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Riesling Renaissance

POSTED ON 01/10/2014

Top white burgundy apart, dry German Riesling is the greatest, most food-friendly dry white wine in the world, yet it remains under-appreciated. While Germany would like its greatest dry Rieslings to be better known, the rest of the world’s wine industry is more than happy for German wine to have a hard time exporting its liquid gold overseas. According to the Nahe producer, Martin Tesch, only half with tongue in cheek: ‘selling Riesling in England borders on an extreme sport, like underwater polo’.

We can hang our coats on as many time-honoured prejudices as we like, but none properly explain why we’re still so resistant to what’s arguably the world’s greatest wine style. Critics will point to the legacy of liebfraumilch (aka sugar water), to the complexities of German labelling, to the distortions of Eastern European namealikes such as Lutomer Laski Riesling (now rizling), to the off-putting, battery acid wines of yesteryear and, counterintuitively, to a quaint view that German Riesling is a synonym for granny’s favourite sweet wine.

At the same time, regional distinctions are easier to grasp in France and Italy because each region has adapted its own grape variety or varieties to the location. In Germany on the other hand, Riesling is top white wine dog in all regions. Yet another reason for resistance to German wine has been the confusion caused by the antiquated German wine law of 1971 with almost meaningless umbrella terms such as Grosslage for anything from the most basic to the highest quality wines.

Led by the VDP, the exclusive club of 202 German estates from all 13 German wine regions, the country’s wine producers have today grasped the nettle of the confusion and are doing something about it. Germany’s new equivalent term for its top dry wines is Grosses Gewächs. Pronounced grocers gevex in the English language, it may not sound quite as pretty as the French grand cru, but the intentions behind it are good. According to Constantin Guntrum of Louis Guntrum, ‘The bottom line is that Germany moving away from classification by sugar level to classification by terroir’.

Grosses Gewächs wines can only be dry and come only from the apex of a four-tier pyramid, at the top of which is the Grosse Lage, the grand cru vineyard itself. Below that, the three tiers are Erste Lage, Ortswein and Gutswein. By linking quality to location in a layered pyramid similar to burgundy, broadly speaking, the narrower the appellation, the higher the quality potential of the wine. As a result, we are reaching a stage where Riesling, dry Riesling in particular, has begun to be as appreciated as it was back in the 19th century.

According to Ernie Loosen, producer of Dr.Loosen in the Mosel, ‘after the war people wanted sweet wines and so they were much easier to sell than dry; everyone jumped on the bandwagon, so we forgot the art of making dry wines’. Without abandoning their luscious sweet wines, the return to mouthwatering dry Rieslings is a comparatively recent development. When you add variations in style from one producer to the next , the differences in style can sometimes be hard to put your finger on.

Each region has its own nuances with styles and flavours varying according to vineyard location and producer. Unlike white burgundy, Riesling is so sensitive to the terroir that it rarely does well in barrel thanks to its reflection of its location. Even in a single vineyard, you can find many differences according to the producer. In general though, the Mosel Valley produces some of the most delicate dry Rieslings (and the best sweet ones), the Rheingau classic dry, medium-bodied Rieslings, the Nahe some of Germany’s purest, and the Rheinpfalz more full-bodied, expressively exotic dry Rieslings and Rheinhessen also pure but almost too varied to put your finger on.

According to the excellent Rheingau producer, August Kesseler, ‘most people only associate Germany at best with Riesling’. Yet while the regions mentioned are the most significant for Riesling, Württemberg, Franconia and Baden are also producers of high quality German wines, including in particular spätburgunder (pinot noir) weisser burgunder (pinot blanc), grau burgunder (pinot gris) silvaner and lemberger, with smaller regions such as Ahr, Mittlerhein and Saxony, also doing their bit for the broader palette of German wine.

To show off the latest product of the 2013 vintage in dry whites and reds, Grosses Gewächs in other words, 164 VDP member estates put on a tasting in August of 502 of their wines (375 white, 127 red) in the pretty provincial city of Wiesbaden. The tasting was organised with typical German efficiency. Young German men and women, wearing the black T-shirt with the VDP eagle with bunch of grapes in its mouth, sashayed up and down the ‘catwalk’ between the tables.

Although the 2013 vintage was initially maligned by the press because it was late, erratic, rainy and 50 per cent smaller small in volume than the long-term average, the natural acidity can often be a bonus for the best made wines, ensuring both freshness, delicacy and long life. ‘It’s not outstanding’, says Helmut Dönnhoff, ‘but it’s very good with high acidity that’s ripe but not green’.

Within each German wine region, there is a handful of flagship winemakers, popular from San Francisco to Sydney and usually to be found in the most expensive restaurants thanks to dry Riesling’s affinity with gastronomy. According to Constantin Guntrum, who remains outside the VDP, says ‘the VDP has great merits in bringing German wines back to the level of appreciation where they were 25 years ago’. Most are in the VDP, but some, such as Breuer. J.B.Becker and Tesch, remain outside it for their own reasons.

As the tasting demonstrated, Dönnhoff himself is the leader of a pack of great Nahe producers, among them Diel and Schäfer-Fröhlich. Although generally better known for its amazing sweet wines, the Mosel also produces some of Germany’s finest dry white Rieslings, in particular from Heymann Löwenstein, Fritz Haag and Dr. Loosen (with J.J.Prum and Egon Müller the stars of botrytised sweet wines).

Among the Rheinpflaz’s top producers are Bürklin-Wolf, Bassermann Jordan, and Dr. Wehrheim, while in Rheinhessen, the names of Keller, Wittmann, Kühling-Gillot and Battenfeld-Spanier feature prominently on any top quality wine list. The Rheingau meanwhile is home to yet another group of fine producers, among them Balthasar Ress, Künstler, August Kesseler and Robert Weil.

