As a follow up to my post on German wine regions, here’s a mega wine round up to help give you some idea of what (and what NOT to buy).
Most of these wines were courtesy of the Wines of Germany. I’ve been stockpiling them and finally worked my way
through (sorry to Samantha and Dayna!). The Thanisch and Schneider (LOVE the name, since it’s my name too!) wines are courtesy of WineSellers Ltd.
No horrible wines here but I found some clear shining stars and others that are just meh. This has much to do with vintage. I had one wine from the solid 2010 vintage, and one from the iffy 2012 vintage, but most of these wines are from 2013 and 2014. So for background:
- 2013 was marked by low yields, rain at the wrong time, and rot. All in all, the wines tended to be pretty average, except from the top sites and the best producers. That proves true in my reviews below.
- 2014 was cold and wet and the quality was erratic – again, proven below! The best shone, the worst flopped.
Since people on Facebook said they wanted to know more about the story behind wineries, I’ve included them below as well.
My top picks have stars next to them. All in all, the off-dry Rieslings were far more successful than the dry, but still some great ones in each category.
*Schloss Schönborn 2010 Riesling Trocken, $18
Story: I love this estate, which has been operating in the Rheingau since 1349. It’s one of the oldest estates in Germany and one of the oldest in the world: 27 generations of the same family have made wine here. Schönborn owns some of the best vineyard sites in Rheingau and everything they make is pure Riesling gold. If you happen to go visit, know that they have a collection that contains wines from the 1700s and they were the first to use blown glass to bottle their wines. With tons of single vineyard wines, Schloss Schönborn has depth and the value for the money on any of these wines is unmatched.
Description: Pear, honeysuckle, and minerals with tart apple and lime on the long finish. Dry and acidic but well-balanced, outstanding: classic Rheingau Riesling.
Drink or Sink? Drink every time you can!
*Müller-Catoir 2013 Riesling Trocken, Pfalz. $28
Story: Organically farmed and family owned since 1774, nine generations have made wine from select, hand-picked grapes for these wines. The family makes a range from this basic (pretty awesome) one to small vineyard designates. Most of Müller-Catoir’s vineyards are in the slopes of the Haardt Mountains, lending complexity to the wine. They make 12,500 cases of wine a year – a medium sized winery.
Description: Jasmine, lime/limeade, Pez candy (there’s a powdery, candied note) with good acidity but not over the top. It had a talc-like quality. Unique and tasty.
Drink or Sink? Drink.
Dr. H. Thanisch – Erben Muller Burggraef – Mosel
Story: Thanisch has been around since 1636. In the late 1700s, the family acquired a large portion of the famed Berncasteler Doctor vineyard, named so because wine from this 8 acre/3.3 ha vineyard was said to have cured the ailing Archbishop of Trier in the 13th century. Berncasteler Doctor is a small portion of Thanisch’s 40 acre/16 ha holdings around the Mosel, which they farm sustainably. The following two dry wines came from this producer:
2014 Riesling Feinherb – dry style, $14
(although feinherb is an unregulated term that indicates the wine is not really sweet but not that dry either. This has just a touch of sugar, even though they call it dry)
Description: Spritzy with mineral, honey, peach, lemon, lime, petrol, white flowers, and herb notes. Dry but still soft feeling, with great acidity. Honeyed on the palate, with petrol (gas station smell). Good stuff – with a touch of sweetness, the fruit shines without the acid taking over.
Drink or sink? Drink. Not complex but a super delicious wine to drink on a weeknight with spicy food.
2014 Bernkastel Mosel Riesling, Spätlese (ripe, quality grapes) Trocken (dry), $30
From the town of Bernkastel, which makes some of the best Riesling in the world, the vineyards are on slate-y, steep slopes.
Description: Peach, lime, lemon, honey, and waterfall aromas. Sadly, the wine was thin and acidic. A touch of sweetness was greatly needed to round this out but it wasn’t there.
Drink or sink?: Meh. This would have benefitted from the addition of sugar and I find it strange that in such a hard vintage, they made a dry wine like this. If you have to pick early to prevent rot, as they did in 2014, it doesn’t make sense to keep these wines dry – they don’t have the ripeness needed to make the fruit shine on its own.
