Riesling, among far too many consumers, is either misunderstood or exists completely below the radar. Which is unfortunate, because for my money, there are few wines in the world that offer the complexity, ageability, and unmitigated drinking joy that riesling does.
Most people, of course, assume that riesling is pretty much monolithically sweet, German, and cheap. (None of which, of course, accounts for the great variety, and astoundingly high quality, of riesling that’s available.) As a result, even many of the most ardent white-wine lovers are missing out on one of the great pleasures of the wine world for no other reason than their first and last experience with riesling was likely with one of the mass-produced, teeth-rottingly sweet versions with quasi-unreadable Gothic script on the label and a flavor profile that consisted of sugar, a disconcerting mustiness, and little else.
But those wines--and we all know the names--bear as much resemblance to good riesling as, say, a straw-covered flask of Chianti does to the great wines of Barone Ricasoli. And in a year like 2009, when the conditions throughout much of Germany were more than favorable for an excellent riesling harvest, the wines are superb, offering complexity, depth, and a sense of sweetness that finds a sublimely balanced counterpart in the acidity that’s such a hallmark of the wines.
I recently had a chance to taste the 2009 rieslings from Heinz Eifel, a family firm that, while it may not share the same name-recognition as, say, Joh. Jos. Prum, is nonetheless producing some truly delicious wines. The wines are labeled simply by region and ripeness level; there are no vineyard-designated bottlings. This has not hurt the quality one iota: In fact, the blend of fruit and the careful, fresh winemaking style has resulted in bottles that are utterly charming right now, and really don’t require any aging to enjoy. My tasting notes are below.
Heinz Eifel Riesling “Shine” 2009, Pfalz
Very fresh peach, seckel pear, and orange blossom aromas jump from the glass and are backed up by the slightest hint of minerality and slate. There’s also a note of spun sugar in there, almost reminiscent of cotton candy in character. The palate shows a surprisingly tongue-coating texture on the attack, but that’s balanced out and cut quickly by a well-balanced and zippy sense of acidity. Fresh flavors of green apple, nectarine, and a hint of Meyer lemon dominate the palate, and lead to a finish that comes in a wave of acid and apple notes.
Heinz Eifel Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel
There are spun sugar and sugar-grilled peaches on the nose, as well as orange blossom, honey suckle, and the unexpected anchoring notes of mushroom. On the palate, there is enough acidity to keep it fresh, but the richness of the fruit, and its ripeness, come through very clearly, as do toffee and honey notes and a touch of flint. The lime-inflected finish is quite floral, and, though a bit on the short side, supremely fresh and enjoyable.
Heinz Eifel Riesling Spatlese 2009, Mosel
This is what I love about good spatlese: There is a real sense of bright, sunny freshness here despite the sweetness. The nose is beautiful and charmingly suggestive of springtime, with aromas of candied lemon peel, ripe Asian pears, and dried, slightly sweetened ginger. The palate hints at marzipan, hazelnuts, and toffee, as well as fruit notes that include sweet lemon, pineapple, ripe white peach, and red and green apple.
Heinz Eifel Riesling Auslese 2009, Mosel
The nose here is similar in profile to the spatlese, but, of course, richer: It’s like the smell after biting into a dripping peach on a warm late-summer day. There's also brown sugar, hazelnuts, marzipan, the crisp top of a creme brulee, and pears. Despite all this ripeness, it retains its freshness perfectly. The flavors of this wine cover a lot of ground, much of it fairly exotic: Solid minerality, yes, but also grilled pineapple, orange-peel candies, sultanas, clementines, and lemongrass, as well as preserved lemon and a French apple tart. The finish is generally of a piece with the mid-palate, but there’s a note of orange-pith bitterness that adds to its depth immeasurably. Utterly wonderful.