Josef Leitz Rudesheimer Sylvaner Trocken Alte Reben 2016
Under the direction of Johannes Leitz, Weingut Josef Leitz has earned the reputation of being one of Rheingau’s top growers and moreover, one of the finest producers in Germany. Since taking over his family estate in 1985, Johannes has grown his holdings from 2.6 hectares to over 40, most of which are Grand Cru sites on the slopes of the Rüdesheimer Berg. Once the home of some of the world’s most sought after and expensive wines, the region fell to mediocrity in the years following the Second World War. Josi has made it his life’s work to reclaim the intrinsic quality of his native terroir and introduce the world to the true potential of the Rheingau.
The Rheingau is a small region, stretching only 20 miles from east to west. It is marked by a course change in the Rhein River’s flow to the North Sea from its origins in the Swiss Alps. As the Rhein flows north along the eastern edge of the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, it runs directly into the Taunus Mountain range which has a subsoil comprised of pure crystalline quartzite. Rivers, no matter how mighty, are lazy and the Rhine has yet to break through the quartz infrastructure surrounding the town of Mainz. At Mainz, the Rhein turns west and the 30 km stretch between Mainz and Rüdesheim makes up the majority of the Rheingau. Even though the region is further north than the middle Mosel, its south facing slopes get hotter than the narrow Mosel Valley which therefore provides important diurnal temperature variation.
Leitz’s estate vineyards lie entirely on the westernmost part of the Rheingau on the Rüdesheimer Berg—a steep, south-facing hillside of extremely old slate and quartzite—planted entirely to riesling, encompassing the Grand Crus of Schlossberg, Rottland, and Roseneck. Leitz trains his vines in a single-cane, cordon system to improve the quality and character of the fruit, differing from the majority of Rheingau growers where the practice has long been to prioritize yield via a double-cane system. Johannes is a firm believer that the crucial work of the vigneron takes place in the vineyards. Focused on farming as sustainably as possible and working by hand, the grueling hours of labor on the ultra-steep slopes allow these ancient vineyards to reach their maximum potential.
Practically one long and bucolic hillside along the northern bank of the Rhein River, the Rheingau stretches the entirety of the river’s east to west spread from Hocheim to Rüdesheim.
Variations in elevation, soil types, and proximity to the Rhine cause great diversity in Rheingau Riesling. Some of the better Rieslings in warmer years come from the cooler and breezier sites at higher elevations. In cooler years, sites closer to the river may perform better.
In the village of Rüdesheim, slopes are steep and soils are stony slate with quartzite; Rieslings are rich and spicy, intense in stone fruit and show depth and character with age. World class Rieslings come from farther east on the river through Geisenheim, Johannisberg, Winkel, Oestrich and past Erbach as well, where soils of loess, sand, and marl alternate. Long-living, floral-driven and mineral-rich Rieslings come from the best of these sites.
Rheingau growers became early activists in promoting the dry style of Riesling, low yields and the classification of top vineyards, or Erstes Gewächs (first growths). Proximity to the metropolitan markets of Mainz, Wiesbaden, and Frankfurt keeps Rheingau in high reputation. While dry wines are the style here, Rheingau isn’t short of some amazing Auslesen, Beerenauslesen, and Trockenbeerenauslesen.
Rheingau doesn’t mess with many other grapes—in fact 79% of its total area is dedicated to Riesling. But it produces some fine Pinot noir, especially concentrated in Assmannshausen, a bit farther west from Rüdesheim.
Types of white wine varieties
While only a handful of white wine varieties are responsible for most of the commercial production of white wine worldwide, hundreds of native varieties are important not only to local culture, but to the diversity of the global wine world. From lean and crisp to oaky and buttery, white wine comes in an array of styles and is produced in almost every wine region of the world. While they’re all important to local cultures and global wine diversity, these are the top white grapes used for production:
- Chardonnay: Diverse styles, but often shows oak influence and a buttery quality.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp, aromatic, often un-oaked. Citrus, grassy and tropical notes.
- Pinot Grigio/Gris: Usually un-oaked, medium-bodied, with apple, pear and citrus.
- Chenin Blanc: Made into dry, sweet, still and sparkling wines. Apple, pear, ginger, “steel wool” minerality.
- Riesling: Tolerates cold weather, high in acid. Lime, peach and petrol notes. Can be dry, medium sweet or lusciously sweet.
