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A First Look at 2006 German Riesling

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 6, 2007 8:32am ET

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.

James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  June 10, 2007 9:19am ET
The last time I stopped by J.J. Prum in December 2006, Katharina was telling me how there will be no Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese for 2006 (my usual favorite of theirs). They were all saying how it was a very strange year, and how surprised they were when they tested the grapes after picking. Still, their 2006 wines should be delicious as usual--just not the normal line-up. I'm looking forward to seeing what you think. - Jim
Heidi Mayer
January 24, 2008 2:10pm ET
Are any of these dry Rieslings? I know that "trocken" is dry in German, but how else can I tell? thank you.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  January 24, 2008 2:32pm ET
Heidi,the ones I mention in this blog are in the fruity, i.e. off dry style. Dry wines from the Rheingau will either have the "Erstes Gew¿s" designation or simply "Trocken." Dry wines from the other regions, except the Mosel, will have the first growth symbol, with a number "1" and a grape cluster. In the Mosel, wines with this symbol may also be in the fruity, off dry style. Confused yet? Another clue is the alcohol level. The dry wines will be in the 12-14.5 percent range. It's always a good idea to ask your retailer or sommelier in a restaurant.

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