James Millton has been a big hero of mine ever since I tried one of his aged chenin blancs. He's a biodynamic producer, and is the only winegrower from New Zealand who is a chartered member of Nicholas Joly's Renaissance. James Millton and his wife Annie make a series of wines, and they also have a line of grape juices too.
Millton "Te Arai Vineyard" 2007 (Gisborne, New Zealand)
This is the 2007 Te Arai vineyard chenin blanc; dark yellow (almost gold!) in color, a rich aroma and dense palate, extremely well made with lots of soul. The first time I smelled this I knew I'd love these wines! This is right up there with some of the best chenin blancs I have tried from the Loire Valley. He gets complexity by hand-picking at three different ripening stages, so the wine has acidity, fruit, and often a hint of botrytis.
The Millton's make wines from four primary vineyards. Annie's parents planted the Opou vineyard in the 1960s, and in the early 1980s James and Annie set up their winery and planted their other three vineyards. They live and work at Te Arai vineyard (where this chenin blanc comes from). Since the beginning they have been pioneers, and they have stuck true to their beliefs. They were the first in New Zealand to be certified organic (through BioGro) and soon after the first in New Zealand to be certified biodynamic (through Demeter), and have become figureheads for this type of farming in their neck of the globe.
The Te Arai vineyard is green and thriving with life, from their biodynamic livestock herd to the healthy cover crops that grow between the vine rows.
Though Gisborne produces about 1/4 of New Zealand's wine, most of the wine goes towards inexpensive tablewines. It's quite surprising to find the oasis of the Millton's winery in the midst of all the large-production. Gisborne is a region that doesn't see much of the high-end global market compared to Marlborough, Martinborough, or Central Otago, but the Millton's have really showcased the potential of the entire region.
Gisborne wasn't always suitable for wine growing-- the Waipaoa River would unexpectedly flood, making agriculture a risky venture-- until a flood control program in 1953 helped control the river's instability. Despite the floods, there have been vines in the region since about 1850, when missionaries set up the first Gisborne vineyard.
Millton works with other varietals and makes high quality wines from viognier and the chardonnay (from Annie's parent's vineyard). These are fantastic wines, and I'm so glad that they are finally imported to the US again after a hiatus of a few years.
Millton also makes biodynamic, non-alcoholic grape juices from his vineyards. He has given advice to other grapegrowers who are also making organic juices from their vines, such as Oakencroft Farm.
The Millton's are special people-- not only have they helped to put New Zealand wines on the map by making their high quality wines, but they have helped lead & inspire-by-example with their successful organic and biodynamic farming philosophy. Gisborne is a moist climate, making it very difficult to grow wines organically there. If they can do it successfully there....
Cooper, Michael. (2002) Wine Atlas of New Zealand. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett. pp 122-127.
A few weeks ago I got to try this ghost from 1928, and it has haunted me ever since.
Though a 2-pronged cork screw or port tongs may have been the best tool for the job, I really feel more confident with my corkscrew with most older bottles-- I like the way that I can feel the composition and texture of the cork, and when you are pulling, you get a certain tactile feedback that helps you move it just right. To my own surprise, I removed it in one piece. It was conical-- full size at the top, and slightly shriveled were it had been in contact with the wine. The cork had practically petrified into a crumbly-clay material that reminded me of playdough left out too long.
This would be a crap shoot. We'd have one of three things: vinegar, something like madeira, or actual, drinkable wine. As soon as the cork came out, a lovely perfume wafted up from the bottle-- amazingly, the wine was still good. And it wasn't just good, it was amazing. The tertiary aromas were pretty intense, lots of mushroom, earth, that smell of cold and moldy castle walls that I associate with Bordeaux, and that slight oxidation from extreme age; and there was still some fruit... I was amazed that there were still these faint hints of fruit on the nose... The wine was a brick color, but still had some dark ruby in the core. It tasted mellowed and balanced-- the tannins, flavors, body, structure, and alcohol were all singing in harmony. The wine tasted incredible, lovely, and the shear emotional rush of drinking something this old was surreal; I thought back to the Roaring 20s and how during this era the top tiers of society were enjoying themselves and the prosperity of the USA, unaware of the looming global Great Depression that would be ushered into being on Black Tuesday. The wine was great, and I enjoyed it with the innocent, carefree enjoyment with which society enjoyed the Roaring 20s; and yet, like the looming Great Depression, there was a shadow of uncertainty hanging over the experience.
