Fall Wines In Germany — Step Up For The Spätlese

Spätlese wines are yet another of German’s happy accidents.

The vintage as a class was born in 1775 at the famous Schloss Johannisberg winery, when the harvest was unfortunately delayed by about two weeks — legend has it the field master had been kidnapped, and they couldn’t start until his release. The grapes were harvested reluctantly, and no one thought the wine would amount to much.

With low expectations, the first wine was tasted… and now they deliberately pick the grapes late!

Spätlese, which simply means “late harvest,” was such an instant hit that just three years later it was being handed out to visiting nobles and royalty as a gift. Thomas Jefferson raved so much about his 1778 bottles that the wine became the new American must-have vintage.

Spätlese, my personal favorite of all German wines, has several specific characteristics that make it unique and pleasant to drink. Since the grapes are fully ripened when they are picked, they give a fuller body and more intense flavor than other German wines like Riesling or Kabinett. The wine is also known for its long finish and pleasant aroma.

Available as semi-sweet, Spätlese wines are forbidden by law from being artificially sweetened. The quality of the vintage depends very much on the soil and the weather of each season. 2007 and 2008 were very good years, and the early tests on the 2009 grapes has vintners very excited about the potential of this year’s harvest.

You should be excited, too. Spätlese wines are excellent food pairings, especially with seafood dishes and spicy dishes. The complexity of the flavors with the long finish of the wine really enriches a meal.

Spätlese wines are meant to be enjoyed, rather than stored away for decades. You age a Spätlese for 3 -10 years, but they do peak at a relatively young age. Therefore, why wait to open a bottle? :-)

If you’d like recommendations, Terry Theise, one of the wine worlds leading sommelier’s, gave the 2008 Müller-Catoir Mandelring Scheurebe Spätlese (~$60 USD) a near perfect score. Other German wine houses making good quality Spätlese include Dönnhoff, Meulenhof Erdener, and Leitz Rüdesheimer.

—Marcus

 

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