Sunday, July 25, 2010

2005 Rheingau

2005 Kloster Eberbach Riesling Spätlese

2005 Kloster Eberbach Riesling Spätlese, QmP Steinberger, Rheingau

This bottle of wine took me on a journey. Couldn't find it in Bayview Village (delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, no doubt), and I ended up finding it in little Waterloo, Ontario, of all places, in my old hangout - the King Street LCBO. What was I doing in Waterloo? Why, attending a buddy's convocation, bien sur, looking like this.

The things I do for riesling. We caught a few strange looks - Waterloo folk, good hearty people all, drink whisky and beer. Fresh, minerally, riesling? Not so much, despite their Bavarian heritage. Not to mention I was traipsing around the store in a grey suit, silk handkerchief, and sunglasses. Good times.

Right, the wine - a bottle from Steinberger, the vineyard which arguably enjoys the finest reputation in the Rheingau. A shame to be drinking a spätlese so young, especially from a really ripe vintage like 2005. The colour is just phenomenal, just hinting at the immense power it possesses. Deeply rich bouquet, oily, minerally, lots of apples - palate follows with a stunning level of extract, acid, and minerals. Intense sweetness, which should integrate beautifully with at least another 5 years of bottle age. Very structured, if I can call a white wine that - so expressive, so delicious, so worth the effort to track it down. This vineyard certainly produces wines of great richness and depth, but all with exceptional balance and ageability. Glorious.



  1. The Steinberg is a 32.4 hectares (80 acres) wall-enclosed vineyard in walking distance of the Eberbach Abbey. It is the largest wall-enclosed vineyard in Germany. It is owned by the Hessische Staatsweingüter and is planted only with Riesling vines. The favorite site of the monks, they built a 4 meter (13ft) wall around the vineyard to keep out thieves. This and its Cistercian heritage give Steinberg a distinct similarity to the famed Clos De Vougeot in Bourgogne in neigbouring France.

  2. Thanks for the info, Dr. - what can you say about the character of the wines it produces?

  3. Being an enologist, currently still in the Rheingau area, where I attended the only German university for viticulture and enology. I will be transferring to California on a scholarship soon.
    My approach to Steinberg is as follows - I want to adress three topics here:

    1. Steinberg
    As Dr. Schiller correctly stated, it is a 32.4 ha-sized, wall-framed vineyard, also called the "German Clos" to link it to Burgundy and the Burgundian monks who supposedly introduced and developed viticulture in the Rheingau region. (Romans did not get to the Rheingau, the stopped their exploration on the other bank of the Rhine river.)
    Steinberg lives by its myth, but rarely lives up to it.
    The wines it is renowned for are Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese qualities only harvested from the few vines which grow directly at the wall and thus get a little extra warmth at night.
    Those wines are rare and only sold on annual vintage auctions at the Eberbach monastery itself.
    The rest of the vineyard - which is very large - is not uniform; there are dozens of small parcels which the monks already distinguished themselves. They vary greatly in quality and even soil composition.

    The Steinberg wines I have tasted, among them your 2005 (which currently is still on sale in the vineyard's wine stand), were all solid, but failed to excel.
    This is partly owing to the fact that Kloster Eberbach is the winery of the federal state of Hessen, and as such, the largest winery in Germany with 200+ hectares of vineyards in production.
    They have a very technological, modern approach and fail to produce exceptional wines, which they compensate by their good marketing and reputation.
    They are just another example of today's modern Rheingau style, which I do not particularly like although having lived and worked in the region for five years now.
    Which leads me to my second point.

    2. Riesling and heat
    The wall-enframed Steinberg has created an artifical micro-climate, as the walls prevent cold air to crawl through the vineyard at night.
    While this might sound positive, it is highly controversial, especially for Riesling or white wine in general.
    High night-day contrasts in temperature are necessary to preserve acidity (elegance) and assist the formation of aromas. With excessive warmth and/ or lack of these contrasts, especially for Riesling, white wine loses its freshness and aromas.
    In Riesling, the "petrol" aroma gets dominant; while I like this aroma in an AGED Riesling, it is considered a flaw in a young wine.
    The formation of this compound is directly related to heat and drought.

    3. Rheingau Riesling today
    Styles have changed in Rheingau - and in my humble opinion, not for the better. Everyone tries to buy into the "dry hype", which is quite difficult for Riesling already.
    Then, the region is quite hot and the driest one in Germany. Drought is a problem already, and the first irrigations are being installed throughout the region. (As drought is devastating for white wine quality.)
    At the same time, most vintners go for the maturity levels they simply could not achieve some years or decades ago.
    Together with the trend to produce dry wines, we are seeing large numbers of excessive Riesling which have 13-15,5% alcohol by volume. Yes, you read it right!
    Those are Auslese qualities which were pushed to ferment until dry (tasting).
    Needless to say these wines taste alcoholic, BIG, but lack harmony.
    The category of "Erstes Gewächs" has done a lot to promote this flawed practice: most of these "premium dry Rieslings" have 14-14,5% alcohol.
    Moreover, the style restrictions have lead to a uniform style among all "Erste Gewächse", no matter from which single vineyard they render.
    Only the middle-Rheingau vineyards with their rich clay/loess soils can stand out because the rich soils add a little texture and creaminess to those wines.

  4. (continued from above)

    This is the situation today, which I personally don't like. I always liked the low-alcohol, moderate residual sugar Mosel Rieslings with 7-15 years of age on them.
    Modern Rheingau Rieslings don't even age well: many of them are past their prime after only ten years! Moreover, due to drought and heat, the petrol smell gets overpowering in these wines, and very early: a ten year old, dry Rheingau Riesling from any renowned single vineyard will dominantly smell of quince and taste bitter...

    All that said, if you want to explore other legendary Rheingau vineyards, look out for Rüdesheimer Rottland, Roseneck and Schlossberg.
    While Rüdesheim is a terrible tourist trap, those vineyards are great and extremes in the Rheingau region. Schlossberg e.g. is the steepest (70%) and earliest maturing of the region; moreover, it has only one meter of quarzite soil above solid rock.
    Alas, only two or three wineries care to produce exceptional wines from these vineyards. (Other vintners focus on supplying the tourists with cheap binge-drinking wines.)
    The most notable for Rüdesheim are Georg Breuer and Leitz; I have worked for both and might seem prejudiced, but it is my personal finding after all these years in the region, tasting all the big names.
    Breuer has the more elegant, restraint and austere style; the dry whites never exceed 12,5%.
    Leitz produces big, bold wines which can have up to 15,5%.
    Both producers produce very mineral tasting Rieslings from those sites, but the style could not be more different.

    Enough written I guess, but I could go on for hours... The fate of any "professional idiot", lol.