S.A. Prum 2013 Luminance Dry Riesling, Mosel, Germany $15
Story: Prüm is far and away one of the best producers in the Mosel. They’ve been at it long enough – the family has been in the region since 1156! Raimund Prüm has run the estate since 1971 and he’s modernized the winery while keeping traditions alive. Part of the modernization: this dry wine, which is meant to appeal to those who love Riesling but not the sweet stuff.
Description: Orange, lemon, and unripe peach smell with mineral notes. Unfortunately the acidity just took over the fruit and this was too dry. Instead of having balance, the acidity drowned out the fruit. Would have been better with a touch of sweetness to balance the austerity.
Drink or Sink?: Meh. Could have been stunning with a touch of sugar but bad judgment/marketing needs prevented it from being so. Sad.
Ernst Loosen Villa Wolf 2013 Riesling Dry, Pfalz, $12.
Story: Founded in 1756, J.L. Wolf Estate ran well for about 200 years but then languished. Ernst Loosen, of Mosel’s Dr. Loosen Estates, acquired the winery in 1996 and revived it. A young couple, Patrick Moellendorf and Sumi Gebauer now run the estate, which aims to express the classic style of the Pfalz: dry, full-bodied Riesling.
Description: Golden yellow, spritzy. Like limes, lemons, and a mountain stream. Dry with good acidity, but lacked the kind of fruit I expect from a Pfalz Riesling.
Drink or Sink?: Meh. A Plain Jane Riesling. You could do better even for $12. And I’m surprised at how very similar it is to the Luminance in taste and label. Talk about marketing and trying to appeal to a certain customer! They must have used the same market research firm on label design!
Kruger-Rumpf 2014 Riesling Trocken (dry), Nahe, $17
Story: With a vine tradition that goes back to 1708, this estate is still owned by the Rumpf family, although now, instead of selling bulk juice, they make their own wine. They make wine from two Grand Cru vineyards, as well as this standard estate Riesling.
Description:: Smells like wet hay and minerals. And although I love the texture – great acidity, a nice tingle, and a spicy bite – this tasted more like an Italian Pinot Grigio than a Riesling. It had a better texture than a Pinot Grigio and isn’t as bitter but otherwise it’s identical. Nahe usually has a lovely balance of full flavor and great texture. This was lacking the former.
Drink or Sink? Sink. Don’t bother. It’s got none of the umph that I expect from Riesling. Unless you’re into texture and don’t care about flavor, this isn’t great.
The Off-Dry Wines
*Josef Leitz Rudesheimer 2014 Klosterlay Riesling Kabinett, $19
Three generations of Leitz winemakers have worked the land in Rheingau, but Johannes Leitz, who took over in 1985, has been responsible for acquiring top sites for the winery. He was part of the movement to restore this area after the vines and region languished following WWII. The estate is on a south-facing, steep hillside made of slate, and planted to Riesling. Leitz meticulously tends his vines and has an intense terroir focus.
Description: Spritzy and golden with apricot, honey, white peach, honeysuckle, and strong petrol aromas. Slightly sweet with lime, honey, and lavender notes. Wonderful acidity to balance the sugar, this may be my favorite wine with Indian food, ever.
Drink or Sink? Drink. I love Leitz wines!
*Dr. H Thanisch 2014 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett (see above for story), $19
Description: A brassy, darkish yellow. Petrol (like at the gas station), honey, melon, white flowers – typical Riesling aromas. To taste — a beautiful wine with honey, melon, mineral (smell of a waterfall) flavors, great acidity, and balanced sweetness. Fresh and delicious.
Drink or Sink? Drink. Stunning wine. I love the lightness of it yet it has complexity and underlying weight (I know it sounds weird but the flavor and touch of sugar makes it substantial, while the acidity makes it so fresh).
*Schloss Saarstein 2013 Riesling Spätlese Serrig Schloss Saarsteiner, Mosel, $16
Story: A relatively new estate in its current incarnation, Saarstein is on the Saar River, a tributary to the Mosel. Grapes for this wine were grown on blue slate soils on a single vineyard site. Schloss Saarstein is a reliable producer at all levels of their portfolio. A go-to for me.
