On Wednesday night, in a 180-degree reversal of my past disposition, the youthful outshone the mature.
I love old Rieslings. In fact, Riesling is probably the most age-worthy white wine on Earth (along with France's Sauternes and Hungary's Tokaj, and is more flexible with wider variety of foods than the other two), with some 30-50 year-olds still drinking wonderfully. At 10+ years of age, the sweetness mellows, and the flavors meld together into something much more complex and indescribable than the sum of the parts, while the color transforms from light straw to haunting amber (as in the photo on the left). Normally I find, the sweeter the Riesling to begin with, the better it tastes with age, gradually losing its youthful fluffiness. The acid and mineral never subside, so it's important for the sugar to still remain, lest you get a salty, minerally and sometimes mediciny wine. That's why in my opinion, the Auslese (late harvest) level Rieslings make more enjoyable wines in their maturity than Kabinett and Spatlese.
I was having one of the best wine and food experiences ever. At the Unicorn Pan-Asian restaurant in San Francisco downtown, a number of very close friends of Vineyard Gate had the privilege and pleasure of drinking wines of Graf von Schonborn of Schloss Schonborn in the presence of the count himself. Graf Paul von Schonborn is a very interesting man. Educated in the US, he is the head of a legendary family that traces its history back to 1349. Their vineyards in the Rheingau, one of the world's most renowned Riesling wine regions, are second to none.
So there he was, explaining his treasure trove of wines recently released from his estate cellars, pointing out the distinctions of each one of the unpronounceable vineyards and the merits of vintages long past, while his associate was pouring them non-stop to accompany the seemingly never-ending parade of delectable, perfectly cooked Asian fusion dishes.
Normally, I am partial to older vintages. We were looking forward to three 1988's! But first, starting with 2006, considered by most a lesser year than 2007, we were impressed off the bat - with complex classical Riesling flavors of Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen, Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg, and Erbacher Marcobrunn vineyard sites, all three Kabinett wines wonderful and distinct. Following those, we jumped straight into the 1988 Spatleses: Jahannisberg Klaus, Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, and Erbacher Marcobrunn sites. With age, the wines have lost most of their sugar, and appeared almost salty, which is something I am now used to observing in drier Rieslings.
In both the 2006 and 1988, the Marcobrunn vineyard showed off its "grand cru" pedigree with fuller, lusher flavors and texture. We then went through several more 1997's, a 2005, and a gorgeous dessert '03 Auslese triple star (which suggests a Beerenauslese quality). Sadly, despite my respect for the mature Rieslings, these 1988's just didn't have enough oomph and indeed seemed thin. The 1997 Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen with its fresh lemon tingle was the most elegant of the line-up. But in the end, I was seduced by the 2006's sensual flavors and liveliness, thus proving that in wine, whether you prefer old or young, there are no blanket generalizations. Each wine speaks for itself.
From left to right: Alex Bernardo of Vineyard Gate, John Dade Thieriot of Dee Vine Wines, yours truly Iron Chevsky, and Graf Paul von Schonborn of Schloss Schonborn