This eagerly-awaited tasting took place on 30 November 2017, at Regional Wines, Wellington. It attracted winemakers from both Martinborough and Marlborough, and sold out within a few hours of being advertised ... those who like riesling like it very much indeed. German wines at the trockenbeerenauslese level have been scarce in New Zealand for many years now.
Some of the most-favoured wines on the night. From the left: 1971 Jakob Hoffmann Neumagener Engelgrube Auslese, QmP, light fine Mosel at full maturity, 18.5 +; 1971 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshofer Auslese QmP, the key auslese to compare with the TBA from the same vineyard, rich, slightly one-dimensional, 18; 1971 Schloss Schonborn Geisenheimer Schlossgarten Riesling Beerenauslese, QmP, soft, golden and sweet, 18 +; 1971 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshofer Trockenbeerenauslese, QmP, still nearly floral, lovely fruit and acid balance, a hint of apricot, 19; 1971 Schloss Schonborn Marcobrunner Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, QmP, a little dark but still fresh, ethereal darkly honeyed Christmas pudding bouquet, unbelievably rich, 19.5.
Introduction to the 1971 vintage in Germany:
Michael Broadbent is perhaps the most experienced, and least given to hype, wine student of our lifetime. His unparalleled breadth of experience makes his first detailed evaluation of the 1971 vintage in Germany (published in 1980) highly relevant, reflecting the perspective of the time:
Broadbent, 1980: 1971 ***** An excellent vintage. Ripe, beautifully constituted wines, certainly one of the most delicious and elegant vintages of the postwar years. Climate: all the hallmarks of a top-quality year: early, well-developed flowering, an extraordinarily fine summer, constant sunshine from early July to a long almost summer-like autumn. The grapes were free of rot and ripened to full maturity, the lack of rain kept the berries (and subsequent production) small and concentrated. The autumn in the Moselle was particularly perfect, with grapes absorbing the moisture from the early morning fog ... which was then dispersed by the sun and the ripening process continued. Assessment: there is a world of difference between a German wine made from ripe grapes, and the contrived and sugared wines of lesser years. 1971s have softness and ripeness without the broad, sometimes flaccid character of the '64s or the statuesque almost intrusive richness of the '59s. They have more of a '53 or '49 weight and charm. The top-quality wines have only just started to blossom, and will continue in full bloom for many years to come, whilst the great dessert wines will go on developing right to the end of the century. To sum up: '71s have balance: ripe sweetness and perfect fruit acidity.
Broadbent goes on to say that it is the only German vintage he can recall where he has tasted more beeren- and trockenbeerenauslesen than wines below spatlese level, a factor which displeased the merchants: the quality of the 1971 vintage was 'simply too high' to satisfy the lower end of the market. He attempts to sum up the character of the wines in 23 tasting notes, selected from some hundreds. For two of them, without a hint of an exclamation mark, he simply writes: Ten stars. To give the flavour, here is his tasting note for a 1971 von Schonborn Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese: ... one of the greatest Rheingaus ever made, with extract an incredible 245.2 grams per litre. A deep amber gold ... the bouquet was incredible, combining as only the greatest German wine can intense richness with delicacy; an overpowering wine, chewable, a concentrated richness that defies description. Sheer nectar. Sipped (no spitting out that day). Ten stars. Drink 1990 – 2030.
By the time of the 2002 edition, Broadbent's approach is a little more clinical, yet the assessment of the importance of the year remains much the same. He rates no subsequent year as highly. He sets the scene thus: A magnificent vintage. More on a par with the '53, rather than the bigger '49, the heavyweight '59 and the sweet ripe '64. He does note that one or two of the wines are now past their prime, so in 2017, a full 15 years later, we must simply hope that some of ours will still be great.
Some other views:
Brook, 2003: 1971: Exceptional year throughout, with long-lived wines. The best are still very much alive. Wine Spectator, the most thoughtful on-line vintage chart around: 1971 rating 97, drink now, powerful, elegant, superb structure. Among comparable subsequent years, they rate 1976 96, 1990 97, 2001 98, commenting the best vintage since 1971, 2005 98, 2009 97, 2015 not yet rated. Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter (VDP) = the Association of German Pradikat Wine Estates: The 2015 vintage will be remembered for its ... stellar quality fruit harvested by the VDP estates ... leading to frequent comparisons to the legendary 1959 and 1971 vintages.
