Friday, January 2, 2009

Going Through the Change, or Hitting Riesling in Its Sweet Spot

I made an unspoken – at least I think it was unspoken – resolution around this time last year to taste more Riesling in 2008, to explore wines from producers new to me. I’m not sure how good a job I did of it but, hey, slow progress is better than no progress. One thing the goal didn’t stop me from doing was continuing to explore and enjoy wines from the German producers who have been near and dear for many a year. And I happen to have alit upon a particular high point just as ‘08 was coming to its close….

Saar Wiltinger Schlangengraben Riesling Kabinett, Johann Peter Reinert 2004
$14. 8.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
I consider myself lucky when I catch Riesling in its sweet spot, as it’s going through the change – the change from its fruit-forward, frank youth to its dark, truffled, rounded maturity. When you catch a good bottle in transition, it can display the best elements of both ends of the spectrum.

I also love the Saar wines of Johann Peter Reinert. They don’t seem to get a lot of play; they’re kind of off the radar. But they’re pure and expressive, whether trocken, feinherb or fully fruchtig (the German term for delicately sweet wines), whether Spätlese, Auslese or Eiswein. It’s his Kabinett Rieslings, though, that I really dig. They’re real Kabinetts – light, graceful and crystalline – that are perfect as aperitifs and also eminently food friendly.

Reinert’s 2004 Kabinett from the Wiltinger vineyard Schlangengraben (yeah, it’s a name that inspires sophomoric jokes – it means “serpent’s den” in German) is in that ideal ‘tweener spot right now. Its color has taken on a pale yellow hue, darker than its original white light. The nose delivers an immediate wallop of petrol-rich minerality while second and third inhalations uncover rich scents of apricots and golden peaches. Eyeing the glass again, with a backdrop of light, there’s a slight appearance of effervescence. That trace of residual carbon dioxide is still apparent on the tongue, combining with the wine’s scintillating acidity to balance and, really, wipe away any impression of sweetness stemming from natural residual sugar.

And that youthful, crystalline acidity delivers the first notes on the palate – clementine, blood orange and clove. It then finishes with rounder, more mature acids that bring back the flavors of stone fruit hinted at earlier by the wine’s aromatic profile. It’s delicious stuff and, at only 8.5% alcohol, superbly drinkable. On day two it showed even better, if that’s possible. Nothing different really, just a magnification and refinement, an additional layering of all the good stuff that showed up right out of the gates. I have one bottle left and I’ll look forward to its demise in another few years. If only I’d stashed away a case….


genevelyn said...

I know exactly what you mean when you describe the "truffly" transition that riesling makes. Love that grape!

David McDuff said...

I count myself in good company then, Genevelyn.

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