In my capacity as Guy With World’s Best Job, I spent several days in Germany last month tasting extraordinary renditions of Riesling from around the world. The occasion was an International Riesling Symposium, hosted by Wilhelm Weil at Schloss Rheinhartshausen in the Rheingau region. Several of the addresses and technical presentations were interesting and informative, but the event’s highlights were all provided by the wines. To be clear, it wasn’t just that delicious wines were shown. Rather, the event included wines offering object lessons in Riesling’s amazing versatility in different styles and growing sites, as well as its peerless power to show multiple facets of beauty over vast spans of developmental time.
This is a second column about those wines and the lessons they teach (you can find the first--as well as an archive of my columns--by simply clicking on the name beneath my unfortunate photo on the WRO Blog space on the Home page). They appear below in alphabetical order, and I don’t intend to derive any particular Grand Lesson from the more particular observations. I happen to believe that Riesling is the world’s greatest white variety, but I’ve made that case before, so I won’t repeat myself here.
The fact is that the most compelling case that can be advanced for Riesling is made by Riesling itself, though you’ll need to know which ones to try to appreciate it fully. As you’ll see, some of the wines below (such as the 1971 Beerenauslese from G. H. Mumm) will prove very difficult to taste for yourself, but I’ve deliberately included some that are reasonably available.
To make the wine designations easier to decipher, you’ll find growing site indicators within parentheses, with any vineyard name appearing first, followed by region and country of origin:
Jim Barry Wines (Clare Valley, South Australia) “The Florita” 2009: Complex and compelling aromas get this off to a great start, with open lime fruit scents and interesting petrol/mineral accents. The flavors follow suit, leaving impressions that are almost perfectly balanced between primary fruit notes and nascent characters from development in bottle. This will likely get even better during the five years ahead, but is already nearly irresistible and very impressive. 93
Cave Spring (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada) “CSV” 2012: Remarkably enough, this wine has yet to be released, which already says a lot about the coiled power in the estate wines from this leading producer in the Niagara Peninsula. It is quite engaging on two distinct fronts, showing plenty of floral and fruity elements on both the nose and palate, but also excellent structural definition from high-voltage acidity that keeps everything focused through the mid-palate and the long finish. Still a baby, and a really good-looking one, this is impressively focused and racy for a wine made in a historically hot vintage in the Niagara Peninsula. By the way, this same wine from 2002 still looks great today, so you can buy this and lay it away with confidence that you’ll get something terrific whenever you elect to drink it. 93
Weingut Dönnhoff (Niederhausen Hermannshöhle VDP Grosses Gewāchs, Nahe, Germany) 2012: I’ve been tasting Donnhoff Rieslings from the Niederhausen Hermannshöhle for more than 25 years, but have never tried a dry one until this instance. Nothing like a great start! The aromas are open and expressive, but the scents are all about purity, as opposed to what is revealed in botrytis-affected wines or ones with undergoing a lot of yeast stirring during their upbringing. Excellent integration and balance keep the taut flavors of stone fruit, minerals and firm acidity in balance through the extremely long finish. This tastes like it might develop endlessly in a cool cellar, but I’ll put that to the test every few years…once I’ve succeeded in purchasing it. 94
Weingut Fürst Castell’sches Domänenamt (Castell Schlossberg, Franken, Germany) Spätlese Trocken 2004: Wines from Franken are tough to acquire in the USA, where importers have struggled for decades just to sell wines from famous estates in the Rhine and Mosel, so perhaps I can be forgiven for having been shocked by how sensational this bottle proved to be. Nearly a decade old, it showed an absolutely gorgeous bouquet, with structural elements that were every bit as impressive as the scents and flavors. Still marked by primary fruit, it also displayed a pleasant streak of bitterness in the finish, though that was nicely counterbalanced by the wine’s fruit and subtle sweetness and simply made for a more complex composite profile. Perhaps most impressive was the wine’s ability to show an integrated, creamy impression while also showing an energetic, edgy dimension. Hugely impressive, and for me, quite nearly revelatory. 94