Some idea of the rarity of the wines being offered in this unrepeatable and unprecedented tasting (in New Zealand) can be gleaned from the fact that at the time of preparing the notes, NOT ONE of the 1971 German wines was listed in wine-searcher.com ... despite this being arguably the greatest German vintage since the war. Simply unbelievable. In fact, not one of the 12 wines was listed exactly as to vintage and label ... which shows how much the world thinks about riesling.
The basic layout of the tasting will be: since 2001 is considered perhaps the best year in Germany since 1971, we will have a spatlese from the famous producer Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt as a sighter for young riesling, then from 1971 two spatlesen, five auslesen, two beerenauslesen one 1971, one 1967 (50 years !), and two trockenbeerenauslesen, both 1971. To highlight the fully sweet wines, we will also have a 1971 sauternes, not an oaky one, to satisfy all of us who have wondered how fully-sweet wines from the two districts compare.
Most of the producers and the vineyards represented are (or were) well-known at the time. Nine of the wines can be 'guaranteed' in the sense they have been cellared in my near-perfect conditions since original purchase at the time of release. Three are from auction, so there is a question mark there (though they are from Wellington). Some of the colours are fabulous, for their age, but do not expect the fully sweet wines to be pale. The ratio of laccase in the highly botrytised wines means the colours may be quite golden or even darker ... honeyed, even caramel ... but so long as they smell fresh.
The 12 wines as presented. The colours mostly appropriate for their age, front left being 16 years old, most of the rest 46 years old, glass 11 is 50 years old. As noted in the text, glasses 11 and 12 may show advanced colour. For those who like mature wine, this was a great experience.
The rarity of the wines in this tasting cannot be over-emphasised. We must hope for no cork-taint, since there are no duplicates. As always, the risk is the same as if you had cellared the wine yourself. There are reserve German wines, 1971 and 1975, the latter not so exalted. [ As it turned out, not one but three of the 1971s were TCA-affected. A fraught decanting. ]
In both preparing the handout for this tasting, and then in writing the wines up afterwards, I greatly appreciated first the loan of reference material, and then the considered views, of John Comerford. When it comes to the wines of both Germany and Burgundy, he is one of New Zealand's most experienced, knowledgeable and perceptive tasters.
Broadbent, Michael 1980: The Great Vintage Wine Book.
Mitchell Beazley, 432 p.
Broadbent, Michael 2002: Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine. Harcourt, 560 p.
Brook, Stephen, 2003: The Wines of Germany. Mitchell Beazley, 445 p.
Lichine, Alexis, 1974: Encyclopaedia of Wines & Spirits. Cassell. 719 pp.
Pigott, Stuart, 1995 : The Wine Atlas of Germany. Mitchell Beazley, 232 p.
www.larscarlberg.com a remarkably informative wine site for the Mosel Valley
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding mainly (subscription needed)
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker and associates (subscription needed)
www.winespectator.com = various authors (subscription needed)
THE WINES REVIEWED:
# Prices where given are the purchase price. Note that in 1971, the standard German riesling bottle held 700 ml., not 750. According to Lars Carlberg, most had changed over by 1977. The lack of information and tasting notes, despite some searching, is regretted. In general it can be assumed that in 1971, large old oak is more likely to have been involved in the elevation of the sweeter wines than nowadays. The malolactic fermentation is almost universally blocked, in German riesling wines.
