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07.01.2009

The Joy of Spätlese: Tasting the 2008 German and Austrian Vintage from Terry Theise

theise_cover_09.jpgThe wine world needs more people like Terry Theise, the man I call the Shakespeare of Terroir.

It's so easy to get caught up in the stuffy, over-intellectualized world of wine geekery, where people endlessly debate the smallest aspects of winemaking or vintage ratings. All of us who spend enough time talking, thinking, and reading about wine get sucked into that world occasionally. But I find myself attracted to those who fall into that trap with the least regularity.

As luck would have it, there are several simple cures for me readily at hand whenever I forget that wine is first and foremost, fun. One of them arrives in two volumes every year with the name Terry Theise boldly printed across the top, usually accompanied by a pretty picture.

Theise is one of the genius-fools of the wine world, who despite their immense knowledge and experience, manage to talk and write and think about wine with the boundless and pretensionless enthusiasm of a beginner. Picking up a Theise catalog is like opening one of the crazy manifestos that some Berkeley radicals mimeographed and sold in independent bookstores in the Sixties. Part rant, part poetry, part reference manual, and part literature, Theise's catalogs are simply a hoot.

Case in point, one of my favorite of his many descriptions of terroir:

"Soil...is a wine's DNA. It is the fundamental building block of that wine's identity. Elvis is Elvis. Some years it rained and he was thin Elvis; some years it was hot and he was fat Elvis. He was sometimes drunk Elvis, sometimes sleepy Elvis, or cornball, sleazy, charismatic or horny Elvis. In fact it's safe to say that he was every imaginable variety of Elvis his temperament could contrive. But always, he was Elvis."

Theise is madly passionately in love with wine and it shows in everything he writes -- he may well be my favorite wine writer, and he doesn't even get paid for it.

Theise has been bringing German and Austrian wine (and Champagne) to the States since... well, it seems like since before time immemorial. I actually don't know exactly when he started doing his thing, but his name has become synonymous with the highest quality wines from both countries. It is not fair to compare two unique and talented individuals, but a shorthand that helps me explain Theise to some people often suggests that he's the Kermit Lynch of Germany and Austria.

Now, about the wines.

I had a chance to attend a tasting on Monday of many of his selections from the much heralded 2008 vintage. Now, I haven't been carefully following vintages in Germany and Austria for many years years, so you'll have to take my commentary on the vintage as a whole with a grain of salt and look elsewhere for authoritative pronunciations of the soundness of the year. Having said that, 2008 pretty much looks like it rocks across the board. The wines are rich, bold, and have a depth to them that is quite striking.

Sadly I was time pressured at this tasting so I didn't get to taste everything I wanted to -- I tried to focus on the Kabinett and Spätlese wines, as those tend to be what I drink, and I threw in some Gruner Veltiners and an occasional Scheurebe just for fun.

As usual with these wines, some of my favorites are really smashing deals, and if I didn't have to buy new brakes for my car, I'd be plunking down for a couple of cases of this stuff. Yummy!

Enjoy.


Austria

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2007 Bründlmayer Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein, Kamptal, Austria. $43. Where to buy?
2007 Bründlmayer Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein "Lyra", Kamptal, Austria. $40. Where to buy?

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2008 Alzinger Riesling Hollerin Smaragd, Wachau, Austria. $65
2008 Bründlmayer Riesling "Kamptaler Terrassen", Kamptal, Austria. $28
2007 Bründlmayer Riesling Steinmassel, Kamptal, Austria. $39
2008 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner Heiligenstein, Kremstal, Austria. $28
2007 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner Lamm, Kremstal, Austria. $54
2007 Hirsch Riesling Heiligenstein, Kremstal, Austria. $54
2008 Salomon Undhof Riesling Pfaffenberg, Kremstal, Austria. $20

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2007 Hirsch Riesling Gaisberg, Kremstal, Austria. $52
2007 Nikolaihof Riesling Vom Stein Smaragd, Wachau, Austria. $80
2008 Salomon Undhof Sal'mon Riesling, Kremstal, Austria. $21
2008 Salomon Undhof Riesling Kögl, Kremstal, Austria. $28
2008 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Renner, Kremstal, Austria. $41
2008 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Gaisberg, Kremstal, Austria. $39

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Hirsch Riesling Zöbing, Kremstal, Austria. $28
2008 Nigl Riesling Kremsleiten, Kremstal, Austria. $45
2008 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Steinsetz, Kremstal, Austria. $30
2008 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling "Gobelsburger", Kremstal, Austria. $21
2008 Schwarzböck Riesling Pöcken, Weinviertel, Austria. $23
2008 Setzer Grüner Veltliner "8000", Weinviertel, Austria. $49
2008 Setzer Riesling, Weinviertel, Austria. $30

