Dinner with old auction wines in Rheingau’s Eberbach Abbey

Hospitalkeller, where the old wines are stored. The picture was taken through one of the holes in the iron bar grid.

This was a dinner tasting I attended 25 February 2011, in the evening before their annual “spring auction” – Frühjahrsversteigerung – in the historic Eberbach Abbey in Rheingau. That’s Kloster Eberbach for those who speak German, and it is also noted for having been the site for many of the scenes of The Name of the Rose (but has since been renovated, and seems safer these days). And yes, it’s another “archeological digout” type of post, both in terms of when the tasting took place and the age of the wines. Anyway, it took the shape of a dinner with assorted auction wines in the part of the abbey known as the Refektorium. Some of the wines would also be included in the 2011 auction the day after, but not all of them, while some had been featured in previous auctions. All of them had some age to them, and the oldest was from 1951, with a particularly strong lineup from 1971. They always try to find some wines that are 10-20-30… years old for the auctions, or if need be 15-25-35…. All of the wines are from Hessische Staatsweingüter (the Hessian State Wineries), which nowadays sell most of their wine under the name Kloster Eberbach.

Markus del Monego explaining

This dinner is arranged every year, and some years it’s sold out, but not this year since I managed to sign up quite late. I’ve attended the same event one time before (perhaps in 2006?), and judging from these two times it seems it’s always Markus del Monego, winner of the 1998 sommelier world championship, who present the wines and had some advice about the matching of wine and food. The chef responsible for the actual menu was Patrik Kimpel from Hotel Kronenschlösschen (one Michelin star) in Hattenheim.

While us participants were counted and ticked off the list in the pre-refectory (or whatever would be the proper eccleastic term for a chamber outside the actual refectory) we were served a wine of the current vintage from their regular range as a first aperitif:

Steinberger Riesling Kabinett trocken 2009
Very fruity nose, ripe, with some peach. Dry on the palate, good acidity, fruity, medium bodied, some bitterness. 85-86 p. Good ripeness and rather good concentration for a Kabinett, but perhaps not brilliant for a top vineyard in a top vintage.

From here, we walked to the Hospitalkeller, where the store of old wines is located – within sight but out of reach behind iron bars, so we weren’t allowed to browse freely among the remaining stock of 1921 Trockenbeerenausleses and other slightly pricey bottles. 🙂 Anyway, there we were served a second aperitif:

Other than the prominent Prussian eagle of one of the old label design of this producer (about three designs back, I think), you can note the stamp in the upper right corner. This denotes their auction wines.

Rauenthaler Wieshell Riesling Spätlese Cabinet 1959
Golden yellow colour. Noticeable “firne” notes (see explanation below) in the nose, quite herbal, mint, some dried fruit. On the palate fresh acidity, medium bodied, again herbs, mint, yellow fruit, but the developed aromas dominated. 89-90 p with some temperature, was served way too cold.

We were told that it had been featured in an auction some years ago, probably in 2009, and then had fetched a price much higher than expected. I think I heard something like € 740 mentioned. (To me that’s slightly bonkers for a Spätlese, even a good one that’s 50 years old. It’s also bonkers for a young bottle of Bordeaux of which there has been some 100-200 000 bottles produced.) When something 40-50-60 years old show up at auction, they usually only sell a single bottle, even if they would be have one or two dozen bottles left. Remember that they also need them for events such as this, and more importantly for events where there are wine journalists… 1959 was a top vintage, so I assume that quite a lot was put away for further auctions in that year. It was a very hot year with good maturity of the grapes, so it was in particular a year for “high Prädikat”/sweet wines. This wine had a very fresh acidity for a wine from a hot year, and had a good concentration for a Spätlese. Perhaps a little in style with what could be expected from a Mosel Auslese of that age?

Wieshell is a vineyard designation no longer in use, since in 1971 (when the wine laws were reformed) the number of vineyard designations in Germany was reduced from some 21 000 to about 2 600. So it is not uncommon to encounter “unknown” vineyards on German wines from 1970 and before, and those from the 1950s and 1960s are not that unusual in wine auctions (at least not in Germany itself), for those who like to take risk with the conditions of the corks etcetera. Before 1971, Cabinet was a designation for “wines put away”, corresponding to the way “Reserve” is often used. It does not really have anything to do with the current Prädikat Kabinett.