Old mahogany with an old-gold edge, brass-rimmed, much the deepest wine. The first thing you notice as you pour the wine is, it is astonishingly thick. The second aspect is the remarkable freshness and volume of the bouquet, relative to its dark appearance. The fruits are dark, sultanas, sticky black raisins, fresh moist prunes in the best sense, spicy and nutty, a little oak, darkly honeyed with suggestions of beautiful caramel toffee, yet vibrant. Palate is velvet, again the finest moistest Christmas cake or traditional English Christmas pudding with ground almonds and spice, yet so much more exciting, and simply never-ending. One particularly knowledgeable taster of German wines spoke to the wine, describing it as 'ethereal'. For the group, this was the favourite wine of the evening quite clearly, a wine beyond the experience of most of us. Residual sugar must be approaching the 300 grams / litre range. For both this wine and the Kupfergrube, a slight question mark on the developed colour, since the wines were bought at auction, though of Wellington origin. Storage conditions may have been warmer than for the Josephshofer Trockenbeerenauslese, with its thought to be more correct colour, as noted below. Could the wine have been even fresher, therefore, in different storage ? Tantalising thought. Memorable, even so: nine top rankings, three second places. GK 11/17
Old gold and hazelnut, a brassy rim. Bouquet is light and fresh for the wines colour, almost a thought of pink hedge-rose florals, obvious fruit yet no clear analogies, a complex of botrytis, pears, sultanas and raisins plus a hint of dried Otago apricots (much more piquant / varietal than Turkish), subtlest oak, all honeyed and slightly biscuitty. Flavour is astonishing, wonderfully fresh, all the bouquet characters yet finishing particularly on the Otago apricot note, excellent acid balance relative to the residual sugar guessed to be in the 200s, the fruit long yet drying in a positive way to the very neat finish. This wine has been in ideal Wellington cellar conditions for its entire life, and the colour is likely to be correct. The second favourite wine of the evening, six first places, four second. The wine will hold, but the corks wont. GK 11/17
Lightish gold, below midway in depth. There is a freshness and piquancy to the bouquet of this wine which immediately spoke of mature Mosel, in the blind line-up. There are still nearly florals for example honeysuckle, clear sweet-vernal hay notes, elegant pale stonefruits, all slightly honeyed. Palate continues the harmony perfectly, a lovely gentle balance of honeyed flavours to sweetness and acid, plus a subtle underlying nutty quality perhaps hinting at old oak. All at a peak, very beautiful, time to enjoy. As to ranking, it seems fair to surmise the lighter wines were a little overlooked in the tasting, when ranged alongside such weighty beerenauslesen and trockenbeerenauslesen. This wine was light even by auslesen standards, but it epitomised the great subtlety and charm of fine Mosel in full maturity. One second place, no least places. GK 11/17
Mahogany, with an old-gold rim, brass-edged, the second deepest wine. The volume of bouquet on this wine is staggering, combining both fresh bush-honey notes with toffee and nutty thoughts, and voluminous sultanas, raisins and dried peaches. Additionally there is a fruit / age / oak interaction which some described as reminding of pedro ximinez, others as ancient Rutherglen Muscat with its rancio complexity, but much subtler. A winemaker commented that the concept rancio implied more oxidation that this wine shows. Palate combines all these thoughts into a saturated aromatic nutty and drying but still sweet flavour, which tasters compared with traditional dark Christmas cake, or even moreso, classical moist long-steamed English Christmas pudding. Unlike the cake however, the acid balance keeps the wine (and mouth) fresh, even though the flavours are so dark. Hard to judge, but doesn't seem as sweet as the Schonborn Beerenauslese, even allowing for the higher acid in the Kupfergrube well under 200 g/L. This was the third favourite wine on the night, two top places, six second, the trockenbeerenauslesen winning on sheer sweetness. A slight doubt about the colour, as explained for the Marcobrunn TBA. GK 11/17
Full gold, grading to old gold, the lightest of the beerenauslesen and trockenbeerenauslesen. First sniff and one can only think of toffee more than honey, but wonderfully pure fragrant toffee. There are suggestions of fragrant black tea too, and dried peaches. Flavours in mouth immediately reveal the more golden flavour spectrum of the Rheingau rieslings (relative to the Mosel Valley wines), the botrytis component more apparent than most of these wines, sweet with hints of fine golden syrup as well as aromatic riesling, a soft rich wine with a little oak shaping it and drying the finish, acid slightly lower. Perhaps a little past its peak, but still charming, no hurry. Three second places, but also two least. GK 11/17
