It is the world’s northernmost winemaking country, where warmth and sunshine are often in short supply. So it is not surprising that Germany sets such a high priority on a grape’s ripeness. The higher the ripeness at harvest, the higher the quality level, or attribute, given to the wine.
One of these attributes is Spätlese, a superior quality wine made from grapes harvested at least seven days after the normal harvest (Spätlese means “late harvest”). This extra time on the vine allows the grapes to develop more sugar and makes Spätlese wines richer and more intense in flavor than wines made from grapes picked during regular harvest. But does it also mean that they will automatically be sweeter than normally harvested grapes? And will they be uniformly the same?
To find out, we tasted four Spätlese wines — all 100 percent Riesling, Germany’s most noble grape; all grown in the Mosel region; all made by Weingut Kirsten; all produced by the same methods. And, we discovered, all distinctly different from one another.
The lovely 2003 Weingut Kirsten Herzstück Trocken (trocken means “dry”) has a sprightly acidity and the aroma of ripe apples—a silky wine with mineral tones and a lingering taste of fresh fruits. Although it is labeled “trocken,” it is not bone-dry.
Weingut Kirsten Herzstück Halbtrocken 2002 is, as the label says, half-dry. At the same time, it is not overly sweet. It is rounder than the trocken, rich in fruit flavors, from very ripe apple to pear and a hint of apricot, and has a racy acidity.
Weingut Kirsten’s Pölicher Held 2003 is an extraordinary wine brimming with the aroma of ripe apricots and honeydew, ample-bodied, concentrated, off-dry with a long, delightfully sweet aftertaste.
And finally Weingut Kirsten 2003 Alte Reben, or “old vines,” is like liquid apricot and pear, a garden of floral scents with a full, almost dense mouth feel. Luscious is the word for it.
These four Spätlese wines offer different degrees of sweetness, different tastes, different experiences, and yet they have much in common. All are well-made, all are low in alcohol, all sell for $20 or less, and most important, all offer memorably good taste.
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