Riesling Rendezvous: Ageability of Riesling

By Kori ~ July 28th, 2010.

During the recent Riesling Rendezvous, one of my favorite sessions was the Ageability of Riesling workshop, which made a strong case for the age worthiness of Riesling. In fact, Riesling is probably the most age worthy of all white wine varieties.

This workshop, moderated by Stuart Pigott, featured two wines from nine different producers, one from a fairly recent vintage and a comparable wine from an older vintage. Representatives from the featured wineries were on hand to discuss their wines as well as the ageability of Riesling in general.

Right off the bat, Stuart noted that the workshop was deliberately not called “mature” Riesling. Mature is an elastic term, so he more accurately referred to all wines as “maturing” no matter whether they are young or old. Wines, just like people, are always in the process of maturing.

The wines we tasted ranged from a 7-year span between vintages to a 62-year span. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to taste two Rieslings older than me, a 1973 and a 1946. Both wines showed remarkably well considering their age. I was especially impressed by the 1973, which was still quite crisp and bright.

“Young wines are full of so-called primary aromas, also some fermentation aromas, but very much weighted on the fruit and floral and all the youthful stuff. Then, of course, there are the wines which have lost that character and moved into a completely different phase of development with the so-called tertiary aromas, the ones which develop through the influence of oxygen on all of the substances in the wine.” –Stuart Pigott

According to Frederick Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, wines that have higher natural acidity and lower pH seem to have a good formula for aging gracefully.

During the workshop, a lively discussion ensued involving the use of the words “petrol” or “kerosene” to describe Rieslings as they age. The winemakers would rather people not use those words, which can have a negative connotation. They prefer those aromas that come with age to be described as smokiness. With that said, as you will see from my notes below, I still get petrol aromas in some Rieslings, particularly ones with a bit of age.

Rieslings, like all wines, change as they age. They tend to become sleeker and drier in taste. After tasting a wide range of Rieslings of different ages, it is clear to me that you either like older wines or you don’t. When you are trying to decide when to drink a wine, it is important to know if you prefer wines young or with some age. It really comes down to personal preference. One way to determine your personal sweet spot is to buy a case of wine and drink it over time, taking notes on how the wine tastes, how it changes, and how you like it.

“You have to decide if you like this aged character or not. With Riesling, you have the general aging characteristics of wine plus this special way that the aromatics change.” –Stuart Pigott

Unfortunately, I can’t remember who said this, but I think it sums up the question of when to drink wines quite well:

“You never know what tomorrow will bring. I prefer to drink great wine today, even if it’s really too young, rather than never.”

We tasted two wines from each producer, one from a fairly recent vintage and a comparable wine from an older vintage. Here are my rough notes and Quality ratings on the wines, in the order we tasted them:

Cave Spring Cellars (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada)
2008 Riesling Dry: tight nose, tart acidity, lime peel. Quality: 3 stars
2000 Riesling Dry: more golden, petrol, creamy, still fairly bright and crisp. Quality: 3.5 stars

Dr. Konstantin Frank (Finger Lakes, New York)
2008 Dry Riesling: floral, citrus, crisp acidity, cooler year. Quality: 3 stars
1995 Dry Riesling: more golden, creamy, petrol, pudding, warmer, drier year. Quality: 3.5 stars

Josef Leitz (Rheingau, Germany)
2008 Rudesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Alte Reben Trocken: citrus, lime, minerality, crisp acidity, good complexity, well-balanced. Quality: 4.5 stars
2001 Rudesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spatlese Trocken: toast, diesel, hint of wet cork. Quality: 3.5 stars

Domane Wachau (Wachau, Austria)
2009 Riesling Smaragd Achleiten: fruity, ripe, crisp, refreshing. Quality: 4 stars
1993 Riesling Smaragd Achleiten: floral, toasted nuts, creamy yet still crisp, smoky, flinty. Quality: 3.5 stars

Domaine Pfister (Alsace, France)
2007 Riesling Engelberg Grand Cru: lime, lemon, crisp, bright, fresh. Quality: 3.5 stars
1985 Riesling Reserve Engelberg: very different, tastes better than it smells, some bottles were thought to be corked, they now use Vino-Lok closures. Quality: 3 stars

Koehler-Ruprecht (Pfalz, Germany)
2008 Riesling Auslese Trocken Kallstadter Saumagen “R”: tight nose, citrus, floral, good acidity, hint of minerality. Quality: 3 stars
1998 Riesling Auslese Trocken Kallstadter Saumagen “R”: herbal notes, flinty character, good complexity, aging nicely. Quality: 4 stars

Schloss Gobelsburg (Kamptal, Austria)
2008 Zobinger Heiligenstein Riesling: fresh, dried apricots, white peach, crisp. Quality: 3.5 stars
1973 Zobinger Heiligenstein Riesling: smoke, hint of bacon, crisp, amazingly bright, citrus, flint, very impressed with this 37 year old wine. Quality: 4 stars

Van Volxem (Saar, Germany)
2008 Riesling Wiltinger Gottesfuss: floral, pear, crisp, great texture. Quality: 3.5 stars
2000 Riesling Wiltinger Gottesfuss: petrol, smoke, peach, lime, very crisp and refreshing, slight effervescence, would love to have this with food. Quality: 4.5 stars

Staatsweingut Kloster Eberbach (Rheingau, Germany)
2008 Riesling Erstes Gewachs Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg: fresh, refreshing, crisp, citrus. Quality: 3.5 stars
1946 Riesling “Cabinet” Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg: petrol, smoke, crisp, tart, yet also creamy, dried apricot, 64 years old – wow. Quality: 4 stars

Filed under: American Wine, Austrian Wine, Canadian Wine, French Wine, German Wine, New York Wine, Riesling, White Wine, Wine Activities/Events

Reader's Comments

  1. Dave N. | July 28th, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Kori — Thanks for the very interesting post. I love Riesling, especially dry Riesling. Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Cellars is one of our favorite Finger Lakes wineries. I’m not into petrol or kerosene or old bandaids or the like. I do think it is amazing that a 64-yar old Kabinett Riesling can still be tart and crisp.


  2. Kori | August 3rd, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Thanks, Dave. After the RR, I have a new appreciation for dry Riesling too. In general, I’m not fond of petrol, either, though it does seem to work in some wines. The maturing Rieslings really blew me away. Cheers!