Weingut Darting, Dürkheimer Hochbenn, Muskateller Eiswein, 1999
"Torsten and Julian have this wine blog, and they mostly review sweet wines." This is how a friend introduced the Wine Rambler at a dinner party - much to my surprise as sweet wines make up only a relatively small amount of our wine reviews: not even 1/6 and even with the off-dry ones added we don't quite come to 2/7. Perhaps my outspoken love for Mosel Riesling (which tends to be off-dry or sweet) contributed to this image, or it is just the general perception that German wine is sweet. Instead of fighting this cliché today I shall give in to it. Let's not just drink sweet, let's indulge in sweet.
Ladies and Gentlemen, friends of sweetness and sugar hounds, I give you an ice wine from the Pfalz.
Until freezers and the Canadians came along, ice wine used to be a German and Austrian speciality. The easy, cheating way of making ice wine is putting the grapes into the freezer, but this is not legal in Germany. Instead vintners have to leave the grapes on the vines until they freeze (temperatures around -7C are needed) and then harvest - usually in the early hours of the morning, before it gets too warm again. This means that real ice wine is a rarity. First of all vintners have to be brave enough to leave grapes on the vines for so long, risking to lose everything if the weather does not conform; and even if it does only a small fraction of the grapes survive long enough. Those that do are highly concentrated anyway and with the little water left in them frozen the juice you can squeeze out immediately after the harvest is pure concentrated sugar delight - and a good dosage of acidity to balance the sugar.
That's what the people of the Darting winery produced in 1999, or perhaps in 2000 (sometimes you have to wait until after Christmas to harvest ice wine). And what they produced is a real treat. The colour is a clear, almost metallic-brown orange - more like a sherry yet very lively looking. The wine also has the most fantastic aromas: intense fruit that is not overpowering but still subtle; passion fruit, tangerine and cooked baking apples meet raisin, resin, apple blossom and elderflower. This ice wine is not made from Riesling but from Muskateller, or Muscat, and the resulting elderflower aromas are just lovely. The bouquet blends intensity and elegance in such a lovely way I was satisfied just to smell it for a long time before I could eventually get into drinking it. If you are on a diet or don't drink alcohol it would be perfectly fine in my opinion just to indulge in the aromas without swallowing the smallest drop - the bouquet is that good.
Thankfully the flavours are also excellent. "Nectar harmony" is top of my tasting notes and in a way that is all that needs saying. As that would be too short to do the wine justice let's add a few more words straight from my notes: "apple; sweetness; very fresh; not cloying or very heavy; elegance and balance; honeysuckle; fresh and clean; very round and nicely aged in the sense of rounded, but not at all old, no hint of "bad" age; resin; caramel; tangerine; purity of ice; touch of subtle smoked wood; nectarine; leaves you with the most tasty lips you can imagine; fabulous!"
These is word for word what I wrote down about the contents of this half bottle which I enjoyed over three days. Usually the very sweet wines improve with a little air but this one did not noticeably change over three days, indicating that it has just reached its prime and is now ready to be enjoyed. It is a prime example of how I like my sweet wines - intense, flavoursome yet not cloying. There are sweet wines that have more ageing potential than this Muscat or perhaps a little more brilliance but at the moment when I drank it it came very close to sweet wine perfection. If all sweet wines were as good I could happily see us doing what my friend thinks we do - drink mostly sweet.
comment to your blog post
Another interesting post Torsten.
Yes, unfortunately it's true that many uneducated people & wine lovers associate all German wine with sweet & cloying. Which is probably a result of the over hyping and promotion of the infamous Liebfraumilch wine and its popularity and then decline and most people's aversion to it.
We have made great strides of progress over the past 30 plus years in getting away from mainly doing sweet wine, but alas old stereotypes die hard. But its great to see you posting about eiswein, yes its not a Canadian things as many people would think and I believe we can hold our own against the Canadians and others doing eiswein.
I hope I can find a bottle where I am and I looking forward to reading your posts again soon.
In reply to comment to your blog post by S.M.
perceptions and ice wine
Many thanks for your kind comment, Solomon. In the UK you can see the effects that Liebfraumilch and other cheap German bulk wines have had on perception - changing this has become something like a mission for me, although I am of course aware that we will need a little more impact than one blog can generate to change this. Still it is encouraging to see that over the last few years the wine trade has become more interested and slowly this will trickle down to the consumer. The only thing we have to make sure that over the message of how good German dry wines are we don't forget that the sweet wines aren't bad either - but with wines as good as this Eiswein or good Riesling Auslese I am not too concerned about that.
Good luck finding the Eiswein - I would be surprised if they produced much of it!