When dealing with relics as old as this there is always that burning question: is this real? Our industry is getting burned with counterfeit bottles-- I'll point specifically to two recent scandals: Hardy Rodenstock's possible fraud role in The Billionaire's Vinegar and Rudi Kurniawan's arrest. Counterfeit wine is an easy way to make a fast buck, because there is no sure-fire way to debunk a good fraud-- especially if it is fake wine in a legitimate bottle. You can taste it, you can suspect it might be a fake, but you'd have to pour thousands of dollars of testing into getting some evidence that might create a shadow of doubt. Furthermore, we are left to weigh the benefits of testing against the harms caused by what physicists refer to as The Observer Effect: through observation we alter the state of the observed. In our case, by flashing the bottle with X-rays or lights to glean data, we can actually destroy flavor elements in the wine. And so, tests are not regularly performed due to time, cost, and the fact that most tests would destroy the wine. To try and prevent fraud many high-end producers have gotten into the practice of, after a big dinner or wine event, watching the sommeliers break all of the empty bottles, to ensure they will not be re-filled with fake wine and sold on the black market.
I myself am skeptical by nature. Once a case of first growth I had ordered arrived with two different nail markings in the wood. (It had been opened and re-nailed). I made several calls right away and was assured it was only a customs thing. Then I took photos of the bottles and compared the labels and capsules to the same bottles that were in my friend's cellars. I check regularly to see which high end producers are taking anti-counterfeit measures, and I keep a list so I can look for these features when I order these bottles. I always compare the cork and bottle to ensure the information is the same. I track the provenance of older bottles, so I can be reasonably certain where they came from should anyone ask. I try to be as diligent and aware as possible about these issues, because authenticity is important. Wine is more than just the bottle to me-- it is a link to the producer, the land, and the year it was grown. To promise this experience to someone and have it be a lie simply takes the joy out being a sommelier. It's the difference between working with the artistic genius of someone like Oscar de la Renta, or selling bad fake Gucci knockoff bags out of a trash bag on Lexington Avenue. Selling authentic products is meaningful, fulfilling, and inspiring-- it puts you directly in touch with creative energy and passion. But when you knowingly sell knockoffs you surround yourself with darkness and filth-- it puts you directly in touch with people who are too lazy to use their own talents to do something meaningful with their life and who instead leach upon the hard work and efforts of others. I never want to be involved with a fake scandal-- you'd lose credibility as a sommelier.
But honestly, I don't have much experience with bottles this old. This was a pre-Depression bottle older than my grandparents; I knew a few markers to look out for on this old Latour, but I'm not sure that I'm qualified to verify with 100% certainty bottles from this era. The label and cork matched and appeared real, the age looked authentic and un-faked, the mold/dust crust on the cork seemed real, the shriveled cork seemed real, it smelled like Bordeaux, and I had a gut feeling that the wine tasted real as well. But who can ever know for sure?
And this brings into question the principles of pleasure. I enjoyed the wine very much-- should that be enough?
