Monday, July 21, 2008

German Reisling (I am not talking about Blue Nun)

In the wine world there are numerous examples of stellar wines and wine regions being ripped off by less scrupulous producers to make a buck.
Does anyone think that Gallo "Hearty Burgundy" contains any French Pinot Noir juice?
Chablis is a spectacular white wine region in Burgundy that gets little street cred with the general public, mainly because of the ocean of crappy California plonk that gets boxed and sent out to BFE for consumption. I am sure someone is picking up a 5 Litre box and thinking "Gee, this has a French name, it must be good".
Have you seen the Inglenook wines in the grocery store? Does anyone know that the original Inglenook was one of the first top quality California Cabernet Sauvignon wines? Today the entire Inglenook estate has been purchased and brought back to its former glory by Francis Ford Coppala. Today the property is called Rubicon Estate Winery and they don't make any wine that goes into a box (they do make a sparkling wine that goes in a can though...oh, well).
I can think of numerous examples, but I think you get my drift. This weekend my wine group did a German Riesling tasting. These wines are absolutely singular in their ability to express where they come from. Living in the Willamette Valley I have heard winemakers, grape growers, and merchants all proclaim how Pinot Noir is terroir driven. Well, as expressive as Pinot Noir is to where it is grown, Riesling takes the concept of terroir to a whole new level.
Being in my 40's (late) I can remember the Blue Nun craze that started in the 50's and continued into the 80's.
When it was created, the label was designed as a consumer-friendly alternative to the innumerable German wine labels with Gothic script and long, complicated names. Blue Nun was advertised as a wine that could be drunk throughout an entire meal, thereby eliminating the often intimidating problem of wine and food pairing (Who wants to actually have to serve wine that might taste good with your food?).
Anyway, I digress, the line-up for this tasting, along with my tasting notes is as follows:

1985 Christoffel-Prum Auslese Wehlener: Creamy nose, good acid balance with a touch of Caramel on the finish. This wine had no discoloration at all and was remarkable fresh for being 23 years old.

1994 Christoffel-Prum Auslese Urziger: Petrol/kerosene on the nose (classic) and palate. Nice acid balance. This wine too had no visible discoloration or apparent oxidation.

2005 Heyman-Lowenstein Laubach Erste Lage: Petrol nose, funky mid-palate, very thin, watery and a short finish. This wine started off poorly and got worse.

2006 Ackerman Spatlese Zeltinger: Lemony citrus nose, great acidity, a crisp minerality, a full bodied viscous texture. This was my favorite wine of the night.

2006 Kees-Kieran Riesling: Peach on the nose, a hint of effervesence on the palate, tart acidity and a good finish.

2006 Gunderloch Spatlese Nackenheimer: Soft Peach/apricot on the nose, tart acidity and good fruit with a long finish.

I found the follow information (in italics) on a site called Walter's Web If you really want to exercise the wine geek in you check it out.

