1. Riesling contrasts: I talk about my experience with the differences between Rheingau and Mosel wines.
2. This sampling of mostly Rheingau wines really impressed me -- I talk about Domdechant Werner dry Riesling (a top shelf wine), Schloss Johannisberg Spätlese (off-dry but great with Chinese), and a loser for me -- Hans Lang dry Riesling.
3. I end on a high note, discussing one of the most awesome Rieslings for the money that I've come across -- Knebel. This is a MUST try, as some friends of mine discovered when they were shocked to discover the wine they were raving about was a German Riesling!
As a follow up to my last post on some Mosel Rieslings, I'm posting on a few more -- 3 from Rheingau and 1 from Mosel, for contrast.
This was the most surprising batch of Rieslings that I've tasted in a while (all courtesy of the Wines of Germany program, BTW). I gotta admit, I am feeling just a little guilty for being kind of bitchy about how I think Rheingau is over-rated. Maybe it's like dating. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince.
Although the results were slightly mixed, I'm happy to report that Rheingau has finally turned into a prince for me!
Two Rheingau wines below were both high quality -- and both live up to their VDP distinction. Just as a refresher (this is lifted from the Germany Primer...):
...for 150 years, the folks living [in Rheingau] have taken special pride in their knowledge. Germany has a nationwide classification system based on how ripe the grapes are, but Rheingau has its own standards for quality. Its Charta system ranks the best vineyard sites for Riesling. 35% of all Rhingau's vineyards are considered top quality (erstes gewächs, which I mentioned above).
Although I haven't always found this to be true, the theory goes -- if you want the good stuff, look for VDP on the label.
In my experience up to now, most wines from Rheingau have been light, fruity, and pleasant but nothing to get me fired up. I would never use any of the Rheingaus I've had to turn someone on to Riesling and change their attitude about it. I usually use dry Mosel Rieslings or those from Alsace, France to do that.
But these two wines...mmmmm, mmmmm:
Wine #1: 2007 Domdechant Werner Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Trocken, Erstes Gewäch (first growth, highest quality)
Color: Lighter than a lot of Rheingau Rieslings I've had, this was less golden and more like a hay color. Although color usually doesn't tell you that much about a wine, I knew there may be something different going on with this one just by its looks. And I was right!
Smell: This was super aromatic, not soft and gentle like most Rheingaus I've had. There was a big hit of peach, gardenia flower, and some lemon scents. It smelled like fresh springtime rain in a meadow. There was a LOT of character and lots of different smells of outdoors and fruit.
Taste: Damn.This wine was the perfect balance of lemon/green apple fruit and fresh rain/waterfall flavors. It was so delicious that it's hard to describe. The fruit was full and rich, but because the wine was dry, rocky-tasting, and had super-high acidity, I got the impression of fruit but none of the cloying, syrupy flavor that I sometimes find in Riesling.
Drink or Sink: Drink! This was a complex wine -- meaning you could keep describing it 100 different ways and still not be done -- and it had power but was still elegant. I know it costs bucks, but this is Riesling at its best.
My only caveat is that upon doing research on Domdechant Werner, it seems like 2007 was a really exceptional year for weather in their vineyards. What does that mean? Other vintages may not be quite as insanely good. That said, if you see a good deal on one of these, grab it...especially if it's 2007. With some pasta primavera, I was in love.
Wine 2: 2010 Schloss Johannisberg, Grünlack, Riesling Spätlese
A note on Schloss Johannisberg (whose Kabinett I reviewed in the Riesling Primer earlier this year): they are a legendary winery.
They've been making wine from about 1,200 years and were the first wine estate to grow Riesling exclusively. Spätlese, or late harvest Riesling, was invented here in the 1700s (by mistake -- they waited too long to harvest the grapes because of a late messenger...story for another time). It was a wine available only to royalty for centuries and today, 1/10 of the harvest still goes directly to the Hapsburgs in Austria.
Where it's from: From Rheingau, from the estate of Schloss Johannisberg.
The Grape: 100% Riesling. Spätlese means it's slightly sweet/off-dry.
The Alcohol: 8.5% (low alcohol means that not all the sugar was fermented... good thing to look for in German wines to indicate the sweetness level).
Color: This was like brass. It was a rich, golden yellow, which was a good tip off that I was about to taste the ripeness of the grapes at harvest and the sugar in the wine.
Smell: Much lighter than the Domechant, this was like sugary lemon, pears, peaches, and a little bit of white gardenia flowers. It wasn't overwhelming to smell, but light and sweet.
