Jancis Robinson: tasting notes


Jancis Robinson

Century of Riesling - the tasting notes
Jun 18, 2008

 
This tasting at Schloss Johannisberg proved the greatness of Riesling. I will describe more of the background to it on Saturday.The tasting notes appear below in the order the wines were served, but I have to admit that the logic of the flights was never fully explained, although we did go roughly from dry to sweet. The background notes in italics tell us a great deal about the history of German Riesling and are based on what each wine producer told us about their wines. See the producers in my video, also published today.
 
FLIGHT ONE
 
1 Bassermann-Jordan, Ruppertsberger Stückelpfad [today Reiterpfad] Riesling 1900 Pfalz 15.5 Drink up
Just recorked luckily – chosen to be an example of a very old dry style Rielsing. We were surprised by how good the wine is. “We have just recorked 3,000 bottles in our wine museum,” we were told. “This is not an especially great site. Chalk and red sandstone. 1900 was mixed year. The vintage didn‘t look great at first but ended up as small vintage of very fine wine. Maybe it’s good sign that the first and last wines are from the Pfalz. “
Glowing bright tawny. A faded relic. Very old nose – still alive but on the palate this has lost much of its fruit and one is left with mainly acidity and a little bit of old Riesling toast. Clean and brisk. Bone dry. Not the richness and body of a great wine but certainly hugely impressive as a survivor. Drying out.
 
2 Schloss Rheinhartshausen, Erbacher Rheinhell Riesling Kabinett 1931 Rheingau 16 Drink ??
Today the vineyard is on the island. 1931 was a very cold spring. There was a letter from the former administrator to the Prussian prince who owned it to say that they had had to cease pruning. This was the last harvest from that vineyard because then they changed the training system from free standing vines to Guyot. 10-12,000 vines per ha. Had 173 Halbstuck. Only about 40 hl/ha – still a low crop compared to today. 81 Oechsle. 12.7 TA. Still high acidity. Noted that this tasting includes great dry wines and that this tasting shows how well they last. Four years in barrel. 12% alcohol.
Pale tawny, richly toasty on the nose, with real zest and lots of acidity that miraculously supports the wine. Quite chewy – lots of attack and impact. In the glass the cabbage and decay came out. I suspect this wine was never amazingly well balanced and that the acidity always dominated.
 
3 Fürstlich Castell’sches Domänenamt, Casteller Schlossberg Riesling Naturrein 1937 Franken 18- Drink 1955-2010
Ferdinand Graf zu Castell brought a wild yellow tulip from this estate, a descendant of those originally brought there by the Crusaders. This was their very  last bottle which he hasn’t tasted before. Can we be worthy of it? In 1985 the second last bottle was auctioned for1.600 euros.
Bright greenish yellow. Light but very well balanced with an alluringly fragrant nose – something springlike and floral about it. Very delicate and complete – great confidence and life, so amazingly youthful! Talk about a spring in its step! Positively bouncing along! Lovely texture. Wonderful clean persistent finish – a reflection of the greatness of the vintage perhaps? Bone dry. Very firm and classic indeed. Did not improve in the glass but maintained its class.
 
4 Freiherr Heyl zu Herrnsheim, Niersteiner Brudersberg Riesling Spätlese trocken 1992 Rheinhessen 17.5 Drink 2000-12
New owner (same as at neighbour St Antony) two years ago so not lots of information. Typical Brudersberg with firm acidity. Can drink this wine in 10 years too. Typically can drink after 5 to 6 years – too young and “it’s not the wine we wanted to create”.
Pale yellow. Densely fruity on the nose. Very pretty and well integrated. Lime and minerals on the nose and then great ripe concentration on the palate – really sparkling fresh and deep-flavoured. Maybe there’s a little residual sugar here (yes, 6.9 g/l) but it’s a beautifully balanced dry wine.   Long and neat. Very well done and just coming into its own.
 
