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The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Sun Jun 17, 2012 12:35 pm

Sweet Riesling is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…Sweet Riesling is as dead as a door-nail. (Apologies to Charles Dickens)

That might sound dramatic to you, but if so you haven’t been to Germany lately. Depending on which generation you belong to and also to your level of involvement in the wine industry or your level of enthusiasm as a consumer of wine, this could either come across as surprising news or old hat. Either way, the truth of the matter is that it is near impossible for me to walk into a winery, wine-shop, or grocery store here to find a bottle of sweetish Riesling and I live in the middle of the Pfalz, which is the largest Riesling-growing wine region on the planet. It seems that we are almost to the point of dropping the qualifier ‘dry’ (Trocken in German –used to signify wines with 9 grams or less residual sugar) when speaking about Riesling, and substituting ‘sweet’ as the outlying indicator of style. The German wine industry has developed over the last couple of decades into a producer of primarily dry wine. How did this happen?

There has been a fair amount of controversy generated by this development and it has been written about and discussed for years by Terry Theise and recently in the unfortunately titled, but well written “Can American Fans Save German Riesling?” by Mike Steinberger. Matters of taste certainly come into play, but it isn’t as tidy as that. Germans overwhelmingly prefer soccer to American football, dislike spicy foods in favor of savory foods, and love Bon Jovi. With the exception of the Bon Jovi obsession (there is a Bon Jovi edition Volkswagen for chrissakes!) I’m not willing to concede that their tastes are wrong nor can I say that our American tastes are correct. Even beyond that, what worries me on both sides of the argument is that there is a tendency for people to read something, misinterpret it, and declare one style superior only to dismiss the other altogether. To do that would mean missing out on some of the world’s great wines –those being Riesling both dry and those with some residual sugar.

Tradition plays a central role in the appreciation of wine for many of us, but it is also wise to understand that wine-styles are a moving target and always have been (you should read about some of the stuff that used to find its way into Champagne or about the oft made claim about Rhone wines being blended into Burgundy or Bordeaux in small vintages.) The past tends to be over-romanticized including the not-so-distant past. Trying to pin-point a ‘true’ or authentic style of any particular wine is as futile an exercise as debating if the ’72 Dolphins would beat the ’85 Bears in the Superbowl, or saying that Renaissance paintings are superior to those of the Impressionists. Drink what you like. I offer the following not in attempt to define the real nature of the world’s finest wine grape, but only to offer some insight on a developing (or completed) trend as I see it not only from inside the industry, but as a wine lover.

German Riesling has been around for a long time. Written records of the grape point to 1430 for a ‘Ruslingwingarten’ outside of Worms (The Wonnegau of Rheinhessen today) and others mentioning ‘Rissling’ in Alsace in 1477 (then part of the German Holy Roman Empire) and also in 1511 in what is now Germany. Ever since, the popularity of German Riesling has ebbed and flowed with the tastes and trends of society over time (and more than anything with the political and economic climate in Germany and abroad.) The very peak popularity of Riesling came in the half century leading up to 1914. Up until that time, the technology simply did not exist to produce stabile wine with residual sugar. That technology being sterile filtration to remove yeast and microorganisms, thus preventing refermentation in the bottle (first with asbestos fibers, later with wood fibers/Cellulose) and temperature-controlled fermenting vessels to stop fermentation at the desired point of residual sugar by dropping the temperature to below the point where yeast can function. Interestingly, the invention of sterile filtration in the early 1900s coincided with the implosion of the German export markets for wine. Understandably, after the First World War, followed by the second, the export markets for German Riesling dried up for a spell. The most perfect quote that I have read on the subject was in Simon Winder’s wonderful book ‘Germania’ from a British historian who stated that after the wars, German wine just ‘tasted too much of steel helmet’.

The only real available option for the fermentation of wine was oak barrels and vats (the size of the vessel depended on the region and the individual parcel or selection being harvested, but they were normally in the 300 -2400 liter range. The larger casks gave potentially warmer fermentations.) In wooden vat, fermentations are more rapid than those produced with the aid of temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks of the same size because the more porous oak and the heat generated by the volume of fermenting must allows for more oxygen in a more comfortable and conducive temperature range and therefore less stressful environment for the yeast (also reducing or eliminating the need for chemical nutrient supplements such as DAP –Diammonium Phosphate, an often used supplement throughout the world, and one which I really don’t want in my wine.) Relatively quick, warmish, gemütlich fermentations, from healthy, minimally processed, ripe (but not over-ripe) grapes have the very best chances of fermenting to dryness. The best, most quality conscious estates have always sought to achieve this standard.

