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A First Taste of 2008 German Riesling

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 12, 2009 4:17pm ET

Nik Weis, owner of St.-Urbans-Hof in Germany’s Mosel Valley, was in New York last week. It was an opportunity to taste a range of his 2008 Rieslings, some of which are now available in the United States.

Last February, I tasted about two-dozen tank and cask samples of ’08 Rieslings from German importer Rudi Wiest, but this was my first taste of ’08s finished and bottled.

If the St.-Urbans-Hof range is any indication of what we can expect from the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer, fans of delicate, racy, Rieslings are in for a treat. The wines are shimmering and crystalline, even more so than the 2007s, with flavors ranging from tropical fruit and citrus, the requisite mineral, to savory, saline notes of broth, celery root, hops and smoke.

Much of that savory character comes from Weis’ use of wild yeast. He believes the fermentation aromas and flavors are more prominent in 2008. “In 2005 and 2006, the must weights were so high the wild yeast elements were metabolized,” explained Weis. He feels the lower alcohol in the 2008s (approximately one-half to one degree lower than in the three previous vintages) and the cooler temperatures of both the juice before fermentation and the cellar allowed the wild yeast notes to express themselves.

In addition to lower alcohols in the wines, Weis retained a bit more residual sugar to offset the high acidity that marks the ’08 vintage.

“This is the Mosel style,” he stated. “If you have a pole of high acidity and a pole of high sweetness, like two electrical poles, you get more fruity tension between them and the wines really sparkle.”

We started the tasting with the Riesling QbA Mosel Urban. This is the third vintage of this wine, made from grapes purchased in the village of Mehring. The savory aroma was immediately apparent, along with peach, citrus and slate flavors ($11).

Moving on to the estate wines, the Riesling QbA Mosel tasted like spring water over wet stones, with hints of apple and earth. It’s less showy than the Urban at this stage, yet offers more depth, length and a juicy texture ($16).

The Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein ($20) was a classic kabinett, lightweight and precise, from a year Weis believes is a great kabinett year in the Saar. ”The top oechsle (ripeness measured as must weight) in the Saar was about 88 [degrees],” said Weis. “In the Mosel you could achieve 95 [degrees oechsle].”

Aromatic with floral, orange and grapefruit notes, it was delicate and racy with flavor intensity, complexity, a long finish and mineral essence.

By contrast, the Riesling Kabinett Piesporter Goldtröpfchen ($24) showed less aromatically, hinting at black currant and apricot. In the mouth. It was less developed than the Ockfener Bockstein, with a supple texture and very long, smoky finish.

The QbAs and kabinetts are available now in the United States.

Prior to the kabinetts, we tasted Weis’ Riesling Leiwener Laurentiuslay Feinherb Erste Lage. Drier in style, the feinherb designation is not legally defined in Germany and its concept a point of discussion for growers. Generally, these wines have between 15 and 30 grams per liter of residual sugar, more than halbtrocken at 9 to 18 grams, but less than most QbAs.

At 11.5 degrees of alcohol, the Laurentiuslay is a broad, powerful Riesling from the warmest vineyard site of the estate. Complex and off-dry, it revealed potpourri, brown spice and apple aromas and flavors with a salty aftertaste. Weis noted a hops flavor, like a Pilsner-style beer.

In 2009, St.-Urbans-Hof purchased the remaining portion of the 4-acre Zickelgarten, the best parcel of the Ockfener Bockstein, making it the largest owner of vineyards in the Bockstein site.

Typical aromas of flowers and citrus fruits introduced the Riesling Spätlese Ockfener Bockstein, whose bright, racy profile expresses the elegance and liveliness of the vintage ($25).

The Riesling Mosel Spätlese Piesporter Goldtröpfchen was a full-throated roar by comparison, exuding smoke, bacon fat, brown spices and complex fruit flavors on a dense, almost oily texture. Harmonious, balanced and long, this is a terrific example in a vintage that the spätlese category  from some areas shows excellent potential ($35).

Not yet fully formed, the Riesling Auslese Piesporter Goldtröpfchen offered muted tropical fruit, apricot and citrus notes accented by herbs and celery root. Though rich and juicy, it was also bright, electric even, featuring the sparkling, shimmering character of 2008.

The two spätlesen will be available soon; the auslese and Leiwener Laurentiuslay will arrive later this year.

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