1997 St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Spätlese
Some of you may recognize the iconic black label of St. Urbanshof, because I have previously written about a wine from this winery, a wine I really like. This one however, a St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Spätlese, does take us back a couple of years (1997, the year in which I finished my alternative military service, the year in which I first moved to Trier to take up my studies, and oh did I hate Trier and Mosel valley at the time for being forced to go to my fourth choice school despite very good grades…but I digress). I need to write a somewhat longer introduction on this one…bear with me.
When Nina and I visited Germany last year, we naturally spent time with our wonderful friend, my wine mentor and former Korean teacher ManSoo (you have heard that name often enough by now). During our long, delicious dinner, he was gracious and kind enough to open many bottles of Riesling, among which were a just degorged 1992 Riesling champagne and this bottle of wine, a 1997 Scharzberg from St. Urbanshof. The wine had, as all wines do, a history: ManSoo had laid hands on some of these bottles through the president of Saar-Mosel-Winzer Genossenschaft, a cooperative that mostly makes Sekt, the German champagne, but also other wines. If I remember correctly, the president told ManSoo that he found several cases of this wine in the deep cellars of the cooperative. The wine label bears a special imprint that shows a bird and reads “Singapore Duty Not Paid – Not for Sale”. What the heck? Well, turns out that this particular wine was bought by Singapore Airlines to be served in first class service in the late 1990s, early 2000s and it was a special bottling. Apparently, Singapore Airlines had not taken all of the bottled wines, so some ended up, for whatever reason, in the cooperatives cellars….and now ManSoo got a couple of bottles.
We tried the wine back in June 2012 and really liked it. And I had firm plans to write about it, but to this day I have been unable to unearth the tasting notes from that evening….usually a sign that I had a tremendous time, but also quite unnerving!
Fast forward to May 2013. Friends of ours are heading to Denmark for a wedding and have the idea that maybe ManSoo could send them 12 bottles of Riesling for them to take home, because they love Riesling. So I contact ManSoo, tell him to send a package to Denmark, give him an idea of the price per bottle, and tell him “you know what we like”. Which was horribly unclear and naturally ManSoo assumed that the wines were for Nina and I. So he decided to ignore my pricing ideas and packed a box of very much more expensive wines than anticipated. When my friends posted photos of the contents, I almost screamed out at the screen! We were able to rectify the situation by them bringing the wines, and us exchanging them for wines more in their price range that we already had here….
This box, besides many treasures that I intend on sharing with you as we progress, contained a bottle of this wine, the 1997 St. Urbanshof Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Spätlese. Some of you might know that I am very fond of the vineyard Scharzhofberg. Notice the -hof- which differentiates that vineyard from the current bottle. It is confusing, and I believe it was designed to be confusing. The 1971 German wine act created 160 vast tracts of land under vine (so called Großlage) which received certain names which any winemaker who produced wines from that area could use. Some of them might sound familiar to you: Kurfürstlay, Michelsberg, Schwarze Katz, Domherr, Gutes Domtal and Rehbach, to name a few. Let me be clear: Winemakers were allowed to use these names for grapes that come from anywhere in that vast area. It is the opposite of terroir idea or single vineyard denominations, although it sounds like a single vineyard denomination…
The name Scharzberg is awfully close to Scharzhofberg, and one can only surmise that it was chosen to make sales easier because of that proximity in name. It is rare that one finds the name of the Großlage on a bottle from a renown producer. Usually, they put the single vineyard on there or, if they don’t, they do not even bother to put the Großlagen name on there and just sell it as a regional or even German table wine. Why did they do things differently on this one? I don’t know…but it is noteworthy.
After this long introduction, let me get to the wine which we shared with the carriers of the box it came in last week. The cork was dried out and very crumbly. I cursed myself for not having brought my two-prong bottle opener, which would have dealt with this situation. As it was, I had to crumble out what I could, and then push the last bit into the bottle. We then poured the wine through a very fine sieve into a decanter, where we let it sit for about 15 minutes.
It poured in a honey-tinged yellow with hints of green in the glass (it looked much more golden in the decanter). Great color. In the nose, the first thing I noticed was a vibrant acidity. There was also petrol, which I expect in a Riesling this age (not necessarily in a young Riesling, mind you!). There were also some honey aromas, but the most prominent for me was tangerine. The wine smelled quite citrussy, I noted down lemon rind and some butter aromas. One of our friends remarked that it smelled like kumquat to him, and I think that nails it: it was a tad more bitter than tangerine, so kumquat definitely made sense. The nose was just beautiful. There was so much going on, and it had this vibrant freshness to it, despite the cork disaster that made me cringe. On the palate, the wine was light bodied with great acidity, and I mean that, just a backbone of great acidity. The residual sugar did its job of balancing the acidity beautifully. The wine tasted incredibly fresh, was very creamy (something I usually associate with Scharzhofberger). Fruit-wise I got gooseberry, petrol, white currants, tangerine and some slight vanilla. The wine’s finish was rather shortish.
It was a great wine. So fresh, so well held up. It brought some silence around the table, while everyone was pondering it and comprehending it. I was glad we got to share it with our friends, who are both Riesling nuts and are able to appreciate a good bottle of Riesling. But then again, I seriously believe this bottle would have impressed anyone, even the fiercest Riesling hater. It made me remember the dear friendship that brought the wine to me, and it brought memories of the night I first tried it. It made me feel damn lucky. This wine is not available anywhere for sale as far as I know, and yet I have been able to try it twice already. I’m a lucky bastard, I know…Oh, and thank you Singapore Airlines for never picking up all the bottles!