Tag Archives: spaetlese

2009 Hans Lang Rheingau Riesling Spaetlese – Edition Maximilian

Quite the disappointment…

I have decided to not even take a picture of this bottle. If you have to see it, go here. This is a wine by one of the “better” winemakers in Germany, Hans Lang (strangely, I could not find a homepage for them), and it is readily available through Trader Joe’s for a very enticing $8.99. Now, this really low price for a spaetlese already tells you that it is probably not one of the first rated wines of this winery. The name – “Edition Maximilian” – should also be an indication of that…however, the winemaker is a member of the prestigious VDP (an elite club of winemakers in Germany that selects its own members that then have to adhere to higher quality standards), so I thought the wine should at least have some potential, because even more basic wines can be good.

Well, not this one. At first there was an unimpressive, alcoholic and slightly sour smell that mellowed out after a while. The wine was of clear, light yellow color. I could taste some strawberries, some vanilla, pear. The acidity in the wine seemed rather high, and in total not very well balanced by some hints of sweetness. The finish is short, with again, hints of vanilla. I could not help but think that the winemaker was not sure where to go with this wine: sweeter, not so sweet, spaetlese or rather not? It is not a bad wine, but it also seemed to lack so much. Especially when you consider that the winemaker probably knows what he is doing, and that a spaetlese should be stunner, not a bummer. It feels like he was going for a simple wine that would be a quick sell. Seems like a lost opportunity.

If this was my first German riesling spaetlese, I would have no clue what all the fuss was about and would stay away. I’ll sure stay clear of this one.

To be fair: Others do think differently, see e.g. here (calling it “delicious”).

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German wine classifications

Yes, admit it, you have dreaded this day, and it came sooner than you thought…but I will talk a bit about German wine classifications today.

First of all, I find this site by the German Wine Institute very helpful (as most of their other stuff, by the way! Meet, for example, the German wine queen here or check out the German wine regions here – really cool stuff!). One of the keys to understanding the categories in German wine is the amount of sugar in the grape at harvest time (that does not mean that the wine will also have to be sweet!) – it is probably the most important way how Germany measures the quality in grapes. More sugar means greater ripeness means higher potantial alcohol yield and quality. One can argue with this categorization, but it reflects the fact that Germany is a pretty northern region for wine growing with not as much sun exposure – and therefore ripening potential – as most other wine regions in the world.

The majority of wines produced in Germany fall under the broad categories of “German wine” or “German Land wine” (comparable to table wines). The quality requirements are easy to meet, grapes can come from even outside of Germany.

Above these wines you will find the so called “quality wines of specific regions” (“Qualitaetswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete” or short, and more memorable, QbA). All grapes for these have to come from a specific German region, and need to meet certain requirements. QbAs can be pretty yummy, although they still tend to be rather one-dimensional wines. Some of them, like the Piesporter Riesling (check out a photo of the bottle here) by Reuscher-Haart winery in Piesport provide awesome summer wines for a dime. His QbAs are widely available in the U.S. at around $15 for the 1 liter bottle (that is 25% more than your usual bottle!) – see my query results on wine-searcher.com for merchants.

Above these, you will find the “Praedikatswein” (“wine with distinction” – earlier it was called “Qualitaetswein mit Praedikat”) – and those are the wines that get me talking and indulging.  While the winemaker can add sugar before fermentation in QbAs, this is strictly prohibited in Praedikatwein. There are different grades of distinction, with Kabinett the lowest, followed by Spaetlese (late harvest), Auslese (selection), Beerenauslese (berry selection – short BA), Eiswein (the famous ice wine), and lastly, the highest of all, Trockenbeerenauslese (dried berry selection – short TBA). Please check the Wine Insitute’s site for the specific requirements.