Weingut Georg Breuer (Rüdesheim Berg Schlossberg, Rheingau, Germany) 2002: I haven’t tasted a wine from this estate for more than a decade, which is a fact that I lamented even more bitterly after tasting this wine. The experience involves a dynamic progression that builds from a relatively restrained bouquet to flavors that are very open and expressive, showing great generosity but then also terrific structure once the late-arriving acidity makes its presence felt. Although there’s a great deal going on in this wine, and going on in sequence even, it is still so balanced and proportional that it seems totally complete. Just terrific. 94
Weingut Künstler (Hochheim Hölle, Rheingau, Germany) Auslese Trocken 2004: Sourced from the village that was virtually synonymous with the whole category of high-quality Riesling in England a century ago, this wine shows its noble pedigree from the first whiff to the last impression in its amazingly long finish. The bouquet includes all of the usual suspect scents but also an arresting smoky note that makes it especially interesting. Despite having been ripened to the Auslese level, the wine actually seems lean and restrained in body and fruit profile, though the flavors are highly detailed and still very fresh and energetic. This is still improving, and one can only guess as to the level of greatness it will ultimately attain. 96
Lamoreaux Landing (Red Oak Vineyard, Finger Lakes, New York) 2012: This exemplary wine showed how special Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes can be--even in the most illustrious international company. The bouquet is very generous in floral and fruity impressions, and the flavors also show real substance and depth. The finish shows so much dry extract that it seems almost grainy in texture, with sharp definition from bright acidity. A terrific wine with multiple layers and lines of interplay. 92
Weingut G. H. Mumm (Johannisberg Schwartzenstein, Rheingau, Germany) Beerenauslese 1971: Even knowing that 1971 was a great vintage for noble sweet wines in Germany, this one still boggles the mind at age 43. The aromas show a roasted note that is quit striking, followed by flavors that suggest honey and tea as well as beef broth (!). Only moderately sweet at this point in its development, it is actually more spicy than sugary in the finish, which manages to go on for a full two minutes (yes, I counted) with sweet/savory flavors and acidity in perfect balance. Holy Moly. 95
Weingut Reichsgraf von Kesselstadt (Scharzhofberger, Mosel, Germany) Auslese 1989: This was a relatively warm year (at least by the standards of the time), yet this remarkable wine still seems like it couldn’t be more than six or seven years old. Nevertheless, at 25 years of age, it shows a lovely roasted character and succulent flavors that are alluringly sweet and even juicy--but still impeccably balanced. Undertones of orange peel and ginger are wonderfully interesting, and the finish is fresh enough to make it seem as though the wine itself is snapping to attention. Sensational. 95
Tantalus Vineyards (Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada) 2012: Tantalizing indeed, this wine shows the sort of intense interplay between sweetness and acidity that might once have been thought the exclusive preserve of Germany. Light and nimble but still generous with open fruit aromas and some overt sweetness on the palate, it then turns on a dime to show very energetic acidity that focuses and brightens the finish. At once this wine manages to see juicy and sexy and tautly disciplined. A thrill ride. 93
Weingut Toni Jost (Bacharach Hahn VDP Grosses Gewächs, Mittelrhein, Germany) 2011: Anybody who thinks that German Riesling fermented to true dryness is fated to be austere or grating needs to taste this wine and be set straight. Although it is taut with acidity from the first instant it hits the tongue to the last impression in its finish, it also shows gorgeous open fruit and highly expressive flavors drawn from very ripe fruit. Indeed, the warm flavors (recalling candied citrus peel above all) give the faintest suggestion of a roasted character, though that suggestion remains just that…a suggestion. I haven’t been to this estate since 1994, and couldn’t be more delighted to see that such beautiful, generous, engaging wine is being made there today. 93