I have now had a good preview of the 2008 vintage for German Riesling, having tasted more than 100 during the past week. Two major importers of German wines, Rudi Wiest and Terry Theise, held tastings of their growers' wines a week apart in New York.
Here are my impressions of the vintage and individual highlights among the wines from Rudi Wiest Selections.
The 2008 vintage is even more precise and focused than 2007, with higher acidities in general. It was another late harvest, with the northern regions of Mosel, Nahe and Rheingau harvesting from mid-October well into November.
Rain just before harvest was cause for some concern, accompanied by an attack of botrytis, but nothing that proper selection in the vineyards couldn't solve. The rain also delayed the harvest and the cool nights preserved acidity and allowed the grapes to ripen and develop refined and complex aromas and flavors.
It's a year for kabinett and spätlese in most areas, with very few wines at the auslese and higher prädikat levels. A few estates made beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese, but those are rarities and will most likely go to auction.
The best news for consumers is the wealth of fine estate Rieslings that will cost in the $18 to $24 range.
Compared to earlier vintages, especially 2003, 2005 and 2006, the flavors are apple and citrus ranging to peach, but less exotic than the guava, passion fruit and orange notes of the riper years. The '08s remind me a lot of 2004, and 1998 is an earlier year with this “typical” weather common to a northern climate.
The wines are lighter than the 2007s, with lower alcohol, giving them a shimmering, crystalline feel on the palate.
Overall, 2008 looks potentially outstanding, but not classic in the sense that there were fewer botrytis-influenced dessert wines across the board.
At the Rudi Wiest Selections tasting, the Ökonomierat Rebholz Spätlese Trocken Pfalz Vom Rotliegenden was stunning, with piercing flavors of mineral, stone and spice on an elegant frame. Moving to the Mosel, I liked the crackling profile of the lime- and slate-infused Dr. F. Weins-Prüm Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Wehlener Sonnenuhr, while the Spätlese Mosel “Mosel Slate” from Robert Eymael (Mönchhof), 100 percent from the Erdener Treppchen, offered a tantalizing creaminess which enveloped its strawberry flavor.
It's always fun comparing the wines of Thomas Haag (Schloss Lieser) with those of his brother Oliver (Fritz Haag). The Schloss Lieser wines have a rich and voluptuous quality and savory notes from the indigenous yeast fermentations. The Fritz Haag wines are precision studies in slate. Both have solid lineups in ’08, but I was particularly impressed with the Schloss Lieser Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Brauneberger Juffer and Fritz Haag’s Spätlese Mosel Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr.
In the Ruwer, the Riesling Spätlese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg from Karthäuserhof was softer than many of its Mosel cousins, showing roundness and complexity, with plenty of stone and spice notes.
Reichsrat von Buhl in the Pfalz made a stellar range of snappy Rieslings led by its Kabinett Pfalz Armand, an '08 that attained a ripe peach flavor combined with racy structure. Schäfer-Fröhlich’s Spätlese Nahe Bockenauer Felseneck marries the high voltage of the vintage with a creamy texture and loads of spice, while over in the Rheinhessen, Gunderloch’s Riesling Spätlese Rheinhessen Nackenheim Rothenberg bordered on tropical fruit flavors with floral overtones.
“In 2008 we had to work a lot harder to get the same quality as in 2007. We alternated between warm days, cool days and rainy days,” explained Johannes Hasselbach, whose family owns the Gunderloch estate.
Stay tuned for full tasting notes and scores in upcoming issues of our weekly Insider newsletter and fall 2009 issues of Wine Spectator.