As a part of the “Riesling year” on my blog, I’ve pulled out some tasting notes that have been maturing since March 2013, when I attended a tasting and dinner with several old wines in Kloster Eberbach/Eberbach Abbey in Rheingau. The building is naturally called “Abbey” in English, but the name of the producer will be written in German if you encounter a bottle, as “Kloster Eberbach”, so I prefer to refer to the wine producer by their German name, and only the building by its English name.
This tasting dinner usually takes place just before the spring auction in the abbey, when only the wines from Kloster Eberbach/Hessische Staatsweingüter (well, the latter part is their formal name, Hessian State Wineries) go under the hammer, unlike the autumn auction in the same location, when also wines from other producers in VDP are included. I last attended this event two years earlier, and here is my blog post about that time.
All the wines of this tasting dinner were from Kloster Eberbach, which produces wines in two German wine regions in the state of Hesse, Rheingau and Hessische Bergstraße. Unless otherwise noted below, the wine is from Rheingau. A matching dish was served to each flight. I include a picture of each dish, usually at the end of the description of the wines. I include the German name of the dish in the legend of each picture, but I haven’t bothered to translate it. From the picture it’s probably possible to see approximately what it was anyway.
Some words about what this tasting dinner demonstrated, or perhaps rather reminded anyone who may have forgotten it, since nothing of it should be unknown:
- Riesling is very good!
- Riesling is very long lived, not just the sweet versions but also the off-dry ones.
- Although it’s common to see recommendations to drink Eiswein young (unlike Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese), also Eiswein ages beautifully.
- Riesling – young as well as old – goes very well with food.
- Off-dry Riesling also goes well with food, in particular off-dry Riesling with some age.
- Ambitious Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder is produced and has been produced in Rheingau, but the style has varied quite a lot over the decades.
We were served a young sparkling wine while we were counted in. After that, we were traditionally marched off to the nearby Hospitalkeller to get a glimpse of the large stock of old wines (behind iron bars), and to enjoy an older wine as an aperitif, in this case a 1959 Spätlese.
2011 Heppenheimer Steinkopf Riesling Sekt Brut
Nose with ripe fruit, citrus and some bread. Palate with high acidity, some mineral, and a light bitterness. A fresh aperitif-styled Sekt, but I would have preferred less bitterness. 83 p
Nose with yellow apple and winter apple, apple peel, some petroleum and some mineral. The palate is in principle dry with a viscous and oily mouthfeel, with menthol and mineral; the acid is not as prominent. 90 p
A wonderful reminder of how long-lived Riesling (and not the least from top vintages – 1959 is such a vintage) can be if the bottles have been stored well, and also that off-dry wines come across as considerably drier when they have a lot of age. This wine, going on 54 years old, reminds me rather much of how a rather dry wine often gets with 10-15 years of age!
Flight with 1973 Eiswein
A remark: before 1982 Eiswein wasn’t a Prädikat of its own, i.e. not an “independent” classification of a German wine. Instead it was an additional designation for wines from frozen grapes, and the wine was still classified according to the level of ripeness of the unfrozen grapes. So if the grapes held Auslese ripeness before freezing, the label would say Auslese Eiswein. I’ven seen everything from Spätlese Eiswein to Trockenbeerenauslese Eiswein on old labels.
As a summary of these four, the showed better on the palate then on the nose, and all went well with the dish served to them.
1973 Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Eiswein Beerenauslese
Amber colour. Nose with dried fruit, winter apple, zest, bitter orange, caramel, some smoke, a hint of red berries and a hint of petroleum. Palate with good concentration, “Beerenauslese sweetness”, caramel, dried fruit, dried orange zest, honey, high acidity, pronounced spice notes, and a long and fresh aftertaste. 93 p
This wine came across as having the youngest and most fresh nose. In the Kloster Eberbach range, the wines from Baiken are almost always to my liking, since they tend to combine power, elegance, and a fresh acidity! They are usually more even in style and quality than the wines from the more famous vineyard Steinberg, although the Steinberg wines on occasion may have slightly higher peaks.
