I'm trying to learn my Rieslings, so this review will walk you through what I've learned so far. But the best place to start is why I bought this bottle (above) in the first place. Awhile back I drank the bottle below, and really liked it:
Read that review, here: Jos. Christoffel Jr., Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, 1990.
So, I really liked the 1990 bottle, and didn't like the 2000 bottle so much -- at least not at first. And yet, the labels look almost the same. Both are Rieslings from the same producer, Jos. Christoffel Jr. Now you could wonder about the vintage and all that, the fact is, there's a lot that's different on the two labels -- despite the fact that it's the same vintner -- than just the vintage. And that's what I wanted to figure out.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. You can read the earlier review, but first, I better let you know what this current bottle was like.
The nose was honeysuckle! That is, a cross between something floral and actual honey. The taste is most definitely sweet, and it is slightly effervescent (sort of like a sweeter Vinho Verde). The main flavor is a sweet lemon. Yet there was a slight sweet vegetable taste -- like a sweet pea pod. The most base way I can put this is that it's light and flat champagne mixed with Countrytime lemonade. Okay, that sounds terrible. And it's worth pointing out that while this isn't my taste, the quality of the wine was very good. And others that drank it with me very much liked it. And it's not like I don't care for some sweet wines, but this was just not my style. it reminded me too much of a wine cooler.
So why did I like the Ausleses and not this Kabinett?
Apparently there are two main dimensions to this story: quality and style. The style classifications are as follows:
- Trocken — bone-dry and high in alcohol.
- Halb-trocken — medium-dry and medium-high in alcohol.
- Edelsuss — traditional and lower in alcohol; they can be slightly-sweet to very sweet depending on the classification.
- Kabinett — light wines made of fully ripe grapes.
- Spätlese — grapes harvested after the normal harvest ("late harvest").
- Auslese — selected and very ripe bunches; typically noble wines intense in bouquet and taste.
- Beerenauslese (BA) — individually selected and overripe berries; rich, sweet dessert wines.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) — individually selected berries that are overripe and shrivelled on the vine almost to raisins; rich, sweet, luscious, honey-like wines.
Also notable is the "Ürziger Würzgarten" and "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" designations. This refers to the specific vineyards where the grapes were grow. Both of these are from the Mosel valley in western Germany. The grapes are grown on these incredibly steep slopes:
However, unless you're a connoisseur of Rieslings, the vineyard where the grapes were grown will likely play a less important role in judging a Riesling by its label than the quality designation.
Anyway if you're like me, you don't usually drink Rieslings, at least not on purpose, but are interested in learning more, I found this article in the NY Times helpful: Ausleses Put Sweetness on the Table.
P.S. I held off on posted this for a few days. And in the interim, I had a small glass of this wine each day. And by the third day, I was starting to like this wine. It lost some of that effervescence, but I'm not sure that was what I didn't like at first. Maybe it's just starting to grow on me.