Aged Riesling is the Real Deal

Guilty of Riesling Shunning
Sommeliers famously love German Riesling. Mouthwatering acidity, refreshing, ageworthy, and the grape loves to reflect where it was grown. Regular wine drinkers, at least in the US, are not so fond. We write it off as sweet, and what’s up with that stinky petrol nose?

2002 German Riesling with spicy ginger pork soup

German Riesling is a great choice with Asian dishes, especially those with a bit of heat/spice

Aged Riesling is the Real Deal
I had my Riesling view upended last year after a dinner discussion with Markus Niggli, a Lodi winemaker who knows his Riesling (among many other things!). I shared my experience of liking Riesling but finding it a hard sell with friends and other wine enthusiasts. Markus said that we were all missing a huge opportunity, we need to try a Riesling with some age.  Given its lack of popularity, he offered that one can pick up older Rieslings on wine auction sites for reasonable prices. Further, even modestly priced Rieslings age beautifully.  To prove his point, he sent me a couple of older wines from his cellar. Thanks Markus!

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt 2002 Keseler Nies'chen Riesling Kabinett

Markus proved his point with this beautiful 2002 Kabinett Riesling from the banks of the Mosel river in Germany

German Riesling 101
For the most part, it’s too cold to grow wine grapes in Germany. Luckily, near the Rhine river and tributaries, there are some south facing slopes down to the river which catch enough sun to allow early ripening Riesling to successfully grow. Riesling grapes offer high acidity, so high that some sweetness is useful to balance the wine (think lemonade – you need the right balance of lemon juice and sugar).

The wine hierarchy in Germany is based on the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest. This usually translates to a level of richness and sweetness in the wine.  However, sometimes the wine will be vinified dry, in which case it will be also labeled “Trocken”. If it’s half-dry, it may be labeled “halb-trocken” or “feinherb”. For more information, there’s an excellent resource here.

In ascending order of quality, price and sweetness:

  • Qualitatswein, labeled QbA
  • Kabinett – note, unless the wine is labeled trocken, all these wines will taste sweet.
  • Spätlese – late harvest, even sweeter grapes than Kabineet
  • Auslese
  • Beerenauslese (bA) – from here down, true dessert wines. These are very sweet.
  • Eiswein – grapes freeze on the vine. The juice is concentrated as the ice stays behind.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TbA)

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Kabinett 2002 ($20 current vintage, buy & hold 10+years…)
Eye: Clear, pale lemon yellow. A touch frizzante on opening but dissipates quickly
Nose: Clean, beguiling. A bit of petrol, honey, lemons, lemon curd, dried apricots, canned peaches.
Mouth: Off-dry with brilliant high lip-smacking acidity. Creamy texture,  Medium- body, low alcohol (10.5%). The lemon curd, honey, flavors of candied fruits linger in a long finish. Wine is fully developed and drinking beautifully now. Markus was right. Even Julie, who strongly dislikes petrol aromas, agreed this had become a beautiful wine.

Riesling and Spicy Food
Of course Riesling is delicious with German fare. Think pork, and especially savory/spicy sausages and wurst. Riesling’s acidity and freshness will naturally cleanse the palette. Another place Riesling shines is with Asian dishes, which can be a challenge for many other wines.

We enjoyed this Riesling with a Gingery Pork and Bok Choy Soup from a recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine. Delicious and easy, the recipe is here. We doubled the pork, otherwise followed the recipe closely. I had fun tasting the Riesling as I progressively added more Sriracha sauce to the finished soup in my bowl. The wine balanced the spice as long as it didn’t get too hot (to my tender Minnesota palate for spiciness!).

So go find a couple bottles of Kabinett Riesling.  Look at the back, and if you see the wine is a Terry Thiese selection (importer) you know it will be good.  Try one now and put another, or two, away someplace where you’ll forget them for a good long time.  You’ll thank me, and Markus, in ten years or so!


8 Responses to “Aged Riesling is the Real Deal”
  1. Really interesting article. Good to confound the prejudices – which I share. You’ve inspired me to go in search of some old Riesling!

  2. I have had aged Rieslings and I find them lifechanging. I have a few high quality Rieslings resting peacefully in my cellar from Alsace and Germany. I will let you know in 10+ years how well they age! Marcus is brilliant! How nice that he sent you wines from his own cellar. What a great guy!

  3. I am a huge fan of dry Riesling. I love the texture and great acidity. I’m not as big of a fan of the sweeter versions, but agree it’s wonderful with spicy foods. Another great article Jeff! Cheers

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  1. […] provides an overview of Riesling while reviewing an aging beauty, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Kabinett […]

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