Thursday, May 8, 2008

Old World Riesling for WBW 45

Crikey! I forgot to post my Riesling entry for WBW 45; I am a day late, if not a dollar short. To add to the ignominy, the only old world Riesling I've had of late — despite my resolution nine months ago to drink more Riesling — is the 2006 Schmitges Grey Slate Dry Riesling, and I already posted about that. So I will blatantly worm my out of this sad state of affairs by writing about a Riesling I drank five months ago.

Tim of Winecast, this month's host, is right: there's nothing like German Riesling. Many of the (dry) examples I've had from places such as Austria and New Zealand are rich, egg yolky, almost heavy wines. I'm pretty sure this is because Riesling is a grape given to high extract. But as good as these wines can be, they rarely manage to be ethereal and dense simultaneously, whereas Riesling grown in the porphyry and slate slopes of the Nahe and the Mosel produces this magic regularly.

People often invoke apples, minerals, and sometimes red fruits to describe German Riesling, and I do, too. But for me, the signature of many of the young'uns is A) what I call tangerine mist aromas, the smell you get when peeling the fruit, and B) the twist of lime that frequently visits the finish. In other words, a haunting nose and an incredibly refreshing finish that feels dry even when the wine is actually a bit sweet. Lemon in water is thirst-quenching; so a good Mosel can be, too.

All this said, there can be a down side to German Riesling, and that's sulfur. Some producers use quite a lot and it can give me a stomach ache; and combined with Riesling's high extract, I can also come to feel bloated, full, even when I've had little to eat (yet another reason why I prefer the world's other versatile white, Chenin Blanc from the Loire, but I digress). It's a weird state of affairs but the fact is, I have to be careful when trying a new one to take small sips first and see how it goes. The flip side is that if this happens, and if it's a particularly good wine, I can store it in the fridge for days and sample along the way — because good Riesling lasts and lasts!

I realize this is painting with a broad brush. Riesling is the perhaps the world's most "transparent" grape, the one that most clearly transmits its terroir, so taken together its voices are incredibly diverse. Put all German Rieslings in one room and you have a veritable Tower of Babel.

Really, so much can be said about Riesling and I'm not the guy to say it. I'm far from expert here and I've had almost no aged Riesling. So if you want to know more, I strongly recommend you read both Rockss & Fruit and Terry Theise's loooong catalogs; and meantime, onto the review!

The wine in question is the 2006 Dönnhoff Estate Riesling. How good is a Dönnhoff at its most basic level? This is the question I wanted to answer while I wait for Helmut Dönnhoff's 2005 Oberhauser Brücke Spatlese to reach maturity in, oh, 2015 or beyond.

Dönnhoff, considered among Germany's very best, is based in the Nahe region. The estate wine isn't even a QmP, just "qualitätswein" rendered at 9.5% abv. Whereas QmP wines are not allowed to be chaptalized (i.e. have sugar added during the fermenting process to increase alcoholic strength), qualitätswein wines are allowed this. But I have a hard time believing Dönnhoff did this, both because of the terrific, ripe growing season of 2006 and because this wine is so pure. It tastes halbtrocken (only slightly sweet) at the front of the mouth but finishes quite dry. Lovely aromas of tangerine mist, Fuji apple, and peach kind of alternate in my mind with pineapple and banana. The same goes for the flavors, although these resolve most specifically to tangerine and minerals on the crisp, mouthwatering finish. OK, I don't get the lime twist at the end but it's still unmistakably a wine of place, and it's nicely poised . It only improves after 72 hours, becoming more itself. It's a bit expensive for a basic Riesling ($19) but for a wine of place from a top producer that's this enjoyable, I'm not going to complain.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had as much fun with your German Riesling as I did on this Wine Blogging Wednesday!

Wicker Parker said...

Well, it seems like you enjoyed your 2006 Anton Finkenauer. Man, you slaughtered that thing, it's truly an act of infanticide to drink an Auslese so young! Speaking of, I just picked up a 2006 Keller Spätlese and I'm planning to commit an infanticide myself pretty soon...