Friday, August 24, 2012

on sulfur and reduction in Mosel rieslings


2009 Bollig-Lehnert Riesling Spätlese | QmP Piesporter Goldtröpfchen | Mosel


2009 Reinhold Haart Riesling Kabinett | QmP Piesporter Goldtröpfchen | Mosel

Right. So I was cooking dinner at home a few weeks ago, and in the heat of summer, what's really a more perfect drink than a lean, bracing glass of Mosel wine? I had three wines planned: these two, from the same vintage and vineyard, one a kabinett, the other a spätlese - the third bottle, a 2006 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett from the Scharzhofberger vineyard. Chilled on ice, then drunk slowly over a few hours.

Dinner was all seafood, the sort of fish soup and clams and tuna sashimi - all that kind of love. You know what . . . we take these wines and try to drink them with cuisines that are completely and utterly unrelated . . . and magically, it all just works. Savoury, briny, sweet, and textural foods, in the Shanghainese style, along with these linear, minerally, electrically-charged wines = bliss. At least that was the plan. And really, a good DF dinner isn't really good until A) I cut/burn/otherwise injure myself or B) something goes off plan.

Well, we went 2 for 2.

De-shelling the clams, the shell broke in half and the edge caught my thumb. Blood, screaming, cursing, all of that. And of course, the wines completely didn't show as I expected: we were drinking them at least 5 years too young. Which leads me to a very important point . . . wine writers and critics (and yes, consultants) are not doing their job if they're only discussing flavour descriptors of the wine and neglecting to write about how the winemaking style and aging patterns actually are the biggest determinant in how people experience the wine. These two bottles were a great example of that kind of oversight.

The following two (professional) tasting notes on the wines were provided in the LCBO Vintages catalogue. The Bollig-Lehnert: Elegant, showing a restrained sense of power. Aromas of savory spice and fennel, with flavors of apple, green peach and Asian pear. Mineral notes linger on the crisp finish. Drink now. Score: 91 (Bruce Sanderson,, Web Only, 2011). The Reinhold Haart: There’s breadth to the exotic flavors of passion fruit, papaya and apricot, with ample flesh, yet it’s all backed by vibrant acidity. Still tight on the finish, with a mouthwatering impression. Best from 2012 through 2026. Score: 92 (Bruce Sanderson,, Dec. 31, 2010).

As both wines are relatively young vintages (2009), both notes were recent as well. While all the descriptive language is fine, it's absolutely egregious that both notes neglect the fact that BOTH wines are horrifically reductive at the moment, and shouldn't be touched for the next 3-5 years at least. This, of course, is no good for the importers or retailers who need quick turnovers on these sub-$20 bottles. It's not unusual to find shocking amounts of sulfur being used in German wines - how else do the rieslings last for decades?! But the consumer needs to know what sulfur is, what it smells like, and how it affects the wine. Ask any average person what odours of reduction in wine are, and well, you get the idea - no one has a fucking clue.

This is doing a disservice to the wines, and to the consumers who make purchase decisions using these tasting notes. Reduction is not a flaw - it simply needs time for the sulfur to dissipate. It's certainly an issue with the producer, with the Bollig-Lehnert being particularly undrinkable. They need to understand how to adjust the sulfur for the wines bottled under screwcap - one doubts if the rubbery, oily fumes will ever really go away. But if the writers and critics - those who claim to be consumer advocates - are not teaching wine drinkers about these things, how else will they find out? They'll buy one of these bottles, open it and pour it down the drain. What?! How come this riesling smells like burning tires and leftover deep fry oil??!!

A shame. I was really looking forward to this pair too. But it does raise an interesting point about the difference in perceived sulfur, in bottles under screwcap versus under cork. The Reinhold Haart, under cork, just showing less reduction, with most of the sulfur blowing off by the 3rd day. The Bollig-Lehnert, under screwcap . . . not a chance.

Next time I'm sticking to Tom Collins all night.


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