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The Tasting

The Wine Connoisseurs

It was an idea of Italian wine writer Gian Luca Mazzella (Gambero Rosso, RAI, Sky News, etc.) that sparked the historical Riesling tasting. Germany’s Association of Prädikat Wine Estates was an ideal partner for him, thanks to the VDP’s wealth of traditional member estates. In cooperation with the German Wine Institute/Mainz, an additional handful of journalists were invited to attend the rarities tasting – all of whom write for renowned wine publications in their respective countries, and are influential wine tasters and book authors – in short, leading authorities among their peers.

The participants included

  • Jancis Robinson, MW/England
  • David Schildknecht and Bruce Sanderson/USA
  • Dieter Braatz/Germany
  • Michel Bettane/France
  • and Katsuyuki Tanaka/Japan.

All eagerly accepted the invitation – after all, even highly respected wine writers seldom have an opportunity to sample the few existing rarities slumbering in their respective producer’s treasure chambers.

The Organization of the Tasting

It was no easy undertaking for Gian Luca Mazzella to put together a list of estates and wines. His goal was to include both the greatest vintages of the past century and a representative sampling of the various wine categories in existence at the time of their production, e.g. “Cabinet” wines* (historical designation for an estate’s finest wines) and “naturrein” wines**, as well as wines ranging in style from dry to lusciously sweet, e.g. Auslese, “feinste” Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. His somewhat provocative choice of producers did not include some of the names that have helped generate today’s Riesling renaissance, i.e. estates who have developed a name for themselves during the 21st rather than 20th century. Furthermore, there was no master list denoting which wines are under lock and key in which estate’s treasure chamber – to say nothing of harvest records with analytical data of the wines produced in 1900 and 1911, for example. Information that is indispensable for determining the order in which the wines should be tasted to ensure a sensorically harmonious tasting. Nevertheless, Mazzella succeeded in squaring the circle.

The Wines
A deadly silence filled the room as the first wine was poured, a dry 1900 Ruppertsberger Stückelpfad from Weingut Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan. It was tasted with a 1931 Erbacher Rheinhell Cabinet from Schloss Reinhartshausen, a 1937 Casteller Schlossberg naturrein from Domänenamt Castell (the last existing bottle!) and representatives from vintages 1992, 1990 and 1999. The response was enthusiastic! After 108 years, the oldest wine was brilliantly clear and radiant in its ripe beauty – as were its younger counterparts.
The initial suspense continued throughout the entire tasting. Although it began with the oldest wine, at a time when wine analyses were not the norm, the rest of the samples were arranged – insofar as possible – according to natural sweetness, alcohol content and acidity. Yet after several decades, even analyses can only provide a rough guideline, since natural sweetness becomes less perceptible as a wine matures.
The second flight included great Auslese wines from 1949 (Niederhäuser Hermannsberg/Niederhausen-Schlossböckelheim), 1989 (Erdener Prälat/Dr. Loosen), 1964 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg/Karthäuserhof) and 1973 (Oberhäuser Brücke/Dönnhof).
The third round – consisting of highly concentrated Auslese, Beerenauslese and Eiswein wines – began with a 1911 Kiedricher Berg Riesling Auslese from Weingut Robert Weil, a wine that was the “house wine” of the Grand Hotel Adlon as well as the imperial residence, both in Berlin. This was followed by wines from the legendary sites Scharzhofberg (1971), Bernkasteler Doctor (1976), Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr (1994) and Mussbacher Eselshaut (1998), to name but a few.
The tasting concluded with a grandiose range of Beeren- and Trockenbeerenauslese wines: a 1921 Steinberger from the Hessian State Wine Domains Kloster Eberbach, a 1937 Erbacher Marcobrunn from Schloss Schönborn (interestingly enough, the first [of 48 bottles produced] to leave the Schönborn treasure chamber), a 1947 Schloss Johannisberger Goldlack, a 1959 Wehlener Sonnenuhr from Joh.Jos. Prüm and a 1967 Wachenheimer Rehbächel from Dr. Bürklin-Wolf.

Grand Finale
In describing the tasting, VDP vice president Wilhelm Weil said: “It borders on a wonder that we were able to show a century of Riesling and that all the wines sampled showed so well. Each and every wine was a particular pleasure and a document of the times.”
The tasting was also quite a unique experience for the other VDP estates that personally presented their rarities. The wines truly bore witness to the timeless quality and crystal clear beauty of Rieslings “born” in Germany’s finest vineyard sites.
Following the tasting, the participants enjoyed an open-air lunch under sunny skies in Kloster Eberbach’s historical Steinberg site – a fitting conclusion to an exceptional tasting.

*Cabinet: Originally, a special cellar in which an estate’s best wines (also named Cabinet wines) were stored. The historical designation dates from the 18th century and derives from a documented mention of the Cabinet cellar at Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau. No longer permitted since the advent of the German wine law of 1971. Under current German and Austrian wine law, the term Kabinett is a special attribute, or predicate, that designates a wine made from grapes with at least the minimum level of ripeness (at harvest) required to qualify as a Prädikat wine. (enobooks.de)

**Naturrein: Produced without (artiificial) additives. In the German wine law of 1901, the designation “Naturwein” (natural wine) was first defined, whereby these wines were not permitted to be chaptalized (adding dry sugar to grape juice to increase a wine’s potential alcohol content). Since the advent of the German wine law of 1971, the term has no longer been permitted on labels or in advertising, since (according to legislators) all wines are “natural products” and thus the use of the term “natural” would constitute misleading advertising.