A few weeks ago a sample box containing two bottles of wine showed up at my house. I never have high hopes when opening these things, but this one contained quite a treat - a bottle of 2008 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, about $50, Terry Theise Selections. It wasn't Theise or Skurnik who sent the samples, it was a group called Destination Riesling (and I originally mis-identified them as Rieslings of Europe).
I don't have a lot of experience drinking German Riesling, and if I were going to buy a Dönnhoff wine to experiment with, I would begin by reading a bit - perhaps Lyle's blog. And I definitely would have started with something a lot less expensive. Heck, I don't even know the Dönnhoff line-up, and whether or not this is one of the top sites. So I called my Riesling lovin' pal Dan Melia and he told me that this is indeed one of Dönnhoff's top wines, and that this particular bottle, the 2008, was actually his favorite wine during a recent visit to the Dönnhoff estate.
Nice! I should tuck this away for a decade or more and one day it will be brilliant. But wait a minute...Wouldn't that be kind of silly, in this case? First of all, it is a sample, and meant for me to drink in the near term, not a decade from now. Also, if I don't understand the wine when it's young, what will I gain from drinking it when it's more mature, or "better" than it is now? There would be nothing to compare it to. So I decided to drink the wine, and the only question was when.
And then on a recent evening, without a whole lot in the fridge, I made a simple dinner that is a monthly staple in our house - firm tofu with celery, carrot, and onion in fiery hot chili and fermented soybean sauce. We had no beer, which is probably best with this dish. But we did have a great young bottle of Spätlese Riesling.
What can I say - the wine was absolutely delicious. Such clarity, such a harmonious package of aromas and flavors. And although there have to be 80 grams of residual sugar here, and the alcohol is only 8.5%, this wine drinks as though it is dry. What I mean is that the sensation is not one of sweetness, although it is a sweet wine. It is balanced perfectly by acidity and feels lush and ripe, energetic. And I loved how on day 2 the wine showed a complex brown baking spices and earthy tone.
I was thinking about drinking this wine young, and wondering what I missed out on by not waiting. I remembered talking with Dan about this, and something very interesting that he said (which I will now present as a direct quote, when in fact I am paraphrasing):
Neil, let me begin by saying how much I like that shirt you're wearing. Now, about Riesling...I think that you sacrifice less when you drink Riesling young than you do with any other grape. Of course good Riesling changes a lot as it ages - the fruit recedes a bit, the sweetness recedes a bit, the specific mineral and soil character becomes more prominent. But good Riesling is delicious young, and there's nothing wrong with drinking it that way. It's not like a lot of other wines that can be closed or hard when young. It's a personal preference thing. There is no best time to drink good Riesling, and I hesitate to answer when people ask me to tell them the prime drinking window for a certain wine. It really depends on how you like your Riesling.I would be tempted to dismiss this as typical wine business clap-trap that urges me to drink wine quickly, so then I of course have to buy more wine. But Dan bears no resemblance to the people who adopt that strategy in answering wine questions. This was his thoughtful response, before I drank the wine, when I asked him when I should drink it. It's an interesting idea - Riesling as great wine for young drinking in terms of minimal sacrifice.