Two of this month’s tastings were of mature fine wines, at the Naval Club, Mayfair, both led by Jeffrey Benson, of wines from his cellars.
One was of Beerenauslese and Eiswein special sweet white wines, the youngest from 1982 and the oldest from 1971. We tasted six Beerenauslese wines from Germany, and one Beerenauslese and one Eiswein from Austria. Both types of wine can be produced only in small quantities dependent on appropriate weather conditions, and they take an immense amount of effort and care to make, reflected in their prices.
Beerenauslese is a German classification for wines, according to the ripeness level and sugar content, with one of the highest grades of natural sweetness, made from the ripest grapes individually selected, and harvested late. The grapes are normally affected by the fungus botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, under particular climatic conditions of humidity. which attacks healthy grapes, thins their skins and causes water to evaporate, which further concentrates their high sugars.
For Eiswein, the grapes are left to freeze on the vine long after they would normally be harvested, and picked and pressed frozen. Unlike the water, the sugar in the wine does not freeze, which makes for a very concentrated sweet wine. As the grapes are not generally affected by botrytis, the wine has a refreshing acidic character.
Only one wine was made from Riesling. Apart from Traminer, other grapes used were much less familiar, often created from crossings made in Germany during the last century: Bacchus, Ehrenfelser, Optima, Ortega, Scheurebe, Neuburger, Huxelreise.
There were a couple of wines beyond their peak, although still drinkable. In this kind of tasting, that is only to be expected, and the others more than compensated.
One star was the oldest, the 1971 Wehlener Abtei Beerenauslese, from the Mosel, which had sweetness and acidity, and would be a wonderful aperitif. Others which stood out included the 1979 Niersteiner Spielberg Beerenauslese, produced by Strub, from Rheinhessen. This wine tasted excellent and was well balanced. The Austrian 1976 Podersdorfer Traminer Bouvier Neuburger Beerenauslese was delicious: complex, with good botrytis and richly honeyed.
The 1978 Monchhofer Himmelsjoch Eiswein had a rich bouquet, but was not as complex on the palate as other wines.
The other tasting to note this month was Red Burgundies from the 1980s.
- two Volnays: 1988 from Joseph Drouhin and 1987 1er Cru ‘Santenots’ Tête de Cuvée – Remoissenet;
- 1987 Beaune 1er Cru ‘Les Marconnets’ Tête de Cuvée – Remoissenet;
- 1985 Gevrey Chambertin – Doudet Naudin;
- Three wines from 1983: Chambolle Musigny – Chantal Lescure; Beaune 1er Cru ‘Toussaints’ Tête de Cuvée – Remoissenet; and one from Joseph Drouhin;
- 1982 Côtes De Nuits Villages – Lucien Boillot.
These tastings were both great opportunities for us to evaluate and compare mature fine wines that we would not otherwise have had the chance of doing.