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Germany's best Rieslings: dry, sweet, or both? The Gunderloch experiment

A shift is occurring in some of Germany’s best vineyard sites towards drier styles of Riesling. Some people think it’s a good thing; others regard the sweet Pradikat wines as being the ultimate expression of Riesling. In a fascinating comparative tasting, one of Germany’s leading producers decided to see what wine journalists thought, in part because they were seeking an answer to a beaureaucratic corer they had been boxed into. The results were fascinating.

Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach (pictured) run the celebrated Weingut Gunderloch (see my notes on some of the Gunderloch wines below), in Germany’s Rheinhessen. They are famous for their Riesling from the Rothenberg vineyard, which has red slate soil. A recent and controversial move in the Rheinhessen has been that the VDP (Verband der deutschen Prädikatsweingüter) has devised a new vineyard classification, called Große Gewächse (Grand Crus). For wines to carry this name, they must fulfil clearly defined criteria (restriction of vineyard site, yield reduction, handpicking, …), most significant of which is that the top Große Gewächse have to be made in a dry style.

Thus Fritz and Agnes have to decide whether they want to carry on making Rothenberg wines in sweet styles as well as dry. If they do, they will either not be able to label them as Großes Gewächs, or else they’ll have to drop the Rothenberg name from the label. A dilemma. The question is, does the Rothenberg trocken (dry) style really reflect the terroir at its best?

Comparative tasting
In order to answer to this question, Agnes and Fritz enlisted the help of a group of international wine journalists. They showed them a range of their Rothenberg wines in sweet, slightly sweet and dry styles, in a series of three tastings. Surprisingly, the journalists were split almost exactly into three. In terms of their preferences, 37% opted for dry, 33% for slightly sweet and 30% for sweet.

For the Rothenberg site at least, it suggests that diversity works. According to Fritz,”The result makes me happy and relieved. Our top vineyard site delivers top wines through all the different styles. The high minerality and the fine notes of apricot taste completely different in a dry than in a sweet wine. We will therefore, if nature allows, not only produce dry wines, but also in the future continue to make Spätlese and Auslese from the grapes of the Rothenberg in the future.”

While the results might have been different for the Mosel as opposed to the Rheinhessen, the message from this interesting tasting seems to be that German Riesling should continue to be made in a variety of sweetness levels.


·     London, September 20, 2004
Neil Beckett (Fine Wine Magazine), Stephen Brook, Simon Larkin MW, David Peppercorn MW, Freddy Price, Jancis Robinson MW.

·      Nackenheim, September 23,  2004
Gerhard Eichelmann, Ina Finn, Harry George, Friedrich Groebe, Manfred Lüer (Vinum), Ingo Swoboda (Der Feinschmecker), Stuart Pigott, Michael Prónay (A la Carte), Wilhelm Weil.

·      New York, November 17, 2004
Eric Asimov (The New York Times), Rob Bigelow (Bellagio), Joe Czerwinski (Wine Enthusiast), Howard Goldberg (The New York Times), Paul Grieco (Hearth Restaurant), Peter Liem (Wine&Spirits), Steve Pitcher (San Francisco Cronicle), Luis Reyneri (Bellagio), Christopher Russel (Union Square Café), Bruce Sanderson (Wine Spectator), Jerry Shriver (US Today), Brian Smith (CIA Hyde Park), Joshi Takemura (Tribeca Grill), Rudi Wiest.

The Winelist  

Wine 1

1992     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Trocken

Wine 2

1992     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Spätlese

Wine 3

1992     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Auslese

Wine 4

1993     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Trocken

Wine 5

1993     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Spätlese

Wine 6

1993     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Auslese

Wine 7

1994     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Trocken

Wine 8

1994     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Spätlese

Wine 9

1994     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Auslese

Wine 10

2002     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Trocken

Wine 11

2002     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Spätlese

Wine 12

2002     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Auslese

Wine 13

2003     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Trocken

Wine 14

2003     Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling   Spätlese

Wine 15

2003          Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling           Auslese

Information supplied by wine and partners, www.wine-partners.at

My notes on the Gunderloch wines:

Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2002 Rheinhessen
Taut, fresh, slightly minerally nose. The palate is herby and quite dense with lemony acidity underlying the savoury fruit. Hint of sweetness. Tasty in a full style. Very good/excellent 90/100

Gunderloch Riesling Spätlese Nackenheim Rothenberg 2002 Rheinhessen
Precise herby, limey nose. The palate is rich textured and full with fresh herb and lime -tinged fruit. Sweet finidh. Very nice balance here. Very good/excellent 91/100

Gunderloch Riesling Auslese Nackenheim Rothenberg 2002 Rheinhessen
Well defined rich lime and honey note. The palate has an explosive richness of fruit with lots of sweetness, good acidity and great balance. Delicious, rich, complex and balanced. Very good/excellent 93/100

UK agent: Siegel (www.siegelwines.co.uk) 

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