It has also been suggested that more wines would have gone through Malolactic fermentation, resulting in creamier wines with softer acidity. This would probably only have happened in extremely warm years, when the crop came in with relatively high pH. Malolactic fermentation rarely happens spontaneously at a pH value less than 3.2, and the majority of Riesling harvested even today when must weights are on average far higher than they were even twenty (much less one hundred) years ago rarely exceeds that number. MLF starter cultures were not available until much later.

Botrytis has always been a problem and one that can certainly complicate fermentation .One of the most common misconceptions about winemakers in Germany is that we accept or even desire a certain amount of Botrytis in the crop. This is absolutely false. Fighting botrytis is one of the biggest challenges and one of the most time consuming measures that we undertake throughout the growing season. (The exceptions being Auslesen, Beerenauslesen, and Trockenbeerenauslesen) There have likely been huge increases in Botrytis devastation since the advent of nitrogen fertilizer which really took off in the 1950s. Over-fertilization and high yields lead to much more plant growth: compact grape bunches which often burst open and a denser leaf canopy, which lessens airflow and promotes fungal growth resulting in a greater need for chemical fungicide (a wicked circle, conventional agriculture can be.) Today, wines made from grapes too strongly affected by botrytis (from poor selection during the harvest) need to be heavily processed in the winery through clarification, filtration and heavy doses of sulfur or the resultant wines are a mess of turbidity, oxidation and spoilage. They rarely ferment to dryness, but vinegar and mushrooms dominate the palate. I can’t imagine that highly regarded wines ever came from such material.

Stuck fermentations would always have to have been accounted for and sweet wines have always been made from the results, but they were undesirable, risky and required far more treatments, some quite detrimental to wine quality (Fortified wines such as Port or Banyuls from warm regions owe their existence to the stuck fermentations of long gone eras, as adding alcohol was the only way to stabilize the wines for transport or future consumption.) With the discovery and distribution of cultured yeast strains, fermenting to dry was less of an issue than ever and this obviously came as a huge relief to winemakers globally.

We can with some measure of certainty conclude that the best German Rieslings of the past, those from which Germany initially gained its high reputation were dry with a few bottles of BA and TBA thrown in for good measure, but these were great rarities. Analysis of the sugar content of surviving bottles from centuries past has also confirmed this.

Cellar technology rapidly out-paced innovation in the vineyard and when filtration (led by the German company now called Begerow/Eaton), cooling jackets, and steel tanks became more available, it became possible for virtually every producer, led by large co-operatives to produce sweeter wine at much lower prices than that of those great dessert wine rarities of BA and TBA. The addition of Süssreserve (sweet, heavily sulfured, unfermented grape-juice) or arresting the fermentation meant that low-quality (either heavily rotten and/or under-ripe, high-cropped, high acid) grapes could be processed by cutting corners in the vineyard and buffering the result with sugar, in effect covering up the flaws. The high quality, elite producers of the era banded together in an attempt to legally block the production of such wines. When those attempts failed, and the public demand for cheap sweeter wines rose, the great producers adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude and Germany became known in the 1970s and 1980s as a sweet-wine producer, led of course by Liebfraumilch (which incidentally has been involved in court cases since the 1909 German wine law became ratified as a detriment to the German wine ‘Brand’.) This story is not entirely confined to Germany. We can see similar parallels in the Loire with Chenin Blanc (most notably Vouvray, which is rapidly getting drier as well) and to a lesser-extent, in Austria. Alsace is an interesting case in that they never really succumbed to the temptations of producing more fabricated wines, and it continues to be regarded as a dry-wine region.

To make the claim that every producer who made or makes sweet or off-dry Riesling in Germany is doing so with low-quality produce is absolutely false, but unfortunately for the conscientious few, the gap narrowed and wine prices dropped.