Firn(e) is a German term for the typical nose of old Riesling, and sometimes applied to some other wines as well. And then I mean old wines, not just mature wines. The usual petrol note of mature Riesling commonly develops in 10-15 years in a dry or off-dry wine, if it wasn’t there from the start. Firne typically refers to the notes that emerge after the petrol notes, when this has started to be less prominent, so we’re often talking about 25+ years of age for dry and off-dry wines. Truly sweet wines develop at a slower pace. It is slightly difficult to describe what’s included in firne (which is why I use this German term rather than just writing something else), but can contain some mild oxidation notes, although the wine shouldn’t be too madeirized to be properly described with this term. I often think a little of wet moss and other rather discrete forest notes. Sometimes there’s also a bit of smokiness involved. But firne is actually a practical description once you’ve tried a couple of wines which show this type of aromas. According to Wein-Plus the term comes from old high German firni that simply means old or overaged, and if it is applied to the palate it can rather mean the (not always pleasant) bitterness that sometimes emerges with age. I usually apply the term more to aromas than to mean bitterness, and I’ve taken my lead from descriptions I’ve come across in Germany several times.

Once back in the refectory and seated at the table we were served the first flight of three 1971 Auslese, which were accompanied by Gänseleberterrine/Aprikose/Walnuß/gebackenes Entenbonbon (I won’t try to translate the name of the food). 1971 is also a very good vintage, and counts as one of three great German vintages of the 1970s, next to 1975 and 1976. While 1975 has very high acidity (just like 2004) and 1976 was one of the vintages with extremely ripe grapes (just like 1959, 1989 and 2003), 1971 is not supposed to stick out in any similar way, as far as I know. However, it was definitely the vintages which produced quite ripe grapes that were considered the best in those days, so possibly it was 2005- or 2009-like? It’s also good to know that in the 1970s most German wines had a little more “dilute” style than in the typical style of the 2000s; yields were rather high and unlike today many producers always used the highest Prädikat (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese) they were allowed to for a give wine. When mature, a wine with sweetness also tastes less sweet.

Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Auslese 1971
Deep golden yellow colour. In the nose dried apricots, zest, fruity aromas with some hints of botrytis. Semi-sweet on the palate, more than medium bodied, dried apricots, rather good acidity, (dried) zest. Above the “basic level” for Auslese from this period when it comes to sweetness and body. 90-91 p.
One single bottle was included in the auction the day after, and the hammer price was € 490, which including fees and VAT should make € 612. Surely an effect of only one bottle being auctioned.

Of the Kloster Eberbach wines I often like those from Rauenthaler Baiken the best. (That’s village: Rauenthal and vineyard: Baiken, by the way) Although Steinberg is more known and often priced a little higher than Baiken, I have sometimes liked those from Baiken better when I have tasted them next to each other. I have an impression that they succeed to be more consistent in quality and style with Baiken, resulting in a combination of power and minerality, just as it should be.

Rauenthaler Gehrn Riesling Auslese 1971
Golden yellow colour. Nose with Firne, herbs, some smoke, malt, and has aromas of “less ripe fruit” relative to the other two wines of the flight. On the palate off-dry/semi-sweet, citrus, developed aromas, yellow apple, good acidity. In sweetness and weight it correspond to what you can expect from an Auslese of this period, the developed aromas are similar to those I often find in dry Riesling. 88-89 p.

Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Auslese 1971
Deep golden yellow colour. Nose with Firne, some dried apricots, slightly smokey and nutty. On the palate semi-sweet, dried apricots, rather good acidity, some bitterness (that wasn’t present in the Baiken wine) and a slightly burnt note. 89-90 p.

The second flight consisteed of three 1971 Spätlese, which were accompanied by Loup de Mer/Sellericréme/Krustentierschaum.

Heppenheimer Steinkopf Riesling Spätlese 1971
Hessische Bergstraße
Deep golden yellow colour. In the nose toasted hazelnuts, dried berries including red berries, Firne and smoke. On the palate off-dry, fruity, dried berries, Firne, good acidity. 88-89 p.
Hessische Staatsweingüter owns vineyards both in Rheingau and in the tiny wine region of Hessische Bergstraße, also located in Hesse, and Heppenheim is a village in that wine region.

Heppenheimer Centgericht Riesling Spätlese 1971
Hessische Bergstraße
Golden yellow colour. Perfumed nose with an impression of scented hand lotion, yellow apple, peach. Comes across as clearly youngest of the six wines of the first two flights. On the palate off-dry (slightly drier than the other two of the flight, more like feinherb wines), citrus, yellow and green apple, very fresh acidity, some mature aromas. Comes across as very young, I would have guessed 10-15 years rather than 40. 87-88 p.
24 bottles were included in the auction the day after, and the hammer price was € 50, which makes € 62 including fees and VAT.

Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Spätlese 1971
Rather deep golden yellow colour. Nose with dried fruit, Firne, smoke, yellow apple. Off-dry on the palate, citrus, good acidity, some bitterness, yellow fruit. Improved in the glass, worked very well together with the food, and finally ended up at 88-89 p.

The third flight consisted of three Steinberger Auslese, which were accompanied by Kalbsschwanzkompott/Wachtelei/Spinat/Nußbutter. Steinberg is Kloster Eberbach’s most well-known vineyard and also a monopoly, and it must be considered the real Abbey vineyard. It is surrounded by a wall that was built by monks of the same order, Cistercians, that created Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy.

