I’m not sure if there are collective nouns for different grape varieties – in general we talk about flights of wine, so why not a brace of Rieslings, a gaggle of Gewurztraminers or even a congress of clarets?
German white wines are often misunderstood in the UK, which is a shame in some ways (they are frequently wonderful, and deserve a better hearing) but not in others (prices remain ridiculously low relative to quality – the wines in this tasting all cost between £7.50 – £10 a bottle). Availability is another matter however, and for lovers of mature Rieslings, you’ve either got to buy them and lay them down, or keep an ear to the ground for the rare opportunities when they come up for sale.
Thus it was that I found myself hurrying onto the Majestic website just minutes after an email announcing a parcel of various wines from Michael Schäfer, a producer from the Nahe region. What got my attention was the vintages on offer: from 2008 all the way back to 1991. All had sold out within a few hours, but between the two of us, Pete and I had enough examples to warrant a fascinating tasting. We deliberately chose to accompany this with home-cooked south-east asian prawn and coconut curry and egg fried rice – delicately spiced, and an excellent foil for the wines.
2008 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett (Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Mosel)
We started not with one of the Nahe wines, but instead with a Mosel Kabinett that I thought might freshen the palate before we got stuck into the two Ausleses (a much riper, sweeter style). I think I bought this from the Wine Society couple of years back, as part of mixed case of 2008 Kabinetts.
With aromas of apples, white blossoms, white pepper, honey and a tiny hint of petrol, the nose was pretty enticing. But on the first sip it proved really quite explosive – very rich for Kabinett, and veering towards medium dry or even medium sweet. Apricot and candied fruit (angelica?) flavours rounded out a stunningly elegant, mineral wine which just lasted and lasted. Very impressive (indeed, much more than either us had been expecting)
2003 Laubenheimer Vogelsang Riesling Auslese (Michael Schäfer, Nahe)
Next up, not only a change of location (from the Mosel to the Nahe), but also a wine that was five years older and two levels up the ripeness ladder (missing out Spätlese and going straight to Auslese). There was no mistaking the smell of old Riesling in this glass – rubber tyres and paraffin (you either love it or hate it, I adore it), along with baked apples and cream. The Nahe is known for rich, full bodied expressions of Riesling, and that certainly applied here. Interestingly though, the Lauberheimer was a bit briefer on the palate, not sticking around for nearly as long as the Ockfener – despite the abundance of body and sugar which often gives an impression of length.
1999 Burg-Layer Schlossberg Riesling Auslese (Michael Schäfer, Nahe)
Our final wine for the night was a 12 year-old , which had a more vegetal nose, although still a good dollop of fossil fuel to be going on with. With slightly less weight, but noticably more freshness than the 2003 (almost flabby in comparison), there was more delicacy about the Burg-Layer Schlossberg – candied lemons and a subtle minerality that we just couldn’t find in the Laubenheimer at all. Nice though this was, it still couldn’t touch the Ockfener Bockstein in terms of overall complexity, poise and length.
Conclusions were very much Mosel – 1, Nahe – 0 on this occasion. All three wines were utterly moreish, and typical of their regions, but the Mosel Kabinett was in another league. Our two Ausleses were full, fat and very sweet, but somewhat one-dimensional in comparison to the Kabinett. We were of course tasting wines from three different vineyards (that’s the first 4-5 syllables in each case), two different producers and regions, and three different vintages, so this can’t in any way be considered an equitable judgement. But who said life is fair?