DREAM SWEETS: Part 2

Global warming has changed a lot of things about German wines. So have the changing tastes of some markets that have put an emphasis on dry/trocken versions of German wine (for better or worse), particularly from elite ‘grand cru’ sites from which the great dessert bottlings used to come. When we go to German tasting these days, we are typically forced to slog through 30% (or more) skeletal dry Rieslings among the offerings while there are only a handful of true Auslesen in the room.

Maybe tastes really have changed and the demand for the higher pradikat wines has waned in recent years. Our objection with Germany is that the traditional fruity style is what these vineyards do like nowhere else in the world, yet we are fighting Nature by superimposing a current winemaking ‘fad’ on vineyard sites who are best served doing what they have been doing for centuries. Those are fighting words to some of the ‘New Age’ wine types but, frankly, we don’t care. We love a great auslese and the Selbach-Oster Riesling Zeltinger Schlossberg ‘Schmitt’ 2016 is a fine example of why.

Selabch-Oster is a top flight producer that owns parcels in several of the best sites on the Mosel, and he makes a lot of different bottlings. His ‘benchmark’ wines are from three very old plots high on the slopes within specific, high profile vineyards. One of these is Schmitt from the Zeltiner Himmelreich. Schmitt has a perfect southern exposure, but a deeper subsoil of crumbly, broken slate mixed with organic matter and loam. Importer Terry Thiesse likens the vineyard’s orientation further from the river and above the town where the human element creates additional warmth to that of Bernkasteler Doktor.

It is also made in a singular style. Whereas most Auslese are the result of several passes through the vineyard, Selbach harvests the whole block at once, fermenting the grapes of varied degrees of ripeness together to reflect not only the terroir, but the ‘moment’. The grapes are fermented with only their natural yeasts and allowed to determine their own fate, be that trocken or a knockout auslese like we have here.

Stephan Reinhardt wrote a love poem that covers all the bases succinctly, “The 2016 Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Auslese “Schmitt” is a very clear, fresh and precise on the nose, with very fine mineral aromas of crunchy slate. This reminds me a bit of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr in its finesse, perfectly ripe fruit and the finest possible expression of minerals in wine. This is the finest Schmitt I have ever had and surely one of the greatest 2016s from the Mosel. Its finesse and elegance are mind-blowing…97 points

Great now and for a couple of decades hence.

Bibliotheksfreigabe: Zilliken Riesling Spätlese #8 2003

You’ve got to love the German’s precision as they have managed to turn the phrase ‘library release’ into a single, if somewhat intimidating word.  Just for the record, this distinctive bottling came from Zilliken’s cold cellars and is in pristine condition.

We have had the occasion to present some stunning value examples of how German Rieslings age.  As we said repeatedly, such opportunities do not present themselves on a regular basis.  There are even fewer examples of top-tier bottlings like this one that make their way into the marketplace, usually being absorbed by the auction circuit in Deutschland.  Perhaps the last significant opportunity was several years ago was when we got a bunch of Bert Simon’s older Auslese. That was serious fun.

Herein we are talking about one of the stars of the Saar, Hanno Zilliken, arguably the producer that, over the years, has showed us some of the most exciting older examples of premium Riesling we have ever sold.   His 1983s and 1994s are legends for us, as well as things we had the opportunity to revisit on more than one occasion over the years.  They never failed to impress.

We feel the same about Zilliken’s Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spatlese #8 2003.  At age 15 it is still going strong and showing surprising freshness to the classic red current, apricot, quince and spice fruit, the slatey nature of the Saar is very subtly integrated into the mix.  While still proudly showing its auslese character, the bottle time has caused everything to settle into a nice groove where both the sweetness and the acidity are dialed back.  The wine shows plenty of complexity but also harmony with no aspect sticking out.

It has been a lot of fun showcasing aged Riesling over the last few years, but this one is on a whole different level from a top producer working a great vineyard in an outstanding vintage that, because of its unique weather profile, few thought would ‘go the distance’.  That certainly is not the case here.  Very few wines have this kind of purity and clarity of flavors at all, let alone at age fifteen.