Portfolio tastings by two major German importers on two consecutive days earlier this week gave me the opportunity to taste more than 100 German Rieslings from the 2006 vintage.
It’s an interesting vintage, primarily because it was early and fast. Most growers had completed the harvest in three weeks, roughly half the normal time. Three days of rain at the beginning of October induced a massive attack of botrytis. “We didn’t even bother to go through the vines and eliminate the grapes affected by rot,” said Johannes Selbach, proprietor of Selbach-Oster in the Mosel. “By the next day, the healthy grapes left behind were infected by botrytis.”
Indeed, it’s the botrytis, and sometimes the lack thereof, which defines the vintage. The wines have weight and substance, but in the best examples, a wonderful elegance from the vibrant acidity. “The difference between 1976 and 2006 is that in ’76 we had very low acidity. In ’06 it’s very good,” explained Robert Eymael, proprietor of Mönchhof and lessee of the Joh. Jos. Christoffel vineyards in the Mosel.
There are also some whistle-clean, racy kabinetts that were harvested before the botrytis. Tim Fröhlich of Schäfer-Fröhlich in the Nahe reported no botrytis in the wines up to Spätlese. His elegant Estate Kabinett (from the porphyry soils in the Bockenauer vineyard) has great clarity and cut. “These were some of the first grapes we harvested,” he said.
Thus, it is an uneven vintage, with everything from racy, lightweight wines made from healthy grapes to some top-heavy, botrytis-laden wines that tasted soft. Furthermore, because of the botrytis and dehydration, quantities are 30 to 40 percent lower.
Where the botrytis and dehydration is matched by fine acidity, there are some real gems. Kerpen’s Auslese* Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Mönchhof’s Auslese Erdener Prälat and Selbach-Oster’s Beerenauslese* Bernkasteler Badstube come to mind.
In 2006, there are some delicious German Rieslings and some that are stunning. Others seemed to lack focus, but they are still young wines, recently bottled. Look for my reviews beginning this fall.