Leave it to the Germans to devise a wine labelling system that includes all the information that there is to know, and none of it useful. The top tier German wines are labelled Qualitatswein mit Pradikat, abbreviated QmP. These wines have attained the specified ripeness level (pradikat), come from the named location, are made in the traditional styles, and passes chemical analysis and taste tests (yes, the Germans chemically analyze their wine and look for things like Ph and residual sugar parts per million) The second tier is labelled Qualitatswein bestimmter Angaugebeite, often written simply as Qualitatswein, and abbreviated as QbA. These wines come from the specified location and are made in the traditional styles, but typically do not achieve the ripeness levels required for pradikat designation. The bottom tier consists of things labeled Deutscher Tafelwein or Deutscher Landwein, and rarely escape the country. A German wine label includes the following things: Winemaker, the people who made the wine, such as Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt. You will often see the word "Weingut"; this means winemaker and indicates that the wine was grown, made, and bottled on the premises (in the manner of a French chateau). There are other designations for cooperatives and merchant resellers. Varietal, the type of grape. Most top German wine is Riesling, but one occasionally runs into other varieties like Gewurztraminer or Silvaner. Muller-Thurgau is one of the most widely grown varieties, but nobody advertises this fact because it's a fast-ripening grape designed to be grown in bulk. A named varietal guarantees a minimum of 85% content. Vintage, the year the grapes were harvested. All grapes must come from the named year. Geographic Origin, the region the grapes came from, such as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. All grapes come from the specified region. A pradikat designation for QmP wines. A vineyard may also be named, such as Piesporter Goldtropfchen, although this is usually done only for the better pradikat wines. Some of the low-end QbA wine omits the varietal and uses a traditional name instead, like Blue Nun or Schwarze Katz. There are rules covering these names as well and are specific to the traditional name. The pradikat designation on the wine indicates the level of ripeness that the grapes have attained. They are, in order of increasing ripeness: Kabinett These grapes are considered ripe. They make the lightest wines of the pradikat-designated wines. Spatlese These grapes are considered late harvest; they have been left on the vine much longer and are more intensely flavored. Auslese These grapes are very late harvest hand-selected grapes, and are extremely ripe. Beerenauslese These grapes are over-ripe and are showing signs of botrytis fungus infection (which is a good thing). The grapes are extremely concentrated and intense, and is usually made as dessert wine. Eiswein These are Beerenauslese grapes that have been deliberately allowed to freeze on the vine. The grapes are pressed while still frozen. The ice locks up most of the water, leaving a more concentrated, sweeter juice. Since the frozen grapes must be hand selected and processed immediately in the middle of the night while they are still frozen, production is very limited and expensive. Trockenbeerenauslese These are Beerenauselse that have been left on the vine so long that they have shriveled due to botrytis. This produces fine dessert wine. Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese is extremely rare and expensive. Sweetness usually goes up as you move up the pradikat scale, although this is not required. The designation only refers to the sugar levels at harvest time, not in the final product. However, in most cases, a higher pradikat wine will taste sweeter and more concentrated than a lower wine at the same alcohol level, since the higher wine has much more residual sugar. Beerenauslese and higher wines have sufficient residual sugar to taste sweet even at 14% alcohol. Wines are reasonably priced through Auslese. Beyond that, prices increace very rapidly. In the case of Riesling, the growing season is often not long enough to produce significant quantities of Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, and this extreme scarcity leads to high prices. Eiswein of any sort tends to be very expensive as well. For Beerenauslese and higher, the wines are frequently sold in half-size (375ml) bottles, to be more affordable and more accessible (it is difficult for two to finish a full bottle of very intense dessert wine in one sitting). In addition to the pradikat designation, the modifiers trocken and halbtrocken may be added. Trocken means dry; halbtrocken means off-dry. Most Riesling is made with higher residual sugar (hence the common 8.5% alcohol); the trocken and halbtrocken wines are made drier and thus reach more typical alcohol levels of 11.5-12%. Putting all this together: consider this label, courtesy Fitz-Ritter. The pertinent information is that it is a Fitz-Ritter Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Spatlese 1996, Qualitatswein mit Pradikat Pfalz. This means that the wine was made and bottled by Fitz-Ritter (as the "weingut" indication tells us), that it comes from the Herrenberg vineyard near Ungstein, that Riesling grapes were used, that these grapes attained Spatlese level ripeness, tha the harvest year was 1996, and that the region is Pfalz. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?
What did I learn from this tasting?
I learned that I much prefer the younger wines. The fruit on the nose and crisp acidity in their youth is more enjoyable than the muted fruit and the petroleum scents that these wines pick up when they are aged (sure, call me unsophisticated).
Since this is a social group that I taste with we usually all bring a bottle to share after the event.

This wine is fun AND kicks Ass!
I had grabbed a bottle of Kung Fu Girl Reisling from Washington State. This is bottled under Charles Smith's (of K-Vintner fame) Magnificent Wine Company label. He has done a terrific job with putting some great juice in the bottle for around $10/bottle. This is a bottle that would more than hold its own against German wines twice its you get to drink American. Think of it as doing your part to prop up the U.S. economy.


Heather said...

Of all the selections on Sunday, I found the Kung Fu Girl the most drinkable - probably because it was the driest of all?

Thanks again for letting us sneak in on your turf. It's cool to see you in action. :)

Norm Schoen said...

Hey Heather,
I liked the Kung Fu Girl because of the great fruit/acid balance and the fact that his wine was actually "fun" to drink. The German wines can be great, but sometimes it is more fun to just enjoy what is in the glass vs. having to do a full blown EIS to determine drinkability.
You two are welcome any time!