Monday, May 30, 2011

Riesling Shootout -- Clare Valley versus Mosel

The Diploma level of WSET and the Master of Wine tests all require me to identify wine with no information other than the glass in front of me.  By the time I reach that level of study, I should be able to detect the varietal without problem.  What I need to start building, however, is a library of more subtle indicators that give me a sense of place.  A simple example -- Chardonnay from Chablis is usually steely and fresh whereas if it was made in Montrachet, it'll be dripping with oak and malolactic descriptors.

Okay, that's an easy one, but I'll need a mental library for the difference between St. Aubin and Corton; and I'll need to integrate those two with the difference between mountain Napa and valley floor Napa and Russian River and so forth.

Last night's tasting was adding to my library.  I tasted three Mosel Valley Rieslings, and three from the Clare Valley of Australia.

Will Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2009
Dr. Thanisch Classic Mosel 2009
A.J. Adam Hofberg Kabinett 2009

Leasingham Bin 7 2007
Koonowla 2008
Grosset Polish Hill 2010

All of the German wines were Kabinett level, which means they have the lowest ripeness (sweetness) level of the Pr├Ądikatswein pyramid.  I didn't want to be confused by the sugar level of the Sp├Ątlese pictured, so I drank it with some friends and a wonderful thyme-infused strawberry shortcake.  But even at the Kabinett level, German Rieslings can vary to a large degree in residual sugar, from bone dry to not-quite dessert levels.  For this reason, it was important to use the same vintage year.  According to David Schildknecht, who writes for the Wine Advocate, despite some difficulty during flowering, 2009 was a fantastic vintage for the Mosel.  Great density and creaminess went with excellent acidity.

That assessment was certainly born out by the tasting.  Noses were quite floral, especially with orange blossom, accompanied by lemon and ripe apple.  I went looking for notes of tar and petrol, and while present, the wine was generally too young to show much.  That's an aroma which develops with age. 
The wines tasted were really well integrated, with bright fresh acidity and medium-plus finishes.  All were off-dry.

As an aside, Michele Chapoutier has made fascinating and controversial comments to Decanter online that petrol aromas in Riesling should be considered a flaw.

The Clare Valley Rieslings differed in age, but were all freshly sealed under screwcaps, so I wasn't too worried.  Clare bottles sell quickly and it I combed all of DC and its surroundings to find just two.  The Grosset was mail order, and I was worried about bottle shock; but it showed very well.

While the Mosel lies on the northern limit of successful cultivation and often struggles for ripeness, the Clare is warm.  Shiraz grows alongside the Riesling, after all, enjoying almost 9 hours of daily sunlight during the summer.  In general, that extra time was evident in the wines tasted.  The aromas were all gorgeously complex, with lemon, lemon verbena, tar, petrol, ginger, and asparagus.  Upon tasting, however, acid was found wanting and the results were a bit flabby.  Only the Grosset, from a cooler spot on Polish Hill, kept enough to be in balance.  It was my favorite of the tasting, though the others I was tasting with liked the Dr. Paul most.

Puck was the big loser of the evening, as screwcaps were the rule and no corks were to be had.  Poor guy.  Lucky for him I made pork rack, so there were bones.

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