Riesling tasting at The Mark - Printable Version

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- Scoop - 08-25-1999 10:54 AM

Every August The Mark Hotel in Manhattan puts on a Summer Riesling Festival, offering a large number of Rieslings (115 this year) from all over the world by the glass and in 2 oz tastings. Prices (especially the tastings) are pretty reasonable, and it's great for designing comparative flights between regions, styles or "Praedikats".

A member of my tasting group knows (and sells wine) to The Mark's Riesling ringleader, MS Richard Dean, so when we chose to focus on said variety at our next tasting, he suggested a field trip to The Mark.

We sampled 10 wines chosen by Dean (7 Rieslings, 2 blends and one Silvaner), focusing mainly on the somewhat maligned Rheinhessen region, Germany's largest "Anbaugebiet" primarily known for "Liebfraumilch". Several were from a single producer, the reputable Heyl zu Herrenheim. We also tasted an Alsatian, an Autrian and a "Pfaelzer" for contrast.

Some consensus highlights follow:

Heyl Silvaner, Rheinhessen, 1997: Thrown in for fun. A clean, pronounced mineral nose with surprising hints of store ground coffee as it opened. Bone dry, almost fino sherry-like, with brisk acidity, mineral notes and almost zero fruit. Nice medium finish. Very quirky, but works as an aperitif.

Dr. Burklin Wolf Deidesheimer Kabinett Trocken, Pfalz, 1997: Beautiful floral (rose petals, grand ma's talcum powder)nose with some background melon and orange peel. Dry with high acidity (food please!), light body and low alcohol. Grapefruit peel and lemon flavors lead into a long, soft finish. Very good quality, drinking now.

Heyl Niersteiner Pettental Spaetlese Halbtrocken, Rheinhessen, 1997: Incredible petrol nose -- pure stove gas! --along with a flor-like quality (back to fino again!). Off dry, with crisp acidity, medium body and a palate completely disconnected to the nose: candied fruit, reminiscent of pineapple and lime Lifesavers. Long finish. Bizarre but compelling wine.

Paul Blanck "Rosenbourg" 1994, Alsace: While all the wines tasted had some notable and unique qualities, this was the complete, balanced package: pale gold, with a tropical fruit (mango, pineapple) nose, underpinned by slate and light petrol elements. Dry and crisp, palate like the nose, medium body and a long mineral finish. Beautiful.

Valckenberg "Madonna" Beerenauslese, Rheinhessen, 1995 (Riesling/Silvaner blend): Solid gold color to the rim, full of honey and apricots on the nose (and, yes, a touch of brine). Very sweet, of course, but balanced with good (high) acidity. Full of candied pineapple and honeycomb flavors; definitely some botrytis at work. Full-bodied and a long, long finish. Actual alcohol 8.5%; potential alcohol: out of the ballpark!

Great tasting overall, once again confirming the grape's incredible versatility.


C. Matthews

- Thomas - 08-25-1999 01:14 PM

Nice idea, a Riesling tasting of wines from all over the world. Any Finger Lakes wines represented?

- Scoop - 08-25-1999 01:42 PM

There were no Finger Lake(FL) wines among the 10 we sampled, but there are 8 on The Mark's Summer Riesling Festival list, including 5 from Hermann Wiemer Vineyards (dry, 1995 and 1997; semi-dry 1995; late harvest 1995; and bunch late harvest 1987, at $17.50 a glass!) 1 from Standing Stone Vineyards, 1 from Dr. Konstantin Frank and 1 from McGregor Vineyard.

I've also noticed more FL late harvest Rieslings popping up on NYC restaurant wine lists.

Another FL winery (I don't recall which one)has appeared at the Union Square Green Market on Saturdays -- with late harvest Rieslings. Next time they are there, I'll pick up one to sample.


- Randy Caparoso - 08-26-1999 11:24 PM

Very good tasting of some interesting and unusual stuff. The Mark, and Richard Dean MS, are certainly to be commended.

Just so you know, I visited Heyl (or, Weingut "Freiherr Heyl zu Herrnsheim") last month. As you pointed out, an unusual approach to German style wine. What they do is make an extremely concerted effort to showcase the strongly stony, almost iron-like, red slate qualities of the famous Niersteiner terroir. Part of their regime involves fermentation and extended aging in 1200 liter, old oak casks (about 7 months). Plus, even their non-Trocken and non-Halbtrocken Spatlesen are fermented to near dryness -- a far cry from the Mosel and the rest of the Rhine.

In a tasting led by director Markus Ahr, I found that same '97 Pettental Spatlese Halbtrocken that you tasted to have almost a barbecued smoky/flintiness, overshadowing the Riesling's floral and fusel characteristics, and carrying through a dry, lean, grapefruity finish. Like I said, quite unlike the gentle, feminine style you find even in most parts of the Rheinhessen. The regular '97 Pettental Riesling Spatlese was even more surprising -- smoky, fullish, nearly dry, grapefruity tart, but oily and viscous on the palate.

Heyl considers their Nierstein Brudersberg Riesling to be their "grand cru" or "1st growth." Their '97 QbA Brudersberg is (shockingly) almost Loire-like in its earthiness and firmness -- minerally, flinty tones, only mildly floral, and dry and glycerol textured. A wine for chevre, not seafood! And as such, strictly for those who are looking for something a bit beyond what is usually found in German style Reisling.

I also visited the Pfalz, by the way. My conclusion? For what it's worth, although I find Dr. Burklin-Wolf to be interesting, I found the wines of Baron von Bassermann-Jordan to be fresher, livelier, and more contemporary in style (lots of lush, almost exotic fruit -- even in their Trockens and Halbtrockens!) across the board; and the wines of Weingut von Buhl to be a little leaner, but zestier and purer in Riesling fruit qualities.

- Scoop - 09-01-1999 09:45 AM

Thanks for the information on Heyl. Having tasted 5 Heyl wines in total at the tasting, I certainly would have liked to have been along for the visit to the winery. Next time I'm anywhere close to Rheinhessen, I'll stop by. A very unique and individualistic producer.

We also tasted the regular Heyl '97 Pettental Riesling Spaetlese, which I did not describe, but found to be compelling as well, very much in line with your description. Regarding the Pettental Spaetlese Halbtrocken, we all were amazed by the "stove gas" quality that dominated the nose. That was the best decriptor. Some of the wines we sampled had already been opened for some time, however, which might explain the difference between our notes. Otherwise, our "stove gas" might have been your "barbecued smoky/flintiness". It definitely had some citrus/grapefruity elements, as you noted.

I'll also look for the Pfalz wines you suggested. Are they widely distributed?


C. Matthews

- Bucko - 09-01-1999 06:36 PM

Richard Dean is a nice fellow - used to know him when he was in Hawaii at The Secret, which has since changed hands and name.


- Randy Caparoso - 09-03-1999 08:25 PM

Oh, yes -- both Bassermann-Jordan and von Buhl are as famous and well distributed as Burklin-Wolf (although admittedly, not quite so strongly in New York City in particular). The U.S. importer for the two said producers is Cellars International, operated by Rudi Wiest (who has one of the finest German wine palates and minds in the world).