5 Koehler-Ruprecht, Kallstatter Saumagen Riesling Auslese trocken R 1990 Pfalz 16++ Drink 2012-25
Special area of Pfalz, 1990 with good acidity and a good example of a very traditional way of making wine – very spontaneous, with all the old barrels he has. Fermentaion in wood. For Italian Riesling specialist writer Gian Luca, one of the finest examples of dry Pfalz wines in the last decade of the C20.
This was initially difficult to taste because of the acidity – it can be easier to taste the sweet wines – which is why he included it. Philippi always releases wines late. This one came out especially late and was awkward even then. Only now is it recuperating its initial balance.
Pale gold. Seems very tight on the nose compared with the 1992. Rather rustic and gamlumphing at the moment. Very particular style – the alcohol is pretty obvious, A bit brutal. Maybe it needs even more time. Funkissimo.
 
6 Georg Breuer, Rauenthaler Nonnenberg Riesling 1999 Rheingau 18 Drink 2006-18
Young winery, old vineyard first mentioned in C12. Nuns later. Different soils: more fertile than most, wines tend to show a citric note. Develops a little bit faster than Rudesheimer Schlossberg. Difficult harvest and they needed to select well - as in 2006. “We know when you work hard you can sometimes do even better.”
Pale greenish gold. Fine, filigree dancing sory of wine, Very comokete on the palate, with great tension and the nerviness and build you find in so many Australian Rieslings. Really lively with ltos of compexity and depth. Quite chewy, Needs food!
 
FLIGHT TWO
 
1 Gutsverwaltung Niederhausen-Schlossböckelheim, Niederhäuser Hermannsberg Riesling Auslese 1949 Nahe 18.5 Drink 20
One of the best vintages in the last 100 years. 40 g/l RS which is more like a Kabinett today. 12% alcohol – these must have been very ripe grapes!
Light golden tawny/copper. Wonderful mixture of delicacy and depth. Really intriguing, great tension and excitement. Sweet start and then drying out on the finish with a strong menthol character. Slightly astringent. But massive power and extract. A real palate cleanser.  Sweet but competely uncloying. Wonderful class and with a structure completely unlike any other wine in the world. Sheer drive and a line of Riesling through the palate.
 
2 Dr Loosen, Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese 1989 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 18++ Drink 2000-25
Our best vineyard, south facing slope surrounded by massive red slate cliffs. Some botrytis. Picked end October, picked all together to keep the acidity. Long fermentation – I remember because we just started to ferment the juice filtered and absolutely clean, in an old wooden cask/ This was a very natural year. “It looks quite nice“ says E Loosen whose third vintage of Prälat this was. We changed the style. There are no real Kabinetts anymore (see this article), some vinatges no Spätlesen. We have been keeping more and more RS in more recent vintages but trying to keep the acid levels. Styles changed after the green 1990s. Lots of 1989s showed bitterness of botrytis. Had to clean the must in 1989.
Pale gold. Looks like a five year old wine!  Exciting, complex, dense nose. Strongly mineral yet with massive acidity. SO racy. Tightrope stuff – the concentration yet elegance. This wine should continue to get even better.
 
3 Karthäuserhof, Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Auslese Fuder Nr 129 1964 Mosel 17.5 Drink 1980-2010
From the steepest part of the vineyard. The 1964 vintage was one of the best in the 1960s – very hot. The beginning of the harvest was in mid Oct and it ended Nov 27! At this time the pickers had to pick much more slowly than today so harvests were usually so extended. The wine is sitll fresh and I hope it brings a little bit fun in the glass for you! Christoph Tyrell told us that perhaps this wine was recorked in the early 1970s.
Bright greenish gold. Big and gold and open – almost California in its easy appeal. Not desperately concentrated but very nice balance and a great drink – even if uncomplicated. Round and appley and open and indeed very friendly,
 
4 Dönnhoff, Oberhäuser Brücke [labelled Niederhäuser Hermannsberg since 1971] Riesling Auslese 1973 Nahe 17.5 Drink 20
I started winemaking in 1971. 1973 was a normal year – good quantity but had to wait very long for botrytis. We made only two Auslesen in 1973 with this the better. Excellent acidity. 50% botrytis and also green grapes. It was possible to make Eiswein now. Picked mid Nov (now Mid Oct!) Very typical. David Schildknecht added his own enthusiasm for the 1973s made when he started writing about German wine and he bought lots. They look good in blind tastings with 1971 and 1975s, despite the very high yields.
Deep gold. Smells of bruised apples. Very intense with great tightly laced threads and complexity. Quite obviously sweet but with good acidity too. Texture a little sandy (not satin smooth). Not the greatest Dönnhoff wine I have ever had but very creditable. Good length – opened out on the finish. Very slightly timid.
 