1973 Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Eiswein Beerenauslese
Amber colour (slightly darker than the Baiken wine). The nose is noticeably smoky with caramel notes, dried apricot, some red berries, and spice. alate with good concentration, “Beerenauslese sweetness”, caramel, pronounced spiciness, dried apricots, good acidity and a long aftertaste. Quite a lot of power and pure aromas. 92 p
This wine has a more powerful and “darker” nose than the Baiken wine, comes across as older in the nose, and does not have quite the same elegance on the palate, but it is a very impressive wine. Domdechaney and many other vineyards in the village of Hochheim (located in the eastern part of Rheingau) gives a little more powerful wines than do Baiken, Steinberg and the vineyards on Rüdesheimer Berg, and sometimes they develop along a bit quicker arc.
1973 Steinberger Riesling Eiswein Beerenauslese
Quite dark amber, in the direction of brown. The nose is noticeably smoky with caramel, shows notes of oxidation with nutty aromas, hints of oiled wooden boat, and some impression of botrytis. The palate is extremely sweet (“Beerenauslese+”) with enormous concentration, caramel, dried fruit, citrus fruit and zest, dried apricot, and a long aftertaste. 93 p
The power house of the three Riesling wines of the flight. The somewhat older impression I got from the nose didn’t come back on the palate, which showed plenty of citrus.
1973 Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder Weißherbst Eiswein Auslese
Served from half bottle
Dark amber colour. Nose with noticeable spice notes, caramel, some raspberries and herbs, some wood oil, toasted notes with some some used coffee grounds. The palate is spicy with caramel, dried apricot and red berries, zest, high acidity, and with a spicy and fresh aftertaste. 92 p
Weißherbst means that it is a rosé (from Pinot Noir, called Spätburgunder in German), although that’s not always so easy to see from the colour of older wines. The nose was noticeably different from the three previous Riesling wines. I often find that sweet Spätburgunder, even though it is rare and expensive, doesn’t quite measure up when tasted next to Riesling, and doesn’t cellar quite as well. So I must say that this was a really good such wines, not the least for its age and for having spent its waiting time in half bottles!
Flight with Steinberger Riesling Spätlese
This flight consisted of off-dry wines, classical Spätlese, from their top vineyard, where all styles of Riesling are produced. Two of the wines were special “auction versions” with the additional designation Goldkapsel – with simply means Gold Cap – and Cabinet (before 1971 this simply indicated a better wine that had been put away in the “Cabinet cellar” for later sale, in difference from the Prädikat “Kabinett” introduced in 1971, which is the level below Spätlese), respectively. As far as I understood, two wines were regular Steinberger Spätlese that had been cellared.
2007 Steinberger Riesling Spätlese Goldkapsel
Light yellow colour. Nose with ripe citrus, some peach and blackcurrant buds, perfume, some petroleum; a young and elegant nose. The nose indicates a rather sweet wine, and is “Auslese style”. Off-dry on the palate, citrus, high acidity, mineral. The aftertaste is not too intense, but long and mineral-dominated. 88+ p
1976 Steinberger Riesling Spätlese
Deep golden colour. Nose with dried fruit, citrus, caramel, some spice and smoke, petroleum. The most developed nose of the flight. The palate is “somewhat off-dry” with dried fruit, winter apple, some caramel, medium acidity, a hint of bitterness and an aftertaste of winter apples. Exciting nose, but not too fresh on the palate. 86 p
1976 was a hot vintage with high grape maturity and lower acidity than usual. The really sweet wines from this vintage keep well thanks to their concentration, but most wines at lower levels (I’d say Kabinett and Spätlese, as well as Auslese from lesser producers) have since long become more or less tired. I’m sure this wine – from a top vineyard – was much more fun when it was 10-20 years old, and the note of bitterness disturbs me.