Gradually over the last few decades, improvements in vineyard management -better trellising techniques which promote air-flow, green-cover to bring competition for water and nutrients as well as providing structure and oxygen to the soil, legume planting to naturally fix nitrogen from the air instead of using chemical fertilizers, improvements in canopy management, using pheromone capsules instead of insecticides to combat grapevine moths (a leading cause of botrytis), and more intensive plowing have made it possible to bring in much healthier grape material than in the past. This in combination with global warming has led to riper, less-acidic grapes on the whole, especially in the southern regions of Rheinhessen, the Pfalz, and Baden, making it possible for higher-Oechsle, cleaner, lower acid (less-shrill) dry Riesling to be consistently produced in a more natural in a way that than ever before. The crux of the issue is that producers here are extremely proud of the very-labor intensive farming measures that they undertake and feel that dry Riesling better expresses the minerality and individual character of their terroir (which comes in many different flavors other than slate.) Despite the unique climatic challenges faced in Germany (far more rain than any other major wine-growing region in the world meaning higher sensitivity to Oidium, Downy Mildew, and botrytis, higher frost risk, and cultivation of extremely steep slopes) there has been an enormous rise in Organic and Biodynamic viticulture here and the very top producers in the Pfalz have converted to these methods (A. Christmann, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Bassermann-Jordan, Rebholz, Odinstal, Karl Schaefer, Theo Minges, Meßmer among others.) Dry, organically produced German Riesling is among the most difficult wines in the word to make, and is seen as the highest rendition of art and craft in winemaking.

Talking to producers, it has become clear to me that they are making huge strides in making more friends of dry Riesling in America and the UK and they are excited about showcasing what they feel are their best wines. There seems to be a lot more potential for growth in dry Riesling than in the sweeter styles, but I don’t believe that there is any real danger of off-dry, sweet Riesling becoming extinct. If the demand remains, there will be more than enough not-dry Riesling produced to go around (mostly from the Mosel.) If you like it, buy it –sometimes there is absolutely no substitute for brilliant off-dry, steep-slope Mosel or Mittelrhien Riesling and I love it too. Detractors might find the dry wines a little too macho, and the best Trocken Rieslings have higher alcohol than their sweeter counterparts, but remain perfectly balanced and still generally fall on the lower side of the scale: 11-13% alc. I have found that a few chaptalized wines (adding sugar to the must before fermentation to raise alcohol, not sweetness) can come across a little hot as there is more alcohol, but not more fruit or mineral flavor to counteract it (though even chaptalization is becoming increasingly rare.) The higher ripeness of the wines usually provides more intense aromas and more exotic fruit flavors which are more than enough substitute for sugar and they tend to be more versatile food-wines because of their lack of sweetness. They also tend to be more compact and firm and dense with minerality. They can be delicious, beautiful, fascinating, complex and as satisfying as revenge both young and with some age on it.

Cheers,
Bill
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Howie Hart » Sun Jun 17, 2012 1:28 pm

Thanks for this great post! I just finished bottling my locally grown Riesling - about 14 gallons - sweetened using sussreserve - half at 8g/L and half at 25 g/L.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Bill,

Interesting post, but I need to make a couple of points:

1. You live in the epicenter of the dry Riesling revolution in Germany. It's not surprising at all that you cannot find sweet Riesling at retail in the Pfalz. Despite that, there are still producers who make it. Muller-Catoir, Minges, Eugen Muller, even Messmer make Riesling with residual sweetness. I have recent vintage von Buhl Spatlese in the cellar. German consumers don't drink it, so you won't see it.

2. There are stunning dry Rieslings and stunning sweet Rieslings. After tasting countless examples of each I would never say either style is less true or legitimate, and it would be terribly sad if we were reduced to just one of the two.

3. There's a lovely little "sweet spot" in halbtrocken/feinherb that is sadly ignored. I buy a lot of it when I can find it.

4. Your statement: "Relatively quick, warmish, gemütlich fermentations, from healthy, minimally processed, ripe (but not over-ripe) grapes have the very best chances of fermenting to dryness. The best, most quality conscious estates have always sought to achieve this standard" is interesting, but overreaches by a long shot. Your implication is that Egon Muller is not one of the "best, most quality conscious estates", nor is Prum. Johannes Leitz is left out in the cold, as is the esteemed Helmut Donnhoff. What about producers such as Theo haart (of Rheinhold Haart) or Tim Frohlich who also make sweet Riesling? Are they not quality conscious? The folks at Robert Weil will be very sad to learn that they are not quality conscious, never mind Willi Schaefer.

