What Am I Tasting?

This racy white has crackling acidity and notes of lemon, apple and lanolin ... Play the game!

April 15, 2022

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: A racy style, this delivers lemon, baked apple and lanolin flavors backed by crackling acidity. Turns laser like on the intense finish, where the citrus element echoes.

And the answer is...


Our racy mystery wine delivers lemon, apple and lanolin flavors with intense acidity. Let’s figure out what it is!

We can begin by eliminating Gewürztraminer, which makes fuller-bodied whites with spicy and floral accents and low levels of acidity.

We can also rule out Viognier due to its lower levels of acidity. Plus, our wine is missing Viognier’s distinctive texture, frequently described as creamy or oily. Let’s move on.

Albariños can show crackling acidity, but their profiles steer toward stone fruit, melon and floral flavors with saline accents. That doesn’t sound right either.

With its intense acidity and fruit flavors, our wine could be a lean and focused expression of Chardonnay. However, lanolin would be an unusual descriptor for Chardonnay. Maybe another grape works better?

While Rieslings can be rich, succulent or even sweet, many versions are leaner, with racy acidity and citrus flavors. They display hallmark notes of petrol or lanolin, particularly with some age. This sounds closest to the mark.

This wine is a Riesling.

Country or Region of Origin

Riesling has a significant footprint throughout the winegrowing world. However, since it thrives best in cooler climates, it would be difficult to find Riesling growing in Spain. With many suitable microclimates for it, Italy does grow some Riesling; but the grape isn’t nearly as significant there as Italy’s many other white varieties, such as Pinot Grigio and Vermentino. While California’s Riesling vines have been replaced by other varieties in recent decades, the Golden State does produce a significant amount of Riesling each year. These wines tend to be riper and juicier with dried fruit notes. Riesling has found a niche in Australia, notably in Clare Valley, which offers ideal growing conditions with its cool breezes and low nighttime temperatures. Australian Rieslings generally show a range of tropical fruit, melon and spice notes, often with a distinctive lime detail. This contrasts with styles from Germany, where Riesling is believed to have originated, which tend to show orchard fruit and citrus notes with intense acidity and minerally, waxy accents. Germany’s Riesling sounds like the best fit.

This Riesling is from Germany.


We know that our Riesling is from Germany, so we can eliminate California’s Alexander Valley, Australia’s Coonawarra, Spain’s Rueda and Italy’s Venezia-Giulia. This leaves us with two German appellations: Ahr and Rheingau. While Ahr grows some Riesling, this river valley is predominantly known for making red wines from Pinot Noir, and most of its vineyards are planted to red varieties. Farther south, Riesling is the premier grape in Rheingau, where producers use it to make whites at a range of sweetness levels, including dry versions with high levels of acidity. We’ve found a match!

This Riesling is from Rheingau.


Because of their high levels of acidity, Rieslings are built for aging. As they age, notes of baked fruit, petrol and lanolin become more prominent. Bearing this in mind, it seems like our Riesling has undergone a moderate amount of aging. Let’s look back at some of Germany’s more recent vintages to figure out our wine’s age.

Germany experienced record July heat in 2019, leading to a crop of silky Rieslings with rich cream, butter, honey and stone fruit notes. The weather in 2018 was favorable, resulting in a large harvest and intense Rieslings with apple and citrus flavors. Germany’s winemakers faced rain and low yields in 2017, and that year’s Rieslings display tropical fruit and spice flavors. Germany had a hot, dry summer and good harvest weather in 2016, which produced elegant Rieslings with mineral and floral notes. 2018’s Rieslings sound like the best fit here.

This Riesling is from the 2018 vintage, making it four years old.


This is the Peter Jakob Kühn Riesling Trocken Rheingau Hallgarten Rheinschiefer 2018, which scored 90 points in the Nov. 15, 2021, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $26, and 75 cases were imported. For more on Germany’s wines, read senior editor Bruce Sanderon’s tasting report, "The Heat Is On," in the Nov. 30, 2021, issue of Wine Spectator.

Aaron Romano, associate editor