FLIGHT THREE
 
1 Robert Weil, Kiedricher Berg Riesling Auslese 1911 Rheingau 19 Drink? No hurry!
Wilhelm Weil points out how useful this tasting is for the growers too. We are sure that we can produce one of the greatesT wines of the world. There was a total chanGe between 1911 and 1917. In 1993, our 100th anniversary, I had the chance to taste a number of early 20th century vintages which demonstrated this. There was a change in vinification. Growers learnt about filtration and stabilisation. From 1917 we had much more sweetness in our wines at Weil. 1911 shows the ripeness of the vintage.
Bright tawny. Very exciting depth and evolution. Real layers of heady development – piano teachers, a gaggle of them! Polished chestnuts. Very transparent and dry finish – just a little touch of oxidation. But still so lively and very light and gorgeous!  Funny to taste this with David Schildknecht so soon after our days in Jerez recently. First wine to have any hint of oxidation but still great. Such life!!! Very, very slightly astringent. Certainly not obviously sweet, though great balance.  Great energy.
 
2 Egon Müller-Scharzhof, Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 1971 Saar 19+ Drink 1995-2030
When you have to choose just one wine for such a tasting, it’s difficult, said Egon Müller. When Gian Luca called me about it he actually wanted me to show something else but if I had to choose one vintage to show everything that our vineyard stands for, it has to be 1971. My father always said this is the best wine he ever made - maybe not the greatest, but the best. (No tech details given!)
Deep golden copper. About the same colour as the 1911 Weil Auslese tasted immediately before it! Very intense nose of mature Riesling with no hint of any sweetness to come. Then amazing richness hits the front palate followed by a phalanx of citrus flavours, and amazing zest.  So clean and envigorating!  I failed to spit this wine.  Very firm and classic – at its peak now perhaps although I bet it will last forever. Very long. Still quite chewy! This will outlast the Christoffel 1975 below.
 
3 Christoffel jun, Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese 5 Sterne 1975 Mosel 19 Drink 1995-20
100 year old estate with some very old vines. The wines of the 1970s are my favourites says Karl Josef Christoffel.
Deep greenish gold. Perhaps not quite as intense as the Egon 1971 but perhaps a bit fresher. Very exciting. Really racy. Very interesting to compare with the Egon Müller 1971. If anything more delicate in fact although with lots of sweetness. Very clean and spreads across the palate before the lingering finish. Much lower acidity than the 1971.
 
4 Witwe Dr Thanisch, Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Beerenauslese 1976 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 17 Drink 1990-2010
121 Oechsle. Devon slate, 60% steep SSW. This was a classic botrytis year. Very hot, dry summer. Relatively lean for a BA.
Deep gold. Much less distinct, aromatic nose than the other 1971 and 1975 tasted alongside, although it grew in the glass, but in a very slightly feeble way. Lots of molten honey and flowers on the palate but no great force, or even great sweetness. A slightly timid wine.... though there’s a certain firmness on the finish. A little curranty and heavy.
 
5 Fritz Haag, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese Lange Goldkapsel 1994 Mosel 18.5 Drink 2008-30
LGK. Came post German Wine Law of 1971. The 1994 vintage was our best in the 1990s. This was selected in the best part of the vineyard. He thinks it has great ageing potential. Was an auction wine in 1999.
Bright gold. Big, almost fat on the nose. Then great tension and lots of both acidity and tension and even a little bit of spritz. Lemon syrup of the most delicate and nourishing kind. Somehow a suggestion of umami to boot! Long and clean and refined. Very exciting.
 
6 Müller-Catoir, Mussbacher Eselshaut Riesling Eiswein 1998 Pfalz (half bottles) 18.5 Drink 2000-15
Normal vintage, but great for Müller Catoir. One of the earliest Eiswein, picked on 21 Nov. Most unusual.
Very pure aromas and massive acidity – almost uncomfortable acidity! Great pungency and direction. Almost from another planet this wine – really pushy and emphatic. So directed. Long. Kerpow! Very much its own style... Big and bold. Hip hotel rather than The Ritz.
 
