Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wine Region Project – Rieslings from Mosel & Rheingau

A lot of people have stories about Riesling being the first wine they enjoyed. It isn’t any wonder. The availability of off-dry, fruity versions that are both food friendly and quaffable sets this type of wine up for lots of first dates! Margot and I both have fond memories of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling being a go-to wine early in our exploration of food and beverages. We have broadened our wine tastes considerably since, but still very much enjoy well made Rieslings and believe everyone should understand and celebrate the style.

Germany is well known for its Rieslings, from the very dry and steely to the intensely sweet late harvest versions. What is hasn’t always been, and what was isn’t assured to continue.

Large volumes of basic sweet wines tarnished the reputation of German wines for a time, but more recently are in better balance with dry style production. Late harvest versions are still highly sought after, but that is more for their relative scarcity, risks involved and the back-breaking labor required to produce them. Rieslings made in many German locales do require considerable labor in the vineyard with most of the best plots located on steep hillsides where limited or no mechanization can be used. With competition from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest in the US, German producers don’t necessarily have the esteemed status that they enjoyed in the latter part of the 20th century. But don’t count them out just yet. Riesling originated in Germany and with centuries of expertise in coaxing a sense of place out of this noble grape, there is plenty they can teach us.

( typical Mosel vineyards. )

The Mosel region is widely known as a source for excellent Rieslings, with the grape grown on over half of the total vineyard acreage in the region. The region’s wine history goes back to the Romans who cultivated the area to produce wines to support their local troops during their empire’s expansion. The region is the third largest in Germany but leads the country’s regions in international recognition. With total acreage in decline in the last decade there are concerns about the future. Unfortunately the pace of globalization and technology is drawing many young people away from the wine business and the long days of difficult labor required in the uniquely situated vineyards in the region. Established producers have had to resort to importing laborers who are willing to do this type of work, but it is unlikely this is sustainable.

The profile of Rieslings from the Mosel is of wines that are light in body, lower in alcohol, crisp and dry with considerable acidity. Our tasting of the 2007 Weingut Altenhofen Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett is consistent with this profile. Kabinett is quality designation from the frequently confusing German wine classification scale. In the semi-sweet and off-dry categories Kabinett is in the 3rd tier of quality, medium-high, with only one higher category. To see how this interesting matrix looks check out the Wikipedia version.
We found this wine to be the color of dry straw and brilliantly clear. We both detected some oil or petrol aromas and something I would call wet rocks. The flavors were of unripe peach and grapefruit. This is a pleasant wine with a good deal of acidity and low residual sugar. It would make for a great pairing with a wide range of main dishes or a transitional wine between course of very different weights or flavors.

Riesling plantings in the Rheingau region are nearly at 80% of total vineyard acreage, making it the largest percentage in any of the 13 wine regions in the country. The Rheingau boasts historical importance with legends that say Charlemagne granted permission for the first vineyards to be planted in the region. The producer Schloss Johannisberg claims to have over 900 years of winemaking history and to be the place where the late harvest style was discovered.

The wines with the biggest interest from the region are some of the country’s sweetest and the very highest quality in the classification, Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen. While there was an explosion of sweet styles in this region as well, that has been dialed back to where more than 75% of the region’s wines are now dry.

( Schloss Vollrads )

Schloss Vollrads is another historically significant (800+ years) property in the region and the source of our second wine. We tasted the Schloss Vollrads 2008 QbA after the Mosel selection which turned out to be a good choice as it is sweeter and more nuanced. The dry and crisp wine beforehand certainly helped cleanse our palate in preparation. Qba is a second tier classification in the off-dry and semi-sweet categories of the scale we introduced above.

We found this wine to have the color of fresh straw, slightly green, with aromas of white flowers, peach and spices. We found the sweetness easily, and a great accent to the tropical fruit flavors we tasted. There is citrus on the finish which lingers quite long. Margot says “This rocks, buy it!” This is definitely a great wine for all sorts of pairings like spicy Asian food, stinky cheeses and light desserts. It is also a great all around drinker.

I hope you enjoyed another one of our virtual visits. Do you have Riesling stories? Share in the comments. We haven't been to Germany yet, but a trip in 2012 might be in the works.

This is also our 300th post. Fitting is should be about another wine adventure!

Picture Citations
2- Our Own
4- Our Own

Both The World Atals of Wine and Wikipedia were great sources of information for this and our other wine region posts.

No comments: