Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wine blogging Wednesday: Old World Rieslings

How quaint to go into our Way Back machine and remember Wine Blogging Wednesday, on a Wednesday.

[For information on German wine labelling, I am indebted to The New Wine Lover's Companion by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst.]

Wine Blogging Wednesday is a "virtual wine-tasting" dreamed up four years ago by some good people in the wine trade (whom ... sshhh ... I had never heard of either).

But it's a delightful idea. Bloggers and wine enthusiasts try an agreed-upon wine -- the theme for the month -- one blogger "hosts" the tasting, and the notes are collected and linked at Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW). It so happens that the choice for May, my first time participating in this event, is Old World Rieslings, and rieslings are thus far my favorite wines.

I was lucky enough to be able to try a fine, rather pricey (for my budget) riesling at the store. The label says, all in one breath, Weingut Leo Schwab -- Winzermeister -- Weinbautechniker -- D54470 Bernkastel-Kues -- Saarallee -- Gutsabfullung -- and then, below the artwork, 2003er -- Bernkasteler Badstube -- Riesling Spatlese. Below that, Qualitatswein mit Pradikat, then some letters and numbers, then at the very bottom of the label, Mosel - Saar - Ruwer.


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German wine labels are famed for their specificity. The most important words on this label are Bernkasteler Badstube and of course, Riesling Spatlese. The latter phrase tells us that this is the riesling grape, picked at the second harvest when the grapes were just a little riper than they would have been if picked at the first harvest (kabinett). Bernkasteler Badstube introduces us gently into the complexities of German wine law, as it involves both production and labeling.

Like other European countries, Germany requires that wine assemble itself, so to speak, into certain quality categories and then announce its quality category on the label. Generally, the more precise the announcement of where a wine has come from, the higher its quality will be. Product of Germany means an okay wine. Wine from an Anbaugebiet (quality wine-growing region) is a little better. Wine from a Bereich (a subregion) is better still. Wine from a
Grosslage (general site) within a bereich is still better. Wine from an Einzellage has come from a vineyard site or actual vineyard within a grosslage, and is therefore better still. (Are the grapes just supernaturally "better" because they have grown in smaller specified areas? No; what the designations mean is that the winemaker has been held to higher and more specific standards as he makes, or claims to make, wine from grapes, sites, and vineyards that historically ought to display great, and typical, quality.)

So our Bernkasteler Badstube would seem to be in the third tier of specificity for wine quality, almost but not quite to Einzellage level. It comes from a Grosslage in the Bereich of Bernkastel, which lies in the general region (Anbaugebiet) of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. However, there is another mark of quality on the label, in the biggest print at the very top: Weingut Leo Schwab. Weingut means "wine estate," so this phrase is the equivalent of an English language label saying "So and So's Vineyard." Legally, it means that this riesling has been made only from estate-grown grapes -- which would seem to put it in the final and best Einzellage category.

After all this, how does it taste? There is nothing like a riesling. That honey-yellow color, that syrupy pour into the glass, the aroma of lemon cake and cinnamon; then a taste like sweet-tart apples, followed by a startling dry finish, reminiscent once again of cake -- you can almost taste the crumb.

I have met people who won't try a riesling, "because they're sweet, aren't they." I don't yet know what to say to them. And I begin to see where wine snobbery comes from.


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