The best wine you don't drink
What two countries consistently made great wine 100 years ago? Most people guess France along with Italy, Spain, or Portugal. Few guess Germany, which, along with France, made the best wines and still do today.
Ernst Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr on the Mosel River
While Italy, Spain, and Portugal had some great regions and producers a century ago, the overall quality was poor. As many wine experts say, quality German riesling is the most underappreciated wine in the world, and even Germans prefer beer as the national beverage of choice. Have you ever seen riesling promoted at an October Fest event? At Haskell's a few years ago, I was buying Joh. Jos. Prum Auslese wines for $24.95 from a steady 2002 vintage. Once I served them to friends, the shelves at Haskell's became less full.
Here's what you need to know to fully appreciate this undervalued wine, plus five recommendations of superb rieslings (and where to find them on sale):
Germany's climate is a difficult one for producing world-class reds. The Romans realized this centuries ago and planted riesling grapes on the south-facing slopes of the Mosel River. Germany's latitude puts its vineyards at the extreme north for successfully growing vitus vinifera grapes. The wines tend to feature higher acidity levels which is a perfect match for food.
The one thing people tend to dislike about Mosel riesling is that it is too sweet; however, by applying the tasting process you will soon realize the wines are more sour/acidic than sweet, and they feature amazing complexity. The terroir features slate-like soils that really enhance the wine experience.
The Mosel is more commonly referred to as the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, which includes the two tributaries to the main river. Most of the quality wine will come from the Mosel, especially from an area referred to as the Mittelmosel, which includes the following towns: Wehlen, Bernkastel, Urzig, Graach, Zeltingen, Brauneberg, and Piesport.
The simple part of any German riesling is identifying the grape variety. While other grapes are grown commercially, riesling, in my opinion, is the only one worth drinking.
Here is a breakdown of important components on a typical riesling label:
Producer: Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben (Note the wine is under a joint partnership with Robert Eymael)
Michael Skurnik Imports 2008 Christoffel Spatlese
Vintage: 2008 (The year the grapes were harvested)
Erdener: The town on the Mosel River, "er" is added to the towns
Treppchen: The vineyard (Several others source fruit from Treppchen)
Riesling: The grape variety
Spatlese: The ripeness of the grapes (They cost more than the Kabinett from the same area but don't always mean the finished product will be really sweet)
Gutsabfullung: Estate bottle
Pradikatswein: Highest level of quality in German wine (QmP)
A.P. Number: Too wine geeky to care about
Alcohol Percentage: Most Pradikatswein wines are under 10%
The Back: Most important, is it is a Terry Theise Estate Selection? Terry and quality go together.
Visit my website for more information on German Riesling.
5 GREAT BOTTLES
(all exclusive to Surdyk's and on sale through July 24)
2008 Willi Schaefer Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling QbA $15.99
A nice introduction to German riesling that is slightly sweet and features apples, pears, peaches, and minerals. 89 points
2007 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett $19.99
Light gold. The nose is nice with tangerines, lemon, and slate, but the palate shines on this one. Add some floral and honey to the nose and you have one of the best Kabinett wines I have ever tasted. 94 points
2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett $18.99
This is a really good price and a great wine. Stones, apples, pear, and fresh-cut flowers on the nose. The wine has a great mineral quality and a perfect amount of acidity. Enjoy this on a hot summer day. 92 points
2007 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese $21.99
The Spatlese category normally is preferred, but I still like the Kabinett a bit better. Try both side by side and see for yourself. This wine has a petrol quality on the nose that blows off quickly, along with peaches, honey, and floral. The palate shows even more minerality than the Kabinett and a solid medium finish. 93 points
2006 Selbach-Oster "Rotlay" Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese $49.99
This is a good price compared to the rest of the nation and the top level of the affordable German riesling wines. A super wine with floral, apricots, peaches, slate, and honey on the nose. The palate shows great concentration not seen in the other wines and has the longest finish. This can be cellared for years. 94 points
I hope you have a chance to try some of these amazing wines and find a new favorite wine region.