This is a question that all wine lovers will grapple with at some point in their love affair with the grape. And I think there is a different answer for each person, to be found in your own standards of aesthetic beauty. I used to think that what is in the glass is all that matters, but now, for me, what is in the glass is not enough. When I walk through the wine cellar, I don't even see bottles anymore-- I see all the people behind them, I see my friends, I think of how this bottle was his first vintage, and how she had to leave her father's estate to make the wine she really wanted, and what it felt like riding up the mountain in that back of that couple's pick-up truck to their vineyard. All of these things affect how I enjoy the wine, and why shouldn't they? I'll taste a smokey wine from a wildfire year and though I prefer the previous vintage, tasting this piece of history connects me in some way to those events in a special way. When I drink this one particular wine made by 9th generation winemakers who have vineyards on the Isonzo Pass, I can't help but marvel at how they kept their vineyards in tact during all the fighting that occurred there in WWI. For me it isn't just the wine, it is how the wine fits into the matrix of culture, history, and humanity, and this is what makes wine special to me. For me, each bottle is a piece of history and represents the unique individual philosophy of the winemaker. Once in a while I like blind tasting, but as an exercise to hone my palate. Sometimes I will blind taste and not find out what it was, and I feel disconnected from the experience. Who knows, maybe one day I will change my mind and only care about the aromas and tastes in the glass, but for now, that link to origin is too important for me to disregard.
Despite all the evidence pointing to the realness of this Latour, I'm still left wondering a small amount about the authenticity of my experience. It's funny- I never get this feeling when I drink old riesling, because I suspect that the profit opportunities for counterfeiting old riesling is just too small compared to Bordeaux for someone to take the risk. Also, I imagine it is more difficult to fake an old riesling than an old Bordeaux. This must be how any museum curator or antiques dealer feels every day-- making educated guesses but rarely entirely certain beyond a doubt of the provenance of their artifacts.
We are in the midst of great change when it comes to the labeling, taxonomy, and categorization of German wines. Back in 2007 I thought I was on top of my game when I diligently took note that QmPs would now be Prädikatsweins, and that Mosel-Saar-Ruwer would be shortened to just Mosel. But these changes seem small in comparison to the shaking up of the system that is occurring right now.
The way I see it (and there are multiple ways to see it), we have four different taxonomies that exist in tandem with one another, overlap, and at times compete:
 The Prädikat system (Kabinett-Spätlese-Auslese-Beerenauslese-Trockenbeerenauslese-Eiswein) emerged from centuries of history, tradition, and trial & error.
 The German Wine law of 1971 attempted to inscribe upon this a more defined and regulated regionality by decreasing the amount of Einzellagen (vineyards) and creating clearly defined Grosselagen (subregions).
 The VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter) is an association of growers founded in 1910. They have their own terroir-based philosophy and labeling system that once used Erstes Gewachs (first growths), Grosses Gewachs (great growths), and Erste Lagen (first positions) to categorize their top sites. They recently changed to using Grosse Lagen, Erste Lagen, Ortswein, and Gutswein to categorize. The VDP tends to (at least recently) value dry wine production.
 EU Regulations. Though not particularly pertinent to this article, all of these systems must assimilate with the overall EU regulations that distinguish between Table Wines (TW) and Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions (QWpsr).
The German Prädikat labeling system can be confusing to the uninitiated, but once you can read the labels the shear amount of information is incredible-- if only all wine labels could be so detailed and transparent! In comparison, lots of wine laws from many EU countries (usually to protect their finest wines) actually prohibit transparency and don't allow winemakers to include bits of information (year/place/grape) that could help guide consumers. A single German AP number will give you so much information. Yet despite all of this availability of German wine information, there are still several points of contention and confusion in the various labeling systems; one of the most prominent issues revolves around the production of dry wine, discussed in further detail below.
The VDP has found a way to avoid the Prädikat confusion of dry wine production in part by abandoning/augmenting key elements of the Prädikat system. Currently these two different systems-- one a set of historic guidelines for the entire country and the other a taxonomy created by a professional organization and applicable only to VDP members-- are both in play on German wine labels, sometimes in tandem with one another, at other times the different versions are at odds.
Sound confusing? That's because it is. I've met many a German wine producer that has admitted that they can barely keep up with all the changes and systems themselves.
