A Tasting of (Budget) German Rieslings - They Are Dry!

Riesling

The best word that comes to my mind to describe the overall impression left after a tasting of 5 German Rieslings is “authentic”. By that I mean wines with an increased expression of its origin. Wines with a suspense that the wine itself creates and maintains for a long period of time. Wines that are created by nature, by the “terroir”, and not forced by the winemaker into a shape - not following the current fashion or the most influential wine critic. Where the winemaker works with the nature and not against it.

Being always on the search for authentic Italian wines for vino roma, I always keep an eye out for wines of other countries as well. My personal favorites, after the Italians, are Austrians. If I ever open a branch of vino roma in another country, it will be in Austria! But during our 1,5 years in Stuttgart we also got hooked on German wines. Till then we were “Yeah, there are nice German whites, but forget the reds, and why drink German when you can have Italian?”. I must ashamedly admit that this was a very uneducated opinion. There are lovely German whites and reds and if you look hard enough, you will find ones with very good price-quality ratio, too.

Our favorite place to go talk about German wines, learn about them and have a taste as well is the wine store of Bernd Kreis in Stuttgart. Mr. Kreis, who was Europe’s Best Sommelier in 1992 has worked in some very highly esteemed restaurants and owns a wine store for over 10 years now. He is the person who made us appreciate German wines. Although we don’t live there anymore, last time when we were in the area we payed him a visit and let him choose 5 German Rieslings for us. We gave him only two restrictions: They had to be dry and they had to be under 20 Euros each.

Now, I know that most American wine drinkers will be startled now: Dry Riesling? The American market is full of off-dry or outright sweet Rieslings from Germany but let me assure you:this is not the case at the source! In Germany, most Rieslings on the market are dry, actually, bone-dry, very acidic and mineral, with notes of petroleum.

The first Riesling we tasted was the Riesling Spätlese* trocken** 2007 from Weingut Schloss Lehrensteinsfeld in Württemberg. €11. This small family owned winery (for over 130 years now!) cultivates only about 6 hectares of vineyards, where Riesling is the only white varietal. This wine was fermented spontaneously and in stainless steel tanks. A brilliant pale straw yellow in the glass, the nose was very concentrated and was dominated by fresh fruit aromas like pineapple and herbs like lemon balm. The palate was, in line with the nose, strong, very clear and fruity, with a nice acidity and mineral. A full but elegant structure. A racy wine to start the evening! (*Spätlese literally means “late harvest”, it is the lightest of the late harvest wines in Germany. The grapes are picked at least 7 days later than normal harvest and have a higher must weight -between 76 to 90 degrees Oechsle - and when used to produce **dry wines, deliver fleshy and intensely flavored wines that age well.)

Second was Stettener Pulvermächer* Kieselsandstein** Riesling Qualitätswein*** 2007 from Weingut Beurer in Württemberg, but further south than the first winery. €14,70. This winery is also family owned and has been producing grapes for a long time though only since 1997 do they make their own wines (50% Riesling), which are strictly organic. All wines are fermented spontaneously, this Riesling has been fermented and matured partly in big barrels, partly in stainless steel tanks. Darker in color, a very strong, yeasty and mineral nose, with a fine acidity and a long and balanced finish. Unlike any of the other wines of the evening. (*the specific lot, words ending with -er give you a hint about the location, as it literally means “from”. **Quartzose sandstone, the type of soil, very mineral and porous. ***quality wine from specific region, always in combination with the specific region, comparable to Italian DOC.)

Then came the Monzinger Halenberg Riesling Qualitätswein trocken 2007 from Weingut Emrich-Schönleber in Nahe. €17,90. Another family owned, award winning (German Riesling Prize 2007, Best White Wine Collection of the Year 2008) winery, looking back at a tradition of 250 years of viticulture. About 75% of the vineyards are planted with Riesling, and this lot, Halenberg, which has about 70% inclination, completely. The soil consists of blue slate and quartzite, which makes the vines struggle for water during the summer, thus producing smaller berries with very special aromas. Fermented in stainless steel tanks. A finely structured mineral wine, with concentrated apricot and grapefruit aromas at a (very evident) young age, but still very mouth-filling. The spicy-herbal aromas of this wine are supposed to come to the foreground with age.

Next to last was Riesling*** SL Qualitätswein trocken 2007 from Weingut Alexander Laible in Baden, the furthest south located of the wineries. € 11,50.The 3 stars are the winemaker’s way of grading the acidity, the color of grapes, the consistency of the flesh and the health status of grapes as well as the variety of specific aromas. The winemaker, just been chosen the discovery of the year 2009 by Gault Millau, is the second - and not inheriting - son of a famous winemaker, who just started his own winery. He finished the work on his “cellar” (an old bakery) with the help of befriended Franciscan monks just days before his first harvest - 2007! This Riesling, completely from stainless steel tanks, is full of apple, peach and clementine aromas, on the palate it is very intense, mineral and herbal-spicy.

Our last Riesling was also the one with the most famous name: Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Qualitätswein trocken 2005 from Weingut Dr. Loosen, the only Mosel Riesling of the tasting, making it also the furthest north located. €20,90.  Dr. Loosen wines are probably the best known German Rieslings in the USA. His vineyards are one of the last (and few) in Europe to feature non-grafted, ancient vines (upto 100 years). The wines are all spontaneously fermented, not fined, racking and handling is kept to a minimum. Although he does primarily produce semi-sweet or sweet Rieslings, this one was, as per our wishes, dry. Still, this was the one with the most residual sugar and the most mouthfilling, buttery feel. I do like that style, but compared to the other Rieslings of the tasting, it was not my favorite, I do like the more acidic and mineral Rieslings. Of course, part of this spicy and exotic aromas was because of the lot, the Ürzig, which does have a very different soil than the rest of the Mosel - Rotliegend as opposed to the common Blueschist.

So, if you think Rieslings are only sweet and have been avoiding them for that reason, do ask your wine retailer for some dry German Rieslings next time and try to have different ones from different regions - because Riesling is one of the best showcases of terroir affecting the wine. Two online sources to start with the search in the USA are The Age of Riesling and Terry Theise.

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