As promised in my piece about our wonderful tasting at Weingut Gunderloch that I published last week (if you missed it, check it out here), this installment brings you the tasting notes on the sweeter wines. Bear in mind that I am naturally a lot fonder of the sweeter versions in general.
From the flagship dry wines, the Grosses Gewächs (GG), we moved on to one of the most ubiquitous Gunderloch wines of all: the 2011 Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett. The wine is named after a character in Carl Zuckmayer’s “The Merry Vineyard”, a play from the 1920s. Zuckmayer was actually born in Nackenheim and the play was quite scandalous. The Jean Baptiste Gunderloch in the play is a winery owner with some twisted ideas about morality. Only in the 1950s and 1960s did Nackenheimers and Zuckmayer reconcile…but I digress. The wine is available all over the world: I have seen it in restaurants in Seoul, Korea in 2000 and I had it in Anchorage. It is the wine that made Gunderloch known to the more general public. I have tried pretty much every vintage since the early 2000s at our local wine festival. I started out really liking it but found the ones produced in the mid-2000s a bit wanting. But that’s enough of an introduction, let’s see how the 2011 fared: In the nose I got gooseberry and a nice freshness, probably carried by acidity. On the palate, it showed some moderate sweetness, was fruity with a nice acidity. I thought the vintage worked alright. There are definitely other Kabinetts out that offer more drinking fun, but at least this one is available widely.
We followed the Kabinett with the 2011 Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Spätlese (for those familiar with the German wine classification system we went in the right order, up a notch). According to Johannes, none of the grapes used for this wine were botrytized, which means they showed no signs of the noble rot that can get to grapes. In the nose, we got a great spontaneous fermentation nose that is initially a bit off-putting (because they smell a bit bad), but usually heralds great things for the glass. I got a lot of exotic fruits and the wine also smelled of cream. A very nice nose indeed. On the palate, it was really creamy and felt wonderfully balanced: some acidity, healthy sweetness, all in great symmetry. The best thing for me was its finish. My notes read: “loong, looooooong, very, very long”. It was just a beautiful rendition of a rich Spätlese. And unlike the GG from Rothenberg, this seemed quite accessible already.
In the classification scheme, what comes after a Spätlese? … Yes, an Auslese. So we followed that wine with the 2011 Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Auslese. Johannes told us that in contrast to the Spätlese, 100% of the grapes used for this wine had the noble rot on them. In the nose, I got mostly pineapple. The wine looked heavy in the glass. On the palate, there were minor signs of ripeness, thanks to to the botrytis. This Auslese distinguished itself by being nicely mild. There was a noticeable and welcome acidity (some winemakers struggled with the low amounts of acidity in that vintage). All in all the wine was warming and very expressive in a gentle way. Definitely different from a lot of Mosel Auslesen I know that can be overwhelming that young. This one was not out to be a rock star, rather it seemed to hold back a bit and just letting on that it is a great wine. It should be interesting to taste it in a couple of years.
After that, we got lucky. As in seriously lucky: The photo above shows the three tanks that stood in the tasting room: two 190 liter tanks of Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) and an 8 liter glass bulb full of single vineyard TBA from the Rothenberg. The unpronouncable Trockenbeerenauslese is the highest ranked and most rare of Germany’s wines (ice wine might be rarer, but I am not even sure it is). It literally translates to dry berry selection and that gives you an idea. The grapes are usually very shrivelled and picked individually. The juice you press from them is thick and syrupy, with concentrated sugars and low water to dilute it. The wines made from them are masterpieces, and take a long time to ferment. We had the tasting in late June, and the wines were still slowly fermenting. Johannes said they’d give them as much time as they need to finish the job. And he let us try some.
It is a rare occasion to try one of these, yet even rarer to try them at the winery while they are still fermenting. I remember, when we visited Dr. Hermann winery once in spring, Christian was just filtering the 20 liters of TBA he had made. And he proudly shared some of it with us. It makes you feel quite blessed when that happens. As you can see from the photo, the wine is of dark, dark amber color and highly viscous. In the nose, we got ripe plum and raisins. On the palate, it was still all over the place, which TBAs tend to be for quite a while after bottling, too, but there was definitely honey (which is a standard you taste in a TBA) and a nice spicy note to it. It was definitely exciting. Johannes said what every winemaker will tell you about their TBA: this one will be good in a hundred years. I am still looking for folks to either invite me to try a 100 year old TBA, or who are willing to wait it out with me. Should be fun. I already envy future generations!
[…] my wine experience. The TBA discussion under my Gunderloch Tasting Part 2 post (read the comments here) has definitely broadened my horizons in ways that I did not anticipate. That is just one example, […]
I really enjoy your writing about Riesling. Of course I wish it was more readily available here, but then, it’s probably good for tourism that it isn’t. I’m going to HAVE to go back.
