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New Customers Save $30 off $100+* with code SEPTNEW
New Customers Save $30* with code SEPTNEW
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Eugen Wehrheim Riesling Niersteiner Oelberg Spatlese 2002
Producing some of the finest white wines in the world, Germany is one of the world’s most misunderstood winegrowing countries. Many wine consumers of a certain age will recall with amusement and a twinge of horror the sugar-laden Liebfraumilch of their formative drinking years. But today Germany is building its reputation upon fine wines at all points of the sweet to dry spectrum, the best of which can age for many decades.
The world’s northernmost region for quality wine production, Germany faces some unique viticultural challenges due to its extreme marginal climate. Fortunately for the lover of German wine, because they hover a bit under the radar, they tend to remain surprisingly affordable—for now.
Germany is best known for white wines, particularly Riesling, which is cold-hardy enough to survive very chilly winters, and has enough natural acidity to create balanced wines even at the highest levels of residual sugar. These are classified by ripeness, and can be picked early for dry wines with searing acidity, or as late as January following the harvest for lusciously sweet ice wines.
Other important white varieties include fairly neutral workhorse Müller-Thurgau as well as Grauburguner (Pinot Gris) and Weissburguner (Pinot Blanc). Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grown in warmer pockets of the country is, at its best, elegant and structured enough to rival red Burgundy.
A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining easily identifiable typicity. This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling, and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Riesling is best known in Germany and Alsace, and is also of great importance in Austria. The variety has also been particularly successful in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes in New York.
In the Glass
Riesling is low in alcohol, with high acidity, steely minerality, and stone fruit, spice, citrus, and floral notes. At its ripest it leans towards juicy peach and nectarine, and pineapple, while in cooler climes it is more redolent of meyer lemon, lime, and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of gasoline.
Riesling is very versatile, enjoying the company of sweet-fleshed fish like sole, most Asian food, especially Thai and Vietnamese (bottlings with some residual sugar and low alcohol are the perfect companions for dishes with substantial spice), and freshly shucked oysters. Sweeter styles work well with fruit-based desserts.
It can be difficult to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling, and German labeling laws do not make things any easier. Look for the world “trocken” to indicate a dry wine, or “halbtrocken” or “feinherb” for off-dry. Some producers will include a helpful sweetness scale on the back label—happily, a growing trend.