German World Championship Rieslings

I take a short brake from the village profiles of Champagne to “ease the pressure” of all regular tasting notes that have been collecting dust for a while. Here a tasting on my balcony a sunny evening about a month ago, that also fits into the theme I intended for the blog this year, Riesling, where I haven’t quite lived up to my ambition of writing one post per week.

High summer this year didn’t just bring sunny weather (at least to my part of Europe, it wasn’t universal across the continent) and holiday time but also the football world cup. That’s “soccer” to some and “association football” in Wikipedia parlance, but everywhere were this sport is common, it is called “football” and nothing else. British footballer Gary Lineker one said “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” This was the result this time around as well, and from the games I saw, it seemed a well deserved victory. After this victory O., who has some German ancestry, called and wanted us to quickly pull together a tasting of German Riesling to celebrate their victory. Since I’m perfectly willing to taste German Riesling also without a world cup victory as an excuse, I thought this was an excellent idea. A contributing factor was that I had just installed a better table on my balcony, and the weather was well suited for using it.

Mario Götze kicks in the German victory goal in the finals against Argentina. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil, 2014).

O. news that I enjoy mature wines and asked “could we perhaps taste the earlier world championship vintages?”. This year’s win was Germany’s fourth, so the years they have won are 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014. Unfortunately, both 1954 and 1974 are really bad vintages, while 1990 is excellent, and 2014 hasn’t been harvested yet.

The description of the 1954 German vintage in the reference Deutsches Wein-Archiv start with the merciless statement “Das Weinjahr 1954 reiht sich in die verregneten Jahre 1913, 1922 und 1939 ein” – “The wine year 1954 follows in the path of the rained-away vintages 1913, 1922, and 1939”. That year’s “miracle of Bern” apparently stayed in Switzerland, at least in terms of the weather. Adi Dassler may have supplied the football team with with shoes that could be adapted to the field conditions – and therefore the moisture of the terrain – thanks to the studs with screws, but this didn’t help the poor vines and grapes in the vineyards back home.

The description of 1974 tells us that the vintage was actually better than 1972 (but then again, very few vintages have been worse than 1972), but distinctly worse than 1971 and 1973, that the harvest was 38% less than in 1973, and that hardly anything above Spätlese was produced, although the sweet(er) wines were more in focus in those days than they are today. This probably explains why I can’t recall having ever tasted a 1974 German wine, since it is usually Auslese and higher that were put away for extended cellaring, with the exception of Spätlese from truly great vintages (such as 1959). Also, 1974 was directly followed by two truly great vintages – 1975 and 1976 – so there was hardly any reason to “sit” on the mediocre 1974s to have anything in the cellar.

VM-provning 20140724So of the three harvested world championship vintages, only 1990 was present in my cellar. This made me think that it was perfectly reasonable to supplement with neighbouring vintages, +/- 1 year. 1953 is an excellent vintage and would be a beautiful substitute for 1954, but there are some limits in terms of scarcity of what fits into a tasting out on the balcony. 1975 was a more readily available substitute for 1974, and 2013 fresh from the shelf acted as stand-in for 2014. When we go back in time a couple of decades, the natural choice in Germany is wines with residual sweetness. Also, dry German 1975s aren’t that easy to find, since the quality pioneers on the dry side started to be active in the 1980s.

Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese 1975
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (the name of the region was shortened to Mosel in 2007, so still the longer form here). The wine is labelled as sold by Weingut Brogsitter in Ahrwiler, but still specifies Friedrich-Wilhem-Gymnasium in Trier (Weingut Stiftung Staatl. Friedr.-Wilh.-Gymnasium) as both producer and bottler (Erzeugerabfüllung). The combination is a bit unusual.

Light golden colour. Typical developed nose with petroleum and yellow apple, a hint of spice and “firne”, i.e., a somewhat “old” note, and very discrete botrytis. The palate is off-dry (minus) with yellow apple, some grapefruit bitterness, good acidity, some spice notes and some “firne” impression. Mature but with fine balance. 89 p.

By the standards of today, this was probably a lighter Auslese from the outset, since that was how they were made in those days, and the mature notes makes it come across as drier. 1975 is also a high-acid vintage, further balancing the sweetness. The other participants seriously underestimated the age of this wine (see below), which probably says some as to how well it had kept, although I – well aware of its age – did find the typical firne notes that to me definitely means 20+ years in an off-dry Riesling.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Auslese 1990

Orange or very deep golden colour, but without amber. Nose with pronounced botrytis and deep fruit notes with dried apricot and apricot purée, oranges, orange zest, some spice, harmonic development with some petroleum that is well embedded into the other notes. The palate is off-dry+ (semi-sweet) with oranges, dried apricot, good concentration of fruit and high acidity. A wine with fine balance and power, and really pleasant maturity. 92 p.

This was a phenomenally fine Auslese with a lot more weight than the previous one, and definitely more weight than I had expected, also when taking into account that Rheingau usually produces slightly heavier stuff than Mosel on the sweet side. The wine style of German top producers got more concentrated during the 1990s, and this wine comes across more like a modern Auslese than an older-styled one in terms of its weight. This wine probably fulfills the minimum requirements for a Beerenauslese.

Kloster Eberbach Riesling Spätlese 2013
Rheingau. Screwcap (Stelvin+).

Light yellow colour. Nose with peach, elderflower, citrus, some honey, sweetish impression with perfumed Riesling notes. The palate is off-dry(+) with honey, green apple, high acidity, and a fresh finish. Young, 88 p.

This is a non-vineyard designated Spätlese from Kloster Eberbach, which I believe they bottle only for the Swedish market. It has a good weight for a “non-specific” Spätlese at a reasonable price, and guesses about a young Auslese were heard around the table. I believe this may be the vintage speaking, because early reports said 2013 had quite a lot of botrytis, but I was surprised that the acidity was so high. This wine would probably benefit from some development, and the acidity in combination with the green apple impression indicates to me that it could be cellared for rather long.

It’s worth repeating that this producer – who always had an excellent set of vineyards – has improved the quality of the wines quite a lot in recent years, as was obvious from a tasting last autumn.

Two of the participants (experienced tasters) weren’t aware that there this small tasting had a vintage theme of sorts. They only knew that we were going to taste German Riesling following their gold. I found it very interesting to hear how they reasoned about the age of the wines, and in particular the first wine. One of them thought the 1975 (served blind) reminded him of how 1990s usually are, with a very marked acidity in combination with fine ripeness of the grapes. The other then opined that the wine probably wasn’t that old, and started to consider a 2001, also a vintage with really fine acidity (and probably somewhat similar to 1975 in style). No vintage older than 1990 was mentioned by either of them when they were discussing among themselves. It has been said before, but it definitely deserves to be repeated: Riesling with residual sweetness are really long-lived wines, in particular at the Auslese level and higher, and it is a true joy to drink them in a mature state. (There is of course very little suffering involved in drinking them young either…) Top vintages with truly great acidity are of course extra long-lived. The most recent vintages that fit into that pattern are 2010 and 2012, for those who wish to stock their cellars for the benefit of the future generations, but there haven’t been any bad vintages in the 2007-2013 period.

Swedish version

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