And hey, thanks a million for following my new blog. I really debated about whether to merge them or make a new blog, and I decided that since my themes are so various, (and therefore the audience for them is various), I’d separate them.
If there were only more hours in a day, I’d probably be tempted to write a wine blog. But instead, I’ll just read yours… you’re doing a great job.
Thank you Tracy. It does mean a ton. I think it was a smart idea to seperate the two blogs, but also to make readers aware of the other. The topics are very diverse, but then again, so are you…
My heart is also torn on Rieslings: them being rarely available means they are still affordable in Germany (not here, hardly ever over here actually). And since I have my ways of getting the wine straight from Germany I am kinda glad they stay affordable there…:)
we’re going to have to have a private conversation about how you manage that (I want to learn how….)
We sure can. :) It involves, as you can imagine, personal relationships (a number of them, actually)…
Thank you, Oliver: that’s illuminating. So, I think Anatoli was absolutely right on the money with his comment! One more thing I learnt and one more reason for me to hope I will get to enjoy a glass of TBA sooner or later :-)
Great post, Oliver. Very interesting color on that TBA – it pretty much looks like a nice Pedro Ximenez – did you try one? Based on taste profile you are describing, they might be similar – with an interesting difference that even for the 100 years old, you will need to drop a 0 from the price
Hmmm, interesting. No, I have not a Pedro Ximenez. But I cannot imagine that that one would have all those underlying Riesling notes that are hard to describe in these wines. But your Zeros comment makes me want to check them out. :)
Hey, TBA is TBA, and PX is PX – I’m not saying they are the same – only talking about similarities. If I may, here is the one I can recommend: http://talk-a-vino.com/2011/10/26/tasting-some-of-the-oldest-wines-ever-jerez/
Hmmmm… I *love* PX!!! So viscous and delicious, especially with chocolate! And, thank you Anatoli for the recommendations of good producers!
But, may I humbly doubt that PX compare with a TBA? I mean, one is a fortified wine and the other a botrytized one – I would expect (and I hope Oliver will not get mad at me if I am inaccurate or plain enter the territory of blasphemy, since I have never tried a TBA myself!), so I would expect TBA to be more similar to a Tokaji or a Sauternes. I don’t know, I may be mistaken here but that’s what I would have thought…
Take care guys
I think Anatoli was talking about the aromas and there might be similarities (I just have no experience with Sherry). I think what you mean, Stefano, is the texture of the wine, and yes, a TBA will be quite syrupy in texture, thick, almost like honey when poured. While the botrytization adds a certain flavor profile which should be unique compared with Sherry, it also leads to this ultra concentration of sugar and acidity that gives its its consistency and taste…
How expensive is a TBA?
According to wine-searcher, a half bottle of Gunderloch Rothenberg TBA is selling for over $170. Schloss Vollrads is over $220. Dr. Loosen $250. All for half bottles.
But the prices differ at the winery. I know good wineries that sell half bottle BA from $30 up. And TBA from $70 up.
That is very expensive : (
Yup. But unlike a lot of other wines, these prices are justified by the tiny quantities, the risk of not being able to make it, and the special quality.
Thank you so much, Oliver, both for the thorough reply and for your super generous offer: I really hope we will be able to get together at some point, with (in which case I would of course be very happy to contribute to the “acquisition”!) or without a bottle of TBA.
I bet it must be a fantastic wine and I certainly am on the lookout for a chance to try it out, but like you said, it is very difficult to find. Thanks also for the tip re acceptable aging of the TBA, appreciate it!
We will work it out somehow. I am really eager to meet you, given how much I enjoy you and Flora’s blog! It is probably easier to get a BA, which you might want to try, too, but we shall see. :)
Same here, Oliver! Very much looking forward to meeting you too. And absolutely: a BA would work very well too!
Take care :-)
BAs really are just half the price of a TBA and much, much more affordable. :)
[…] already I will post the remaining notes about their off-dry and sweeter wines in another post (over here)…suffice it to say that we had a great time and tried some great wines from one of the best […]
Great post, Oliver!
Oh, I wish I could have an opportunity to taste a TBA! I have studied it, but never got to actually drink it. It is so wonderful that you got to, even better that you got to sample it while still in the making!
So, let me ask you something, 100 year long waits aside, what would you say a good enough aging time would be to sample a TBA?
Oh Stefano, it really is such a treat. And I have in fact tried very few TBAs. Some BAs, yes, but very very few TBAs and that generally when they are younger. I will try to procure a bottle next time I am in Germany and will save it up for a time when we can share it.
Regarding the age, it is actually rather difficult. When they are really young, they can just be overwhelming in sweetness and concentration and fruit. I would give them about eight to ten years to calm down a bit. Some of the great Auslesen that I have had lately are ten to 15 years old, to give you an idea. The cool thing with the more aged Rieslings is the balance they can achieve which is harder when they are that young. In any case, try a TBA whenever you can. Whether young or aged, given the miniscule quantities they are produced in, they are special in any case.