5. One of the recent legendary dry wines from the Rheingau, the 2002 Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spatlese Trocken had more than a little botrytis. Stunning wine. Absolutely stunning. That's the first example that comes to mind, though I have had some others from Austria as well.

6. As far as stuck fermentations, I will refer you to the 1998 Muller-Catoir Haardter Burgergarten Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken, which was indeed a stuck fermentation, and was sublime. In fact it apparently is still sublime. I believe Salil had some recently that was quite good.

7. We can conclude with some certainty that things that became famous in the past did so with different material than the present. So much has changed in terms of vineyard and cellar practices, that what was great wine in 1850 is irrelevant to today other than as a curiosity.

8. There's nothing too macho about dry German Riesling, except the dogmatic judgments to justify its false supremacy. Let a thousand flowers bloom!
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Carl Eppig » Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:58 pm

The story isn't the same back here in States. If the label doesn't say "Dry Riesling" chances are it will be anything from slightly off dry to cloyingly malifiulous.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Ian Sutton » Sun Jun 17, 2012 3:24 pm

It gets worse than Bon Jovi... their obsession with David Hasselhoff is bizarre.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Rahsaan » Sun Jun 17, 2012 3:39 pm

Interesting writing.

We can see similar parallels in the Loire with Chenin Blanc (most notably Vouvray, which is rapidly getting drier as well)


So are you saying that the demi-sec wines emerged at the same time in the 20th century as the off-dry German wines? And for similar reasons?
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Sun Jun 17, 2012 4:59 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Bill,

Interesting post, but I need to make a couple of points:

1. You live in the epicenter of the dry Riesling revolution in Germany. It's not surprising at all that you cannot find sweet Riesling at retail in the Pfalz. Despite that, there are still producers who make it. Muller-Catoir, Minges, Eugen Muller, even Messmer make Riesling with residual sweetness. I have recent vintage von Buhl Spatlese in the cellar. German consumers don't drink it, so you won't see it.

2. There are stunning dry Rieslings and stunning sweet Rieslings. After tasting countless examples of each I would never say either style is less true or legitimate, and it would be terribly sad if we were reduced to just one of the two.

3. There's a lovely little "sweet spot" in halbtrocken/feinherb that is sadly ignored. I buy a lot of it when I can find it.

4. Your statement: "Relatively quick, warmish, gemütlich fermentations, from healthy, minimally processed, ripe (but not over-ripe) grapes have the very best chances of fermenting to dryness. The best, most quality conscious estates have always sought to achieve this standard" is interesting, but overreaches by a long shot. Your implication is that Egon Muller is not one of the "best, most quality conscious estates", nor is Prum. Johannes Leitz is left out in the cold, as is the esteemed Helmut Donnhoff. What about producers such as Theo haart (of Rheinhold Haart) or Tim Frohlich who also make sweet Riesling? Are they not quality conscious? The folks at Robert Weil will be very sad to learn that they are not quality conscious, never mind Willi Schaefer.

I meant that in an historical context. Almost everyone (but not all) uses stainless steel these days and temperature control to prolong fermentation and preserve fruit and flower aromas.

5. One of the recent legendary dry wines from the Rheingau, the 2002 Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spatlese Trocken had more than a little botrytis. Stunning wine. Absolutely stunning. That's the first example that comes to mind, though I have had some others from Austria as well.

I’m sure that Johannes Leitz had to go to pretty extreme must clarification methods and multiple filtrations later to get that 2002 to ferment dry and appear clear in the bottle if there was significant botrytis. The question is how good would the wine have been without those treatments and less botrytis?

6. As far as stuck fermentations, I will refer you to the 1998 Muller-Catoir Haardter Burgergarten Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken, which was indeed a stuck fermentation, and was sublime. In fact it apparently is still sublime. I believe Salil had some recently that was quite good.

Again, I was referring to stuck fermentations of the past. Technology (such as sterile filtration) exists these days to alleviate the risks of MLF or refermentation in bottle, both of which lead to disaster.


7. We can conclude with some certainty that things that became famous in the past did so with different material than the present. So much has changed in terms of vineyard and cellar practices, that what was great wine in 1850 is irrelevant to today other than as a curiosity.

