Tue 18 Aug 2009
Last week I went to a blind tasting of 14 rieslings from around the world. This was hosted by Great Wine & Spirits, a retail store in Memphis that puts on a tasting almost every Saturday afternoon throughout the year. (Not at the store; Tennessee law forbids tasting wine in a wine store, a policy so stupidly stupid that it’s almost beyond comment.)
Generally these are tastings of assorted wines that fit a season or a genre or a price-point, but during the summer the events are conducted blind and each Saturday focuses on a different grape variety. Attendees at the tastings vote on their favorites, and the winners are featured at the store at discount prices. I don’t make it to all of these events, but considering my encounters with riesling in Germany early in July and the number of rieslings I have been tasting at home, I thought that I shouldn’t miss this one.
The interesting result of this blind tasting was that the top three winners were German wines, including two that were my favorites. People attending the event ranged from a couple, sitting at my table, for whom this was their first wine tasting to another couple, sitting nearby, who casually discussed buying cases of this and that and were clearly experienced tasters and drinkers.
The wines we tasted, in this order (which we didn’t know during the event) were these:
1. Lengs & Cooter Riesling 2007 (Clare Valley, Australia)
2. Domäne Wachau “Wachau” Riesling 2007 (Austria)
3. Firestone Vineyards Riesling 2007 (Central Coast, California)
4. King Estate “Next” Riesling 2007 (Washington State)
5. Bergström “Dr. Bergström” Cuvee Riesling 2007 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)
6. Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling 2006 (Alsace)
7. Barnard Griffin White Riesling 2007 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
8. Schloss Vollrads Summer Dry QbA 2006 (Rheingau, Germany)
9. S.A. Prüm “Blue Slate” Riesling Kabinett 2006 (Mosel, Germany)
10. Schmitt Söhne “Anything Goes” Riesling QbA 2008 (Mosel, Germany)
11. August Kesseler Riesling QbA 2007 (Rheingau, Germany)
12. Schloss Vollrads Riesling QbA 2007 (Rheingau, Germany)
13. Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Riesling 2008 (Mosel, Germany)
14. Mönchhof Estate Riesling 2007 (Mosel, Germany)
“QbA” stands for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete, a vast category of German wine whose principle standard is that the wines were made in the stated area of production. Depending on the estate or producer, QbA wines can be quite good, even excellent. The QbA level comes below the highest category of German wines, QmP, or Qualitätswein mit Prädikat.
The winner in this tasting was August Kesseler, followed by a tie between Monchhof Estate and Schmitt Söhne’s Anything Goes.
Here are my brief tasting notes, transcribed from my little blue notebook:
1. Lengs & Cooter, “Lemon-lime, minerals — quite pungent — unfurls with lime, grapefruit and jasmine, really lovely, bristling acid, taut and crisp.” Very Good. About $19.
2. Domäne Wachau, “attractive yet subdued — jasmine, limestone, lime & grapefruit finely ground — whiff of petrol — nicely balanced, some peach & apricot — mouth-filling — solid finish , v. dry with heaps of limestone.” Very Good+. About $16-$19.
3. Firestone, “Green apple — lime — pretty sweet, not much impact, v. taut, tart, crisp.” Good. About $11.
4. King Estate Next, “Quite neutral — no more than pleasant.” A disappointment, because I usually like King Estate’s pinot gris and pinot noir. About $12-$13.
5. Bergström, “Petrol, limestone — apple & apple blossom — a tad sweet — but crisp acid and a taut mineral finish infused with spiced grapefruit.” Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $22-$28.
6. Pierre Sparr Reserve, “Pleasant, attractive, quite floral — a little sweet on the entry but immediately goes dry — tart, even pert — doesn’t feel balanced.” Another disappointment. Good+. About $20-$23. (I wrote about the vastly superior — or younger and fresher — ’07 version of this wine here.)
7. Barnard Griffin, “Lime, peach & pear, touch of almond and almond blossom, takes a few minutes for flavors to unfold — peach and pear, tons of limestone, attractive texture.” A well-balanced riesling, not quite compelling. Very Good. About $13.
8. Summer Dry, “Clean, fresh, bright — limestone, pear, melon, lime — hint of petrol, a little earthy — complex range of spice and floral effects — dry, crisp, taut — heaps of shale and limestone, formidably dry finish — quite a wine.” Excellent. About $16, and Great Value.
9. Blue Slate, “Peach, pear and petrol — spiced and honeyed apricot — initial sweetness balanced by bright, clean acidity — penetrating minerality — very attractive.” Very Good+. About $19.
10. Anything Goes, “Generally nicely done –a little sweet — good acid balance, lime, grapefruit & peach w/ a touch of orange peel — tart acid and limestone — enjoyable.” Very Good. About $13. The idea is that anything, as in any food, goes with this wine.
11. August Kesseler. “Real riesling — petrol, lime, lychee, green apple & apple blossom — jasmine — sweet, slightly honeyed entry but v. dry — taut and tart, scintillating acidity and minerality, lovely balance. long finish.” Excellent. About $16, a Fantastic Bargain.
12. Schloss Vollrads. “V. dry, crisp, tart, taut & supple, pure minerality layered under spicy peach, pear and lime peel.” Very Good+. About $17-$21.
13. Dr. Loosen “Dr. L.” “Soft, floral, pretty sweet — simple and direct, dry finish, not much character.” Good+. About $11-$14.
14. Mönchhof Estate. “Earthy & minerally — sweetness extends back through mid-palate — balanced by taut acidity, rollicking spice — lovely texture, both crisp and lush — heaps of limestone — a sense of energy and engagement.” Excellent. About $16-$19 and another Great Value.
I think that the qualities distinguishing the best German examples from the other wines in this roster are what I noted about the Monchhof Estate 2007, a sense not simply of authenticity but of energy and engagement, of fulfilling a purpose and accomplishing what a grape can do. That’s the case, of course, with all expressive wines that compellingly appeal to our sensibilities.
The results of this small tasting should not prejudice My Readers against rieslings made other than in Germany. In California, for example, look for the excellent rieslings of Napa Valley’s Trefethen and Smith-Madrone, or Gainey from Santa Ynez Valley, and from Australia, Mount Horrocks and Tim Adams, both in Clare Valley.