Saturday, December 6, 2008

Riesling on Repeal Day

In stark contrast to last year, when Repeal Day elapsed without a taste of wine passing my lips, I spent yesterday, the 75th Anniversary of the abolition of prohibition, pouring some great German wines. As it happens, I was happy to be serving them alongside the men who grew them, some of the finest producers from their respective regions. While there was nary a lowlight on the evening, certain wines in each grower’s lineup inevitably showed their mettle.

Young Frank Schönleber (pictured above), in his second year holding the winemaking reins at Emrich-Schönleber, is already demonstrating that he has a great grasp of the terroir in his slice of the Nahe. His 2007 Monzinger Halenberg Riesling trocken is just beginning to show its stuff. Beautiful fruit, intense minerality and fine filigree are all balanced by depth and muscle that hint at a fine future to come.

Jochen Ratzenberger and Andreas Laible, both a bit tired after their long and interrupted trans-Atlantic flight, were nonetheless happily sharing their wines in great spirits.

It was a true pleasure to sip the 2007 Bacharacher Riesling Kabinett trocken of Jochen Ratzenberger. However, it was his 2005 Steeger St. Jost Riesling Großes Gewächs that stole the show, demonstrating that the best German wines from top quality sites can possess every bit as much richness and profundity as the top whites of the Côte de Beaune and Chablis, while also showing a level of bundled nerve and fruit expression that similarly priced white Burgundies rarely achieve.

I also really enjoyed meeting Andreas Laible for the first time. Though the focus at his estate is on Riesling, he was kind enough to diversify the evening’s slate by opting to pour examples of his other varietal wines. Though I’d find greater day-to-day flexibility in his lovely Weißer Burgunder Kabinett trocken, it was his 2007 Baden Ortenau Durbacher Plauelrain Traminer Spätlese trocken that begged for attention, its decadent nose of flowers, herbs and citrus oil balanced by fine acidity and rich, prickly texture.

Spending a little bit of time with the three of them yesterday – along with thinking about the wines as I write about them now – made me pine for a return trip to Germany. There’s so much more to explore….


Anonymous said...

Great photo from Frank! He is such a humble, nice guy......

BTW, the 07 "Halenberg" GG is one of the best dry Riesling of the vintage (96pts.)

All the best,
Martin "BerlinKitchen"

Wicker Parker said...

Funny, but between snapping up the (as yet untasted by me) Spiegel and Bollenberg 2004s from Alsace producer Dirler and tasting a very nice dry Rheingau riesling from Weingut Barth yesterday, I was thinking just moments ago that it'd be fun to have some friends over to blind taste some dry riesling.

I have yet to try any Großes Gewächs; and if they're expensive and not easy to find, I'm thinking that one of my new year's resolutions should be to do just that, come hell or high water.

I've never had a traminer before. Was Laible's traminer as heady and rich as many a gewurztraminer?

David McDuff said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Martin. Frank's a great guy. I haven't had the chance to try the '07 Halenberg GG yet but the '06 certainly isn't shabby.

I don't expect you'll be able to walk into any old wine shop and find a Großes Gewächs Riesling; however, you should be able to turn some up on the web without too much struggle. Though none will be inexpensive, some are certainly a bit more affordable than others. GG from producers like Keller and Schönleber run upwards of $70/bottle; Ratzenberger's on the other hand, just as an example, is closer to $40.

As for Laible's Traminer, you ask an unintentionally confusing question. There is indeed a vine called Traminer, separate and distinct from Gewürztraminer, that's grown mostly in Alto Adige and other parts of northeastern Italy. However, "Traminer" in Germany (as is the case with this one) is simply a synonym for/truncation of Gewürztraminer. Laible's is not as unctuous and heady as some Alsace versions can be but it's certainly loaded with intense aroma.

Wicker Parker said...

Ah, thanks for clearing up the German traminer / gewurztraminer distinction.

As for my ability to order Großes Gewächs, the key problem is that Illinois made it illegal for residents to order wine from outside the state that doesn't come directly from the winery. So if in older days I'd make merry at the Chambers St web site, I'm somewhat more restricted now.

Nonetheless, I'm committed! And at least one Illinois online retailer has some 2006 Keller Großes Gewächs, although at the steep prices, I would probably prefer to wait for the 2007s.

David McDuff said...

Ah yes, those pesky shipping laws; I just can't keep up with them all. Nothing like taking a step backwards. Something tells me, though, that you might be able to find a retailer that's willing to send stuff anyway. Or are wines actually being confiscated on your doorstep, so to speak?

As for the '06 Keller GG, you may want to grab it while you can. 2007 is certainly a grand vintage but the '06s are nothing to sneeze at and the demand for the '07s, as you've demonstrated, is only going to make availability all the scarcer. In fact, the '07s should already be available. You may want to contact the IL retailer you mentioned to see if they'll be getting any (or whether they've already come and gone).

Wicker Parker said...

I've heard that shippers have rejected shipments in order to not be implicated in any malfeasance. But that's OK; I'm sure Gov. Rod Blagojevich had my best interests at heart when he signed the bill into law. I'm sure that campaign contributions from big-daddy distributors had nothing to do with it.

I would never sneeze at any Keller wine of any vintage. But isn't 2007 supposed to have been a bumper crop as well as a stellar vintage? I was thinking availability might actually be better...

Anonymous said...

According to Klaus-Peter Keller the vintage 2007 is the best ever vintage at the estate.

BTW, a great bargain is 2007 Keller "von der Fels"

All the best,
Martin "BerlinKitchen"

P.S. Yes, 06 "Halenberg" GG is terrific too.

David McDuff said...

Martin makes a great point/suggestion, WP. Though not actually a GG bottling, Keller's "Von der Fels" comes entirely from fruit grown on the lower slopes and younger vines of Keller's Großes Gewächs vineyards. Given that it retails for around $30, it's much more approachable and gives at least some insight (gentler and more open-knit) into what can be expected from his Grand wines.

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