It’s spring and that makes me think of Riesling. Imagine yourself in the picture above. It’s a May evening in the middle Mosel, one of the most gorgeous places in the wine universe. You’re standing at the very top of the Bernkasteler Doctor vineyard some 800 feet or so above the river looking at a huge expanse of Riesling vines in golden sunlight. You’re sipping a glass of the most recent vintage of Wegeler’s Spätlese from the glorious vineyard below you. Two things are imminently possible:
a. You’re not happy. If that’s the case you really have serious issues. Counseling and/or medication are strongly advised.
b. You are deliriously happy; as it should be and the following thoughts might enter your brain pan in rapid succession:
“Life is good.”
“This must be what the angels drink in heaven.”
“I feel like the Muppets Movie.”
“I think I can actually dance.”
“Where can I get more of this?”
I’m not sure why, but Riesling does this, especially German Riesling. In fact, we wine geeks tend to get more compulsive about German Riesling than any other wine. Half my cellar, which is not huge by any stretch, is German Riesling. That’s not a rare thing. It’s not uncommon among my fellow MS’ to own dozens of cases of German Riesling –even 100+ cases in a few instances. Why do we get so dangerously excited about wine that is white, light and usually slightly sweet? Here are several reasons:
Drinkability: as jaded as one can become after many years in the business it’s easy to forget that wine is supposed to be delicious. Riesling reminds us that the same wine can be remarkably complex and yet utterly delicious with each sip.
Complexity: Riesling, in particular German Riesling, has a wider expression of aromas and flavors than any other white wine. And because the wine is made in so many different styles–from the rich, dry and complex Erste Lage bottlings to cranium-rattling sweet TBA’s and everything in between—you’ll bound to find just about any and everything in the glass with the exception of beef jerky. In Master Sommelier classes we often teach that white wines have five different fruit groups. I’m convinced that Riesling has eleven (or is that infinity?).
Terroir. With German Riesling there’s no winemaking cosmetic surgery. What you get it is what was harvested, fermented, and bottled–and nothing else. That means the wines have unmatched transparency and display the unique terroir of the vineyard as well as or better than any other wine. What more could a wine geek possibly want? I’m not sure but that’s why we tend to get worked up about German Riesling like a bunch of Chihuahuas on crank.
Ageability: the oldest unfortified white wine I’ve ever tasted was an 80-year-old Spätlese Riesling from the Piesporter Goldtröpchen vineyard from Rheinhold Haart in the Mosel. The estate had three remaining bottles of that vintage in the cellar and owner/winemaker Theo Haart opened one of them for his grandfather’s 80th birthday the day before our visit. He then filled a half bottle with some of the wine for our tasting the next day. When opened for us the wine was bright, youthful and more than just alive–it was simply amazing. Why does Riesling age so well? It must be the magic combination of low alcohol, high acid and the touch of residual sugar. It’s not uncommon for Spätlese and Auslese wines from top producers/vineyards/vintages to age for several decades–if you have the patience, that is.
Food flexibility: while that mammoth HGH-laced Cabernet may be just the thing for your chipotle-encrusted half-steer, the same wine will be sent crashing to terra firma like a damaged UFO when faced with the likes of a composed salad of micro-greens and a mango foam vinaigrette. Ah vinaigrette, the wine slayer. Nothing eviscerates a tannic red like the high acidity of vinegar. The answer? A high acid white with just a touch of sweetness. Riesling, if you please.
Still hesitant to jump on the Riesling band wagon along with the rest of us? Let me offer one further bit of sage advice:
It’s OK to drink slightly sweet wine
There, I said it. Remember the part of the Mel Brook’s movie “History of the World, Part I?” The part where Moses (aka Mel Brooks) comes down from the mountain with 15—not 10—commandments and drops one of the tablets breaking it into to bits? I’m convinced that one of those long lost five commandments on that broken tablet said that it’s OK to drink slightly sweet wine. That means, dear reader, the same style of wine you began your vinous career with back in the day is not only still good but might actually be timely and even heroic. Who knew?
Here are some of my favorite German Rieslings. If the language scares you, don’t freak out. Remember— there’s no crying in baseball so there’s no freaking out in wine. The names of German Rieslings all have two words just like any wine from Burgundy. The first is the name of the village and the second the name of the vineyard. My suggestion is to look for Kabinett (off-dry) or Spätlese (slightly sweet) wines from the producers and vineyards listed below. In terms of purchase, simply plug any of these names into winesearcher.com along with a recent vintage and you’ll be more than half way home. Prost!
Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat
2. Dr. F. Weins-Prüm:
Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Ürziger Würzgarten, Graacher Himmelreich
3. J.J. Prüm:
Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich
Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Domprobst
6. Fritz Haag:
Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr
7. Rheinhold Haart:
8. Egon Müller:
10. von Kesselstadt:
Josephshöfer, Bernkasteler Doctor, Scharzhofberger
1. Franz Künstler:
Hochheimer Kirchenstück, Hochheimer Hölle, Hochheimer Stielweg
2. Robert Weil:
Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Oberhäuser Brücke, Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube
Mönziger Hallenberg, Mönziger Frühlingsplätzchen
1. von Buhl:
Forster Kirchenstück, Forster Ungeheurer
Haardter Bürgergarten, Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten