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  • August 2, 2015
  • Terry Theise’s ‘Dry German Riesling’

  • by Lars Carlberg

terry_theise_black_whiteTerry Theise recently published an article titled "Dry German Riesling" on the website of Michael Skurnik Wines, which imports his selections from Germany, Austria, and Champagne. In early July, after writing Terry an email about his abridged 2015 German catalogue, he sent David Schildknecht and me a copy of his article. I even offered to post it on my site. But he politely declined and explained that he doesn't want "to get into it" with me (or anyone else) and he doesn't want people to think that this is his "idée fixe."

Fair enough. Terry makes good points, some of which are also made by Joachim Krieger in his essay titled "The Mosel: Taking the Long View." But Terry's being a little disingenuous, in my opinion, with certain aspects of this discussion.

The postwar fashion for sweet wines in Germany was also market-driven. It wasn't because it was inherently better or essential to have residual sugar. Many of the great German Rieslings of the late 19th century were dry or had only discreet amounts of residual sugar, even though there were highly coveted and expensive sweet Auslesen, especially from the Rheingau and Pfalz. After the Second World War, more and more growers began to change their vinification methods to make sweet wines. (See Bill Hooper's "The Rise and Fall of Sweet German Riesling" for more details.)

Today, residually sweet Mosel Riesling Kabinett wines often have over 60 grams of sugar and Spätlesen over 80. Where's the "moderate middle" with such high amounts of unfermented sugar? In the 1970s, many Mosel Kabinetts were closer to 20 grams and Spätlesen had usually less than 30.

While it's true that most German Riesling producers focus on legally dry (trocken) and "a few token dessert-wines," Joh. Jos. Prüm and Egon Müller only produce wines with noticeable residual sugar. Prüm ceased making dry wines, and Egon Müller experimented with dry Scharzhofberger. Last year, I had a delicious bottle of J.J. Prüm's 1988 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spätlese trocken. But these two famous Mosel estates are the exception. Willi Schaefer has about 80 percent sweet wines. As Terry points out, most producers need dry or dry-ish wines for the domestic market.

According to Terry, Dönnhoff offers the whole range of Riesling, yet the Dönnhoffs now produce most of their Nahe Rieslings either below 10 grams of sugar or above 30 grams, but few if any wines in between. In Germany, wines between 10 and 40 grams are sometimes designated as feinherb. (For more on this, see Stephan Bauer's "Riesling Feinherb from the Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer—an Enigma?")

In Terry's previous German catalogs, he has an essay titled "Dry German Wines," which he tweaked over the years. The last one, before the latest online "Dry German Riesling" article, was in the Mosel chapter of the 2014 edition (page 92). "They live in big cities such as Berlin or Trier, and their friends are flexible in their tastes, or so they tell me," Terry wrote. "I don’t suppose they’d have any cause to lie to me, so I 'believe' them, the way I’d believe an otherwise sober person who swore he had a unicorn in his back yard. For all I know it’s true! But in my own actual experience I just don’t see it. And it makes me wonder." He's referring to Stuart Pigott, who once lived in Berlin and now resides in New York City, and me. (See Terry Theise's "Too Much Heat, Not Enough Light: The Pigott Fracas" for more details.) In Berlin, there are wine bars and restaurants, like Weinstein, Rutz, and Nobelhart & Schmutzig, that serve sweet German Rieslings. In and around the "big city" of Trier, several restaurants, such as Hotel Eurener Hof, Waldhotel Sonnora, Schloss Monaise, Brasserie, Bagatelle, and Yong Yong, offer more than just dry Mosel Rieslings.

Terry talks of hearing "anecdotes about urban hipster millennials who don’t insist on drinking exclusively bone-dry Rieslings" in Germany, but I have a number of unhip German friends who are my age and like non-dry Mosels. They don't like the shrill, dry German Rieslings that Terry rails against in his article. At Maximin Grünhaus, when I taste with German friends, they almost always gravitate towards the wines with more residual sugar and they buy them, too.

I've heard the stories of Germans stubbornly insisting on trocken, so I understand Terry's concern about the dogma of dry wines in Germany. This is changing some, especially among young German drinkers. And let's not forget those Germans who always preferred the sweeter styles. (For more on this, see my report on "The Fourth Annual Weinfrühlingsfest Zurlauben.")

As many of you know, I represent the wines of the Weber family at Hofgut Falkenstein. They produce Saar Rieslings from dry to sweet. But they tend to have dry wines with most of their home-cooked meals. I'm not saying that it's always the best match to a dish, but that's what they like to drink every day. Erich Weber prefers his bone-dry wines. And if you ask one of his three sons what they favor most from their property, they will tell you feinherb. Their mom likes to drink the Spätburgunders.

Not too long ago, most Americans didn't even know much about dry German Riesling because importers, like Terry, were reluctant to offer many of these. And I don't believe it was only because of a lack of quality 10 to 15 years ago. I think it has more to do with personal taste, and several of his current and former producers would agree. Terry also had Austria for the bulk of his dry Rieslings, and old-school Mosel Rieslings were said to be sweet, such as those from Alfred Merkelbach, not those "yucky" dry Mosels. Even today, some wine professionals in the States assume "classic" Mosel wine has sweetness.

As David Schildknecht pointed out, it wasn't "superb disingenuousness" to link haute cuisine to dry German Riesling. Many leading German producers sincerely believed this. It's not true either that nobody knew how to make good dry German Rieslings in the 1980s or 1990s. Even in the Mosel wine region producers like Markus Molitor, Clemens Busch, or Peter Lauer made very good dry wines. Likewise, there are lots and lots of awful sweet German Rieslings, not just "dozens and dozens of shitty Trocken wines that would have been fantastically delicious wines with the right amount of sweetness."

It should be noted, too, that certain medium-dry wines, such as Selbach-Oster's 2011 Zeltinger Himmelreich Kabinett halbtrocken, are fine for diabetics. The key is lower amounts of glucose—in other words, no sweet reserve (Süssreserve).

Ulli Stein of Weingut Stein specializes in traditional light-bodied, extra-dry to off-dry Mosels, such as his excellent 2014 St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Kabinett feinherb. Yet he says that most of his private German clients in cities such as Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin prefer less sharp dry wines and more off-dry. In fact, his basic Estate Riesling, called Blauschiefer (blue slate), is feinherb in the German market, whereas his US importer vom Boden selects a custom-made bottling of Blauschiefer trocken.

Peter Lauer told me that their private clientele tends to buy more feinherb nowadays. He says that the light-bodied, high-acid, bone-dry Saar Rieslings that he once made—before his eldest son, Florian, took over in 2005—are out of fashion. The Lauers and other Saar growers claim that most modern German drinkers don't want tart wines. Van Volxem, which Terry use to import, is a perfect example of this trend. The owner Roman Niewodniczanski has enjoyed plenty of success with his denser dry to dry-tasting Saar wines in Germany, as well as in Switzerland and many other countries.

Carl von Schubert at Maximin Grünhaus says that his family tends to drink more feinherb at home. The estate produces less than 50 percent trocken. It was once over 80 percent in the early eighties. In the sixties and seventies, his father favored sweet Ruwer Rieslings and didn't even produce dry ones.

In Paris, I once did two tasting events of my former Mosel Wine Merchant portfolio at Mark Williamson's Macéo. Some of the best restaurateurs and cavistes, such as Marc Sibard of Augé, came to taste the wines, including those from Maximin Grünhaus. The Parisians—and not just those in the wine trade—either preferred the really dry Mosel Rieslings or the really sweet ones. I did another tasting with Clemens Busch at Juan Sanchez's La Dernière Goutte. The response was the same. Florian Lauer, who studied in France, said that his experience was no different with his feinherb wines. What does this say about the French? This has nothing to do with the supposed German group-think. Many people just prefer dry white wines, even though there are French wine drinkers and even winemakers who love residually sweet German Riesling. Moreover, countries like Norway import large quantities of dry German Riesling. It's not just a German thing.

I also recommend Terry's other article posted the other day. It's on so-called natural wine. The title is "Musings on a Dubious Wine." ♦

Photo of Terry Theise by Daniel Lerner.

  • Andrew Bair says:

    Hi Lars:

    Thank you for the great article. I’ll respond more over the next few days, as I’m also waiting to read others’ thoughts. For now, I’ll say that I’m in agreement with you on this topic. I’ve met Terry a couple of times in the past – he’s a great guy, and he’s done more than anyone to promote German wines in the United States.

    As you correctly say, the postwar market in Germany favored sweeter wines for several reasons. I am surprised that Terry’s article ignored this.

    On a side note, Terry used to import the wines of Hans Kramp many years ago. Fast forward to the past year, when Florian Lauer resurrected some old bottles of Kramp’s wines from their abandoned cellar, and Stephen Bitterolf brought them into the states. Anyway, one of the wines was a 1989 Ayler Kupp Kabinett Trocken, which I’ve had twice: once at home last fall, and then again this spring at a dinner that Stephen hosted in Boston. Both times, the wine was fascinating, compelling, and perfectly balanced. (The 1989 Ayler Kupp Spätlese was equally impressive in its own way.)

    • You’re welcome, Andrew. My article isn’t great, but I wanted to reply to some of Terry’s points. For the time being, I put my response behind the paywall for paid members only. I like Terry, whom I met at Selbach-Oster twice last year. We got along really well. As you mentioned, he has done a lot for German wine in the States and is a talented writer. I enjoyed his book Reading between the Wines.

      Terry began importing German wine in the early 1980s. The prevailing style of German Riesling was sweet, and the movement towards dry was just beginning. Early on, he actually imported some trocken and halbtrocken wines. David Schildknecht has old lists to prove it, including the wines from Gebrüder R. u. H. Kramp in Ayl. I have a photocopy of one page with 1989 Ayler Kupp Kabinett, 1990 Ayler Kupp Spätlese, and 1989 Ayler Kupp Auslese.

      On a visit to Peter Lauer in Ayl, John Ritchie and I met with Florian Lauer. Later on, Florian took us down the street and “broke into” Hans Kramp’s cellar, where we discovered the three selections for Chambers Street Wines. I also liked the 1989 Ayler Kupp Kabinett trocken. Back then, Kabinett trocken from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer was often a wine that lacked balance and tasted shrill at most Weingüter. There were exceptions of course.

      At first, I decided not to publish a reply to Terry’s article. He and I had an email back-and-forth instead.

      I hope more of my subscribers, especially those from Germany, will comment on this thread.

      • Andrew Bair says:

        Thanks, Lars, for filling me in on Terry and the Kramp wines.

        The earliest Theise catalog that I have is the 2001 version, which covers mostly wines from the 2000 vintage. One interesting thing in that catalog is Terry’s discussion of the term “Feinherb”, which he says started being used with the 1999 vintage, and that at the time “it doesn’t seem to be catching on”. He also goes on to state that Feinherb differs from Halbtrocken in that it has a higher limit of residual sugar. (Of course, everyone makes mistakes.) Interesting, Terry cites the Pfalz Scheurebe specialist Lingenfelder as a producer whose wines “typify” the Feinherb style.

  • Gabriel Clary says:

    I don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion here, as I certainly have a dog in the fight, representing, selling and drinking wines from Terry’s portfolio.

    That said this statement struck me as strange:

    “Today, residually sweet Mosel Riesling Kabinett wines often have over 60 grams of sugar and Spätlesen over 80. Where’s the ‘moderate middle’ with such high amounts of unfermented sugar? In the 1970s, many Mosel Kabinetts were closer to 20 grams and Spätlesen had usually less than 30.”

    While the above section could have been true fifteen or even ten years ago, it isn’t true anymore, at least from the wide variety of these wines that I taste in and out of Terry’s portfolio.

    I was very fortunate to have been able to attend the “What is Kabinett?” seminar at last year’s Rieslingfeier with Johannes Selbach, Egon Müller IV and Christian Vogt of Karthäuserhof. During this fascinating talk, the topic of RS was brought up several times, both in a historical context and in discussing the trend of sugar levels in these wines in the last 10-15 years. Egon Müller IV said that it was actually his Japanese importer that commented on his rising sugar level in the Scharzhofberger Kabinett around 2006 which made him take another look at the sugar levels. Since then, Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Kabinett has been in the 30-35 g/L RS range every vintage. Both Johannes and Christian echoed this statement, saying that they prefer this range for several reasons, not the least of which is that the wines simply taste better this way. All three producers commented that they are not alone and that the whole category of Kabinett, at least in the Mosel seems to be getting a bit drier, usually 40 g/L and well below. Not to get hung up on numbers, but to my taste, in the last couple of high acid vintages, many producers seem to have found the “moderate middle” at least where Kabinett is concerned. These wines certainly would taste very differnt with another 20 g/L of RS.

    • Gabriel Clary says:

      Also, I didn’t intent for the phrase “dog in a fight” to mean that I thought this was a fight! In reading both articles, it sounds like you both agree on many points regarding dry and off-dry German wines.

    • Thanks for your comments, Gabe. I didn’t attend the “What is Kabinett?” seminar, but I’ve no doubts that Selbach-Oster, Karthäuserhof, and Egon Müller have more moderate levels of residual sugar in their “fruity-sweet” Kabinetts. Others are following along this path.

      On a visit to Scharzhof, Egon Müller told me the same story, except that it was his Singapore importer. Nevertheless, Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Kabinett comes from low yields (one cane per vine) and old vines. It probably has a little more depth and ripeness than most Mosel Kabinetts. (On a side note, the “sweet wave” was not a good time for German wine. A lot of plonk was produced during this period.)

      I know a number of top producers whose Kabinetts have closer to 60 grams of sugar in most vintages.

      Terry and I have a cordial disagreement about a few points.

      As for the Kabinett seminar at Rieslingfeier, I heard that there was no discussion about dry or near-dry Kabinetts.

  • John Ritchie says:

    “Terry talks of hearing ‘anecdotes about urban hipster millennials who don’t insist on drinking exclusively bone-dry Rieslings’ in Germany, but I’ve a number of unhip German friends who are my age and like non-dry Mosels.”

    Lars, this might be my favorite line you’ve ever written. Pure gold.

  • marius fries says:

    Hi Lars,

    like others said, there’s a lot of truth in both Terry’s article and your comment.

    In Germany, most consumers tend to prefer dry tasting wines, preferably within the 13-14 % alc. range and not too much acidity. They don’t prefer Riesling, in fact what they’re looking for is a flavor profile similar to Pinot Blanc. Why is that ? Simply because there was such a lot of sweet, light, high-acid plonk produced decades ago. If I ask friends in my house what they would like to drink, it’s Champagne or red wine, almost noone asks for a white wine and I can’t remember anyone asking for a sweet or off-dry Riesling .

    Of course, it’s different with wine geeks and foodies. They love Rieslings and they are open to all sorts of styles. So when you ask sommeliers at Michelin-starred restaurants around Trier, they recommend very young sweet wines by the glass to go with foie gras or scallops, and once people try it most of them love it. But we’re talking about less than 1% of restaurants and less than 1% of German consumers.

    Personally, I’d love German winemakers to stop producing 15 different wines in every vintage. Specifically referring to the Mosel region, I’d love them to produce one light wine that’s more dry than not, one feinherb signature wine that you can keep for fifteen or more years, and depending on vintage one or two sweet wines. I’d also love them to adapt sugar levels in those few wines to vintage conditions, like producing slightly drier wines in a warm vintage like 2011 and slightly sweeter wines in a cooler year like 2010.


    • Thanks for your reply, Marius. I’m glad that a German subscriber finally commented on this topic of discussion. It’s good to have your point of view.

      I remember a Mosel grower of high-quality wines saying to me that the average Mosel Riesling poured at the local village wine festivals lacks acidity and tastes rather insipid.

      Although I understand your wish for less wines per producer in the Mosel region, it shouldn’t be streamlined into just a few different wines. Don’t get me wrong, I was never a fan of those growers whose lists were made to have so many Qualität and Prädikat wines in trocken, halbtrocken, and restsüß, not to mention Hochgewächs and Classic. But Mosel wine has a long tradition of cask-by-cask bottling.

  • marius fries says:

    I agree, it’s part of our heritage.

    In January, I asked a well-known producer if he didn’t think that blending some of his sites might help to improve the wines in difficult years. He nodded but explained that he sticked with these various bottlings because so many of his customers were used to buy the same specific wines year in, year out …

    • Thanks again for your thoughts. It doesn’t mean that some blending is bad. It can improve the final wine. Most growers have to blend the grapes from different plots to get a full load for the press and later for the cask or tank. And most growers blend among different casks or tanks to bottle a specific wine, whether it’s an Estate Riesling or a single-vineyard Kabinett.

  • Florian Lauer says:

    I don´t think that the most important idea concerning “sweetness” in German wines became visible enough so far:

    After my perception, it does not help to reduce the discussion to SUGAR. We have to talk about balance and sensoric harmony. There are a lot of facts, which are able to disturb this balance in a white wine besides glucose and fructose.
    The International Riesling Foundation (IRF) offers a very good (not complete due to the missing alcohol-content) approach to the sweetness-problem. Acidity and the pH are as much important as the sugar itself.
    It doesn´t make any sense to talk about 30 gr vs. 60 gr. sugar in a wine without knowing how high the acidity, and even more important, what the pH is. That is able to change everything…

    I can show examples, where the pH of 2.9 buffers 45gr RS to a nearly dry, refreshing taste and the pH of 3.5 makes a 20gr Riesling fat and accompanying a dessert.
    Terry Theise (2014, Germany Estate selections, page 9) proposes something similar: “A new way to measure sweetness”, the “SOS” or “SENSE-OF-SWEETNESS”. I like this concept very much, because I also think “the standard sugar-pyramide of German wines is serviceable [not] any more”.

    The point for me is, that winemaker, not today, nor in the past have been looking to produce extreme dry or extreme sweet wines. The wine´s balance is always in their focus. Depending on the vintage, this balance is more right or more left.

    But, a nice balanced wine with 20 gr sugar has to offer more, than a “new world Chard-oak-nay” with 14% alcohol (here i agree with Mr. Theise), i don´t agree on the fact, that the Germans don´t drink these sweet-balanced wines (any more)… They order these wines when they walk out of the restaurant (with its boring dry-wine-card) for their private consumption at home or with VERY good friends. That is the secret.

    • Florian, I appreciate your insight as winemaker and I’m well aware of the importance of pH and acidity. The Webers at Hofgut Falkenstein always tell me how crucial pH is. Their wines usually have a very low pH value of under 3. But they’re not afraid of too high acidity, even for their bone-dry wines. Most winemakers seem to tinker with their wines too much. When I talk about “fruity-sweet” Mosel Kabinetts having often rather high RS nowadays, I’m making the assumption that the pH is low and the acidity is high. I also realize that the winemaker is arresting the fermentation at the point he or she feels is best for a balanced, low-alcohol wine. But many of these taste too sweet.

    • Andrew Bair says:

      Hi Florian:

      Thank you for your post. I’m also a big fan of your wines. Incidentally, your Extra Trocken is one that I haven’t had yet.

      Anyway, are you going to be including the IRF Riesling Taste Profile on your wines in the future? (I haven’t seen your 2014s yet.) So far, I’ve seen the IRF scale on a bottle from Grünhaus, but that’s been it.

      • Florian Lauer says:

        No, sorry we don’t use this IRF scale. Years ago, we thought about that problem and found a solution by using a small “T” for “Trocken” on the foot of our labels. A “TF” for “Trocken bis feinherb” (so just in the dry tasting but fruity balanced middle) a “F” for feinherb (the old kabinett and spätlese style with 20-35 gr/L RS) and “nothing” for the sweet wines with more than 50 gr/L RS.

  • I reread this wonderful quote from O.W. Loeb in his book titled Moselle (Faber, 1972): “Secondly, unlike the discriminating addition of sugar [chaptalization], Restsuesse [sweet reserve in this context] can change the intrinsic nature of the wine. The two qualities which distinguish an ordinary Moselle in an ordinary year are its freshness and its dryness.”

  • One winemaker, who was pressed for time with bottling, said that he has noticed a change in Germany over the last several years, with more clients willing to accept wines with residual sugar. He, however, said that sweet wines have gotten too sweet for their own good. He also pointed out that German discounters sell quite a bit of sweet plonk. But it gets more difficult to sell sweet wines at higher prices.

  • Per Linder says:

    Two humble observations: for two years I have poured wines at the Zurlauben Spring festival in Trier. The set up has always been three wines dry – feinherb – sweet. On both occasions the feinherb has clearly been the most popular, especially amongst younger people.

    Last summer I stayed two nights at the very nice but unhip and not luxury Panorama Hotel in Lohme on Rügen. Their restaurant then had a few Mosels on the wine list and they were all feinherb or SL.

    • Thanks for your comment, Per. That was my experience, too. I also tasted a number of fruity Kabinetts at Zurlauben. What do the initials “SL” stand for? I’m assuming Spätlese.

      I agree with David Schildknecht that there is a certain amount of “Trockenfanaticism” in the VDP, which just had its pre-release GG tasting in Wiesbaden. The focus is on dry wines. The Mosel is the one real exception, even though the Rheingau and Pfalz were once better known for noble sweet wines in the 19th century.

      I do, however, believe that one has a better perspective and more insight on this topic by living here. People who come to visit on a busy tasting schedule for a few days or even weeks each year don’t have time to discover new places and to talk with wine drinkers, especially those who are not in the industry.

    • Andrew Bair says:

      Maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought that ‘SL’ referred to the largely ignored ‘Selection’ designation for dry Riesling that was created along with “Classic” at the beginning of the millennium. The only Riesling SL that I’ve ever had was one from Andreas Laible. While the ‘Classic’ Rieslings do not carry vineyard designations, the Laible SL was labeled as coming from their primary vineyard, Durbacher Plauelrain. Looking at Laible’s website now, I don’t see any evidence of a Riesling SL still being produced. Being in the States, and never reading anything about these wines, I figured that the Classic and Selection categories had essentially gone the way of Riesling Hochgewachs by now.

      Thanisch-Erben Thanisch used to make a Riesling Classic; I don’t know if they also bottled a Riesling Selection/SL.

      Some of Schloss Lieser’s entry-level wines feature a prominent ‘SL’ on their labels, including their reliable estate Kabinett.

  • marius fries says:

    Maybe it’s “Selektion Laible” and “Schloss Lieser”?

  • Per Linder says:

    Sorry for creating the noise here. I meant Spätlese of course.

  • Yesterday, I came across an article titled “The Crossflow Comix” by Clark Smith. He talks about crossflow filtration and has a subsection on Germany:

    Sterile filters by Seitz got it all started. After the war, the German economy needed an easy-to-market new wine style and off-dry wines became the style. Germany’s new sweet rieslings were easy to like, and became consumer darlings, the original Afighting varietals,@ that helped the industry recover.

    Nominally sterile cellulose pads got the ball rolling in the late 1940’s, followed in the 1950’s with bubblepointable cartridges of polyamide and polysolfone. The idea spread to other beverages, medicine and electronics. Sterile filters taught plastics engineers how to control pore size. There was no limit to achievable tightness, but below 0.1 microns, the filters were unusable because dissolved molecules started to foul the membranes. Perfectly clear solutions wouldn’t filter but engineers were working on that solution.

    Seitz already had sterile wine filters in 1916. But Clark is right about the increased use of sterile filtration in postwar Germany to make sweet wines.

  • David Schildknecht says:

    I’m late reading this thread and having written so much already on the subject in question (including in this venue) I’ll confine my comments here to two clarifications.

    Terry started importing on his own in 1986. He offered a significant share of trocken and halbtrocken Riesling almost from the beginning of those endeavors.

  • Carl York says:

    Re: Terry. I have very much been a fan of the portfolio and every year the majority of German wines we take at the two restaurants I work at, and that I buy for myself, are from that portfolio. I personally like Terry’s comment about Riesling covering a lot of ground from dry to nobly sweet. I think it’s fitting that Florian offered a comment on it, as it’s what he does best and also, likely, why I have heard Terry offer very fond comments on his wines.

    The one thing I am left thinking about though, and I am not sure where I read this, but regarding Terry’s selections specifically, he made a statement that he more often preferred Austrian Gruner w food. On account of its versatility, in part owing to its dryness?

    Last, Re: Sweetness indicators on labels. I love Terry’s 0-3 scale in the catalogs and use it often. However, no one can hold a candle to the simplicity of the labeling on Olivier Humbrecht’s bottles. 1-5 on the bottle. It’s easy. It’s helpful. It clear for everyone. He usually gets it right. It’s great. I’d love if Terry could get his producers to adopt the 0-3 scale on labels (or something similar). Then, oof, they might actually have a fair bit more success selling German wine in retail…

  • The latest Gault&Millau WeinGuide 2016 is another example of the preference among many German wine professionals for the sweeter-style Mosel wines. It’s a different story in other regions. I also liked the critical reviews of some of the 2014s from various well-known estates.

  • A couple of days ago, Johannes Weber and I had a tasting at N° elf in Konstanz (Baden). The most popular wine was the 2014 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese feinherb. In fact, no one purchased a bottle of the 2014 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett trocken, which is one of my favorite wines, along with Weiser-Künstler’s 2014 Trabener Gaispfad Kabinett trocken.

    The tasting event had over 20 guests, including students and older couples. Johannes talked about each wine. We also poured Riesling Sekt, 2014 Niedermenniger Sonnenberg Riesling Spätlese trocken, and 2014 Krettnacher Euchariusberg Riesling Spätlese. The crowd liked all the wines, including the Weiss- and Spätburgunder, but the bone-dry Kabinett was probably too austere for them and is best consumed during the summer, though I can drink it all year round.

    At Hofgut Falkenstein, the off-dry Rieslings that are designated as “feinherb” are usually closer to 30 grams instead of between 9 and 20. We will have a residually sweet Euchariusberg Kabinett, Spätlese, and Auslese, as well as several different casks of Herrenberg Spätlese feinherb in the 2015 vintage. The “sweet” Euchariusberg Kabinett (two different Fuder casks) is a first for them. I wanted a line-up from Euchariusberg like Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger.

  • Today, Terry wrote me an email, which I’ve posted below. He kindly asked me to do this for him, as he doesn’t have time to log in and participate in this thread.

    Hi Lars,

    A (very) few comments on your thread. Run them if you wish, or not if you wouldn’t rather.

    One, I well remember visiting Rudolf Kramp back in 1980, suggesting David visit them when he returned to Germany in 1983-4, and importing the wines as soon as I possibly could, in 1989 at the latest. I drank one of those old wines that Bitteroff brought in, last October in NY at Shuko; what a blast, much deeper than mere nostalgia, more like the final joining of the circle.

    Two, I’m a little weary of hearing how much less sweet the “sweet” wines of the 70s were. They were also much less ripe. A Mosel Spätlese with 82º Oechsle and 30g/l RS was quite proper. A 2012 Mosel Spätlese with 110º Oechsle might well taste unbalanced with those 30 grams of RS.

    Three, Dönnhoff produces their single (for us) largest volume wine with ca. 20g/l RS. To be sure it’s only one wine, but it’s a far greater proportion of the estate’s total volume (of production) than that would suggest.

    Four, I offer and offered dry German Rieslings to the extent they tasted good to me and taste good to me. Folks want to have it both ways, I think; claiming the wines are constantly improving (due to climate change era among other reasons) but refusing to believe there was ever a time when most of them were awful. I offer more now because more of the wines taste good; there is no other reason, least of all some fantasy of my “taste” changing.

    Five, what I actually wrote was that in Austria, I have found GV to be more flexible at table than Riesling – both of them dry – but not by dint of anything but GVs success across a range of weight and also its weird way of working with otherwise wine-killers (for example, artichoke).

    If you’re drinking white wine with food, if your food has sweetness then your wine needs sweetness; otherwise the food leaches fruit from the wine. And a lot of your food has sweetness, more than you suspect. Interestingly if the wine is sweeter than the food it will not harm the food. It just isn’t a good match. If people would quit fussing over grams of sugar and other conceptual tests of “correctness” and instead tasted with their honest wits, I will always believe they will apportion their drinking to what works with their meals and in their lives – some dry wines, some off-dry (Feinherb) wines, some “sweet” wines, each for its purpose and each to be cherished. But the Trocken category has a dark history of preying on other categories and refusing to coexist peacefully. Thus one must mount an ongoing and vigorous challenge. So let’s get out of the weeds and keep our eyes on the larger questions, paramount among them being, how do we protect the astonishingly versatile Riesling from becoming monomaniacally dry at all costs?


    • Yes, that’s true. The wines are riper than before, not just sweeter. I mention this point in other articles. One of my favorite Mosels from the 2014 vintage is Weiser-Künstler’s Trabener Gaispfad Kabinett trocken, which had only 84° Oechsle. Most of the 2015s in the Webers’ cellar at Hofgut Falkenstein that are at or below 88° Oechsle naturally ferment to “dry.” We have about 18 casks of Saar Riesling, less than half will be legally dry. The others will either naturally end up above 10 grams—or, in most cases, already slowed down and were arrested (without a huge dose of sulfur) with some residual sugar leftover. Most of the Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese feinherb casks, each from different parcels, have over 90° Oechsle and about 30 grams of RS.

  • I didn’t listen to the interview on I’ll Drink to That!, but Master of Wine Benjamin Lewin claims that climate change has enabled producers in Germany to make dry wines.

  • This past weekend, I was pouring three different 2015s from Hofgut Falkenstein at an event in Trier. I had a 2015 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Kabinett trocken (ca. 4 g/l RS), a 2015 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese feinherb (ca. 30 g/l RS), and a residually sweet 2015 Krettnacher Euchariusberg Kabinett (ca. 50 g/l RS). As much as I love the bone dry Kabinett, most tasters preferred the feinherb or sweeter Kabinett. And it wasn’t just younger drinkers or Mosel connoisseurs. Lots of folks requested only the feinherb wine. One woman found that even too tart. That’s why we shouldn’t generalize.

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