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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

Comments (6)

Patrick wrote:
07.02.09 at 9:28 AM

I've participated in two of Theise's tasting and his wines and musings are incomparable. His name is one of the few I trust when I see a new wine in a store. I look forward to buying the '08s - thanks for the post!

german wine guy wrote:
07.02.09 at 10:31 AM

I spent 2 weeks in Germany in April and visited 25 estates, tasting their complete 2008 line-up...Weil, Kessler, Donnhoff, Schonborn, Haag, Prum...to name just a few. In addition, I attended the Mainz VDP tasting, where there were nearly 150 producers pouring their wines. I wouldnt say the 2008 vintage is "heralded" by too many producers. Most would call it "classic" or similar to the 2004 vintage, which is just now starting to drink well. Overall, I found the wines to be challenging due to very high acidity and rather one dimensional right now, perhaps in a few years they will soften out and be more approachable. Some estates in the Ruwar, Saar, Rheinhessen and Mittelrhein were able to find some ripe fruit, but over all a challenging vintage for the lower and middle Mosel. There is mostly Kabinett and Spätlese Pradikat level wines, a few Auslese and very little BA or TBA...but, look out for the Eisweins, this is the first vintage since 2004 that looks to be promising for these wines.

If I had money to burn, I would continue to buy the 07's.

-Victor- wrote:
07.02.09 at 9:23 PM

Hello Alder

Last night we did a Tasting with Terry here at the Pitcher Inn in Warren, Vermont which was the last stop of his 10 day US tour which you must of been the beginning of. I think Terry Theise is one of the most forward thinking importer/writers/wine poets of our times. His portfolio is pure, inspired and his writings are a must read for anyone in the trade. From a sommelier's perspective I can't think of three categories that are more food friendly ~ German Reisling, Austria and Champagne, so it was with great anticipation that I finally got to meet this 'rock star' of the wine world and hear his interpretation of the wines and producers in this intimate setting.

This is the quote that I most remember from the tasting:

"The vineyard is a being whose life is as important as our life"

Sante !
-V

Dylan wrote:
07.03.09 at 8:15 AM

Your posts serves as my introduction to Terry Theise. What he seems to escape is the curse of knowledge. It's a matter of experience that we lose touch with the communicated simplicity of a specific discipline--so much that, when it comes time to speak to a beginner, your knowledge proves unable to be shared. And, really, what's the point of having all this expertise if you don't know how to bring it back to its most understandable and relatable form? It is because you love your craft that it is imperative to avoid that curse of knowledge. What you know is meant to be shared, and understood, by everyone.

cj wrote:
07.08.09 at 4:26 AM

Wow... writing from Germany I must admit the above list is a good mix between (re)known and unknown Wineries.... Particularily liked to see Meulenhof and Weegmüller in there ... Mind you - of the 40.000 wineries in Germany only 200 are members of the VDP, and thus known and talked of around the world ! Concerning the vintages ... Please keep in mind that it is a connection of acidity and ripeness that makes a good vintage in Germany. Thus, without the help of chemistry 2008 as well as 2006 would have been Of-Vintages. The Great Vintages to look out for from the last decade are : 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2007 ... 2003 - as in the rest of Europe to hot, 2005 - simmilar but perfect for reds ( and german reds are getting better and better ) 2006 - strong infection of rot, which took down acidity considerably and 2008 - which in some cases did not get the time to ripen .... Mind you - no known producer will admit to this until the vintage has been sold ;-))))

07.10.09 at 1:17 PM

I love that you call Terry Theise the "Shakespeare of Terroir." I'm reading both his 2008 & 2009 Austrian Estate Selections now as part of my project with the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, and subsequently Vin Divino. All I can say is that this talented man can certainly write good, effective, entertaining, smart and snappy wine prose. He has, on more than one occasion, made me smile or chuckle out loud while reading his tasting notes. I like best that he, as some of the kids like to say, "keeps it real."

It's great to know that others feel the same way about him and even consider him to be the "rock star" of wine. This is exactly how I am beginning to view him.

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