7 Carl von Schubert, Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Eiswein 1983 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 19 Drink 2000-2025
My first Eiswein, said von Schubert, the third year I worked at home and Eiswein means getting up early. My father didn’t like to get up early so my father only ever made one, in the disastrous vintage of 1965. I learnt how to make it from Geiseneim, wrapping the grapes in plastic. In 1983 we didn’t need that but natural conditions 17 Nov – year of my son’s birth. (Please don’t write this in German journals so that he can’t see that we’ve drunk it.) I’d like to write a symphony about making Eiswein. You need to hear sound of frozen grapes falling. Come to our estate. All the workers who help us to pick get a glass of Eiswein afterwards.
Bright pale golden tawny. Tingly, so exciting! Massive acidity and almost painful lime syrup concentrate. Lots of acidity. Tense. Racy, Macerated currants with a shot of margarita. Not one to overlook! Massive sweetness and acidity. My palate is at long last starting to notice the acidity and my respiratory system the sulphur.
 
FLIGHT FOUR
 
Much higher alcohol and lower sugar than today - SUCH different characters!
 
1 Schloss Johannisberg, Riesling Goldlack Beerenauslese Fass 163 1947 Rheingau 19 Drink 1970-2020
Goldlack is their usual capsule for TBAs but before the German Wine Law the manager was free to apply it as he saw fit. 155 Oechsle. A year of extremes: very hot summer but cold harvest from 14 Oct. This wine was picked 3 Nov.
Bright tawny. Just a little bit of decay on the nose – the merest hint, which disappeared after a while! Sweetly, coconut-scented macerated raisins – the richest wine so far yet with zesty acidity too. Really very good indeed! Very very long. Wonderfully creamy. After writing this note I was shown what I wrote about it in Jan 2002 when I also noted the coconut!
 
2 Schloss Schönborn, Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Feinste Trockenbeerenauslese 1937 Rheingau 19.5 Drink 1960-
Feinste means it was a very very special production of only 51 bottles!!! Three times recorked. Very good vintage in terms of both quality and quantity. We still have quite a good selection of 1937s in our personal cellar. 162 Oechsle. Only 7.6g/l acid apparently in which case it has lasted amazingly well.
Orange tawny. Very nutty. Round and almost syrupy it’s so rich! Yet lively. A twang of minerally acidity on the edge. Just very slightly drying out on the finish. Wonderfully concentrated. Long and toasty with a wonderful vein of fresh acidity. Creme caramel on the finish,  plus a sort of fizz like Szechuan peppers. Great tactile hit! Very long. Quite amazingly long.
 
3 Kloster Eberbach, Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1921 Rheingau 19.5 No hurry
One of the most precious wines in our cellar – from an outstanding vintage. 13.6 g/l acidty because of its altitude plus wall which, in this hot summer, yielded 200 Oechsle. In 1929 the manager wrote that the 1921s were still in barrel! Different vinification therefore.
Dark coppery tawny. Very slightly cheesey note on the nose and then – blown away – and the most fantastically rich, creamy, layered palate. Wonderfully clean yet massively ripe. Quite a bit of astringency but a marvel of depth and throat-soothing. Toast and lime and truffle paste! Very subtle. Drying a little on the finish.
 
4 J.J. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1959 Mosel 20 Drink any time
No analytical data available because Helmut’s father was not a great fan of them. “I fear I followed him“, Helmut Prüm. Vineyards like this have the great advantage in terms of exposition but also excellent water support so it can work very well in very hot summers. Like 1959 and 2003, (which is often criticised but it worked very well in Wehlener Sonnenuhr. We still had to make a lot of effort to find the small number of botrrtyised grapes. Acidity in 1959 was relatively high – perhaps because the first grapes were early affected by botrytis so there was a concentration factor.
Dark greenish tawny. Heady, yet fresh. A hint of spicy eucalyptus – something for a sore throat – and then explosive spread of flavours. Such lift – the most airbonre of these wines. Just floats up andup – what a star!
 
5 Dr Bürklin-Wolf, Wachenheimer Rehbächel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1967 Pfalz 18.5 Drink 1990-25
Late start to the year, then a wonderful summer and a late Oct harvest.
Darkest of the lot – blackish tawny. Old cushions, old satin. Powerful and awfully rich – hit of treacle, almost a hint of PX! The least refreshing but certainly another interesting face of Riesling.