Assumed Hierarchy within the Pradikatsweins
The German Prädikat system has six subcategories that have emerged over the centuries. These are not necessarily intended to create a hierarchical status but, in part because of the rarity and higher production costs of the BAs/TBAs/Eisweins they've been vernacularly rated according to grape hang time. Essentially, a Trockenbeerenauslese is considered higher quality than a Kabinett (even though it's sort of like comparing apples and oranges) because of the TBA's higher cost and smaller production. The stratification of the extremes of German Prädikat wines has ended up stratifying the Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese wines as well, so that consumers tend to believe that a Spätlese is better than a Kabinett; an Auslese is better than a Spätlese, etc. Price also mirrors this grade and tends to buttress the false hierarchy concept.
Of course, it is more complex than simply associating quality with Prädikat level, but the Prädikat system subconsciously leads us to do this-- I even catch myself oogling at TBAs in wine shops, wondering how they did it-- how many baskets of "raisins" were crushed for that bottling? One?
Exhibit A: Here is a familiar bottle, labeled according to the classic Prädikat system. This is a non-VDP member labeling their wines according to the classic Prädikat system.
We can tell several things from this label:
Producer: Carl Schmitt-Wagner
Grosselage and Einzellage: Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg
Preferment Must Weight: Spätlese (though we are unsure by looking at the label wether this is sweet or dry)
AP Number: this gives us even more detailed info
Time bottle left cellar: We know that this bottle left the winery cellar after 2007 because the Anbaugebiete says "Mosel" and not "Mosel-Saar-Ruwer." The shortened "Mosel" was only initiated in 2007.
Exhibit B: See the photo of this 1966 Kartäuserhofberg Sang Riesling Spätlese. This is a VDP member labeling their wines according to the Prädikat system. This is a great example of how the systems overlap and how they integrated with one another back in the 1960s.
The label indicates several things:
The preferment Must Weight: Spätlese (late harvest) so we might expect some sweetness here though we do not know for sure.
Sang- the particular part of Kartäuserhofberg
VDP member- the black eagle is the symbol of the VDP
The Grape: Riesling
The Region: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (you can see this written out on the other side of the label)
By comparing these two bottles, it appears at first glance that the Prädikat system works well for both VDP and non-VDP members. So why all the upheaval?
Sweetness and Reality
Because of the longer hang times, and because in the imposed hierarchy BAs/TBAs/icewines at the "top end" are always sweet, consumers expect there to be a progression, a rise in sweetness from a Kabinett to a Spätlese, and from a Spätlese to an Auslese. This is a massive misconception, and one that is being challenged by many winemakers at the moment. Within these three categories (Kabinett/Spätlese/Auslese), it is very possible to take the fermentation of the sugars through to a point of dryness (this is not really possible with the BAs/TBAs/Eisweins). The majority of consumers, however, have been trained to expect sweetness in an Auslese, and some sweetness in a Spätlese. This preconception makes the average consumer confused when they purchase a Spätlese and it turns out to be bone dry. It also drives dry wine seekers away from Spätlesen and Auslesen that may indeed be dry.
There is a correlation between alcohol and sugar-- as sugar is transformed into alcohol, there is less sugar. Thus we can expect a higher alcohol wine to be less sweet than a lower alcohol wine. Though this is a handy hint to guess the sweetness or dryness of the bottle, it isn't entirely foolproof. Ultimately, this means that to the already small, initiated following who fluently understand the labels, there is still confusion and misunderstanding about exactly what kind of wine is in the bottle. That is just the tip of the iceberg of confusion when you consider that in my job, I meet at least one person every day who thinks that all riesling is sweet.