8. There's nothing too macho about dry German Riesling, except the dogmatic judgments to justify its false supremacy. Let a thousand flowers bloom!


I agree with you completely on the rest of your points.

Cheers,
Bill
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Sun Jun 17, 2012 5:02 pm

Howie Hart wrote:Thanks for this great post! I just finished bottling my locally grown Riesling - about 14 gallons - sweetened using sussreserve - half at 8g/L and half at 25 g/L.


Nice Howie,

Let us know how they turned out. Btw, I'd be interested to know how well the NY Rieslings sell at different sweetness levels. Any idea?

Cheers,
Bill
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Sun Jun 17, 2012 5:11 pm

Rahsaan wrote:Interesting writing.

We can see similar parallels in the Loire with Chenin Blanc (most notably Vouvray, which is rapidly getting drier as well)


So are you saying that the demi-sec wines emerged at the same time in the 20th century as the off-dry German wines? And for similar reasons?


We'll have to find a Loire expert in the crowd to get a definitive answer on that, but it would almost have to be. There just weren't other ways to stabilize sweet wines no matter where they came from before filtration. They simply could not be consistently produced without technology.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jun 17, 2012 6:04 pm

Bill,

Please provide some actual examples of these great dry wines of yore. I've never had one. I've never even seen one older than the late 1950s. Historical context is great if it can be backed up with data. How many estates were making these great wines? More than a handful?

As for the 2002 Leitz Rottland - have you ever tasted it? You might not want to comment on how great it could have been without tasting it first. I've had some pretty lousy unmanipulated wines, so technology is not all bad.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Howie Hart » Sun Jun 17, 2012 6:57 pm

Bill Hooper wrote:Nice Howie,
Let us know how they turned out. Btw, I'd be interested to know how well the NY Rieslings sell at different sweetness levels. Any idea?
Cheers,
Bill
I'm anxious myself. This is the first time I ever bottled wines with RS using sterile filtration instead of potassium sorbate. I'm hoping I don't have any surprises.
Regarding sweetness level sales of NY State wines, I really don't have a good handle on that. I'm up in Niagara County and our wine growing region is more of an extension of Canada's Niagara Peninsula. The Finger Lakes, where most of the NY State Riesling is grown, is about a 2 hour drive from me and I don't get there often. If I were to guess, I'd say the majority of NY State Rieslings are in the 15-40 g/L range, but I've been seeing more and more with under 10 locally. In fact I had a nice one from Leonard Oakes last week that was 6 g/L. Cave Spring, in Ontario, makes several versions of Riesling from 4 different vineyards, at different harvest levels and different levels of sweetness. A complete tasting of their Rieslings is quite an education.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Salil » Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:28 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Please provide some actual examples of these great dry wines of yore. I've never had one. I've never even seen one older than the late 1950s. Historical context is great if it can be backed up with data. How many estates were making these great wines? More than a handful?

I'm also curious to hear some of these names and estates. Would certainly be interesting to hunt down an old bottle or two from that era - if there are ever any specifics that would actually help in finding a few bottles in that style.
Interesting that there are a number of classic old sweeter styled Spatlese and Auslese from the mid 20th century that can still be found in various cellars or auctions, from the likes of Dr. Thanisch, Prum, Grunhaus, the various state domaines and some of the old classic Rhine estates such as Gustav Gessert or Schloss Schonborn... and yet these much-talked about dry wines never seem to show up anywhere.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:34 pm

Salil wrote:
David M. Bueker wrote:Please provide some actual examples of these great dry wines of yore. I've never had one. I've never even seen one older than the late 1950s. Historical context is great if it can be backed up with data. How many estates were making these great wines? More than a handful?

I'm also curious to hear some of these names and estates. Would certainly be interesting to hunt down an old bottle or two from that era - if there are ever any specifics that would actually help in finding a few bottles in that style.
Interesting that there are a number of classic old sweeter styled Spatlese and Auslese from the mid 20th century that can still be found in various cellars or auctions, from the likes of Dr. Thanisch, Prum, Grunhaus, the various state domaines and some of the old classic Rhine estates such as Gustav Gessert or Schloss Schonborn... and yet these much-talked about dry wines never seem to show up anywhere.


