To my own surprise, mirroring my previous article and naming this one ‘the old ones’ would not have done justice to the wines. Despite a couple of them nearing twenty years of age, the freshness and the life found in the bottles was stunning, and I can’t help but believe that these wines still have a long future ahead of them.
First, the selection. Wines came from all over Germany with the Mosel, being the international reference for sweet wines, well-represented. Vintages ranged from 2001 to 1995. Prädikats were limited to spätlese and auslese as everything beyond that did become quite expensive. Seeing as we had about 12 wines to go through, budget limitations also came into play. The most expensive wine in the selection was 55 euros and the cheapest one a mere 22.
Like with the young wines, we were struck most by the diversity offered across the various regions and winemakers. What was even more interesting however, was the diverging evolution across styles. Whereas alcohol percentages in combination with the prädikat could give one an indication of what level of sweetness to expect in younger wines, no such luck here. Three of the twelve wines did not really come across as sweet as you would have guessed based on Prädikat and alcohol percentage. There is a rather lengthy but immensely interesting discussion to be had on a wine’s actual sweetness and one’s perception. I could never introduce it like Jamie Goode did a couple of months ago, but suffice to say, German sweet wines would form an excellent case study.
Take the first wine, Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Domprobst Spätlese 1999. In no way does this come across as sweet. 8% in alcohol would make you guess at the presence of residual sugar, so this discordance was surprising. One of the only two wines in the selection that started off with petrol on the nose. Flinty, smoky aromas, even a bit herby (currant leafs) with the only hint of sugar really being present in the structure, perfectly blended in with an almost racy, lime-like acidity jittering across the wine. Energetic, savoury and full of life, in my opinion a joy to pair up with food, really versatile in its complexity.
Moving on to Auslese, the wines start to match our assumption, i.e. containing actual sweetness! A rare treat is the comparison of two of the most famous producers in the Mosel, Gelt-Zilliken, whom I mentioned here before, and Reinhold Haart. Both own vineyards in two of the most famous Grosse Lagen in the Mosel Valley, the Saarburger Rausch for Zilliken, characterized by a mix of Devonian slate and volcanic rock, and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen for Haart. The latter is a Grosse Lage surrounding the village of Piesport as a natural amphitheater and as luck would have it, Haart’s vineyards are located right in the middle, benefiting from exposure to the south while receiving shelter from the slopes in east and west.
Both wines hail from 1999, and show remarkable differences in style. The aromas found in Saarburger Raush 1999 are fresh and astonishingly youthful. Creamy, almost voluptuous in the mouth, honeyed lemon and a dash of minerality that seems almost endless in the finish. Piesporten Goldtröpfchen 1999 on the other hand is much riper on the nose, yellow fruit, passion fruit, containing much more overtly present aromatic sweetness which disappears on the palate. Luscious but with a clear choice to define the wine by its freshness, really coming together in the end.
As I expected, the Nahe delivers with Dr. Crusius’ Schlossbockelheim Felsenberg 1995 (a producer mentioned here before). Absolutely delicious ripe fruit on the nose, apricots, mandarins, lemon zest. Lively but creamy on the palate, quite dense at first actually (a lot of sweetness for a wine at 11% alcohol) but with refreshing acidity kicking in towards the end. All the pieces are there and to really allow the wine to find its ultimate balance, I would give this at least another five years to a decade. Regardless, this is already sheer deliciousness.
Ending not with a bang but a whisper, one of my favorites comes from the Mittelrhein, Ratzenberger’s Bacharacher Wolfshöhle Auslese Goldkapsel 2001. Years away from its prime but already showing tons of potential. Ever so delicate, apple, pear and white peach showing so fragile but balanced against an almost saline minerality, all lifted by a refreshing but grounding acidity that nullifies any stickiness you would get from the residual sugar. This is the ethereal lightness of German Riesling at its best!
I think that Ratzenberger’s Auslese is one of the best examples of what exactly an aged German Riesling can be. In their youth these wines are too often defined by overtly fruity aromas, clear from the get-go but masking what lies beneath. You see it often enough in professional reviews, sweet wines tasted in their youth will receive stellar scores, even if the tasting notes nearly always boil down to the same concise description, defined by nothing but fruit. Age however, is not so kind, and will reveal if there actually is substance behind the curtain instead of remnants of the fruit that used to be. What our tasting showed is that the best sweet wines display all kinds of qualities; savouriness, minerality, freshness, vibrancy and elegance among those most pleasing. It is a completely different, exciting world and I for one, being well aware that we only scratched the surface, would do my utmost best to convince anyone who says otherwise!