Thursday, 5 July 2012

Spätlese trocken

For a moment back in the 1990s, before Germany's elite the VDP set about overhauling its internal classification system, "Spätlese trocken" unofficially stood for the crème de crème of dry German Riesling. Since the introduction of the Grosses Gewächs (GG) (i.e. grand cru) moniker, Spätlese trocken has taken somewhat of a back seat. There are probably several reasons for this, although I think one of the main ones is the term's prescriptive (and restrictive) meaning.

Theoretically, Spätlese trocken refers to wine from grapes of a certain ripeness (a minimum of 85 Oechsle in the Pfalz, Rheingau and Rheinhessen, for example) that are then fermented to dryness. As many of you will know, "Spätlese" means "late harvest". However, climate change means that late harvests as such aren't necessary these days to obtain Spätlese ripeness levels. Notwithstanding enlightened measures in the vineyard to obtain that much-sought-after "physiological ripeness" late into the autumn without overly high Oechsle levels, the use of super-ripe grapes is resulting in Spätlese trockens of 13.5% abv and higher. For people who like wallowing 1990s nostalgia, such wines are bordering more on "Auslese trocken" - the rare, erstwhile term for the dry version of one ripeness notch higher.

This, I think, is why Spätlese trocken has become rather meaningless. In view of this and the fact that ripeness levels aren't the be-all and end-all anyway, lots of wine-growers scrap the term altogether and simply label all their dry Rieslings as Qualitätswein.

For dry Riesling, the Spätlese moniker may be losing its relevance. But not quite. Not while Spätlese trocken throwbacks to yesteryear (ripe but with reasonably modest alcohol) can still be found. I hereby present to you exhibits A and B in the case for good old Spätlese trocken.

Weingut Zimmermann, Wachenheimer Fuchsmantel, Riesling Spätlese trocken 2010, Pfalz, Germany
Yellow straw in appearance with blackcurrant, pineapple and candied citrus on the nose. The scent almost verges on malty, but not quite. Some 24 hours later, the aromas take on a beeswax-y nuance. Keen acidity but balanced on the palate thanks to substance and body that lend a buffer to what is prominently citrus fruit. This wine feels more succulent and appealing a day later, while the finish is none too shabby either.

What stands out are the wine's firm body and keen flavours. The textbook 12.5% alcohol is barely noticeable.

Now, I covered the following wine nearly two years ago. Let's see how it's developed...

Weingut Kranz, Kalmit Riesling Spätlese trocken, 2008, Pfalz, Germany
Thanks to much lobbying by Boris Kranz, the "Ilbesheimer Kalmit" site from where this wine was sourced is now a legally recognised vineyard name in its own right.

The alcohol level is again a relatively modest 12.5%. Golden straw in colour. The initial smell is slightly oxidised and akin to wet cardboard. I immediately fear the worst. But then, all of a sudden, the dud notes disappear leaving something much cleaner. Firstly, I think I can smell aromas of dill and cucumber. Then creamy peaches emerge. This wine has definitely aged during its two-year spell in our basement and does need some "recovery time" after opening to reveal all its secrets. What it eventually shows is an improbable peach-driven succulence, with the acidity well rounded inside a layer of sweet fruit.

Whether the wine is better or worse than two years ago, I'm not sure. Nonetheless, it's still cracking Riesling.

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