Sunday, June 21, 2009

Demi-Sec Faceoff #4: Foreau vs. Schwibinger

It's time for another Demi-Sec Faceoff! In this corner we have an '01 spätlese from the Rheinhessen's own Fritz-Josef Schwibinger, and in that corner we have Philippe Foreau's '02 demi-sec from Vouvray.

As a recap, my intent in conducting these faceoff tastings is not to declare winners and losers or otherwise place disparate wines into competition. Rather, my intent is to celebrate how distinctive, lightly sweet wines can, in their own unique ways, work so well at the table when they're balanced by acidity and minerality.

That said, I distinctly prefer one of these wines over the other.

Weingut Fritz-Josef Schwibinger Niersteiner Ölberg Riesling Spätlese 2001
The grapes from this wine come from the highly regarded 2001 vintage and are harvested from the steep, southeast-facing Ölberg vineyard, which is located smack in the middle of the most highly thought of part of the Rheinhessen. Whereas the Mosel is all about slate, this is sandstone-and-clay country; the "Roter Hang" (Red Hill) is named for its iron-rich soils.

Can we credit the sandstone for this wine's pillowy texture? Someone with more knowledge than I would have to weigh in about that; I can only describe what I smell and taste. This large-bodied yet nicely proportioned spätlese has a decent amount of acidity to match its soft texture, and this shows good presence across the entire palate. The aromas and flavors are both on the powdered sugar / tropical / banana side of things and as that might suggest this is broad rather than precise; the modest shot of minerality here is buried under some rather thick fruit.

This is a nicely-made wine and certainly this is tasty and balanced. But if I'm going to spend $27 on German riesling, I'd prefer something with more cut and verve, particularly when served with food. This just shows too much overt banana for my taste, at least for now. Over time, as the overt fruit qualities begin to recede, perhaps this will be a better dining companion. But today, it shoves up against, rather than dances with, food such as goat cheese and spicy, vegetable-driven Asian stir frys. This was true over the several days I sampled this.

Foreau Vouvray Demi-Sec Clos Naudin 2002
I believe that most observers consider 2002 the best vintage in the Loire of the past ten years, and Foreau is considered one of Vouvray's very top producers. So I came to this wine expecting a lot.

I got everything I could hope for and more. This wine shows remarkable — remarkable — precision on night one. Everything is in its place: the aromas of apple and honeydew and lychee and beeswax, the fine acidity, the diamond-edged structure, and a sweetness level that resembles a sec tendre more than many a demi-sec. The minerality really stands out on the endless finish and is subtly redolent of chalk, cocoa powder, and spring herbs.

Over the course of several days the remaining wine broadened and lost some of its precision; the beeswax / honey aromas came on more strongly and the apparent sweetness level rose just a notch, although the wine remained firm and complete, and its presence across the palate never flagged.

Given the low apparent sweetness level, you could pair this with a wide array of foods. Think duck in a citric reduction, or a lighter protein in beurre blanc, or just a simple grilled fish — not to mention a slightly aged chevre. Ahhhh...

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