Taste: Here's the thing: this isn't a wine to drink on its own. BUT it's awesome with food. It was really fruity -- like a fruit salad with a lot of fresh peach in it. It was a little bit like sweet lemon, but the real action for me was the texture. The wine was full -- it hit every tooth, gum, and cheek surface! And it had crazy acidity. My mouth was watering long after I finished the wine. It was sweet and a little thick by itself, even with all the acid.
Drink or Sink: Drink! I broke this out with some very spicy Chinese food and it was luscious. It offset all the 5 alarm spice from the chili and everything seemed to taste more mellow and fruity. My mouth was thankful for the break so I was sipping lots of wine in between bites. It calmed down the fire in my mouth like no other wine could!
The wine is unbelievable quality with great acid and fruit, but at this sweetness level I don't think it's a sipping wine, so just keep that in mind if you buy this one.
A great gift for someone who loves Asian food, BTW.
Wine 3: 2009 Hans Lang Rheingau Charta Riesling
Hans Lang is a much newer producer than the previous two -- having only started after WWII. The Weingut (winery in German) is also a member of the VDP.
Where it's from: Rheingau.
The Grape: 100% Riesling.
Color: Like the others, it was a brassy, golden color and a little spritzy -- something common in German Rieslings.
Smell: Not a whole heck of a lot going on here. Slightly like a floral perfume (like at the end of the night after it has worn off), a little bit of honey, and then a hot rock smell, but not much to speak of. This is what I usually find in Rheingau Rieslings.
Taste: To quote my notes: "Not good." This wine seemed out of balance. There was no fruit flavor -- just a little bit of honey or sugar taste and it was bitter. After it left my mouth I tasted something like a mothball. It had way too much acid with no fruit to balance it. A very harsh flavor.
Drink or Sink: Sink. This is the worst wine I've had from the Wines of Germany program. I'm not sure if it was the bottle, the vintage, or just the wine but I wouldn't recommend getting this one when there are so many better Rieslings for the price. Not good.
And one from Mosel...
I'll end on a high note. This will solidify the style contrast too.
I cracked open a Mosel Riesling with friends earlier in the week and it was really impressive.
When I served it to my friends I didn't tell them what it was. They RAVED about it and when I did the reveal they said they'd never pick up a Riesling on their own because they assumed the wines were all sweet. The pairings with EVERY cheese I served -- from cracked pepper Parmesan to Gruyere to aged Gouda -- were perfection and my wine loving friends marveled at how versatile the wine was. This is a TOTAL winner.
This is a relatively new wine estate, started in the 1990s after the family vineyard, producing wine since 1604, was carved up and given to various family member.
It is small and, by all accounts, in an area that is so steep that it requires back-breaking labor to harvest. Reinhard and Beate Knebel -- husband and wife (the formal name of the winery is Weingut Reinhard und Beate Knebel) have an undying devotion to organic farming, traditional winemaking methods, and allowing the grape to shine. All this shows in the wine.
I will most definitely be buying this wine again and will be seeking out their other selections -- they are top notch.
Price: $17 (but is more like $30 to taste)
Where it's from: Very steep slopes in the Mosel -- you really need to rely on nature to bring good grapes to fruitition. This is a gambler's area in which to grow grapes.
The Grape: 100% Riesling
The Alcohol: 11.5%
Color: In contrast to Rheingau, the dry Rieslings of Mosel are generally lighter in color -- more like a pale yellow or straw color. This was no different.
Smell: Again, as a contrast to most Rheingau which are generally low in aroma, I find that the Rieslings of the Mosel are super aromatic -- they are bursting with fruit and earth smells. This wine had the typical peachy, nectarine, lime character and was also very floral. After it warmed up just a little bit I also smelled a waterfall and then black tea and jasmine tea -- brought me back to when my dad used to take me and my sister to Chinatown (in NYC) for our monthly dose of hiding under the table after eating only white rice and sipping tea.
Taste: WOW! This was an unbelievable wine, especially for the price. It tasted a lot like jasmine or green tea. After it went down I thought it was little like a fresh raspberry too. I loved the acid against the floral and fruity smells and flavors. M.C. Ice was in heaven. He doesn't like Rieslings that are oily or full-feeling in your mouth and this was crisp yet still flavorful. What a great wine for sipping and for cheese, appetizers, or lighter pastas!
Drink or Sink: Drink. I highly recommend this wine. I've had a lot of Riesling and for the price, this is one of the best.
So that's the Riesling round-up for this time. We're going to do a podcast very soon on this amazing grape, so stay tuned!