Stein, Riesling St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Kabinett Feinherb 2016, $36.99
If there is one style of wine that deserves more recognition as having the potential to produce some of the finest, most age-worthy and complex wines on the planet, it’s Riesling. Now, don’t get us wrong, Riesling is having its moment now. We’re finally getting folks wandering in looking for something good to pair with something spicy. It’s great. But, when it comes to the very best examples, from the oldest vines planted to the best sites, we still have work to do. Indeed, when it comes to the world’s best Rieslings, there is undoubtedly similar depth, complexity, and diversity to be found as you can in Burgundy, for example. And, though wildly different in character, great Riesling is surely in the same league as those thousand dollar Grands Crus in the Côte de Beaune. As such, great Riesling is surely the most exciting style for lovers of serious white wine. And, as the best of the best can still be found for a small fraction of what you’ll shell over for a bottle of top-tier Burgundy, they remain compelling values as well. This month we’ll dive into glorious expressions of the best of the best, one from our favorite grower in the Mosel, and another from a master of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling in Austria.
HOW TO Now, when it comes to great German Riesling, there is no beating the Mosel. From its back-breakingly steep hillside vineyards along the river, to it’s chilly climate, and it’s slate-based soils, there simply isn’t a better recipe for Riesling greatness anywhere else. Pair that up with one of the region’s most talented winemakers, who also happens to be a staunch traditionalist in all things, Ulrich Stein. Ulrich farms some of the best, most difficult-to-manage parcels in the entire region, all in pursuit of truly exceptional Riesling. Ulrich is a proud defender of the old ways and the old vineyards of the Mosel. That is perhaps most evident when you find that he owns a mind-blowing 10% of all ungrafted vines in the entirety of Germany(!). Ulrich farms organically, where everything is done by hand out of necessity due to the steep slope of nearly all his vineyards. Further, winemaking is old-school and gentle, with minimalism at heart. Old wood, native yeast, and miniscule amounts of sulphur dioxide is the recipe here. The results are masterful.
One of Ulrich’s prized vineyards is Himmelreich (aka. Kingdom of Heaven) in the village of Graach. Comprised of mostly slate-based soils, this is the sole wine from Ulrich that bears that vineyard’s name. It is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is one of the only wines from Stein that is made from entirely ungrafted vines, the average age of which is 75 years. Depending on the conditions of the vintage, and where the wine wants to go during fermentation, this particular cuvée is marked either Trocken (dry) or Feinherb (just off-dry). Though ‘Feinherb’ is one of the many German wine terms for which there is no legal definition, it it widely accepted to be an alternative for ‘Halbtrocken’ which is reserved for wines with between 9-18 grams of residual sugar per liter of wine. Anything below 9 grams is labeled as ‘Trocken’. As such, the difference between’s Stein’s Feinherb and Trocken is usually the matter of a few grams of residual sugar, making for an utterly delightful, mineral-driven expression of old-school Mosel Riesling at its finest. It is supple and giving despite its very high acidity, owing to ripe fruit and just a tiny bit of that sugar, making for one of the most versatile wines on the planet. Like many great Rieslings, this wine can age for at least a decade, but we recommend trying a few bottles before lying some down.