Friday, September 11, 2009

Best of Riesling Awards 2008

Every other year in Bingen, Germany, the Best of Riesling competition invites a group of internationally recognized experts to choose their favorite Riesling wine. In 2008, more than 50 experts from a dozen countries gathered to assess over 1,800 wines from 10 countries. Prizes were awarded to three groups of wines: German Rieslings, Non-German European Rieslings, and New World Rieslings.

German Rieslings. This group was divided into four subgroups: (i) dry (up to 4 grams per liter residual sugar); (ii) off-dry (up to 12 grams); (iii) sweet (from to 12 to 90 grams) and (iv) extra sweet (more than 90 grams).

Most of the wines which were awarded prizes were from small and medium-size wineries not well known in the United States. The first prize in the dry category was awarded to the 2007 Hochheimer Kirchenstueck Spaetlese from Weingut Schaefer in the Rheingau. Hochheim is a cute little village close to Frankfurt. You can take the S-Bahn from the Central Railway Station in Frankfurt to Hochheim. Weingut Schaefer is in the center of the village, at Elisabethen Strasse 4.

Surprisingly, all three winners in the dry category were Spaetlese. Many wine drinkers believe that German Spaetlese is always sweet,, but this is a misconception. I discussed the question why German Riesling can be sweet in my Blog posting of August 24, 2009.

In a country with a cool climate like Germany, sweet wines are sweet because of three reasons: (i) the fog in the vineyard producing the noble rot and botrytised wines, (ii) the frost during the harvest resulting in ice wine or (iii) the skillfull processing of the grapes by the winemaker after the harvest in the wine cellar. Indeed, German wine makers have developed extraordinary skills in arresting the fermentation or blending the dry wine with suessreserve to produce wines that display a combination of a low level of alcohol and delicious sweetness making them unique in the world.

All wines in the off-dry and sweet categories were Spaetlese or Auslese wines, with one exception. A Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete (QbA) won a medal: 2007 Laubenheimer Vogelsang, QbA, Weingut Carl Adelseck (Nahe). This is a wine that most likely has been chapitalized and stopped and/or enriched through suessreserve. While chapitalization of wines is allowed in neighboring France up to the top categories of wines, in Germany it is only permitted for grapes with a low level of ripeness, i.e. the Tafelwein and QbA categories. Though little known in the United States, the QbA wines can be good value for the money.

Non-German European. The Austrian: 2007 Riesling vom Urgestein, Qualitätswein, Winzerhof Stift in Roeschitz was judged best wine in this category. The Austrian classification of wine is similar to that of Germany, with two major differences. The enrichment of wine through suessreserve, a major component of German winemaking, is illegal in Austria. When wines are sweet, this reflects noble rot, frost during the harvest, arresting the fermentation and sun drying. The latter is common in Austria, while it is illegal in Germany.

New World. All of the winners in this category were from the United States. The first prize went to the 2007 Chateau Ste Michelle dry Riesling from Washington State. Winemaking of Chateau Ste. Michelle, as far as Riesling is concerned, is influenced by the famous Weingut Dr. Loosen from the Mosel region. Indeed, Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr. Loosen, in a joint venture, produce a wine called Eroica (with the name being taken from the famous van Beethoven symphony), which is an off-dry Riesling (with more than 20 grams remaining sugar per liter). But this delicious example of successful New and Old World cooperation did not enter the competition.

Three silver medals were also award. One medal went to another wine of Chateau Ste Michelle: 2006 Late harvest Riesling Ethos. This is a sweet wine with 220 grams of sugar per liter and a low alcohol level (8 percent). If it were a German wine I would think the fermentation had been arrested, given the low level of alcohol, but winemakers in the United States have more sophisticated technologies at their disposal. The second silver medal went to the: 2007 Jana Michigan Riesling. This is a wine from Michigan, produced by California wine maker Scott Harvey. He is based in California and produces wine under various labels, mostly from Napa valley and Amador county. Finally, a third medal went to the New York Finger Lakes wine: 2006 Riesling dry from the White Springs Winery. This is evidently an area with strong German/Austrian/Swiss roots that produces excellent Rieslings. This one is a dry one.

For more information on the Best of Riesling event go to

If you have a favorite Riesling, I would be delighted to hear from you.

This is a slightly revised version of an article that has been posted on the website of the International Wine Review in August 2008.

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