I admit to a bit of a thrill when the cork’s popped on a properly ancient bottle of wine. The sense of expectation is palpable – will the cork make it out in one piece, is the liquid even still drinkable?
At this year’s ProWein, Weingut Staffelter Hof’s Jan Matthias Klein treated a few friends and fellow wine geeks to a brace of old vintages from 1993 all the way back to 1971. It’s a real treat to taste bottles like these – Wines that have a story to tell, that can transmit history and culture, far beyond the liquid in the bottle.
And not only that – they tasted damn good too! I won’t pretend I liked everything – but all the wines were still very much alive and kicking, with impressive freshness and vitality given their advanced years. Propensity to such impressive ageing is of course something of a Mosel Riesling trademark.
My favourite was the 1975 Riesling Beerenauslese, still generous and sweet, yet amazingly complex and resinous. A 1971 Riesling Eiswein seemed to be losing freshness, but was still perfectly credible.
For the sharp eyed, there were additional points of interest – As well as Mosel’s prized Riesling, Staffelter Hof used to have plots of various 20th century German crossings developed for cooler climates, and the 1993 Spätlese turned out to be a Kerner/Bacchus blend (rather nice it was too). A very perky 1988 Beerenauslese, rich in marmalade aromas from the botrytis, was not Riesling but actually Ortega. Jan told me “We pulled up all the Ortega 10 years ago, as of course it can’t beat good Riesling”. So this was genuinely the flavour of a bygone age.
Many of the labels had handwritten corrections to both vintage, sweetness level (eg; Auslese) and occasionally grape variety. Jan told me that these were bottles presented for quality assessment to the German wine institute, a process that usually occurred before the new vintage labels were available – hence an old label would be used and amended as necessary.
Everything is extreme in these Mosel veterans – from their mushroom-tinged, vegetal aromas, intense amber hues and sometimes comically decrepid corks. Youth may be beautiful and oh so easy, but age is frequently more captivating.