Wednesday, February 20, 2013

reduction, sponti, and all sorts of fun

2005 Bollig-Lehnert Riesling Auslese | QmP Piesporter Goldtropfchen | Mosel

So I drink a fair amount of riesling, and like to think that I have a good idea of what the various styles are, what the various villages are generally like. And then I start reading a few articles about it from actual authorities on the subject, and I realize how ignorant I am, how much I have yet to learn.

The Mosel and Rheingau are the two regions I've had the most opportunities to taste mature vintages from, going back to the early '80's. I've never been really shy about sharing how I feel about these wines - riesling certainly being one to induce a bit of hyperventilating. These wines are so, so special, and as I've said again, and again, so much more than what their reputation suggests. I've had three bottles from this producer in the last few months, and I've come to get a sense of their style. The first two, a spätlese from Piesporter Goldtropfchen, and a kabinett from Trittenheimer Apotheke, showed as incredibly reduced. Throwing off aromas that I immediately associated with sulfur and reduction - until I learned that there's more to it. Much more.

First, an article by Lars Carlberg called Unlocking the Kabinett, and a blog post by Brooklynguy called  Weird Things About Wine #61 - Mosel and the Sulfur Stench (read the comments). Certain off aromas in riesling - mostly young riesling - comes from a variety of things. Reduction and aromas of sulfur may not be related. And there's another wrinkle, from wines fermented using native yeasts, referred to as sponti. Peter Liem, the esteemed wine writer, says that tasted against one other, each type of aroma is fairly distinct from one another. We need to clearly differentiate between the three, because the causes of each are distinct, and therefore the way we need to treat the wines will differ.

Right, so because none of us are chemists and chemistry is boring, let's dumb it down and describe each as it is. Reduction can occur from sulfur use, or be an effect of a reductive winemaking process. The generalized aroma for reduction is rotten eggs. Actual aromas of sulfur come from the addition of large amounts of sulfur during winemaking, and before bottling, as is the standard practice of many German riesling producers who create wines for long aging. The generalized aroma for sulfur is burnt matches. And sponti is the result of off aromas associated with native yeast fermentation, which of course is more exciting but less reliable than selected yeasts. This is where it gets tricky - Peter says that some aromas of sponti are very similar to sulfur, so much so that even wine professionals mistake the two. He says, Unfortunately, the vast majority of people, including most wine professionals, mistake this odor for sulfur, but if you take the time to compare the two, it is easily distinguished. And this is why I need to make friends like Peter.

Calling them flaws isn't truthful, because these off aromas are usually found only in young wines, which simply need bottle age to come around. Really enlightening, and now I have a hankering for riesling. So going back to what I smelled for my first 2 bottles of Bollig-Lehnert. They both smelled gassy, slightly oily, and rubbery. And I wrote them as suffering from reduction problems, caused by sulfur. I'm fairly convinced both were reduced - just maybe not so sure anymore that it was because of the sulfur. But this bottle, the Piesporter Goldtropfchen Auslese ... this one was just fine. Dense and compact, but expressive. Floral and citrusy, that undercurrent of green apple and intense minerality running through. Ripe but linear, beautiful extract and balance on the palate. A dream come true.

Thanks for the lesson, gentlemen.


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