Monday, December 27, 2010

Lusciously Sweet Rieslings - Wine Tasting at the 1st International Riesling Symposium

Picture: Caro Maurer, Journalist, Leading the Tasting, with Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil

The 1st International Riesling Symposium

Eight very interesting lectures, four outstanding wine tastings - one in the morning and one in the afternoon of each day - and a walking wine dinner provided for two fascinating and highly entertaining days around Riesling at the 1st International Riesling Symposium that took place a couple of weeks ago at Schloss Rheinhartshausen in the Rheingau in Germany. The symposium was attended by about 150 people, including such luminaries as Jancis Robinson from the UK, Willi Bruendlmayer from Austria, Helmut Doennhoff from the Nahe, Ernst Loosen from the Mosel and Colette Faller from Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, and many others. I have provided my impressions about the symposium here.

This posting focuses on one (of the four) major tastings, in which we tasted 21 lusciously sweet Rieslings from Germany, France and Canada. I have reported about the tasting of aged Rieslings here.


Worldwide, there are about 34.000 hectares planted with Riesling. Germany – with 22.400 hectares – accounts for 2/3 of the total. The second largest Riesling producer is Australia, with 4500 hectares. But this is only about 1/10 of the total. Nevertheless, Australia was a bit underrepresented at the 1st International Riesling Symposium. Alsace follows with 3500 hectares. Austria, the US with Washington State and New York State as well as New Zealand make up the remainder. But overall Riesling is really a niche wine, accounting for only less than 1 percent of total wine production in the world - but a very special niche wine.

Lusciously Sweet Rieslings

We tasted lusciously sweet Rieslings. What are lusciously sweet Rieslings? I know what nobly sweet Rieslings are, but the definition of lusciously sweet is broader than that of nobly sweet, as the selected wines show. The tasting comprised a range of sweet wines, from German Spaetlese and Auslese wines to a French Selection de Grains Nobles wine and German Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein wines as well as a Canadian icewine. Incidentally, the German title was Edelsuesse Rieslinge (= nobly sweet Rieslings) which was a faulty translation.

Picture: 21 Glasses with Lusciously Sweet Rieslings

The factors behind the sweetness in the wines we tasted varied widely:

(1) Some wines benefited from botrytis cineria (noble rot), a fungal infection, which removes the water in the grapes, increases the sugar content and adds a unique flavor to the grape.

(2) The icewines were made from grapes harvested during the frost late in the year, which removes the water in the grapes (but does not produce the botrytis taste). In both cases, the sugar content of the grape is exceptionally high at the time of the harvest and mother nature is unable to ferment all the sugar. Thus, natural sugar remains in the wine and makes the wine sweet.

(3) Some wines possibly benefited from Suessreserve (sweet reserve), sterilized grape juice, which under German law is allowed to be added to the fermented wine, within certain limits.

(4) Finally, some wines were possibly stopped, thus you do not let the fermentation run its course, but stop it before all the sugar is fermented. As a result, you get more sweetness and less alcohol in the finished wine. The sweet and low alcohol Mosel wines have made this approach famous in the whole word.

Picture: Jancis Robinson at the Tasting

Wine Tasting: Lusciously Sweet Rieslings

The wine tasting was led by Caro Maurer (CM), a well-known German Wine Journalist. We tasted 21 wines, from Germany, Alsace and Canada. I was able to pick up some of the comments of Caro and those winemakers who commented on their wines.

2007 Hattenheimer Heiligenberg, Riesling Spaetlese, Weingut Georg Mueller Stiftung

CM: Winemaker Alf Ewald said that this is a perfect Spaetlese, 15% botrytised grapes, at 65 grams remaining sugar (RS), the sugar level is not that high, right at the point of opening up, developing petrol notes, a very typical sweet Riesling Spaetlese.

2007 Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen, Riesling Spaetlese, Weingut Balthasar Ress

CM: One of the more innovative wineries in the Rheingau, does unorthodox things, planted vines on the isle of Sylt in the North Sea, a wine from a famous vineyard, complex and fine, still very innocent, fresh nose, some herbal tones, fine balance of sugar and acidity, 75 grams RS.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Christian Ress, Weingut Balthasar Ress in Berlin

2009 Winkeler Hasensprung, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Fritz Allendorf

CM: 100% botrytis infected grapes, Hasensprung is a site with lots of morning fog, conducive for the development of botrytis.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Ulrich Allendorf, Weingut Fritz Allendorf, in Berlin.

2009 Erbacher Michelmark, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Baron Knyphausen

CM: 1/3 of the wines of Weingut Baron Knyphausen are noble-sweet wines, a winery that sticks to traditions, now in the 7th generation, lemon on the nose, some ginger notes, developing in the right direction of finding a balance between sugar and acid, impressive length.

2007 Ruedesheimer Berg Rottland, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Dr. Heinrich Naegler

CM: another very traditional wine producer, 6th generation, still a bit shy on the nose, very stringent fruit on the palate, very classical style, wine shows very ripe fruit, botrytis nicely integrated.

2003 Hochheimer Kirchenstueck, Riesling Auslese, Domdechant Werner’sches Weingut

CM: Weingut with a long history, known for classical style Rieslings, beautiful finesse, great complexity, wine shows very ripe fruit, very smooth, 90 grams RS.

Werner Michel from Domdechant Werner'sches Weingut: The sugar level was on purpose kept on the low side for an Auslese wine.

Picture: Dr. Werner Michel, Weingut Domdechant Werner, at the Tasting.

2003 Hochheimer Kirchenstueck, Riesling Auslese, Weingut Kuenstler

CM: very well integrated acidity, still restrained nose, nuts, stone fruit on the nose, very good structure, sexy wine with good roundness.

2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, Weingut Joh. Jos. Pruem

CM: a typical J.J.Pruem wine, filigran nose, very light, a dancing wine, perfect harmony already, very tender, a model for Mosel wine, really impressive, the length of the golden capsula indicates the share of botrytised grapes in the wine.

2007 Lorcher Schlossberg, Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, Weingut August Kesseler

CM: a very pure, true Auslese, no botrytis, was a perfect year, just left the grapes on the vine, one can taste the minerality, keeps a pureness which is impressive, very filigran.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with August Kesseler, Weingut August Kesseler, in Berlin.

2004 Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg, Selection de Grains Nobles, Domaine Weinbach

CM: beautiful wine, stands for itself, a different style, stands out, honey on the nose, one can smell the sweetness, in the mouth the acid sinks in, impressive wine.

Colette Faller from Domaine Weinbach: Un vin de meditation, can be drunk by itself and should be drunk by itself, great minerality.

Picture: Colette Faller, Domaine Weinbach, at the Tasting.

2006 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr, Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Fritz Haag

CM: very lazy wine, subtle, fruity Riesling, 2006 was not an easy year, right at the limit to Trockenbeerenauslese, very punchy fruit, shows power, has a great length, can be kept for many more years.

2001 Hattenheimer Schuetzenhaus, Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Hans Lang

CM: vineyard is not far away from here, quite different style, more evolved, honey, apple, spices on the nose, very good integration of sugar, acid and botrytis, woven together into a great structure, concentration is enormous, very dense wine.

2001 Deidesheimer Kieselberg, Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan

CM: a wine from the Pfalz, Weingut has long tradition of making noble-sweet wines, show typically lots of exotic notes, site has botrytis every other year, really exotic, with honey, pineapple and ginger notes, full-bodied wine, do not think it is a sweet wine because of the high acidity.

1994 Jesuitengarten Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl

CM: By far the darkest color of all wines, there is some botrytis, but not much, very exotic on the nose, ripe apples, cloves, cinemon, aging gives new aspects to the wine.

2005 Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg, Riesling Beerenauslese, Schloss Schoenborn

CM: 175 Oechsle, very classical style, honey, spices, nuts on the nose, acidity is still very racy, should be put away for 10 years before drinking it again.

2003 Wallufer Walkenberg, Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Toni Jost

CM: Further developed than the previous wine, very open already, apple skin notes, tropical fruits, mango, papaya, impressive density, good structure.

2003 Johannisberger Hoelle, Riesling Beerenauslese, Weingut Johannishof

CM: quite different style, very young, very fresh on the nose, citrus, peach, fresh lime fruit, very vivid acid, looking for more time to be woven together, 100% botrytised grapes, but you cannot taste it.

Hellmut O. Knall: Super.

1998 Ockfener Boekstein, Riesling Eiswein, Weingut St. Urbans-Hof

CM: A Saar wine, beautiful exotic fruit, strong floral component, with some passion fruit, apricots in the mouth, vivid acidity, a very young wine, acidity is astonishing, good structure.

Picture: Nik Weis, Weingut Sankt Urbanshof, at the Tasting.

2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Riesling Icewine, Cave Spring Cellars

CM: The winery is owned by a family that came ages ago from Italy to Canada, it is getting really cold there, ideal conditions for icewine, more the apple style, intensive spices, very powerful wine, good concentration, sustainable length.

Picture: Thomas Pennachetti, Cave Spring Cellars, at the Tasting.

2008 Oberhaeuser Bruecke, Riesling Eiswein, Weingut Hermann Doennhoff

CM: harvested on December 30, very typical icewine, Oberhaeuser Bruecke has a special micro-climate which is very conducive for making icewine, bright fruit, very young and innocent wine, peach, long finish.

2009 Ruedesheimer Drachenstein, Riesling Eiswein, Weingut Josef Leitz

CM: Such a young, fresh wine with banana and citrus notes, we are killing a baby, needs 15 years at least, shows minerality and finesse, an overwhelming wine, fruity and fresh.

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