1967 Steinberger Riesling Spätlese Cabinet
Golden yellow. Fruity nose with apricot compote (but not particularly dried fruit notes), some spice and petroleum, and a lot of firne (typical German-style old wine aromas). Rather dry on the palate, mineral-dominated mouthfeel without too much fruit in evidence, rather good acidity, some bitterness. The palate doesn’t quite live up to the nose, and the bitterness is slightly disturbing. 86 p
1959 Steinberger Riesling Spätlese
Lighter golden colour, surprisingly young-looking. Nose with pronounced smoke notes, yellow apple, some citrus, petroleum, some wet moss (a typical firne note). Not too complex a nose, possibly some hint of cork taint. The palate is rather discrete, with winter apple, spice and medium acidity. No score due to the possible defect.
I.e., the 1959 Hochheimer Kirchenstück Spätlese mentioned above was actually more impressive than the 1959 Steinberger Spätlese I had in my glass!
Flight with Schlossberg Erstes Gewächs
This flight consisted of dry top-class wines from Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg, a vineyard that is more centre-stage in the range of several other Rheingau producers (such as Georg Breuer, Leitz, and August Kesseler), and that is capable of yielding quite brilliant wines! Kloster Eberbach can’t be considered as a pioneer for this style of dry wines, so it has previously been rare to encounter these wines at these events. Although the wines of this flight were younger, it’s very interesting that their stock now contains a sufficient number of vintages for top dry wines to feature in these tastings. After this flight, we tasted a 1943 on its own.
I must say that the wines of this flight were better than I expected! Both this tasting, additional wines that I tasted during the auction weekend and a tasting of young wines this past autumn confirmed that the dry wines of Kloster Eberbach are now at a much higher level than some years ago.
The wines did however on average show a bit more sweetness than I expect from Erstes Gewächs, a style of wine that is supposed to be fully dry. (This corresponds to Grosses Gewächs in most other regions.) I must say that I don’t really mind a tiny bit of sweetness provided that the wines are balanced, but I know others (in particular inside Germany, it seems) who always get irritated at sweetness in this type of wine. In principle, only the 2008 was as dry as I had expected.
2010 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Erstes Gewächs “aus dem Cabinetkeller”
Light yellow colour. Nose with peach, citrus, Riesling perfume, smoky minerality, and menthol. Elegant and gives both a slightly sweetish and “cool” impression. The palate is “reasonably dry”, i.e., doesn’t give a completely dry impression, and shows powerful concentration of fruit, a lot of citrus with grapefruit notes, high acidity, and some mineral. Young, 90+ p.
2008 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Erstes Gewächs “aus dem Cabinetkeller”
Light yellow colour. Nose with ripe citrus, some peach, smoke, mineral, and some petroleum. The palate is dry, with some apple and citrus, but is not at all fruit-dominated, but rather very mineral with menthol notes and high acidity; definitely an elegant palate. Rather young, 90 p.
2007 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Erstes Gewächs “aus dem Cabinetkeller”
Medium yellow colour. Nose with ripe fruit, peach, blackcurrant buds, ripe citrus, what I perceive as some botrytis notes, and a discrete petroleum note. The nose is deeper than in the 2008 and 2010. The palate is mostly dry, with an attack that is not quite dry, shows powerful concentration and powerful minerality with a “salty feeling”, some fruit notes with apple, peach and citrus, and a high acidity. Rather young, 91 p.
2003 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling “aus dem Cabinetkeller”
Light yellow colour. Nose with ripe citrus – lemon and grapefruit – with sun-warmed zest and lime, a hint of herbaceous notes and a discrete petroleum note, but surprisingly little petroleum for the age and vintage! Palate with a somewhat off-dry impression although it is produced in a “dry style”, citrus, mineral, some mint, a rather oily impression, medium acidity; not entirely Riesling-styled on the palate. Better and younger than expected, can take more cellaring. 90 p
Apparently not classified Erstes Gewächs, but produced in that style. The hot 2003 vintage has definitely put its mark on this wine.
