Venerable Riesling

Having successfully got half the team behind The Fermentation Vessel together in the same room we thought it was only right to celebrate with a tasting. After our recent tasting of young Mosel from the stable of J.J. Prum, we wanted to see how Riesling gets on with a bit of age. The vintages of 1976 and 1971 in the Mosel are known to be classics, and a bit of research  suggested that 1975 was no slouch either.

Despite, or perhaps because, they are considered classics, supply is running short on these vintages, and some of the wines are starting to run out of steam.  If we did not do the tasting now the chance would be gone forever. Taking advantage of our team being spread across Europe, we sourced the wines from a German specialist retailer in Berlin: Weinhandlung Hardy.  The service was excellent and the prices were very reasonable given the age and rarity – remember with wines of this age you are always taking a gamble.

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The line up in tasting order from left to right

All of the wines were 100% Riesling and were tasted paired by year in order of increasing sweetness.  1975 is known to be lighter in character than wines from the indulgent 1976 vintage and so made the logical start to the tasting. The wines (tasted from left to right in the above photo) began with a spätlese before tasting a pair of auslese, a pair of beerenauslese and ending with a trockenbeernauslese.

We ordered a total of 12 bottles, meaning we have another panel of 6 bottles (from 1975 and 1976) waiting in the cellar for tasting over our next few outings.  Tasting six bottles together, although an experience, was a serious insult on one’s metabolism. So, while I can honestly say I am excited to open each and every one of them, a word of warning before you run out and order some venerable Riesling: These wines are extremely intense, sweet, and unctuous.  Tasting too many side by side has a fair chance of causing Diabetes.  

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Arranged in tasting order left to right: All 100% Riesling and started life as white wines.

Weingut E. Bottler-Ostermann, Brauneberger Juffer, Riesling, Spätlese, 1975

The Shrink:  Gold in colour, this was green apple on both nose and palate.  It was incredibly acidic, still crisp, but as if the apples were just beginning to turn.  A somewhat one-dimensional wine, although the undertones were closer to a cooked, rather than fresh apple.  Initially I felt that this went flat very quickly in the glass but, on returning to it, the wine seemed to have got its zing back. Perhaps it was more to do with temperature than anything else.  Really remarkable this would taste fresh and fruity after all these years.

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Still fresh, still fruity at 40 years of age.

The Lawyer A similar view to the one set out above.  The apple flavouring was remarkable: how can the juices of one fruit taste so similar to those of another, completely unrelated, one?  The wine seemed to have lost much of its alcohol, and unlike some of those below, had not developed the unctuosity and generosity of flavour to make up for it.  This left it tasting a bit too much like expensive, old apple juice.  Interesting but would not buy again.

Score: 87-89/100 (DT) & 85-87/100 (CW)

Weingut Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling, Auslese, 1975

The Shrink: I was glad to see this producer is still going strong.  Moving up to Auslese from Spätlese we see a darkening from gold to a rich amber.  There was a slight oxidative note in this.  Here we get some petrochemicals on the nose, reminding me of mains gas. Again this was incredibly acidic to the point my face involuntarily puckered every time on drinking. The acidity lead into a long finish.  There was a slight bitter note I was unable to place. The dominant notes here are definitely more evolved than the Spätlese with caramel and toffee apple.

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A beautiful label and the searing acidity characteristic of the vintage.

The Lawyer: High acidity – perhaps too high – it felt a little as if the fruit and body of the wine had fallen too far away, now unable to support the acids.  More interesting than the first wine, however.

Score: 88-91/100 (DT) & 87-90 (CW)

Weingut Joh. Lehnert-Matheus, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling, Auslese, 1976

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This was well deserving of its 1979 silver medal

The Shrink: Next we come on to the richer 1976 vintage.  Both wines here from from the same producer, and from the top vineyard in Piesport.  We start with the Auslese and find a marked jump in quality from the previous wine.  Here we find apple, peach, and citrus peel.  Thankfully there are no hints of oxidation but again a bitterness on the mid palate.  This has high acidity, although not quite as much as the 1971s.  The is rich, full bodied and feels pretty luxurious on the way down.  Everyone agreed that the wines were starting to reach an equitable price to quality ratio at this point.

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The labels alone on German wines are often stunning in their own right

The Lawyer: This wine, and its beernauslese brother below, were the standout wines for me.  This is a wine that better fits the post-dinner mood we were expecting.  Still well balanced it exhibited summer fruit flavours and a fantastic nose, which came closer to the adjective venerable than to any identifiable scent.  Something I would happily have in my cellar.

Score: 92/100 (DT) & 92-93/100 (CW).

