Tue 9 Oct 2012
The mantra seems to be: “Wines of the Mosel are delicate and nuanced; wines of Rheinhessen and Rheingau are more earthbound.” As is the case with much accepted wisdom, there’s more than a little truth to this assumption, and yet here we have the Weingut Max Fred. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Kabinett-feinherb 2011, from Germany’s Mosel region, that practically revels in the earthy, gravelly grounding that bolsters its more typical ethereal effects. There’s a fairly new term on the label. We used to see halbtrocken, meaning “half-dry,” indicating a wine that’s slightly sweet, primarily on entry, though usually segueing to a dry finish because of the crisp acidity and limestone-like minerality. We will increasingly see the word feinherb as a replacement for halbtrocken; though feinherb literally means “delicately bitter” — go figure — in the context of German wine labels it denotes a half-dry wine, which somehow is predicated as drier than “semi-sweet.”
What else is on this label? (Attention! Education Alert!)
At the top, the name of the producer, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter and just below that the name of the village where the estate is located, Mülheim. Since we’re reading top to bottom, next is a picture of the old building and below that the indication that the estate has been owned by the same family since 1680. Now we get to the heart of the information. The vintage is 2011, prominently displayed, but even more typographical emphasis is placed upon the village, the vineyard, the grape variety and the style of wine. Mulheimer Sonnenlay means that the grapes were grown in the Sonnenlay vineyard that stands in the village of Mulheim, or, rather, it occupies an area of a hillside just to the southeast of the town. This is not one of the vineyards that photographs so beautifully because its steep terraces hover over the river; that picturesque aspect was precluded some 250,000 years ago when the Mosel changed course slightly and left the hill high and dry. The name of the vineyard means something like “sunshine/slate,” and if there are two more important factors in the nurture of the riesling grape, that is to say sun and soil, I don’t know what they are.
Kabinett is an indication that this wine falls into the category of the theoretically driest of the German wines of superior lineage; see the term Deutscher Prädikatswein just below. Remember that the categories of these wines — Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese and so on — don’t refer to the sweetness or dryness of the wine in the bottle but to the level of ripeness at which the grapes were harvested, the factor being that the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more concentrated and filled with sugar they will be. “A.P.Nr 2 593 049 03 12” is the official approval number of this wine and gives the testing boards a code to track the wine in case issues of authenticity arise. Finally, in large letters, “MOSEL,” the name of the region.
And that’s your lesson today in reading a German wine label. Did I cover all the intricate points? Oh, no, that would require a complete post, and this is, after all, the Wine of the Week.
So, to get on with it, the Max Fred. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Kabinett-feinherb 2011 offers a very pale gold color that almost shimmers with radiance. Aromas of lightly spiced peaches and pears with an overlay of lychee and petrol/rubber eraser are wrapped in a sheen of jasmine and an element of clean earthy/flint-like minerality. That earthiness, a seeming combination of light loam and limestone, provides the bass notes for the wine as it laves the palate with the certainly present but delicately modulated ripeness of those peaches and pears, a ripeness that the tongue perceives as initial sweetness that flows into a sense of increasing dryness as the bright and keen acidity and the vibrant limestone and slate mineral qualities dominate from mid-palate back through the airy, ethereal finish. 11 percent alcohol. A lovely riesling, charming and engaging, with a touch of seriousness, for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.
Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles. A sample for review.