For my purpose it is enough to say that all these can yield exceptional wines. With the summers of the last decade having become warmer and warmer, the ripeness of the grapes has also increased. This means, that a lot of the wines that are denominated as Kabinett (the lowest level of distinction) could actually have been labelled Spaetlese or even Auslese. Since the wine law only prescribes minimum sugar levels in the grape for each type of distinction (see the requirements here), the winemakers are free to label their wines lower than they actually could label them. This is usually for marketing reasons. Consumers and restaurants are looking for Kabinetts and Spaetlesen, because Auslesen are considered more expensive and exclusive…that also means that you can get Auslese wines at the price of Kabinett wines these days, quite the bargain.

All these wines come in varieties of dry, off-dry or semi-sweet, and sweet. This is at least true for Kabinett, Spaetlese and Auslese (yes, even Auslese can be dry!). BAs, Eiswein, and TBAs always come in sweet.

I personally prefer the spaetlesen and kabinett wines, mostly off-dry or sweet. As everyday wines, fruitier kabinetts can be just fabulous. Check out this awesome article on and tasting of Mosel Kabinetts by the NYT (on the 2008 vintage, but true for most others, too). Whenever I try a dry riesling, I feel like something is missing. The fruit in the wine is less pronounced in dry wines, and with some more sugar it comes out much more pronounced. But that is just me – and my taste is at least similar to what a lot of international wine drinkers like. My fellow Germans prefer their riesling dry (in the last 10 years the percentage of all dry wines produced rose from 34% to 41%).

German rieslings at spaetlese and above level are remarkably good at aging, and a lot of them actually only start developing their true potential a couple of years in. Auslesen, BAs, and TBAs can wait for decades…The oldest wine I have tried was a 1954. It was already quite dead, but still drinkable. The oldest wine I tried that was still good was a 1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Erdener Treppchen Spaetlese (tried it this year), one of the best I have had was a 1990 Auslese by the same winery (tried it last year). So, if ever you stumble across a German wine that is older than 5 years, give it a try. You might be in for a treat!

I hope this will help in the future when I talk about German wines. If you have questions, just leave a comment or send me an email at o.windgaetter (at) gmx.de.

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2007 Kurt Hain Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese #13

Last Friday, we were invited for a BBQ in the park. It was a gorgeous day, we were playing soccer with our friends’ kids, awesome meat on the grill. Nina and I have been on a slow mission to get our friend who hosted this hooked to German rieslings…so, naturally we brought a bottle to share.

The winery Kurt Hain has been one of my favorite wineries in the Mosel village of Piesport, home to the very renown vineyard “Goldtroepfchen” (literally: “droplets of gold”). Gernot Hain, the winemaker (follow the link for a photo and his philosophy), has been making high quality wines for quite a bit now, and they rarely fail to impress me. They have a balance and sophistication about them, that just draws you in. There is someone who knows exactly what he is doing…and he is doing it remarkably well. Gernot also plays in the Weinelf, Germany’s “national” soccer team composed of winemakers (yes, they exist!).

Now, the wine we brought was the 2007 Piesporter Goldtroepfchen Spaetlese #13. It was in our stash that we brought over from Germany when we moved to Ann Arbor. We felt it was the right time and moment to try it now. In following posts, I will give you more background on how to read a German winelabel etc., suffice it to know for now that this is a riesling with rather high residual sugar made from quality grapes.

Note how beautiful the bottle is. Gernot’s wines tend to be bottled in longer-neck bottles which make them look way more fancy and elegant.

The wine itself had aged beautifully. A lot of people are not aware of the fact that you can age rieslings for a quite a while, the low yielding top of the spectrum for many many decades, but spaetlesen like this can hold on for 20 to 30 years no problem…when the wines are younger, their fruity smells and tastes tend to dominate, while in later years, the sugar and acidity balance each other out more.

The wine had retained its beautiful, lighter than straw color.  When we tried it, it still tasted refreshingly fruity, but you could tell that it was already moving on to the next stage of its existence, with less pronounced fruit and a tad more alcoholic taste. The acidity was doing a jumpy tap dance over the sweetness on my tongue. It was hilarious. And what I loved most, this fun taste lingered and lingered and lingered…too bad it was our last bottle.

Unfortunately, Kurt Hain does not export to the US. His listed importer went bust a while back. For European readers: You can contact the winery for a price list here. I am sure they can ship within Europe without a problem.

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