Salil,

I am willing to bet that these great dry wines were in fact basic table wines, and so consumed with no regard for posterity. In short, they are likely not much more than fond myth.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Rahsaan » Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:48 pm

Well from my understanding one of the 'heydays' for German wine was the late 19th/early 20th century and you don't see much of anything from that period, sweet or dry (except for the photo Chambers posted recently of the 1884 Grunhaus).

Of course one doesn't see much of anything from any region that is so old, let alone one that was out of fashion and unpopular for so long like Germany.

Plus, Rudy may have just been getting around to it. And now won't get the chance!
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Fredrik L » Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:35 am

I have had more than hundreds of great German Rieslings older than 1970, and at least two dozen truly mesmerizing ones older than 1930. How many of these great wines, (that were very much talked about among the prosperous few), have been dry? You guessed it: zero.

As to the post as a whole, I do not like it when opinions are presented as were they facts. And why excuse Charles Dickens when using a phrase that originated in the 14th century and was made famous by The Bard himself in 1592?

Greetings from Sweden / Fredrik L
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by David M. Bueker » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:27 am

Fredrik L wrote:I have had more than hundreds of great German Rieslings older than 1970, and at least two dozen truly mesmerizing ones older than 1930. How many of these great wines, (that were very much talked about among the prosperous few), have been dry? You guessed it: zero.


What??? Zero??? That can't be true!!! :twisted:

My experience with very old wines is not as extensive as yours, but I can match you for old dry wines! :mrgreen:
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Paul Winalski » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:57 pm

All my experiences with German Trocken and Halbtrocken wines have been disappointing lessons in why German riesling should have some RS. Long live Kabinett!

-Paul W.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by David M. Bueker » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:13 pm

Paul,

I've had great trockens and halbtrockens. There's more than enough room for all styles. Bill's post touched off my extreme irritation with the VDP, and all their rules to make German wine better or easier, whih merely legislate stupidity and dogma.

Try a bottle of the Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelriech Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken. It's a reliably delicious wine that I can't get enough of.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Tim York » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:40 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:
Fredrik L wrote:I have had more than hundreds of great German Rieslings older than 1970, and at least two dozen truly mesmerizing ones older than 1930. How many of these great wines, (that were very much talked about among the prosperous few), have been dry? You guessed it: zero.


What??? Zero??? That can't be true!!! :twisted:

My experience with very old wines is not as extensive as yours, but I can match you for old dry wines! :mrgreen:


I seem to recall reading a complaint in Professor Saintsbury's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Saintsbury Notes on a Cellar Book (1920) to the effect that a wave of sugar was then invading the Rhine and Moselle (sic) vineyards.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:43 pm

Hello all,

I guess that I'm glad that my post has stirred up some controversy. I enjoy the lively discussion. This is a re-post from some of my responses from a different site where some of the same questions have arisen:

I’m quite sure that I didn’t mention natural wines in this post. I mentioned organic and biodynamic vineyard practices to illustrate how far vineyard management techniques have progressed in a country where the climate is rather inhospitable to anyone not practicing conventional agriculture. It is absolutely more difficult to bring in clean, botrytis-free fruit than it is to bring in rotten berries and mask them with residual sugar in Germany. My point is merely that you can’t hide deficiencies behind sugar with dry wines. If you tasted a white burgundy with significant botrytis, you would know. Some people can pick out botrytis from sweet Riesling, others (most people) can’t. Furthermore, I stated:

“To make the claim that every producer who made or makes sweet or off-dry Riesling in Germany is doing so with low-quality produce is absolutely false”

I drink and love many conventionally produced wines. But when I drink an amazing organic wine from here, knowing how incredibly difficult they are to produce because I’m working in the vineyard for ten hours every day, I am impressed –yes, especially when it is dry.

If you are looking for prominent producers from the early to middle twentieth century, I think that you probably know a lot of them already. Off the top of my head:
Basserman-Jordan, Bürklin-Wolf, Von Buhl, Schloß Johannisberg, Kloster Eberbach (State Domaine Hessen), Schloß Vollrads, Domdechant Werner, Langwerth von Simmern, Schloß Schönborn, Bürgerspital, Juliusspital, Vereingte Hospitien, Thanisch, Karthäuserhof, Grünhaus, von Kesselstatt, J.J. Prüm, Egon Müller…
Finally, here is one list of older Riesling that I found (some dry, some sweet.)

http://www.georg-breuer.com/deutsch/weine/bilder/raritaeten.pdf

Basserman-Jordan also has a cellar with wines going back to 1811. They are opening a couple of them soon for a tasting, but the entrance price is a little out of my range. Have a lot of dry white wines survived from anywhere? I’m not sure that I’ve seen many 19th century white burgundies at tastings for sale but I’m reasonably sure that they were produced.