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2008 Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit, Kremstal, Austria. $23
2008 Nigl Grüner Veltliner "Privat", Kremstal, Austria. $54
2008 Nigl Riesling Senftenberger Piri, Kremstal, Austria. $45

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2008 Heidi Schröck Furmint,, Austria. $26
2008 Nikolaihof Riesling Vom Stein Federspiel, Wachau, Austria. $43

Germany

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
2008 Müller-Catoir Mandelring Scheurebe Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany. $60.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2008 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany. $69. Where to buy?
2008 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. $24.
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Dautenpflänzer Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany. $30. Where to buy?
2008 Leitz Rüdesheimer Klosterlay Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau, Germany. $21. Where to buy?
2008 Leitz Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese, Rheingau, Germany. $24.
2008 Meulenhof Erdener Prälat Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $26.
2008 Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese* Alte Reben, Mosel, Germany. $26.
2008 Müller-Catoir Mussbach Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany. $39. Where to buy?
2008 Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany. $60. Where to buy?
2008 Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Spätlese, Rheinhessen, Germany. $26.
2008 Wagner-Stempel Siefersheimer Höllberg Riesling Spätlese, Rheinhessen, Germany. $45.
2008 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #10, Mosel, Germany. $41. Where to buy?

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2008 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany. $50
2008 Dönnhoff Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany. $64
2008 Gysler Weinheimer Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany. $21
2008 Kerpen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $29
2008 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese* Artist Label, Mosel, Germany. $34
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Pittersberg Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany. $31
2008 Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Spätlese, Rheingau, Germany. $39
2008 Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. $21
2008 Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese*, Mosel, Germany. $26
2007 Minges Burrweiler Schlossgarten Riesling Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany. $30
2008 Müller-Catoir Herrenletten Riesling Spätlese trocken,, Germany. $60
2008 Reuscher-Haart Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese #10, Mosel, Germany. $26
2008 Reuscher-Haart Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese #12, Mosel, Germany. $26
2008 Schmitt-Wagner Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $28
2008 Strub Niersteiner Brückchen Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany. $21
2008 von Othegraven (Saar) Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Spätlese Erste Lage, Mosel, Germany. $50
2008 Weegmüller Haardter Herrenletten Scheurebe Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany. $36

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2008 Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany. $31
2008 Eugen Müller Forster Kirchenstück Riesling Spätlese trocken "Cyriakus",, Germany. $40
2008 Eugen Müller Forster Pechstein Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken "Terra Cara",, Germany. $23
2008 Geil Bechtheimer Geyersberg Riesling Spätlese, Rheinhessen, Germany. $24
2008 Kerpen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett feinherb Artist Label, Mosel, Germany. $25
2008 Kerpen Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $29
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Scheurebe Kabinett, Nahe, Germany. $23
2007 Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany. $24
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Binger Scharlachberg Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany. $31
2008 Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling trocken "Alte Reben", Rheingau, Germany. $56
2008 Leitz Dragonstone Riesling, Rheingau, Germany. $19
2008 Loewen Leiwener Laurentiuslay Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $33
2008 Loewen Thörnicher Ritsch Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $33
2008 Messmer Burrweiler Schäwer Riesling Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany. $43
2008 Meulenhof Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $24
2008 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling "Rotlay", Mosel, Germany. $23
2008 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling "Schmitt", Mosel, Germany. $23
2008 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese "Anrecht", Mosel, Germany. $31
2008 Weingart Schloss Fürstenberg Riesling Kabinett, Mittelrhein, Germany. $26

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Dönnhoff Estate Riesling, Nahe, Germany. $25
2008 Eugen Müller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany. $20
2008 Kerpen Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese trocken, Mosel, Germany. $30
2008 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. $26
2008 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $31

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2008 Biffar Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany. $24
2008 Geil Bechtheimer Rosengarten Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany. $18
2008 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany. $36
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Scheurebe trocken, Nahe, Germany. $23
2008 Leitz Eins Zwei Dry "3", Rheingau, Germany. $17
2008 Weegmüller Haardter Bürgergarten Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany. $25

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Scharlachberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs, Nahe, Germany. $26
2008 Kruger-Rumpf Riesling halbtrocken, Nahe, Germany. $23
2008 Messmer Riesling halbtrocken, Pfalz, Germany. $19

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2008 Bernhard Hackenheimer Kirchberg Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany. $22
2008 Weegmüller Cuvée Fleur, Pfalz, Germany. $24

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