A very annoying occurrence happens to every wine aficionado or professional. When interacting with anyone whom is not the former, the immediate reaction to hearing about this enological profession or affinity is followed with 1 or 2 questions: The first is “What is the BEST wine?”. I have long since realized that trying to explain the trivial nature of such a question is pointless, forget that attempting so at a social gathering has as much appeal as explaining a racist joke. (I just tell them DRC; and yes, to ask for it at their local wine shop).
The second most common question is an inquiry on my favorite wine.
When asked what my favorite is, I have a flight or fight response between copping out and using the universally understandable Pinot Noir. If I feel like being annoying, I will say Muller-Thurgau or Grenache Blanc.
If this question comes from a fellow epicurean I may revert to wines I feel ought to be pushed, like Carignan or Silvaner. However if the discussion turns to regions, I may do the same thing or I may very well stretch my arms to the sky and scream Mosel!
In the end, I just really like Riesling. Bone dry petrol bombs, or light off-dry Kabinett. Riesling simultaneously maintains its recognisable appealing characteristics across all quality levels, yet at the same time is uniformly proclaimed as being one of the best grapes at showing its terroir.
I have enjoyed many Rieslings of various qualities, ages, production styles and of course, regions. While perusing some past instagram posts, it made me remember these cherished moments.
The Best White Wine I Have Had
There was a wine shop in Harvard Square that at some point changed hands of business from wine shop to a successful ethnic restaurant group.
The organization is commendable for the on premise food service but it seemed to have little expertise or even interest in off premise fine wine sales. The flipping of static locations is a rather common occurrence in certain states in the USA due to state licensing laws. A business sells the license with existing stock and the location cannot change. Presumably in this case the former business delved a little too deep into boutique wine buying, with the new management having little to no expertise in sales of anything labeled more than Red or White. This translated into old wine floating around, left to get dusty. I noticed a 2001 Weingut Bründlmayer with a dirty label in the fridge. A ½ bottle, that who knows what the quality was. I went for it, presuming the cost made the risk minimal.
I found it in the fridge, so in my fridge it went. I left it there so long that I even ended up moving apartments, and it went into the new refrigerator! At some point while reading Philipp Blom’s, The Wines of Austria, I figured, if not now, when?! I pulled it open with an unbroken cork. I poured the cold pour into a glass while sitting on my bed, and would you believe it, if it was simply divine? The flavors just kept coming through like an orchestra fine-tuning its instruments until “tap” “tap” “tap” and the music begins. HOLY SHIT! I literally exclaimed out loud. It was like a rolodex of fruit flavors presenting themselves individually to me as the new King was crowned. I still point to this as being one of my most jaw dropping wine moments. The wine was from Zobinger Heiligenstein, a volcanic rock formation protruding out the rest of the hill.
Volcanic wine all the way!
The new climate of Germany
I recently saw a map of the climate differences taking hold in Germany. Whole swaths that never had any viticulture will become warm enough to cultivate the vine. Areas that once only made acid water will be able to make ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. Love it or hate it, it is the reality that not even recycling will stop. What does this mean for the classic regions on the frontier? Are we losing something? Or in the case of some farmers, maybe it is a godsend. If the classic vintages for the Mosel essentially were warmer years, with ripeness being achieved, then this must be a good thing right? Regardless, the rubicon has already been crossed.
It is now harder to make a Kabinett then to simply let a Spätlese occur. I was even told that by a winemaker from Nierstein that his Spätlese was really an Auslese, but that they have continued to sell it as a Spätlese since it is essentially a brand. Have we passed the point where these ripeness distinctions were notches on how late one was able to let the vines go for; or is it just a stylistic marker? Drinking this 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from Kerpen made me think maybe it isn’t so bad. This riper reality was maybe the dream of winemakers 50+ years ago. Drinking the 2012er Wehlener Sonnenuhr was simply a delight that settled the appellation as one of my favorites. It is a classic crowd pleasing Mosel Riesling. I say crowd pleasing with the intentions that across the board it must be seen as the epitome of its own style.
My first Birth Year Riesling.
This was at a German wine trade tasting. The winemakers pulled out the big guns at this tasting and I still haven’t drank so much TBA wine since. This was not the best, nor the oldest wine at the tasting, however it meant a lot to me being as old as I was. It had that deep, rich, super ripe flavor profile created by a mix of botrytis and time. That is a direction Riesling can take which is not my favorite, but that is not a negation of some fantastic qualities.
We all have a super special bottle that is so precious we hide it away to be forgotten. I took a bottle of this Sicilian sweet wine from the 1990s and it was lit. So lit that my host got all excited and proclaimed he was going to bring out another sweet wine guaranteed to impress me. My exclamations that we could not drink all this doux wine in a night seemed to just cajole him on. He ran back from the cellar and plonked this birthyear Trockenbeerenauslese wine in front of me. WOW, this does not come around often. Apparently the winemaker had actually died when the wine was still in barrel! His widowed wife, not wanting to have another thing to deal with, asked for the help of a local merchant to just take it off her hands. Needless to say, a very rare cuvee that was just exploding with flavor and luxurious TBA sweetness.
The sweet wines were no surprise. Of course Noble Rot wines of great vineyards will last that long. A few years ago at Chambers Street wines they had this 1989 Cooper’s wine. I will never forget how bone tingling dry it was, yet still seemed so fresh. It had not aged well, it had not aged at all! It had not even let time affect it. It had aged better than myself and I was doing a ton of pull ups back then! This was textbook screeching Saar acidity that would make your ears ring!
The other Aussie Riesling.
Australian Rieslings are known for being petrol bombs. They often are the American muscle cars of the wine world, revving their aroma and flavors and flipping the bird to everyone in the room. They mean business and they are choosing the music on the jukebox. But, Australian wine mirrors Australia, and on the Western Coast the climate and people are very different. Leeuwin Estate are best known for their sky~priced Chardonnay, however if you can seek out their art series Riesling it is a fantastic value that is better than any bouquet of Violets. It is simply a lovely refined ballerina of a wine.
I have only had 2 bottlings from Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg and both were simply marvelous. The 2002 Spätlese was still searing with screeching acidity. The most accurate tasting note is a teenager saving up his allowance for a Rock vynil and when after all the anticipation he finally puts on the headphones and lets the needle loose and the music blasts so hard with a riff from the electric guitar that it hits his internal ear sensors and he throws the headphones off and goes “whoa”.
The great thing about these Rieslings that still come out at under 10% alcohol is that you can break them out on the porch during the summer for lunch and not worry about the glass count or a pre~sleep hangover.