Steinberger Riesling Auslese (Goldkapsel) 2007
Deep golden yellow colour, actually darkest of the wines in this flight. In the nose massive amounts of dried apricot, botrytis, flowery, typical Riesling perfume. On the palate sweet like a Beerenauslese, very concentrated and deep notes of dried apricots, good (but not high) acidity. Young but approachable, clearly a Beerenauslese style. 91-92 p.

This wine was a clear indication of how the style of top wines in Germany during the last couple of decades has developed in the direction of more concentration, and for the off-dry and sweet wines in the direction of more sweetness for a given Prädikat. (But that doesn’t mean that they are sweeter overall, since a much higher proportion consist of dry wines.) When it comes to auction wines, which this was an example of, this is true to an even higher extent. This is a wine which definitely exceeds the minimum requirements for a Beerenauslese, and it is also clearly Beerenauslese styled with its clear botrytis aromas. A very impressive wine, but felt a bit out of place when matched with a “first main course” that had meat in it.

Steinberger Riesling Auslese 1964
Golden yellow colour. Fruity nose with dried fruit, apricot and yellow apple, developed notes with a hint of Firne, slightly smokey. Semi-sweet on the palate, more than medium bodied, yellow apple, dried berries, medium acidity. 89-90 p.
Comes across as the oldest of the three wines of this flight, i.e., seems older than the 1951, but in the nose it comes across as younger than the three 1971 Auslese of flight 1. 1964 is considered a good vintage.

Steinberger Riesling Auslese 1951
Golden yellow colour. In the nose smoke, yellow apple, Firne, some nut. Its nose reminds me of an old dry Riesling. Off-dry/semi-sweet on the palate, medium bodied, very fresh acidity, apricot compote and apple compote. Very fresh impression. 88-89 p.
Lightest in style of this flight’s wines, and came across as younger than the 1964. The key is the high acidity, which in combination with less concentration indicates that 1951 probably is a rather poor year using the classical yardstick, but has produced a long-lived wine, since off-dry Riesling seems to be preserved more by its acidity than its sugar. 1951 is a very unusual vintage that I had never tried before. I was in excellent company in this respect, at my table was a German gentleman born 1951, who was obviously very interested in wine, and he had never tasted a German Riesling from his birth year before this occasion.
One bottle was included in the auction the day after, and the hammer price was € 1550. It was a so called “Benifizwein”, a wine where the proceeds were donated to a charitable purpose. That in combination with a single bottle and an extremely rare vintage, then anything can happen to the price.

The wines of this flight demonstrated a large variation in style between vintages from the same vineyard. The 2007 was a little difficult to taste next to the other two, and it had probably been more correct to taste it next to some older Beerenauslese. To be blunt, the wine and food matching was not too good in this flight. The idea seems to have been that the respective wine would match some of the components in the food, but I didn’t think that it quite worked. Mature off-dry or semi-sweet Riesling can definitely work with stewed meat cooked long (believe it or not), with game stews a classical combination in some German wine region, but the young, very sweet 2007 wasn’t good with the food.

The fourth flight consisted of three Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder Mauerwein, which were accompanied by Hirschkalbsrücken/Kakaobohnen-Krokantkruste/Rosenkohlcréme/Makaron/Backpflaume. We now moved on to red wine, and Pinot Noir if you wish to say it in French. This particular Mauerwein (“wall wine”) is a wine produced in small quantities, and harvested separately from the vines situated closest to the face of the stone walls that make up the terraces of this vineyard. Assmannshausen is the most classic red wine village of Rheingau, and produced almost only reds also when the German red wine production was less than a third of what it is today. This wine is classified as Auslese trocken and like most other special lot wines from this producer it carries a Goldkapsel, a golden foil.

Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder Auslese trocken Mauerwein (Goldkapsel) 2003
Deep red colour, slightly lighter at the edge. Nose with mint, herbs, dark cherries, spice, some smoke, some oak barrel notes, and some balsamic notes. Full bodied, slightly alcoholic on the palate, dark berries, tar, quite a lot of mint and herbs, rather powerful tannins. 90-91 p.
It is far from obvious that I had identified this as a Pinot Noir if it had been served blind to me. It is more likely that I had guessed that it was a Côte-Rôtie. But on the other hand it is a wine that was produced in a slightly extreme way, from an extremely hot vintage… The wine was said to be “in-between young and mature”.

Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder Auslese trocken Mauerwein (Goldkapsel) 2004
Deep red colour, lighter at the edge. In the nose figs, some volatile acidity?, cherries, some mint, a hint of oak barrel. On the palate figs, dark berries, some alcohol, spice, undergrowth, some bitterness, quite a bit of tannin. Difficult to score. 88-89 p?
This wine showed some unexpected notes, and not particularly typical for Pinot Noir, unless we’re talking about bottle variation. This particular vintage I’ve tried before, and I liked it as young, but now I didn’t recognize it at all and I score it lower than at that time.  It would probably gain from more development.

Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder Auslese trocken Mauerwein (Goldkapsel) 2008
Light red colour, the lightest of this flight. Nose with cherries, animal notes, herbs, undergrowth, slightly sweetish impression of dried berries – a rather typical Pinot Noir nose. Slightly sweetish on the palate, cherries, spice, undergrowth, again typical Pinot Noir. OK acidity, some oak, a but of alcohol. Not too much of a “great wine”. 87-88 p.
Honestly, this wine didn’t impress so much that I found it justified as a special auction wine; all other vintages of this Mauerwein that I have tasted have been more powerful than the 2008, and impressed more when young. The same weekend I scored Georg Breuer’s 2008 “medium range Spätburgunder” the same as this one (87-88 points), and Kloster Eberbach’s “regular” 2009 Höllenberg Spätlese trocken (i.e., not an auction wine) 88-89 points. “10 Oechsle is missing in the 2008″, was an opinion I heard the day after when I commented the difference between 2008 and 2009 (90-91 points), which was featured in the auction.

The fifth and final flight consisted of three 1971 Beerenauslese, which were accompanied by Feuillette von Nuß-Nougat/Thai Mango/mildes Honig-Pfefferrahmeis.

Rauenthaler Gehrn Riesling Beerenauslese 1971
Deep golden yellow colour, fine tartrate deposits in my glass (I think I got the last drops of one bottle). Nose with Firne, dried apricots, botrytis, some smoke. Sweet on the palate (typical sweetness for a BA), dried apricots, some zest, good concentration, medium acidity, a hint of bitterness. 90-91 p.

Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Beerenauslese 1971
Golden yellow colour. Nose with mineral, winter apples, dried fruit, developed notes, some tropical fruit, slightly perfumed, a hint of nuts, elegant. Sweet on the palate (typical sweetness for a BA), fruity with zest, peach, some dried apricots, good acidity, mineral notes. 91-92 p.

This wine again proves that the vineyard sites on Rüdesheimer Berg often yields the most elegant wines of Rheingau – from dry to sweet – even though there are other sites that are more reliable for powerful and spicy wines.

Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Beerenauslese 1971
Golden yellow colour. Nose with dried apricots, other dried fruit, botrytis, Firne and development, smoke. Full bodied, palate with dried apricots, winter apples, some smoke, spice, botrytis, medium acidity. 90-91 p.

The three 1971 Beerenauslese of the last flight

This was a very good, intresting and fascinating tasting and dinner. It’s not that often that you have the possibility to taste this many mature wines directly from the cellar of the producer and thus in excellent condition, and on top of that matched with food. However, I actually recall that the previous time I attended, the wines were even better than this time around.

For the 2012 edition they had actually a bit of a problem, since it was difficult to find good wines with an “even birthday”, and this was mentioned already in 2011. There’s not that many good Rheingau vintages ending with a 2. 1972, for example, was lousy, and I think 1962 is quite rare. Those ending with a 7 may be a little better, but few of them are really top vintages. So I assumed that they would have to do some other themes for the flights, such as verticals. When I check the wine list to see how they solved it (I didn’t participate in the 2012 edition), I must say that they were quite generous in what they dug out of their cellars. Eight vintages of Rauenthaler Baiken Spätlese from 2007, 2002, 1998, 1993, 1967, 1959, 1942 and 1937. Even though “just” Spätlese, the last two must be exceptionally rare. Then they served two 2002 Spätburgunder (Spätlese trocken and Auslese trocken), and 1937 Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Rot-Weiß Edelbeerenauslese, what also must be an exceptionally rare wine, should be a sweet rosé from sun-dried grapes if I correctly decipher the old designations. And finally nine Eiswein from 1992, one from Höllenberg (should be a rosé), and eight Riesling. I wasn’t aware that they had produced that many Eiswein in 1992 (not a year you encounter as often as 1990 or 1993), and the 75 year old wines from 1937 was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t check the wine list beforehand and I’m starting to regret that I didn’t go there this year… 😦

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

This entry was posted in 1971, Hessische Bergstraße, Pinot Noir, Rheingau, Riesling. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dinner with old auction wines in Rheingau’s Eberbach Abbey

  1. Pingback: Schloss Vollrads, mostly 2009, and some reflections on Rheingau | Tomas's wine blog

  2. Pingback: Tasting and dinner with old wines at Eberbach Abbey, including a 1943 Riesling and a 1953 Spätburgunder | Tomas's wine blog

  3. Pingback: 2011 spring auction in Eberbach Abbey and the Riesling wines | Tomas's wine blog

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