- Semillon: Often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Has a viscous texture and notes of citrus and tropical fruit. Susceptible to botrytis and used in rich dessert wines.
Styles of white wine
Apart from the differences between dry and sweet wines, there are 3 basic styles in dry white wines.
- Light, crisp and uncomplicated. Think Pinot Grigio.
- Medium-bodied, aromatic and flavorful. Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc.
- Full, textured and richly-flavored. Chardonnay or Viognier.
- Sweet white wine - Sweet whites occur when the winemaker stops fermentation before the yeasts have converted all the sugar to alcohol, the result being a sweet, low alcohol wine. A German Auslese Reisling is a good example of a still sweet wine.
- Dry white wine - Dry white wine happens when the winemaker allows fermentation to continue until little to no residual sugar is left. These can be higher in alcohol, though the percentage will vary depending on the ripeness of the grapes. Cooler climate whites will be lighter in body, ranging from 11% to 12.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). Warm climate whites will be fuller, from 13% to as high as 15% ABV in some cases.
Popular white wine regions
Some of the most popular New World white wine regions are California’s Sonoma and Central Coast regions, New Zealand’s Marlborough region and Chile. In the Old World, legendary regions include Burgundy and the Loire Valley in France, Germany’s Mosel and Rheingau, Italy’s Veneto and Alto Adige and Spain’s Rias Baixas.
How is white wine made?
Unlike red winemaking, the juice from white grapes is not typically left in contact with the grape skins during the fermentation process. As quickly as possible after harvest, grapes are crushed and pressed, removing the juice from the grape skins and other solids. To preserve fresh aromatics and fruit, white wines are fermented cooler than reds. The winemaker may let the wine rest on its lees (spent yeast cells) for a period of time, providing additional texture or a “biscuity” quality. They may also initiate malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart malic acid into softer lactic acid and lends a creamy, buttery essence to the wine. Whether and how to use oak is another important decision. Barrels, especially new ones, can have a dramatic influence on a wine’s aromas and flavors, adding notes of vanilla, toast, spice and coconut. Though, older barrels can provide neutral containers for the development of the wine.
What gives white wine its color?
White wines can vary in color from nearly clear lemon-green to medium gold to pale orange or almost light brown, depending on grape variety, winemaking methods and age.
Red wine gets its color from time spent in contact with the skins. Since white wine juice is separated from the skins quickly, it tends to be pale. Un-oaked white wines are often light yellow, sometimes with greenish tints. White wines that mature in new oak will become richer in color; subtle oxidation that occurs with oak aging causes a more golden hue.
White wine color
Evaluating white wine color is best done in a well-lit room. Hold your glass against a white background and look closely. A very pale wine indicates an un-oaked, lighter-bodied wine that might come from a cool climate region like Italy’s Alto Adige or Germany’s Mosel. A straw-colored wine suggests Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Pinot Blanc, while fuller, oaked whites often appear golden in the glass. Deeper, darker colors result either from deliberate skin contact or longer, oxidative aging.
Pairing white wine with food
White wines can be versatile with food. Here are some terrific pairing ideas:
- Chardonnay with poultry, lobster or crab, rich and creamy cheeses.
- Sauvignon Blanc with light salads, light seafood dishes, goat cheese.
- Albariño with shellfish.
- Riesling (medium-sweet versions) with spicy Asian cuisine.
Health benefits of white wine
While white wine is lower than red wine in certain healthful compounds like resveratrol, multiple studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption raises HDL (good cholesterol), reduces the risk of blood clots and helps prevent artery damage caused by LDL (bad cholesterol). Moderate consumption is typically defined as up to one drink per day for women, two for men.
How do you serve white wine?
Light-bodied white wines like Pinot Grigio should be served cool, at 45F to 50F. Fuller white wines like oaked Chardonnay are best served at 55F. As for stemware, the best white wine glasses have a stem and a narrow bowl large enough to allow swirling without spilling. Ideally for storing white wine in any long-term sense, it should be at cellar temperature, about 55F.
How long does white wine last?
Once opened, a bottle of white wine will usually stay fresh in the refrigerator for a couple of days or so. Unopened, white wines stay good for about a year to, in some cases, several decades. Assessing how long to hold on to a bottle is a complicated science. If you are planning to strategically store white wine, reach out to a wine expert/professional.
Aging white wine
Most white wines are meant to be enjoyed soon after release, but some can age for decades. High quality Rieslings, as well as some White Burgundies and Semillons are in this category.