Limpid lemon, the faintest wash of straw, the lightest colour, lovely. This was the sighter wine for the tasting, a reminder of what neat young riesling tastes like in its (relative) youth. Florals are fading a little now in the bouquet, just a suggestion of acacia blossom and subtle hops on citrussy and white stonefruit notes. Palate introduces a lime suggestion to the Lisbon lemon citrus, and subtlest pineapple flavours (+ve), quite big fruit sweetness for a spatlese, beautiful acid balance, the flavour long and citrussy. It seems much sweeter than the Marcobrunn Spatlese. The wine fulfilled its introductory role well, plus gaining two second place ratings. Cellar 10 20 years. GK 11/17
Lightish gold, below midway in depth. Bouquet is intriguingly one-dimensional on this wine, not really floral, yet a lovely depth of honeyed peachy fruit. Palate amplifies the bouquet, quite strange, a sensation of weight, yet you feel you can now taste the freshness of a Mosel wine, suggestions of mandarin rind on the stonefruits, hops too, excellent acid balance though hidden in the relatively rich fruit. At a peak now, but should hold its form for a while yet, subject to noting the corks are already very frail, in all the von Kesselstatt bottlings of the time. One of two only wines with no votes at all, for rank. GK 11/17
Lightish gold, in the middle for depth. Bouquet is the freshest of the auslesen, still a hint of freesia-like florals, a touch of lime-zest, on palely honeyed stonefruits quite belying the wines colour. Palate continues the freshness, nearly a suggestion of black passionfruit, clear riesling terpenes giving a backbone to the wine suggesting oak, that character made noticeable by higher acid than some, so the nett aftertaste is citrus zest, fresh in one sense yet honeyed too. Unusual. Not all tasters were happy with this wine, the acid being mentioned, no first or second places, three leasts. The degree to which it fulfilled Stephen Brooks analysis of vineyard style relative to the weightier Josephshof Auslese delighted me, however. GK 11/17
Fresh lightish gold, the lightest of the spatlesen and auslesen. Bouquet is beautifully fresh and fragrant for its age, nearly floral, a ghostly suggestion of black passionfruit, lovely vanillin and peachy fruits, just what a fully mature Mosel riesling should be. Palate faltered however, suddenly a hint of grapefruit in the stonefruit, total acid highish, biscuitty notes drying the flavour relative to the bouquet, so the terpenes of the variety show. Just past its peak therefore, but still lovely. One of two only wines to record no votes. GK 11/17
Brilliant light gold, the second-lightest wine. Bouquet reflects a similar linalool / sweet-vernal component as the Marcobrunn Spatlese, and hence this contrasting wine was placed alongside it. There is clear lightly honeyed botrytis and quite powerful fruit, the wine relatively youthful. Palate sits awkwardly in the set of rieslings, a four-square chunky wine, higher alcohol, slightly fragrant sweetly grassy / fruit salad fruit, and a little hard as if total sulphur were higher, but you can't taste sulphur exactly. There is also a firm older-oak tannin backbone. The notion of comparing a fully sweet French wine with fully sweet German ones has its own logic (since the latter are so rarely tasted in New Zealand), but in the event it didnt turn out too well. This wine was so totally different in flavour and style, that the hoped-for comparison with the sweetest of the rieslings was more academic than satisfying. Sturdy representative wine, but lacking magic, fully mature, no hurry at all, will hold for years. Three first places, two second and interestingly, four least places. GK 11/17
Lightish gold, bright, in the middle for depth. Bouquet is unusually fragrant, a mix of vanillin / linalool as in sweet-vernal hay, and the unusual combination of freshness as in mature Hunter Valley semillon, and honeyed. Palate is slightly a surprise, being more golden than the bouquet, dried peach flavours, more honeyed and showing its Rheingau origins, though the acid balance is good. Finish is tending short and the fruit drying a little, reflecting its spatlese level. Some tasters felt there was trace oxidation here too. A little past its prime. One top place, two least. GK 11/17
Full gold with a wash of old gold, the deepest of the spatlesen and auslesen. Nett impressions of the bouquet can be summed up in whether one refers to the bouquet as honeyed (bush honey) and biscuitty, or showing its age with a little oxidation / trace Fino sherry character. It is still obviously mature riesling, with the suggestion of hoppy terpenes. Palate is lighter and drier than most, one would think it spatlese, but the nett flavours are still surprisingly long, pleasing, and riesling in flavour and style, on the light alcohol and sugar / acid balance. It doesn't taste like a Fino, at all. A little past its prime, but one of the winemakers loved it, saying how good it would be with salted fish. Clearly the least-liked wine, 10 least votes, noting that in some Library Tastings to be least does not mean the wine is no good. GK 11/17