Old Ass Riesling
If you've been "hanging" with me recently you may have heard me going on about old Rieslings (amongst other things I "go on" about). My brain is currently in old ass Riesling mode and is always on the lookout for it.
When did this start? Last spring I was at a Riesling tasting with some wine-skool classmates and we hit a series of tables where they were pouring wines from the 80's and 90's (and today!). The one thing about Riesling that had confounded me up to that point was that everyone always talked about this 'petrol' note you get from the older wines when you stick your nose into them.
(In America, I suppose we'd call it "gasoline" - but you have to admit that "petrol" is a lot more charming to say.)
For whatever olfactory deficient reason, I was just not getting petrol notes from any of the old Rieslings. I remember standing there with one of my classmates and she had her nose in her glass sniffing away and kept saying "Do you smell the petrol now? Do you smell it?"
I couldn't smell it in the first two wines and was about to give up... until the next glass when my stupid nose was finally like, "Hey! There it is! I sure am stupid! Here's some mucous!"
It took me a while, but I finally got it.
Then I began to realize a couple of other things...
(1) Rieslings aren't super popular in the US - I mean, they are somewhat popular, but not Pinot Grigio popular.
(2) Old white wines, with the exception of Burgundy, are not super popular in the US.
(3) Old Rieslings aren't super popular in the US.
(4) Since old Rieslings aren't super popular, when you find one in a store they tend to be good values compared to other wines of the same age.
(5) And most important, I like old Rieslings. They can be very charming.
Those damn German wine labels
I'll write a whole post about German wine labels later. I'll also write about sweetness in wines later. So much to write.
But, if you have been in a wine shop and looked at German wines you've probably been terrified by many of their labels. So many words (and always written in that crappy "german wine label" font). Yet, they are actually quite informative, you just have to have an idea of what all the words mean. Or maybe speak German. Or be a German wine expert.
For the discussion of old ass Rieslings, the main consideration (in my book) is the level of sweetness. Having that extra level of sweetness helps preserve the fruit flavors and aid in attractive maturing qualities being formed when aged. Commonly you will come across one of the following terms on a bottle of Riesling:
These terms represent the ripeness of the grapes and the amount of sugar at the time of harvest. Kabinett wines are very popular - these are the driest wines with almost no residual sugar in them. From there they increase in sweetness - which is a whole fascintating chat as well. I drink a lot of Kabinett/dry Rieslings when they are young. They pair well with almost any type of food.
But, I avoid Kabinett for the old wines. Traditionally, the extra residual sugar in the other levels help the wine mature in the bottle and assist in retaining the fruit flavors. The drier Kabinett wines tend to lose their fruit and then you are left with a glass of enamel melting acidity. At least that has been in the case in the older ones I have tried.
So, I tend to be on the hunt for the old ass Spatlese and Auslese Rieslings. Traditionally (or at least in my hood) Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein wines are pricey as these wines are made from super-super-ripe and concentrated grapes. Or grapes that have rotted from fungus. Or grapes that are frozen. Or grapes that have a foul attitude. We'll talk about that another day.
I like old-ish (1980's) German Spatlese and Auslese Rieslings, although they can age longer.
Many of these wines will retain the baked apple and honey qualities that make them so delicious to begin with - some of those will have a bit of a petrol or kerosene nose. Which sounds unattractive, but it isn't.
My ideal meal with old ass Riesling? Peking duck.
When in San Francisco two weeks ago, we went to a restaurant called the Salt House that had a 1980's-era Riesling on their wine list. Eeek! We had it with some oysters - it was very good, but had the most petrol-y nose ever.
The rest of dinner was lovely and we had a great waitress who we gave a glass to and it was all good.