As a young wine drinker, I was traumatized by my parent’s Riesling cellar. Hording their prizes for some decades resulted in many syrupy, oxidized bottles and completely ruining my palate for anything starting with “R”. Determined to give all things a second chance, I jumped at the chance to attend the Riesling & Co. World Tour tasting yesterday. Since my German wine knowledge is tiny to non-existent, I did a little reading up before my boss at Wine & Spirits, Luke Sykora, and I set out to taste.
The key to German wines is 85, according to Kevin Zraly, wine instructor and author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. (A book that I just started working my way through and a great primer for anyone wanting to get their wine-on without being overwhelmed.) Here’s how he explains it:
- 85% of German wines are white.
- If a German wine label has a variety printed on it, the wine must contain 85% of that grape.
- If a German wine label has a vintage printed on it, 85% of the wine must be from that vintage.
So, with the number “85” in my head and my cheat sheet in hand, I headed over to a chic, industrial space on Alabama Street in the Mission District of San Francisco where Wines of Germany hosted the tasting. Weingut Dr. Loosen was represented powerfully with their 2011 Ürzinger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese and 2006 Riesling Beerenauslese.
Important Fact: Riesling is the most widely planted grape in Germany.
They say Germans are all about precision. I found they are also all about great acids, stone fruits, and a kiss of residual sugar. The Dr. Loosen wines demonstrated the careful balance between sweetness and acid that good Riesling achieves. I learned the word “Spätlese” signifies that the grapes were harvested late, which gives them more time to mature in the sun. Also a mark of quality, “Beerenauslese” describes a wine made from grapes that were berry selected. Imagine! Each little berry being picked for it’s precise ripeness. The product of these meticulous harvest practices are wines with amazingly strong acids and particular amalgamation of fall apples and Spanish spices.
Those impressive acids are important for the longevity of German Rieslings, as I later discovered when we tasted 2003 Domänenweingut Schloss Schönborn Riesling Kabinett that was still fresh and young with unique cheesy, spicy notes. The “chessy-ness” Luke attributed to age and more of a textural change than a scent. Other markers of age included buttery roundness and golden, but not brown, color on the 1994 Weingut G.A. Schneider Riesling Spätlese and 1989 Wiengut Brüder Dr. Becker Riesling Spätlese.
In roughly two hours, my Riesling horrors had begun to subside and now I know it’s not Riesling, it’s my parent’s cellaring habits that I have to avoid. For all you skeptics out there, my advice is keep trying everything and try it again. You never know how your palate is going to evolve.