Sunday, November 21, 2010

More Deliciousness from Florian and Peter Lauer

Here's a not-so-little something I've been wanting to try ever since first drinking its "junior" brother last winter.

Just as the lead-in sentence above is a riff on the opening line of last year's post on Weingut Peter Lauer's Riesling "Senior" Fass 6, I could almost get away with copying and pasting in the note from 6 for its big brother, Florian and Peter Lauer's Riesling "Unterstenbersch" Fass 12. The two wines share more in common than they do in the way of difference.  That's not to say there aren't differences, though, significant ones at that.  Besides, you knew I wouldn't take such an easy way out, no?

Saar Ayler Kupp Riesling "Unterstenbersch" Faß 12, Weingut Peter Lauer 2008
$36. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Mosel Wine Merchant, via USA Wine Imports, New York, NY.
Florian Lauer's '08 "Unterstenbersch" brims with pungent aromas of slate and apricot kernel, backed up by accents of white asparagus and yellow apple skins.  The overall aromatic sense of the wine suggests richness and at least a little residual sugar, both of which are confirmed as the wine makes its first impressions on the front palate. From there on, though, the wine's fairly muscular acidity and minerality drive that almost opulent opening on through an unctuous center before ending with a quite dry-seeming finish.  To put it into quantifiable qualitatswein terms, it feels to me like a Spätlese feinherb up front, closer to a Spätlese trocken on the finish.

If he could, that's exactly how I think Florian would choose to label his Unterstenbersch bottling; he categorizes it on the winery's website as "trocken bis feinherb" (dry to medium-dry, roughly translated).  However, the German wine authorities tend to frown on such things, so the Lauers omit any dryness designation from their label and simply let the wine speak for itself.

There's a pungency to the wine, as mentioned earlier, that to me is classic to the best wines from the Saar, a saturated mineral character, redolent of the slate from which it stems, with a subtly sour twinge. Drinking the wine makes me want to work a harvest in Kupp, just so I can taste the fruit of the vines in situ and get an even truer sense of the wine's place.

Discipline alone allowed me to save a couple of glasses for a second day, when the wine took on a more relaxed stance, its round, creamy core coming more to the fore.  What it may have lost slightly in nerve , it more than made up for in the aroma department.  Buttercups, golden raisins, golden pear, golden apples... it seems the color choice for the Fass 12 label is quite apropos — even if it is meant to signify "Unterstenbersch" as one of the Lauers' alte reben (old vine), top cru bottlings, rather than to symbolize its flavor palette.

Buried beneath all that mineral depth and fruit intensity was a subtle yet telltale whiff of sponti character, the aromatic signature that confirms that Florian ferments his wines on their native yeasts.  It's very inconspicuous, though, noticeable, if at all, only as an added nuance, not as a primary signature.  And lying on top if it all, equally quiet in demeanor, was just the slightest whiff of sulfur.  Far from enough to be off-putting, I expect it should pass even further from notice with more time in the bottle.

As long as I'm dabbling in technical info here, it bears pointing out that Florian has a relatively light hand with sulfur, especially when compared to more typical levels used for off-dry wines in Germany.  Dan Melia, the US-based half of the Mosel Wine Merchant team, tells me that Lauer sulfurs only once, a few weeks prior to bottling, adding about 45 ppm of SO2, in the case of Unterstenbersch, to help ensure stability on the bottling line and through the rigors of shipping and storage.

And as long as I'm dabbling in over-the-top tasting notes, I'll add that as the wine opened even further, as that last glass took on air, I picked up a delicate spiciness together with a marmalade-like flavor that made me wonder if there might not have been a small percentage of botrytis influenced fruit in the vats.

Lest you think all this detail somehow sucked the joy out of the experience of drinking the wine, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  The wine showed all of these things to me, compelled me to sniff, taste and feel them.  As murky or convoluted as my notes may seem, the wine itself was sheer transparency, totally clear in its expression.

Where it differs from "Senior" most is in the scope of that expression.  Where "Senior" was forward, Unterstenbersch was more reserved.  Where the former was more immediately generous, the latter proved just as rewarding and will likely pay greater dividends further down the road.  I'm sure that the 60 year-old vines in the Unterstenbersch parcel play a role in the wine's stature, but then "Senior" includes fruit from even older vines.  Perhaps the aging regime for Unterstenbersch — 100% in old oak fuder as opposed to the mixture of oak and tank employed for Senior — lends it some of its greater impenetrability and inner density.  Most importantly, though, the wine reflects its site.  Unterstenbersch, as Lars Carlberg tells us on the Mosel Wine Merchant blog, is local dialect for unter dem Berg (“at the foot of the hill”), and an old, unofficial name for the plot at the base of the Ayler Kupp from which this wine is produced.  The Lauers consider it a grand cru site and, to me at least, that stature of character speaks through their wine.

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