Schmitt Sohne Bernkasteler Bingen Riesling Auslese 2001
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.
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, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes region of New York.
In the Glass
Riesling typically produces wine with relatively low alcohol, high acidity, steely minerality and stone fruit, spice, citrus and floral notes. At its ripest, it leans towards juicy peach, nectarine and pineapple, while cooler climes produce Rieslings redolent of meyer lemon, lime and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of petrol.
Riesling is quite 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.