Rare German Treasures
a tasting organised by the Fine Wine Experience
16th May 2006
This was the third instalment (though unfortunately the first I could attend) in an exploration of German wines across the major 20th century vintages – some big names, some minor ones, some unknown…
With wines of this age, you never know how the bottle is going to show: it could be glorious, dead or somewhere in between: it's all a bit of a gamble. Because of the likely fragility of many of the wines, they were opened immediately prior to them being served, one wine at a time. I would agree with Linden Wilkie, the organiser, that on the whole, luck was on our side.
1893 Rüdesheimer Rottland, Deinhard (?)
This came from a collection of wine stored at a merchant since the 1960s and sold at auction. The provenance prior to that is unknown. Two bottles were quite ullaged – one with a label – and the third bottle, which was opened this evening, had a very good level but no label. The label itself showed a 19th century scene of the Rhine, and identified the wines as having been shipped by Gayford & Co., of Pall Mall, London. According to the cork, the wine was a Deinhard ‘Cabinet Wein’. Cabinet should not to be confused with the modern Kabinett prädikat: it refers to a reserve wine (as in one kept in the producer's cabinet). This would have been an expensive wine at release: 1893 Rüdesheim wines were much more expensive than all the Bordeaux first growths.
This would presumably be from the vineyard now known as the Berg Rottland in Rüdesheim, the überkitsch tourist trap wine village on the Rhine south of the Loreley.
This had a good, remarkably clean and clear goldish caramel colour. Fairly sweet on the nose with a hint of raisins, and also some peat and cream with just enough minerality to confirm that this was riesling. As is usually the case with old rieslings, the sweetness had gone, and it was much drier on the palate than the nose would lead you to expect. This was a very healthy bottle of wine, especially given its 113 years of age. There was a certain creamy, grapey raisining detectable on the palate, which showed considerable concentration, which in turn made us think this must have been Auslese level at bottling, in today's terms, maybe even an Auslese Goldkap. Very long, and still holding together 90 minutes later. It's impossible to give a score to such old wines, though this was undoubtedly a real treat.
The next three wines came from Schloss Falkenstein where they had been hidden at the end of the Second World War, when the Russians were advancing. They were subsequently sold at Sotheby’s in 2002, and these further bottles in 2005. They had been hidden for years behind the two-metre thick castle walls: the two 1921s had clearly benefited from this impeccable provenance.
There was a nice coincidence with these Schloss Reinhartshausen wines: the tasting was being held in the Bentley Kempinksi Hotel in London. Schloss Reinhartshausen also now operates as a hotel, the Schloss Reinhartshausen Kempinski.
1911 Hattenheimer Stabel Cabinet, Schloss Reinhartshausen
A slightly cloudy, very old gold, or maybe "tan" would be a better colour descriptor. Very dried out on the nose with some burned raisins. Unfortunately, this seemed to me a bit sherrified and muddy on the palate and, all in all, fairly dead. Given a few moments before it keeled over altogether, it did, however, show a touch of sweetness lingering on and a touch of acidity.
1921 Hattenheimer Wisselbruch, Schloss Reinhartshausen
A rich yellow gold with a copper rim. This had a lovely clean nose: creamy, with a touch of apples and a hint of petrol. Quite rich and remarkably big on the palate. Fairly dried out, but still very complex. Very clean and elegant on the finish, with great length.
1921 Erbacher Kahlig Cabinet, Schloss Reinhartshausen
A deep gold that's just a touch coppery. The nose is rich and still has plenty of botrytis evident along with some apricot fruit. When released , this must have been near what we would now call Beerenauslese level. Rich and full on the palate, this is jolly good and very impressive. I wouldn't have been surprised to have been told that this was early to mid 1970s, rather than being fifty years older! Maybe just a bit hollow on the finish, but given the pleasure on the palate, I can forgive it that at 85 years of age!
1976 Erbacher Schlossberg Riesling Auslese, Schloss Reinhartshausen, 350 ml half bottles
A glorious deepish gold. A fairly simple sweet, barley-sugar nose with something of damp stones and moss in there too, which led to suggestions of low level TCA, but I didn't think it was corked. On the palate, it's simple, sweet and not overly botrytised: it could really do with more acidity. Fairly good, though, and an interesting comparison with the older wines: the high quality of the 1921 vintage really puts the undistinguished 1976 vintage to shame.
Johannisberger Erntebringer Riesling 1921, Producer unknown, Frankfurt-négociant bottled
1st bottle: A yellow tan colour, with a bit of sediment in suspension. This has a very curious nose: quite bizarre, really; with wet plaster and a slight hint of drains. The palate too is very strange. It isn't quite dead, but equally isn't overly enjoyable. There is quite a pharmaceutical, metallic note, especially on the finish.
2nd bottle: Fortunately a second bottle was opened, as Linden had a full case of this to hand! A very rich, deep gold with yellow-green and copper tinges. A rich nose with some apricot fruit. Rich and very concentrated on the palate, this is lovely. Very fine indeed.
1953 Johannisberger Erntebringer Riesling Beerenauslese Cabinet, Deinhard
A mid tan colour. The nose is musty, rather reeking of death ... dead rotting animals. Do I really want to put this in my mouth? Oh, well, in the interests of scientific research ... This has a weight on the palate that might be reminiscent of its Beerenauslese status, though it's really rather dried out with little left. Some caramel flavours and lots of quite bizarre smoked mackerel flavours on the finish.
1949 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkap, Joh. Jos. Prüm
This bottle came from Justerini & Brooks who bought it some years ago at auction, the bottles having come directly from J.J. Prüm. (Available from J&B for the trivial matter of £5092 the case, in bond.)
A very even, deepish gold. The nose is hugely impressive: fresh, clean and pure with apples, peaches and a touch of citrus. Very pure on the palate: very crisp and clean, and concentrated with some sweetness, especially on the finish. Huge length. Elegance encapsulated. This really has perfect balance. Stunningly good and quite exceptional. Outstanding.
2001 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkap , Joh. Jos. Prüm, AP Nr. 2 576
511 22 02
Not a complete contrast to the previous wine, as this showed all the class of the 1949, but the 2001 really was infanticide. Bright and pale. The nose is dominated at this point by gassy mercaptans, though there is a light, fresh creaminess and a touch of honey evident. Crystal clear on the palate - pure and racy with lots of acidity. Very, very young, but very pleasant indeed and with a great future in front of it. Excellent.
1989 Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese, Egon Müller,
AP Nr. 3 567 142 14 90
Quite a youthful appearance, still with some of young riesling's green. The nose is slightly gassy, minerally, talcy and very pure riesling with a hint of apples and a hint of lime. Very pure and very, very elegant on the palate. Superb balance. Superb stuff all round. Excellent.
2001 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Eiswein, Dr Loosen, AP Nr. 2 576 162 54
A very tropical, rather sweet nose. Sweet and very luscious on the palate. But it's not as pure as it might be. Difficult not to find it gorgeous though, even though it's not the finest example of a Mosel Eiswein. Very Good/Very Good Indeed.
Finally a bonus
heavily ‘ullaged’ 1921…
Forster Jesuitgarten Riesling 1921, Nassauer Brothers [sic], Frankfort [sic]
A bright tan colour, with a greenish rim. The nose is very interesting with none of the death of some of the others, just a touch of caramel, some nuts and some engine oil. Decent on the palate. This has good structure and is surprisingly drinkable, even verging on the enjoyable (... for the first five minutes anyway, but thereafter it faded quickly) and it's possible to detect a hint of what used to be sweetness.
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Last updated: 23 May 2006