While 22.7% of Germany’s vineyard area is planted with Riesling, that figure rises to 55% in the case of the VDP estates’ joint vineyard area of 2,700 hectares, which accounts for seven per cent of the world’s Riesling plantings. The fact that the VDP’s 1 million bottles of Grosses Gewächs produced in 2013 command an average price of 29,30€ shows how far the top German dry wines have come in the last few years. The worrying trend for German wine lovers however is that as demand increases, as it most surely will, these prices will surely start to look reasonable.

Chinese Version

文 /Anthony Rose 译/ 孙宵祎
德国雷司令的复兴
德国顶级干型雷司令价格上涨,这显示了市场趋势。
Anthony Rose
常住伦敦。英国葡萄酒记者和作家,在www.independent.
co.uk开设周专栏。也为Decanter、 The World of Fine Wine
等杂志供稿。很多知名葡萄酒大赛的评委和主席。The Wine
Gang 的创办人之一。博客www.anthonyrosewine.com.,微
博Anthony _ Rose。
除了顶级的勃艮第干白之外,干型德
国雷司令是世界上最棒、最容易和
美食搭配的干白葡萄酒,然而,它
还远未被足够赏识。一方面德国人正试图推
广其优异的干型雷司令,另一方面其他国家的
葡萄酒业却幸灾落祸地不看好德国的液体黄
金的出口。那赫(Nahe)的酒庄Martin Tesch
揶揄道;“把雷司令卖到英国像在水下打马球
一样难,是场极限运动。”
批评家们会指出莱茵黑森古老的糖水酒
的不良名声、德国酒标的复杂难读、东欧对
于德国雷司令的复杂命名如L utome r L a sk i
R iesl ing(现在是rizl ing)以及从前有的酒堪
比蓄电池强酸般的酸度,甚至毫无道理地认
为德国雷司令就是祖母们才爱的甜酒。
与此同时,法国和意大利因为在各个产
区都有各自独有的当地品种,而在德国,雷司
令作为顶级干白葡萄酒在各产区都有种植。
还有一个导致人们抗拒德国酒的原因,是1971
年制定的陈旧法规,其指定的子产区毫无意
义地涵盖了从低端酒到高端酒的全部类型。
由V DP(Verband Deutscher Qual itätsu
n d P r ä d i k at s we i n g üt e r,德国顶级酒庄联
盟)组织引导,包含13个产区在内的2 0 2家德
国酒庄,今天正在努力对这种令人困扰的分
级做些什么。德国最新的顶级干型葡萄酒分
级系统叫作Grosses Gewächs(在酒标上简称
GG)。根据Louis Guntrum酒庄的Constantin
Guntrum的说法,“我们的底线是令德国酒分
级不再由糖分而是由风土来确定。”
Grosses Gewächs分级系统要求必须是干
型酒,共分四级,最顶端的叫作Grosse Lage,
即来自特级园(g ra nd cr u v i neya rd)的酒。
在此之下分别是E r ste L a g e、 O r t s we i n 和
Gutswein。像勃艮第一样,把质量和土地联系
起来,呈金字塔形,越高的等级其质量潜力越
大。
根据位于摩泽尔(Mosel产区)Dr.Loosen
酒庄的Ernie Loosen的说法,“战后时期的人
们都想喝甜酒,因此甜酒也就更好卖;每个人
都随波逐流,以至于我们忘记了酿造干型葡
萄酒的艺术。”
不像勃艮第干白,雷司令对风土的体现
极其敏感,很少在橡木桶中能有好的表现。
即使是在同一片葡萄园,你也可以发现因为
酿酒者不同,在酒中表现出各种差异。摩泽
尔(M o s e l)出产那些最为优雅细致的干型
雷司令(也有最好的甜型雷司令),莱茵高
(R he i n g au)擅长经典的干型、中等酒体雷
司令;那赫(N a h e)则拥有德国最纯净的雷
司令,在法尔兹(R hei npfa l z)则拥有酒体更
强壮、充满异域风情的干型雷司令,莱茵黑森
(R heinhessen)的雷司令同样纯净但风格非
常多样。
今年8月份,为展示其2013最新年份的GG
分级葡萄酒,在德国Wiesbaden一个可爱的乡
间小镇,16 4家V DP成员拿出了5 0 2 款葡萄酒
(375款干白、127款干红)供人们品尝。尽管
2 013 年份最初并不为媒体看好,因为成熟较
晚、天气不稳定和多雨,且产量仅有往年的
50%,不能跟以往那些拥有陈年潜力、由自然
高酸成就的顶级美酒相媲美。”
尚未进入VDP的Constantin Guntrum说:
“VDP为德国葡萄酒恢复25年前的高声誉作
出杰出贡献。”尽管大部分优质酒商都在VDP
内,但也有部分酒庄因为各自的原因不在其
列,如Breuer. J.B.Becker和 Tesch。
Dönnhoff本人和Diel 、Schäfer-Fröhlich
常常要引领那赫的生厂商们共同举办品酒
会。尽管摩泽尔以其出彩的甜酒更出名,但
也有德国最出色的干型雷司令,如Hey ma n n
L öwenstei n、 Fritz Haag和Dr. L oosen,以
及以生产贵腐甜酒出名的J.J.Pr u m 和 Egon
Müller。
法尔兹最顶级的酒庄包括Bürklin-Wolf、
Bassermann Jordan和 Dr. Wehrheim,莱茵黑
森的优异酒庄如Keller、Wittmann、Kühling-
Gillot 和Battenfeld-Spanier致力于使自己列
在各个高品质的酒单上。莱茵高也有一群精
品酒庄,其中包括Balthasar Ress、Künstler、
August Kesseler和Robert Weil。
Envies

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