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Poor years will come good!

Besides clearly being a pleasurable experience, tasting old wines also gives us a chance to put notions of good and bad years into perspective. Riesling in particular is never short of pleasant surprises!

Anything to do with the good old days is often associated with nostalgia. There’s always an element of this when opening an old bottle of wine. However, it’s combined with real excitement, as this particular brand of time travel is always a thrilling experience! 

We’ve selected four wines for this issue – three Rieslings and a Pinot Noir. The youngest was harvested in 2014 (Wintrange Felsberg Riesling by Henri Ruppert) and the other three wines were produced before 2010 (the 2008 Remich Primerberg Privilège Riesling from Domaine L&R Kox, 2008 Ehnen Kelterberg Pinot Noir from the Kohll-Reuland estate, and 2009 Palmberg Riesling from Caves Berna).

Once again, the main takeaway from this tasting is that wines produced from the finest terroirs have great ageing potential. None of the wines opened for this section of the magazine have ever shown any defects. On the contrary, age adds a new dimension to the wine. For example, Rieslings’ expression of their terroirs’ minerality gets even better with age. The three wines produced from this grape variety showed great finesse, purity and depth. Each one was a delight in its own unique way! As for the Pinot Noir, the wine’s breadth and the finesse of its tannins were remarkable.

It was also very interesting to note that the relevance of perceptions regarding good or poor years is ultimately relative. For instance, 2008 bore all the hallmarks of an awful year and 2014 was not much better due to variable weather. However, a wet summer is not prohibitive for grape varieties that ripen late. And ultimately, Riesling wines can benefit significantly from just-ripe grapes with moderate sugar levels. Although sure to be somewhat sharp in their early years, with time, they can develop outstanding finesse. With no help from the weather, the results are all down to the winemakers’ efforts, so hats off to them!

Domaine Laurent et Rita Kox (Remich), 2008 Remich Primerberg Privilège Riesling.

Laurent and Corinne Kox: “We harvested this Riesling late in the year on 22 October. Although it rained heavily in August, the weather fortunately improved in September. We put whole grapes into the press along with their stalks to increase the tannins and reduce the acidity, which was fairly high in these grapes. Their sugar levels were 82 degrees Oechsle. These concentrations have consistently been higher ever since due to climate change. I remember this acidity initially jarring a little, but it has completely changed now. While there is still some acidity, it is positive as we have managed to control it. The nose is mineral with a hint of petrol. It is broad in the mouth, pleasantly enhanced by this acid structure. Some of the fruit has disappeared, leaving the terroir’s full minerality. It’s only by tasting vintages like this one that you realise that “less ripe years” are not necessarily a bad thing for Riesling. We have kept some stock, which is now on sale (€12.75 per bottle). We have since offered it to our customers on a few occasions in blind tasting sessions. Because it seems much younger, they never believe us when we tell them it’s a 2008 vintage – we have to show them the bottle!”

Domaine Henri Ruppert (Schengen), 2014 Wintrange Felsberg Riesling

Henri Ruppert: “This year was actually fairly average. It wasn’t what you would call a great year in any case! However, since Riesling is a variety that ripens later than others, we carry out staggered harvesting. So, a generally average year can still turn out well. I wasn’t convinced at the time though. I didn’t like it – it was too conventional, even though Felsberg is a very fine terroir. With whole blocks of gypsum mixed in with the very heavy Keuper marl, it’s difficult to cultivate, but gives excellent results, with wines that offer fantastic ageing potential. This Riesling has clearly improved over time. Its nose is slightly petrol, but within acceptable limits. In the mouth, the sugar/acid balance is very good. The wine is very expressive and well-balanced … so I was wrong to write off so soon!”

Caves Berna (Ahn), 2009 Palmberg Riesling

Marc Berna: “It was a hot year and the Rieslings were very ripe, but there was absolutely no botrytis. I was in my last year at school for this vintage. I managed half the harvest and my father took care of the rest. At the time, we wondered whether we’d have problems with a lack of acidity due to the grapes being very ripe. However, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that there’s so much acidity left after 11 years! Its nose is fresh and not excessively petrol as is sometimes the case with old Rieslings. It is even finer in the mouth and has developed very positively. It is still very dynamic and very lively. In my view, it doesn’t show its age at all. You have to admit, this terroir is outstanding!”

Domaine Kohll-Reuland (Ehnen), 2008 Ehnen Kelterberg Pinot Noir

Frank Keyser: “Although it wasn’t a perfect year, we had a good harvest of Pinot Noir. To make this Ehnen Kelterberg, I separated the juice from different parcels and three different wines went into the barrel. It’s really good now in my view! It has a very fine nose of red fruit. It is pure in the mouth and delicate yet powerful. It’s one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve made, although I suspected it would age quite well when I harvested it! While tidying my cellar during lockdown, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few bottles. I’m going to enjoy drinking them!”

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