Golden colour. Nose with yellow fruit, yellow apple, citrus, dried fruit, well preserved fruit notes, smoke, some spice, some firne notes with moss. The palate is not completely dry (it goes in the off-dry direction) with yellow apples, mint, some bitterness, high acidity; not too concentrated. A rather impressive nose, while the palate isn’t quite as impressive (and as always I’m disturbed by bitterness that can be too much felt), although the wine sticks together fine. 87 p?
Honest scoring of wines of this age always becomes a little weird, since the fascination of tasting a 70 year old wine (produced in a style where many would consider 10-15 years as “old”) isn’t entirely in the wine’s performance relative to its younger siblings when evaluated completely blind. Instead, it is an instructive experience in how old even white wines can become. But I score just the same.
2003 Kloster Eberbach Pinot Noir “R”
The more expensive red wines that don’t carry a vineyard designation usually have been given more oak treatment.
Translucent light to medium red with lighter edge. Berry-dominated nose with ripe cherries, red currants, pronounced notes of toasted oak with chocolate and coffee, spice, quite a bit of mineral and menthol. Palate with menthol, mint, mineral, rather high alcohol, balancing acidity, full-bodied mouthfeel, not really fruity on the palate, some alcoholic fire in the aftertaste. The oak is actually not noticeable on the palate. 89 p
This is a fascinating wine since the palate is substantially different from what the nose led me to expect. The alcoholic fire and the exaggerated oak in the nose has reduced my score, however. Fortunately, the German tendency to overdo the oak in the more expensive versions of Spätburgunder, and to try to do more powerful wines than this variety is suited for, seems to have abated some in recent years.
Light to medium red colour, brick edge. A good colour for its age! Nose with good concentration of berry notes, ripe red berries, some sweet “liqueur notes”, some caramel, smoke, and menthol. Palate with a hint of sweetness, red berries, spice, intense menthol note and minerality, good acidity, some bitterness, and a heavy mouthfeel. 89 p?
This is the best old Spätburgunder I’ve tasted. Earlier, Kloster Eberbach has uncorked some from the 1960s and 1970s that haven’t been nearly as good (but I’ve noticed that some of the domestic German audience tends to like them more than I do). There was quite a bit of “minerally red Burgundy” in this wine, and that association I’ve never had with old Spätburgunder before. And, yes, there was a tiny bit of sweetness, although that’s an impression not completely unheard of in old Burgundies. I’ve heard how good the older red wines from Assmannshausen can be, and some years ago I read that Jancis Robinson had been fascinated by a top class 1947. After having tasted this wine, I can’t find any reason to doubt that type of statements. Also here, the fascination involved in tasting this wine goes way beyond the “honest” score I’ve assigned.
1983 Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Eiswein
Golden colour. Nose with dried yellow fruit, honey, some herbaceous notes and spice, mint, mineral. An elegant nose; the most elegant of the flight. The palate is very sweet, with honey, dried fruit including apricots, citrus, very great concentration of fruit, spice, high acidity, and a fresh aftertaste. 94 p
1983 Heppenheimer Centgericht Riesling Eiswein
Golden colour. Nose with dried yellow fruit, zest, some botrytis, some caramel, and a bit of petroleum. The most powerful nose of the flight. The palate is very sweet, with honey, apricot – both fresh and dried, citrus, high acidity, some spice, very fresh aftertaste. A fresh powerhouse! 94 p
1983 Steinberger Riesling Eiswein
Golden colour. Nose with some dried yellow fruit, caramel, smoke, some herbaceous notes. The palate is sweet, very spice, with dried fruit, very high acidity, some spice, mineral and a very long aftertaste. Not as generous aromas as the two previous wines, but very fresh! 93 p
1983 Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spätburgunder Weißherbst Eiswein Auslese
Served from half bottle
Reddish amber colour. Nose with dried fruit, red berries, red berry jelly, yellow fruit, caramel, spice. The nose deviates clearly from the Riesling wines. The palate is sweet, with red berries, caramel, some spice, high acidity. 91 p
Not quite as fresh and concentrated as the three previous Riesling Eiswein.
Swedish version here.