German vintage full of beauty and vengeance

VINTAGE POINT

September 14, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

After a rare lapse into fluffiness, German wine is back in form with the 1993 vintage. No more Herr Nice Guy.

The 1992 vintage was a decided departure from classic German style. Fat and soft, the typical wine sprawled like a genial burgher enjoying an oompah band after a hearty plate of bratwurst.

The 1993s are Wagnerian opera. They swoop down like Valkyries, slashing away with swords dipped in acid. As fierce as they are beautiful, the 1993s will send many a wine taster scuttling back to California chardonnay. But devotees of classic German riesling will be transported to Valhalla.

Obviously, generalizations about vintages are dangerous. Exceptions always abound. There are structured, high-acid 1992s and loose-jointed 1993s, but they are the exceptions. There truly is such a thing as vintage character. And judging by the wines importer Terry Theise trotted out in a tasting last month, these 1993 Germans are loaded with it.

Frequent readers of this column are familiar with Mr. Theise. Since he set up in shop in the mid-1980s, he has done more to revive interest in and appreciation of German wine than any other individual.

A late harvest

Mr. Theise has some definite ideas of what German wine should be -- and it's not Liebfraumilch. He likes wines of deceptive power -- pretty little rieslings that sashay up to you with a wink and a giggle and then slam you to the mat and show you who's in charge. And make you like it. (There's a little bit of the masochist in German wine fans.)

These 1993s are Mr. Theise's style of wines -- lots of acidity, lots of fruit, exceptional structure, not overly sweet. As a vintage, it falls short of the sheer majesty of 1990, but the best wines are as fine as anything made in that classic year.

Where you're most likely to find these gems is at the middle level of ripeness -- spatlese, which means late harvest. There were a respectable number of ausleses (the next step up in sweetness) and a handful of eisweins and beerenausleses (ultra-sweet dessert wines), but for once they weren't the stars.

The 1993 vintage also produced some unlikely superstars. It's as if some proprietors who don't have access to famous vineyard sites made a deal with the devil for the vintage of their lifetimes. How else could Walter Strub of J.u.H.A. Strub, Gunter Wittman and Theo Minges extract such quality from unheralded vineyards? What's most extraordinary is that these wines are bargains -- and not of the Faustian variety.

Best of show

It is impossible to provide tasting notes here on all 75 wines. Here, however, are some of the 1993s that merit extra effort to locate. They are listed by classification, going from dry to sweet.

J.u.H.A. Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken ($12). Niersteiners are known for their silky texture, not classic structure. But this wine has both, plus exceptional flavors of apple, apricot, tropical fruit and minerals.

Theo Minges Flemlinger Zechpeter Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken ($12). This mouth-filling wine, with its intense flavors of pear, minerals, honey and marzipan, is quite complex and has an exceptionally long finish. Patience would be a virtue with this wine, which could use three to five years to develop.

Erich Jakoby-Mathy Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett #2 ($9). What a value! Try to find this much flavor and complexity in a $9 California chardonnay. There's marzipan, and spices, and baked apple, minerals -- the works.

Christian Karp-Schreiber Brauenberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett ($11). The lab analysis showed a screechingly high level of acidity, but on the palate the wine shows only gorgeous balance.

J.u.H.A. Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett ($12). Hold to your seats. Has there ever been a Rheinhessen riesling kabinett like this? Creamy but with steely structure, loaded with flavors of peach, pear, apricot and honey.

Toni Jost Bacharacher Hahn Riesling Kabinett ($14). This is high-voltage riesling, so acidic it almost throws off sparks. But the fruit flavors are equally intense, creating a wonderful harmony on the palate.

Gunter Wittman Westhofener Aulerde Scheurebe Kabinett ($11). Scheurebe is perhaps the world's most exotic white wine varietal and one of the best with Asian cuisines -- even fiery Thai food. This excellent example, with just a touch of sweetness, boasts flavors of currants, lime, herbs and spices.

Selbach-Oster Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese ($16). Just layer upon layer of flavors, incredibly long on palate. Will age beautifully.

J.u.H.A. Strub Niersteiner Rosenberg Riesling Spatlese ($12). This is one of those electric rieslings that throws you back in your chair with a look of stunned disbelief. It's an earthquake of a wine, suffused with flavors of spices, minerals, apricots, honey, apples. Twelve bucks? It boggles the mind. This was the wine of the tasting for me. Herr Strub has painted his masterpiece. Strub's 1993 Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese ($12) is a mere step behind.

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