Description: Slightly spritzy with green highlights. Peach, lychee, lime, mineral, freesia flower, and honeysuckle aromas. Flavors like pear, honeysuckle, peach, honeycomb, minerals, dried apricot. Excellent balance with perceptible sugar, strong acid, and an oily fullness that is cut by a slightly bitter bite on the finish.
Drink or sink? Drink. 2013 was a tough year, but this wine shines.
Georg Albrecht Schneider
Story: When Winesellers, Ltd said they would be sending me stuff from their portfolio, the only thing I specifically requested was the wines from this place. I mean, with a name like Schneider, it has to be good, right (hint: that’s my last name, but there’s no relation)? Located in the Rheinhessen, the estate has been Schneider-owned for 7 generations. The estate owns a large portion of the best areas of the Rheinhessen, in Nierstein.
*2013 Niersteiner Hipping, Riesling Spätlese, $17
Description: From the famed “der roter Hang” or red slope area of Rheinhessen that has red sandstone soil. Honey, tea notes, petrol, mineral, peach nectar – smells like a bellini. Sweet but excellent, bright acidity. Honey, tastes like a waterfall, honeydew melon. Outstanding with Indian food – perfect amount of sweetness to cut spice. Lovely and light – excellent wine, made me want to go in for more because of the mineral and fruit on the palate and the balance of acid and sugar.
Drink or Sink? Drink. Love it – shows what Rheinhessen does when it does it right!
2013 Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett, $17
Description: Honeysuckle, honeycomb, melon. Tastes just like a candied grape – like grape NERDS candy and honeycomb with a little salty-earth note. Nice acidic finish with fresh finish even though it’s off-dry and sugar is perceptible it feels fresh.
Drink or Sink? Drink.
Clean Slate 2014 Riesling, Mosel, $9
Story: A partnership of a large vineyard holder and producer in Mosel and Winebow, the New York based wine importer and distributor (with a generally amazing portfolio), this wine is a value play but pretty high quality for the money.
Description: I’ve had many vintages of this wine but this is the best it has been in a while. The aromas almost of a mojito – mint and lime but with some mineral. Tastes like lime, mint, mineral, peach. The wine has sugar but isn’t over the top – it was included just to balance the acidity. They got it right this year! Mineral note at the end.
Drink or sink? Drink. Tasty and a great value, but check the vintage for 2014. This varies wildly.
Story: In 1660, the Selbach family’s ancestors shipped wine down the Mosel and got into winemaking at some point too. Today, Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara have some of the best property in the Saar — steep south-facing slopes on ancient slate.
Sticking to tradition, the winemakers use natural yeast fermentation and don’t fine (get the goop out at the end, which can strip the flavor). They straddle the line of traditional style and modern style and are always a good value.
J&H Selbach 2014 Saar Riesling Spätlese, $17
Description: Peach, honey, guava, with a clean linen blowing in the breeze smell and a spicy white pepper note. Grapefruit, pears, peaches, green grape, and ripe apple flavors plus jasmine, lilac, musk, with a spicy bite (from that slate) on the finish. Excellent acid and just enough sugar to balance without it feeling heavy.
Drink or sink? Drink. A fabulous wine – fresh clean, complex.
J&H Selbach 2014 Saar Riesling Kabinett, $19
Description: Golden, gamey smelling – like chicken, strangely. Peachy, floral, lightly sweet, petrol. Flavors — honeysuckle, honey. Lightly sweet with great acidity a little bitterness on the finish. Tart.
Drink or sink? Meh. Good but not great.
St. Urbans-hof 2012 Riesling Estate Bottled from Old Vines, Mosel, $16
Story: Winemaker Nik Weis has made this estate into an excellent, high quality shop. Using 60 year old+ vines and natural yeast fermentation, these wines are from the carefully tended estate vineyards and are often quite good.
Description: Good lemon-lime notes with peach, honeydew melon, and honey. Excellent acidity and nice balance with the sugar. Unfortunately, it feels a little watery on the palate.
Drink or sink? Drink for a weeknight. A nice wine but left me wanting something more in terms of body and finish.
With so many great wines to choose from, I hope I’ve give you some ideas of what to look for and the flavors to expect and some direction on what wines to seek out from where! Go get some and try it out! And to back track and learn more about the regions, please go to this post, which gives you enough context to make this post come to life!