February 05, 2009

Botrytized Kabinett Riesling?

After my last post about overly sweet "brut" Champagne, we move to the curious case of botrytized kabinett riesling. How is such a thing possible?

Kabinett riesling from Germany is generally lighter bodied, lightly sweet, and brightly acidic. I like it for its pretty aromatics, elegance, and refreshing quality. It's also relatively cheap and some nights, like tonight, I want a light, low alcohol wine with dinner.

Kabinett's siblings in Germany's prädikat scale of ripeness are spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese, and trockenbeerenauslese. To qualify for any of these designations, wine must be made from grapes that achieved a certain ripeness level. If grapes are just ripe enough to make spätlese wine, they essentially aren't ripe enough to be called auslese or anything further up the scale.

Of course, things are never so simple with our German friends. Those spätlese level grapes could be made into kabinett. Sometimes grapes that could even be auslese end up in kabinett wines. Some vintages see lots of ripeness, so the kabinett is more like spätlese, the spätlese more like auslese, and so on.

Sometimes that's a good thing. You might get a little more wine for your buck. And sometimes it's a bad thing. You want what the label suggests is in the bottle. You get an untimely surprise.

In the case of the 2005 Carl Loewen Riesling Kabinett from the Leiwener Klostergarten vineyard, whoa. I don't think I've ever had such a ripe, rich kabinett. This one even smells like a light dessert wine, with figgy apple, grapefruit, and pear aromas. Is there some botrytis in here? That's the noble rot that gives the fig and apricot richness to the highest level prädikat wines? This isn't beerenauslese, but this ain't kabinett either, in my book.

In the mouth, the richness is accentuated by a lack of acidity, giving a slightly syrupy, viscous quality to the texture, with the sweetness a bit cloying. This is tasty wine if lacking percision. It's not at all what I wanted with dinner, but as a sipping wine now it's pretty good. With time the wine does seem more mineral and less overtly figgy, though it's still fat and thick, maybe in need of a bit of mineral water for refreshment.

Sure enough, looking now at broker Terry Theise's write up in his 2006 German catalog, this wine has the same "sense of sweetness" mark as the producer's spätlese and auslese. Terry calls that sweet but not obtrusive. I might argue with that. Still, too bad SOS isn't on the label (I know, just what the Germans need, more information on the label.)

Terry correctly waxes on the virtues of the wine's freakishness, "a real gob stuffer" with a "powerhouse palate." Not surprisingly, the grapes were harvested at 93 Oechsle, putting them well into auslese level.

So what do you think? Do you like hyper rich kabinett? Have you ever been frustrated when you open a bottle of kabinett only to find a flaccid auslese?

In case you were wondering, the AP on this bottle is 5 06. Those Germans.


Marshall Manning said...

I'd agree that there are too many German producers who happily declassify in order to make their "lesser" wines richer. The argument is that they need to produce the full range of ripeness, but I'd think that they could actually harvest earlier rather than listing ripeness levels that are lower than the true Oeschle.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

I was thinking of you when I wrote it. No, not in that way, big fella. I remember the 2001 vintage where I first came to understand how kabinetts can end up oversized. The wines taste pretty good, don't get me wrong. But they're bad auslesen and meanwhile I'm left wondering if my next kabinett is going to really be kabinett.

Are there grower Moselen micro-producers making low dosage riesling that we can pit against these big house industrialist sugar fiends?