I am actually kind of surprised about all of this inquiry. Let me ask anyone out there: If you wanted to produce an off-dry or sweet Riesling using only a wooden-press, a 1200 liter wooden vat, without sterile filtration and temperature control how would you do it?

Yes, the Mosel is generally seen as wine that grandma drank. There was an article in Slow Food Germany a couple of months ago that was titled something very close to that in fact. I have to give the article credit –they profiled some very good producers (yes! some of my favorites if only I could find them.)

Finally, this was not a rant or manifesto against off-dry or sweet Riesling. What the hell?
Didn’t anyone read where I mentioned Willi Schaefer and Egon Müller? I am simply trying to give some reasons for WHY dry Riesling is popular in Germany.

German Riesling was among the most popular white wine in Britain in the late 19th century. Are you saying that everyone was drinking TBA? Also given the fact that most of the wines were shipped in barrel and not even bottled, a practice that continued well into the 20th century, there is NO way that the vast majority of wines were anything but dry.

You should read some of the books on German wine published in the early to mid 20th century:
Bassermann-Jordan Die Geschichte des Weinbaus, Frankfurt 1923
Hallgarten, Rheinland Wineland, London 1967
Langenbach, The wines of Germany, London 1951
Schoonmaker, The wines of Germany, New York 1956

Cheers,
Bill
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by David M. Bueker » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:46 pm

Yet the fact that dry Riesling is popular in Germany does not mean it should be popular anywhere else. It is popular, though less so than in Germany itself. Perhaps there is a reason for this.

There exists a danger that some delicious wines will cease to exist. Some of this is due to weather (kabinett is nearly dead), and some due to the dry craze.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Tim York » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:47 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Paul,

I've had great trockens and halbtrockens. There's more than enough room for all styles. Bill's post touched off my extreme irritation with the VDP, and all their rules to make German wine better or easier, whih merely legislate stupidity and dogma.

Try a bottle of the Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelriech Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken. It's a reliably delicious wine that I can't get enough of.


I love real Kabinett, Feinherb and Halbtrocken when there is also delicious balancing acidity as well as a certain fleetness of foot but also welcome the increasing amount and quality of trocken, which for me is undeniably easier to match with food.

Having learned to read traditional German labelling, I find the additional layer of "simplification" imposed by VDP very confusing.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:59 pm

Tim York wrote:
David M. Bueker wrote:Paul,

I've had great trockens and halbtrockens. There's more than enough room for all styles. Bill's post touched off my extreme irritation with the VDP, and all their rules to make German wine better or easier, whih merely legislate stupidity and dogma.

Try a bottle of the Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelriech Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken. It's a reliably delicious wine that I can't get enough of.


I love real Kabinett, Feinherb and Halbtrocken when there is also delicious balancing acidity as well as a certain fleetness of foot but also welcome the increasing amount and quality of trocken, which for me is undeniably easier to match with food.

Having learned to read traditional German labelling, I find the additional layer of "simplification" imposed by VDP very confusing.


Tim, the newest simplification (Jan 2012) follows exactly the Burgundy model:
Estate wines: Gutswein
Village wines: Ortswein
Premier Cru: Erste Lage
Grand Cru: Grosse Lage

Prädikats are to be used only for wines with residual sugar which are tacked on to the above. Nothin' to it.

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Bill
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

by Bill Hooper » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:03 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Yet the fact that dry Riesling is popular in Germany does not mean it should be popular anywhere else. It is popular, though less so than in Germany itself. Perhaps there is a reason for this.

There exists a danger that some delicious wines will cease to exist. Some of this is due to weather (kabinett is nearly dead), and some due to the dry craze.


Yes. But dry Riesling is getting more popular all the time and I can't help but wonder if one of the reasons that it isn't as popular as I feel it should be, (and I think you do too), is that there has been so much confusion over what is in the bottle.

And really David, thanks for the debate. It's been a while!

Cheers,
Bill
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