasting third wine.  Interesting they were my wines but as I had not tasted them before that was not much help!  They seemed very assured, not in the first flush of youth but light and sprightly.  My first impression was that the nose was that of an older wine but strongly mineral followed by obvious touch of sweetness.  M ShaeferKarthaeuserhofberg x 2Light, with moderate acidity, high quality.  Its partner had that hint of petrol and ripe apple on the nose, and then an opulent palate with the apple flavours heading in a stone fruit direction.  Honey and cream notes also present. In fact these were two wines with different designations from the ripe and superb 2009 vintage from the same producer on the Ruwer, a tributary of the Mosel: Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg, Tyrell 2009, Kabinett and Spätlese respectively.  The contrasting wine was clearly much older, 1999 in fact.  Gold in colour, concentration from age on the nose and palate, peachy, even peach melba, clearer sweeter: Burg-Layer Schlossberg, Michael Schäfer, Riesling Auslese, Nahe, 1999.  So the connection here (if you were concentrating) was three quality  levels (or at least must weights): Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese.   

The next pair were certainly the most instructive, even amazing, of the evening.  There was a further connection between the second of this pair and the next wine but we will leave that for the moment.  Before us we had wines of dramatically Sonnenuhr 02 & 71different colours, pale lemon on the one hand and a medium orange on the other.  Even in the poor light of the pub you can see the difference in the picture.  In terms of tasting, the wine on the left had a medium intensity nose with those classic lemon and green apple themes plus some floral overlay; remarkably fresh but rounded, and beginning to fill out.  The wine on the right by contrast was all honey over fresh, light fruit – Riesling goes on and on – with an oily texture.  And the connection?  These were in fact virtually the same wine with a breath-taking three decades between them, the first ten years old, the second 40 years:  Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spätlese 2002 and Auslese 1971

two 1971sThe third wine in this little section was connected chronologically with the second, old, wine of the previous pair.  In fact this was a second 1971, a great vintage and showing it. This was not as deep as the mid orange above but showed fascinating nut and toffee aromas; lighter on the palate and again with the still fresh apple fruit: Johannisberger Klaus, Rheingau Spätlese, 1971.  Of course this is a mere youngster by some Johanisberger standards where there wines in back to 1748.  In the picture you can see the two 1971s and their UK importers. 
PortugieserThe final wines of the evening were in the ‘non Riesling’ section.  Many us of had tasted an Ahr Pinot Noir only a few weeks ago and we immediately thought this strange red liquid (after all that Riesling) was also Pinot. The relatively pale red colour fitted the bill, the fruit was perhaps a bit too plum and prune to fit but if its red and German one goes to Pinot – in this case wrongly. However, it was the same producer, just a different grape variety, the usually dull Blauer Portugieser here showing some meaty, leather and blackberry character, if a bit woody with it. Brogsitter, Homage Sanct Peter, Alte Lay, Portugieser, Ahr, 2006

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The final wine of the evening was of course sweet – and not Riesling.  We later learnt that it was a multiple prize winner and this did show some class. Quince in colour (or a pink-orange if you prefer) this did show some botrytis on the nose, near luscious sweetness with sufficient acidity to keep it interesting.  And the grape variety? Ortega – an ‘early-ripening German cross [Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe] that can achieve impressive sugar levels if not acidity’ (Wine Grapes p. 753). Ortega, Trockenbeerenauslese, Anselmann, Pfalz, 2006

This was a splendid evening which above all showed the remarkable qualities of German’s top grape variety. 

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