Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Rheingau Riesling rapture

The Great Rheingau Riesling Review was primarily about launching the excellent 2011 dry wines. These are the ‘Erstes Gewächs’, the premier or grand cru wines from the top estates in the Rheingau, in the modern dry style.  But if you want to catch the attention of journalists and writers you need to give them something of a treat – and what a treat it was! 

On the right are four of the wines, the last four of a line up of six – two 2011s (not in the picture), a 2002, a 1971 and two sweet venerable oldies – 1962 and 1959.  the four colours of Riesling

2011 is a great vintage even if it was difficult to handle because it was so early. Dr Franz Michel of Domdechant Werner explained that this was the only time he remembers when the grapes were picked in September.  His perspective is from 65 vintages.  The grapes achieved full, early maturation, and were picked to stop the acidity dropping. The botrytis was rampant and spread through effected areas to 100% – so watch out for the sweet wines too in due course.  The dry 2011s show great fruit concentration – tight-knit palates that will unfold with green apple through to candied pineapple notes, classic high acidity. They will drink well at this top-level from, say, five years time until … well, how long have you got?  One producer stated that the wines are still wine-like back into the 1840s and then it gets a bit hit and miss!  Riesling has no peers among white grape varieties for ageing. 

The treat – four older wines

Hattenheim Wisselbrunnen Riesling, Weingut Hans Lang 2002 – a baby at 10 years old, mineral notes to the fore as we leave the intense fruit-freshness of the 2011s behind, but then the fruit notes are still pronounced on the mid-palate, rich and very long.  The colour has just a hint of gold about it in comparison with the young wines. 

Weissbaudomäne Schloss Johanisberg, Grünlack Riesling Spätlese 1971 – much more evident gold in the glass; slightly mushroomy on the nose, with that textbook minerality and fresh acidity but lacked fruit by these standards. This wine split opinion – some wondered if it was in the best condition, while another expert pointing out that Schloss Johanisberg’s winemaking was not that great in this period. 

Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Domdechant Wernershes Weingut, 1962 – striking amber colour, this remarkable quinquagenarian (try that in Scrabble!) leads with a luscious toffee and honey nose reminiscent of great Oloroso, ie oxidatively aged wines.  The sweetness is perfectly matched by rapier-like acidity which has kept it fresh through its half-century.  This was our presenter’s wine and his estate can be very proud of it. 

Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Hessischeweingüter Kloster Erbach 1959 – again stunning colour, remarkable richness on the nose and palate, candied fruit, toffee, very long, sweeter than the 1962. 

In the main tasting I also enjoyed the wines of Baron Knyphausen and the two fine Pinot Noirs of Georg Muller, Spätburgunder Trocken Edition PW 2009 is the simpler wine and Hattenheim Hassel Spätburgunder Erstes Gewächs 2009, a marked step up:  fragrant and structured wines.  Today’s top-quality German wines have a real wow factor. 

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