Friday afternoon down here, all was right in the world. Curiosity was safely on Mars, the US Women’s Soccer team had won gold, and thanks to a tweet from Jancis, tons of people had checked out the WSET Diploma OCW links I set up. I couldn’t have wanted anything more, really. And then I got a message asking why my pages were redirecting to some porn site. Ugh. Four hours later, everything was back to normal except for me, still a bit shaken and extremely annoyed with my provider. Rather than holding on to that, I need to focus on what this blog is about, and that’s reporting on what I’ve been drinking. And with that I’m going for one of the types of wines most beloved by those in the wine trade, an aged German Riesling, the Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese 1993.
Across the industry when you talk with people who are serious about wine, a disproportionate number have a deep-seated love of German Riesling, and with good reason. They can be things of beauty, ranging from crisp and dry through to luscious, with ageing profiles that can start floral and lifted, transitioning to a delicious petrol. They can be among the longest lasting wines in the world, made with equal parts artistry and precision. Even the vineyards themselves are amazing, often on slopes not just too steep for mechanization but even impassable for pickers without the use of ropes and harnesses. It’s easy to see why people who have tasted and know a little about German Riesling so often love it.
It’s more difficult to explain why that is not a more universally held opinion. I’d rather not delve into it more than to state the obvious by saying that German wine labels can be more intimidating than most, wine is a fashion-driven industry so what is popular often has little or nothing to do with wine quality, and finally there are a number of misconceptions as to what to expect from contemporary German wine based on wines that were popular in the 1980s. Suffice it to say that none of those are good reasons why German Riesling can’t be the next big thing, though bear in mind that people in the trade who love it have been saying that for decades.
I’ve written about Rieslings from Clare, Australia and Alsace, France, so the variety is not new to this blog. While Riesling is certainly grown in many other places in both the Old World and the New, it’s most closely linked with Germany and is thought to have originated in the Rhine. Within Germany it is the most widely planted grape with just over 20% of all plantings and over a third of all white plantings. It is believed to be very expressive of the soil on which it’s grown, and is rarely influenced by oak, though often exposed to very old/neutral oak during fermentation. As I mentioned, it’s made into wines of a wide range of quality levels, alcohol levels and sweetness, as well as being a major component in German sparkling wine, sekt.
This wine is from the Mosel region of Germany, which takes its name and geography from the river. It stretches from the area where the borders of Germany, France and Luxembourg meet, and travels northeast to where the Mosel feeds into the Rhine river at Koblenz. (France and Luxembourg also have their own appellations on the river as it winds its way through their respective countries, though then known as Moselle.) Up until 2007 the area was named additionally for two tributaries of the Mosel, hence the (correct in 1993) Mosel – Saar – Ruwer origin on the label, but that was updated to simply Mosel with six subregions, or districts, and this wine is from the Saar district.
District Saar is best known for struggling to achieve ripeness, which it has been historically able to do roughly 40% of the time. When it does, the wines are prized for their lusciousness, kept in line by sharp acidity resulting in a steely quality. The climate is continental, with warm summers and winters cold enough to allow some production of ice wine. Wine production is all about specific sites, and the best vines are planted on steep, south facing slopes in order to maximize sunlight on the vines, and hence chances of ripening. Soils are generally slate.
Since I mentioned German wine labels, this one is worth breaking down. Across the top is the name of the region (though now changed). Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken is the producer, named after Ferdinand Geltz, 19th century Royal Prussian District Forester. Though his original estate was divided and subdivided subsequently, his daughters and grand daughters (along with their husbands) have carried on the family business, picking up the name Zilliken through marriage in 1947. Saarburger Rausch is a famous vineyard in the Saar region, just across the river from the town of Saarburg. Riesling Spätlese refers to the grape and style, with Spätlese meaning literally late harvest, at least a week after the normal harvest date. Spätlese as a term on its own is used for a semi-sweet style of wine, though it can come with qualifiers for halbtrocken (off-dry) and trocken (dry) styles as well.
This wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour and a quick film inside the glass when swirled. On the nose it’s clean with medium intensity and is fully developed. There’s a bit of pear, minerals, and many layers of petroleum products from petrol through to motor oil, with a hint of blossom. On the palate it’s off dry, but not what I think of as a traditional dessert wine. There’s some sugar, but the wine is structured such that it isn’t the first thing you notice. It has high acidity, medium body, low alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and a medium plus finish. There are notes of grapefruit, kerosene, a hint of honey, and some pear and blossom tea on the finish.
This is a very good wine, though somewhat rare in these parts. It’s perfectly balanced, between the sweetness and acidity, and has a complex range of flavours. While I, along with much of the wine trade, bemoan the fact that wines such as this aren’t more widely appreciated, there is some consolation in the fact that it means they can represent a great value proposition, and given their ageing potential there’s no excuse not to cellar a case or two whenever you can.