Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dry German Rieslings, Seductive Without the Sugar

I don’t like German rieslings. They’re too sweet.

I hear this sentiment from people all the time, but it still baffles me. In my mind, sweetness is to riesling what off-shore wind is to a surf break: it takes that which is already good and makes it even better. Sweetness in and of itself doesn’t make a wine great, just as an off-shore breeze does not in and of itself create an awesome wave. Sweetness must also be balanced by other factors, such as acid and minerality, two components that German riesling packs a lot of.

But, hey, if you don’t like the perfect touch of sweetness in a spätlese, you’re not alone. It seems more and more German winemakers are producing wines for the dry-loving palate, or perhaps more are being imported to satisfy the demand. Regardless, German dry riesling can be incredible. Bracing at times, and immensely acidic, but dry as a pile of bones. (If you’re not a fan of residual sugar, look for “trocken” on the label, meaning dry.) And despite my sweet tooth, I still love dry riesling.

I got to taste ten dry rieslings at a recent tasting of the DC-based German Wine Society. Here are my notes…

Dry Rieslings

2007 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling Schieferterrassen - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Aromas of peach, lime, orange blossom and yellow apple, with time faint notes of herbs and spices. Lush apple and pear fruit on the palate with superb acid. Hints of oil and beeswax show the age. This wine is only slightly sweet, but the mineral and acid make it taste bone dry. If I had other bottles, I’d be wary of aging them for more than a year or so. That said, I really liked this, as I do all Heymann-Löwenstein wines. (90 points)

2011 Franzen Riesling Der Sommer war sehr groß - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz in the glass. Aromas of sweet peach, honey and white flowers. For a dry riesling tasting, this one showed a bit more richness. High acid on the palate, rushing lime and lemon peel, backed up by bracing minerals and a tart, quinine-laced finish. (87 points)

2009 Bassermann-Jordan Riesling Auf der Mauer - Germany, Pfalz
Bright and lively aromatics: slate, lime, white tea, salt. Very tangy on the palate with lots of minerals. The fruit is lean and tends toward grapefruit rind and green apple peel. Flavors of salt and crushed rocks linger onto the finish. A bold, dry riesling. (88 points)

2008 Koehler-Ruprecht Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Kabinett trocken - Germany, Pfalz
Very reticent on the nose, and it didn’t open up much with time. Aromas of lemon, lanolin and white tea. The palate is soft, quite weak actually. The green melon flavors taste musky and old. A bit of apricot and nut flavors came out, but there’s also this strange green tree bark flavor. It’s not well-spoken enough to be intellectually stimulating. (83 points)

2011 Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken - Germany, Nahe
Even at the entry level Dönnhoff gets it done. Smoky slate, minerals and grapefruit on the nose. High acid on the palate, a bit of a waxy mouthfeel, with lots of crushed rock dust and smoke. Flavors of bitter lemon and green melon come together on the tart finish. (88 points)

2011 Weingut Fogt Riesling Siefersheimer Goldenes Horn Spätlese Trocken - Germany, Rheinhessen
Like a perfume shop on the nose with white flowers and honeysuckle, also an aroma that reminds me of cucumber water and lemon rind. Purity of acid, minerals and fruit on the palate. The flavors of green apple, white peach and zested lime taste richer than some of the prior wines in the tasting. Finish is both tart and full with a note of grapefruit. Delicious young. (89 points)

2011 Wagner-Stempel Siefersheimer Riesling Vom Porphyr Trocken - Germany, Rheinhessen
Lovely aromatic display of apricot, tart lemon, crushed rock and smoke. The palate is brisk and tart with mouth-puckering acid. Greem melon and pineapple rind flavors mix with dense minerals and the smoke that wafts up when you smash two rocks together. The intensity of the sour apple and lemon is matched only by the minerality, which lingers long onto the finish. Very powerful stuff that might taste better in a year or so, even though I tend to enjoy drinking dry rieslings young. (91 points)

2009 Weingut Seehof Westhofener Steingrube Riesling Trocken - Germany, Rheinhessen
On the nose: yellow apple, lemon zinger tea, lime peel and crushed rocks. Plump on the palate, with high acid. The flavors of peach skin, honey, wax and smoke are complex and focused. I pick up some margarita salt and herb notes on the finish. (89 points)

2006 Weingut Keller Dalsheimer Hubacker Riesling Großes Gewächs - Germany, Rheinhessen
Beautifully aromatic: white flowers, pear blossom, slate, intense minerals, salt and lime. Bracing and intense on the palate, with loads of acid and minerals, but the nutty, orange peel, clove and slate flavors give it enough body and richness to make it balanced. Lanolin and slate linger long on the finish. I’m not a huge fan of Großes Gewächs wines, but this is superb. Even though I like to drink GG wines young, this could last for a very long time. (93 points)

2010 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs - Germany, Nahe
Wow, what a treat. Endlessly floral on the nose with grapefruit, minerals and lime. Searing acid, so 2010, but this dry wine maintains enough richness and power to balance out the acidity. Flavors of grapefruit, honeysuckle, green pear, minerals, crushed rocks. So much complexity and a finish that doesn’t quit. One of my favorite Großes Gewächs so far. (95 points)


  1. I agree with most of your comments and ratings, although I rated the GGs a bit lower, numerically. I suspect given air most, if not all, of these dry wines will be much better. I had evidence of such on a 2011 Wagner-Stempel Siefersheimer Riesling Vom Porphyr Trocken which after 2 hours was significantly more expressive than the one we had at this tasting.

  2. Darryl, thanks for reading. I agree with you about the wines likely benefitting from more air. I try to give all my German rieslings, dry or sweet, lots of time to develop and come alive. I'd love to revisit that Vom Porphyr by itself over the course of a whole evening. Cheers!