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The cut foil on the Beerenauslese below

Weingut Joh. Lehnert-Matheus, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling, Beerenauslese, 1976

The next wine is the first Beernauslese of the evening, with grapes selected for optimum ripeness and intensity.  As much as I enjoyed the Auslese from Goldtröpfchen this really upped the bar. During the previous wine I remember a discussion being raised of “well they are sweet but they are not as good as Sauternes”.  The answer was simply we had not yet got to the Beernauslese.  This does, however, raise a difficult question with Mosel Riesling in general: If its not quite sweet enough for dessert then when exactly does one drink this?

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The gold medal here is even more deserved than the Auslese above

The Shrink: In the glass we have moved on beyond amber to a rich mahogany.  The wine had still maintained an impressive nose.  On the palate, it marked a move on from the fruits and toffee apple flavours of the previous wine. Here we find maple syrup and complexity. The apple notes are still in the midst of it but now very much roasted à la tarte tatin. This is thick, its rich and its bloody delicious.  Acidity is sufficient to stop this being cloying or overbearing.  If you remember them from childhood this really reminded me of cola balls. I wouldn’t have this with desert  – I’d have it for desert.

Score: 93/100 (DT) & 93-95/100 (CW)

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I can only give this wine the highest reccomendation

Weingut J. Lauerburg, Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen, Riesling, Beerenauslese, 1971

The Shrink: This was the second Beerenauslese of the evening and also the first wine that really missed the target. On opening this was a very sorry state of affairs. Notes of mothballs, wet dog and chlorine. On the palate we found it was thin and bitter. Only one of our party was brave enough to finish his pour, and he agreed it was not up to scratch.

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The oldest of the 3 vintages sampled

As an eternal optimist I decided to put this in the fridge overnight rather than tipping it away – the best part of the bottle was left. By the morning it seemed the mustiness had cleared and so I took the bottle on my onward journey.  After half a day travelling and 24 hours of being open I popped this back in the fridge to cool for a final taste before tipping it away.

Remarkably a transformation had taken place. The nose had cleared and, in place of the disaster from the night before, I found warming mulled notes, with orange peel and a core of roasted apples. The wine was soft, rich, sweet, warming, and full bodied almost like a old port based on apples. The remainder of the bottle was kept again overnight and by the third day it had softened and opened further showing rich citrus, raisins, spice and chocolate. This slipped down  after dinner like a refined mulled cider, no doubt helped by the setting and the log fire.

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24 hours after being open this was actually rather good

This never gained the precision and intensity of the 1976’s above but it evolved into a complex and mellow offering.  After this experience I would be tempted to suggest that this could have benefited from decanting initially – I think its the biggest positive transformation I have seen in a bottle of wine post opening.

Score: Given I would not advocate drinking this after the experience on day one I don’t think a score would be appropriate. One for the brave of heart but you may just be rewarded.

Weingut Hans Resch, Wiltinger Klosterberg, Riesling, Trockenbeerenauslese, 1971

The Shrink: And now to the the masterpiece.  If you look at the photo on the top of this page you will see a formidable glass of what appears to be black treacle.  It is nearing the consistency too.  The complexity here is off the chart, and comprising of some pretty individual notes. There is concentrated coca-cola, finest aged balsamic, and a funky herbal component that reminds me of bitter German digestif. This has high acidity, high minerality and some metallic notes (think iron filings). This is really cool stuff, really medicinal, and, for what was once a white wine, is pretty darned weird.

A half bottle of this stuff goes a bloody long way giving me the opportunity to re-sample on day 2. On the second day there was no sign of decomposition, although surprisingly primary grape juice had risen from the milieu.  Just as rich. sweet, juicy and delicious as the day before. Frankly this reminds me of something to be put on the finest ice-cream but that does not mean you shouldn’t just drink it by the glass.

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The final wine of the night simultaneously impressed and split group opinion

The Lawyer: Here we encounter some disagreement.  This is not a pleasant wine.  Most notably because it is not a wine at all.  I guarantee that no one encountering the colour, viscosity, and taste of this liquid blind would believe you were you to tell them it was bred from fair-skinned-grapes.  This was viscous, vicious small-batch Jaegger Meister home-brew.

The wine has become sugar syrup, and although – to its credit – it does maintain elegance, some fruit (but which ones?!?), and complexity, it does these things in the way treacle does.  It would be very interesting to taste a vertical to understand how on earth this  sugar blast from the past came about.

Score: I am almost tempted to pin my colours to the mast and give this 95 points but I lack sufficient experience with TBA wines.  As such I score this a resounding: 93+/100 (DT). No score (CW)- but would not buy again.

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Beautifully packaged 1975s: plenty of wine remaining for the next tasting

Overall: This was a sickly sweet but brilliant afternoon. It was a challenge to put together but well worth the effort to source the bottles direct from Germany. The wines are not done yet so if you get the opportunity to purchase a bottle from a good produce/vineyard and a reasonable fill bottle I’d suggest its worth taking a shot.

We have another 3 bottles from each of 1975 and 1976 – if you want to get involved in our next tasting let us know in the comments.

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