IMW(NA)-VDP Tutored Tastings: Ageworthy German Wines Part 1

One question I am asked perhaps more than any is “how long can a wine age?”  Of course, the answer is that it depends on the wine in question, but if the IMW(NA)-VDP Ageworthy German Wine seminar proved anything, it’s that top-quality German wines do age — how long they age, of course depends on the wine.  It is the divine alchemy between sugar and acidity that contribute to the long age worthiness of the sweeter styles of wines, but what of the drier styles?  Annegret Reh-Gartner answered that, saying that she “aspires” to 20 years . . . . “but I’m not there yet.”  Certainly, of the wines we tasted Monday, the oldest (only 1997) was a sweet – if not a super sweet.  But, depending on the vintage, it was clear that the best dry Rieslings and Pinot Noirs tend to be too closed and concentrated upon release, and benefit from anywhere from 4 to 10 years in the cellar.

Below follow my tasting notes from the session.  My next post will review much of the lively discussion that accompanied the tasting.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt (Saar) Scharzhofberger Grosses Gewächs 2010: nervy nose, fully ripe stone fruit with spicy and a slightly sweaty character (only noticeable in comparison with the Müller-Catoirs that follow); a nervy, zingy palate, with a very fine, delicate stony character and high, racy, fresh acidity – with a medium, minerally, slightly saline finish.  Taut and not ready, really, but quite fine.  11.5% abv  2009:  Much more open nose, richer and riper, with a more obvious minerally character.  Slight pétillance adds age-worthiness and vibrancy to the stone fruit pits/spice/similar saline character to the long,  minerally finish, as in the 2010.  2002: Deeper lemon color, still with greenish hue.  Intense, lightly petrolly, richer nose, showing stone fruit pits, spice and a lemon-lime character – even kaffir lime.  Creamy palate, with full palate coverage, broad but light-bodied, well-balanced crisp, but softer, integrated acidity and delicate mineral layers. Medium concentration; ready to drink.  A sweaty, high-toned retronasal note leads into a crisp, saline, minerally finish.

Müller-Catoir (Pfalz) Breumel in den Mauren  Grosses Gewächs 2010:  2008: Nose initially closed, but with air opened to a more fruit-forward style than I recall, though with underlying minerality and subtle, broad sweet earthy notes below the Seville orange, stone fruit and cherry notes.  More purity of fruit than the von Kesselstatts.  Relatively speaking, more fruit-forward on the palate, though subtle soft earthy notes emerge late, retronasally, in the wine.  Weightier, solid medium-term minerally concentration, but still fresh, if lacking the elegance of the other wines.  Firm on the mid palate with a medium, crisp finish.   2007:  Very ripe nose; clean and pure; very subtly earthy.  Big, broad attack – immediately alcoholic.  While it had stony layers, and a spicy stony finish, the wine was hot and unbalanced.  At 14.5%, the wine just didn’t have the concentration to hold it.   The crowd put this poor wine through the wringer, and I am loathe to make it feel worse than it already does.  I was very disappointed with this property after the tasting: the wines seem not what they were a few years ago.

Schloss Johannesberg (Rheingau) Erstes Gewächs 2010: Very ripe nose; stony sharp and taut on the palate, showing firmness of concentration rather than fat.  On the shy side of medium-bodied, but with a subversive power and energy.  Flavors of limes, stone fruits and black currant bud.  Spicy finish. (13.0 abv)   2007:  Broad and stony, a bit hot on the finish, but with lots of mineral character and spiciness.  (12.7 abv) 2005: A ripe, generous nose, if not the most delineated.  Full, and open in the mouth offering full palate coverage and generosity with a slightly saline finish.  (12.5 abv)  I would have loved to have tried the 2008 from this, the oldest Riesling estate in the world, dating back to 817!

Balthasar Ress (Rheingau) Hattenheim Nussbrunnen Riesling Spätlese 2009:  Pale lemon with green reflections.  Dynamic peach/apricot/spiced nose.  Vibrant and ripe.  Medium-sweet, but with soft, balancing acidity; even across the palate, with underlying subtle stone and spice notes.  Very ripe,  showing some botrytic notes. Sweetish, medium finish – perhaps could use a little nerve.  This was the first wine made fully under Christian Ress’ management and new team.  2005: Bright, pale lemon.  Full palate coverage; spicy, open, and ready to drink.  Plump but crisp, with a delicate, even racy edge.  Crisp medium-plus finish. Has quite a bit of time ahead to develop.  1997: Medium-lemon color.  Ripe, but petrolly, intense nose.  Assimilated sugar on the palate; fully developed and harmonious, with oily character mingling with developed fruits. Petrolly, crisp finish, showing a delicate edge.  (Stefan Ress noted that the spring under this site ensures that there always is sufficient water supply, even in a difficult vintage such as 2003.)

Dr Wehrheim (Pfalz) Kastanienbusch  Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009:  Medium ruby: nose of fresh, dark berries, vanilla and tobacco.  Medium-bodied+ and very mineral; spicy, with dark red fruits and a high-toned quality above the fruit and earthy characters (a minty note developed).  Taut, with firm, ripe tannins; really not ready to drink: should be tremendous in 10 years.  Medium finish – relatively closed.  (A warm vintage in which it was very difficult to make bad wine, Franz Wehrheim commented:  a warm vintage, with healthy grapes, and high tartaric acid levels.  2007:  Sweet fruit nose: open, a bloom of a little funk.  Sweet attack, softer acidity, more integrated tannins than in the 2009, then spice and vanilla; integrated wood. Long finish.   Ready to drink but could hold a few years as well.  Initially very pretty, a spicy, feral note emerged later in its evolution. (I appreciate the dynamic quality of this wine)  Wehrheim noted that this was an “average” years, with slightly less acidity but otherwise more or less middle of the road, if with slightly smaller yields.  2002: Earthy, integrated and harmonious nose: dark fruits, forest floor.  Smoky and even on the palate, with dark red berries, integrated flavors and medium + acidity, still crisp and meaty, forest floor character.  Medium finish.  (Cooler vintage)  This wine shows the potential of the 2009, which should be fantastic.  All of these wines were aged in German (Palatinate) oak 225l barrels for 15-18 months.

Jean Stodden (Ahr) Herrenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs A much more masculine line of wines than those of the other two domaines.)  2009: Medium+ deep ruby.  Taut, closed nose showing mineral and wood.  Textured palate, smoky and mineral.  Needs time for the wood to integrate and flesh out.  Alex Stodden confirmed that this was an “easy” vintage.   2007:  Medium ruby.  Medium+ concentration and spicy, dark and earthy, with dark fruit, but wood still seems to poke out.  Firm wine with some noticeable alcohol, and very well put together, but the wood seems a little aggressive again.  Medium finish marred by alcohol.  Should do well for the next few years but doesn’t have the fruit extract to hold up like the other 2 wines in the flight. (Alex: “Some fall apart after seven years.)  Auslese Trocken 2001: Lovely nose: ripe and integrated.  Full-bodied but not heavy, soft, lovely and ripe.  Sweet, integrated attack, with “summer pudding” flavors, mineral and vanilla.  Well knit, with medium alcohol levels and integrated, balanced tannins.  These wines, all from their own clonal selection (some ungrafted) were all aged in 100% new French oak and showed it; I am unpersuaded the wines benefit from it.

Salway (Baden) Kirschberg Oberrotweil  Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009: Fresh, pure, delicate, “feminine” nose compared to the Wehrheim and Stodden wines.  Sweet strawberry and mulberry fruits; subtle, sweet wet earth, sweat and leaves emerge with breathing.  Full palate coverage, fresh medium+ acidity, balanced alcohol, lithe, filigreed tannins, with a mineral/dirt/stony layer on the finish.  Ripe and supple: very pretty.  Even later opened further to show ripe, sweet compote notes.  Auslese Trocken 2002: Medium intense black cherry, spice, Christmas holiday cake nose.  Medium-bodied, with layers of vanilla, fresh cherries, pomegranates, mineral, smoke, crisp acidity and a medium finish. Lovely.  Auslese Trocken 1999: Sweaty, developed nose, with bottle variation.  The best bottles also showed lovely summer pudding aromas.  Crisp, integrated and mineral, with high acidity, and again, depending on the bottle, either the end of the road, or on its plateau, with wet leaves, developed forest fruits, mineral, sweet earth and integrated tannins.  These wines as a group were the most delicate of the 9 Pinot Noirs.

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2 Responses to IMW(NA)-VDP Tutored Tastings: Ageworthy German Wines Part 1

  1. Clark Smith says:

    One thing about German wines which I am certain helps their longevity is the low alcohol levels. In fact, in my experience, de-alcoholized wines age best of all. Minerality (whatever that is) certainly seems to be a factor as well.

    This article restates the oft-cited notion that sugar protects wine during aging. At first blush, the notion that “reducing sugar” is an antioxidant makes sense, but I can’t say I’ve seen evidence of this effect. It might be good to hear from some good electrochemist as to whether the respective energies involved suggest that such a reaction would go. Meantime, I doubt it. To be sure, oxidation of glucose to gluconic acid is mediated by botrytis, but this could hardly be called longevity-promoting. The only thing I can see that sugar does is to cover up the drying out associated with phenolic polymerization. However, I would live to hear other views.

  2. granikmw says:

    Clark, I’m inclined to say I’ve had less experience with de-alcoholized wines than you, but of course, I have no idea how many de-alc’d wins I’ve had ! That said, it is true that the conventional wisdom is that residual sugar is regarded as one of the elements that allows a wine to age — witness the longevity of Madeiras, sweet Loire Chenins and Sauternes – wines with higher alcohol levels than the Germans, but with high acidity and residual sugar. Even if the sugar is “cover[ing] up the drying out associated with phenolic polymerization,” it still is contributing to the wine being drinkable for a longer period.

    And is there a difference between “reducing sugar” and “residual sugar”? I like to ensure we all are not talking past each other. I know that reducing sugar is used to refer to the glucose and fructose that are included in the soluble solids of unfermented grape juice, but am wondering whether this latter refers to unfermented juice, and the former to finished wine. And, as you intimate, it may not be sugar’s function as an anti-oxidant but rather some electrostatic reaction. But the Germans (and other sweet wine producers who do not de-alc) do assert that sugar is one element contributing to their wines’ longevity.

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