But as educated consumers, if we want to understand what the winemakers are doing we need to look at it differently. We should see Kabinett/Spätlese/Auslese as an indicator of pre-fermentation must weight as opposed to post-fermentation sweetness levels. An Auslese fermented through to dry will have a dense concentration and complexity that a Kabinett cannot achieve. How do you know if the Spätlese or Auslese has been fermented through to dryness? Unless the producer has mercifully included the word "trocken" on the label, you simply don't, and this--to me-- is where I have the main difficulty in choosing wine labeled according to the Prädikat system. If I'm trying to pick a wine off a list to pair with certain food, and I haven't had the chance to try every available vintage of every producer listed, I can make an educated guess, but I cannot really know what the sweetness perception will be. Even if you start looking up RS levels, there is the variable of perception. The truth is, even for experienced wine professionals, when we start choosing Kabinett/Spätlese/Auslese wines from vintages we haven't yet tried, identifying how sweet or dry it will taste is a shot in the dark.
Some producers are frustrated that they cannot sell their dry wines that happen to be Spätlese or Auslese. We are starting to see a lot of this:
On the back label these producers are writing "dry" or "trocken" to give extra information to the consumer.
The VDP System Helps Sell Dry Spätlesen and Auslesen
Not everyone knows that "trocken" translates to "dry." And not every market knows the word "dry" either. So, is there another way that producers can sell their wines? An entirely different labeling system perhaps that looks more like other international wine labels? A system that doesn't depend on a tiny word printed on the back label to guide consumers?
Because of this dry-sweet confusion, The VDP has been working on such a new labeling system. Many producers interested in dry wine production have, in the last few years, stopped labeling their wines according to Prädikat system and have chosen to label through a different system based on Grosses Gewachs (GG), Erstes Gewachs (EG) and Erste Lagen (EL). Ten years ago, these same producers were making and labeling dry Auslesen-- intense dry wines with incredible density and richness-- but couldn't sell them because consumers looking for dry wines passed them over assuming the Auslese would be sweet, or because consumers looking for sweet wines were put off by the dryness.
For example, Markus Mleinek (with Dr. Heger / Weinhaus Heger) talks about the Dr. Heger pinot gris and pinot blanc Ihringer Winklerberg Grosses Gewachs. "We used to sell these as dry Auslesen, but nobody wanted them. They said 'No, we don't want sweet.' I'd say 'It's not sweet.' But all the consumers think an Auslese is sweet." So, instead they switched to labeling the wines as Grosses Gewachs, while continuing to pick at Auslese must weight (Mleinek 2012).
Dr. Heger is not alone. Especially in the last 2-3 years, many producers have followed suit.
Okonomierat Rebholtz is a VDP member who uses an interesting and clear labeling method. This Spätbugunder (pinot noir) is picked at Spätlese must weight, but it is fermented to dry. Here, on the front label, they clearly indicate "Spätlese trocken."
Here is a fascinating example of VDP member Graf v. Schonborn's labeling for their grauerburgunder (aka pinot gris) Spätlese. If you look closely, you can see the German label underneath the label that is placed on top for the American market. The German label says "grauerburgunder Spätlese." The American label says simply "pinot gris," without giving an indication of must weight.
The choice to leave off the Prädikat category for the American market is a telling decision, and one that makes sense if you are trying to sell this wine to a wider market.
By abandoning the Prädikat system, you sidestep the entire issue of explaining to your consumers that your late harvested wine is dry. Judging by the American label alone, this could be an off-dry pinot gris; but if I saw this on a shelf I'd assume that it was dry, because it just looks like a dry wine label. But if I saw the German label, I would see the word "Spätlese" and I might unwittingly pass by if I happened to be looking for a dry wine that night.
For anyone wondering, this wine is very dry, and has a dense and crystaline concentration of flavor due to the high must weight. Because the word Spätlese is inaccurately associated with sweetness, in this instance, by leaving off information, you actually are able to communicate better to your consumers.
Grosses Gewachs and Erste Lagen
This brings us to the Grosses Gewachs concept that is the precursor to the newest VDP charter. Many producers in Germany, especially ones who make focused wine from incredible pieces of land, have yearned for a system that clearly indicates the quality of the land and terroir. Before 1971, they were on track, with extremely specific Einzellagen, and needed only a tiered categorization. But the German Wine Law of 1971 changed all this and combined Einzellagen in an attempt to simplify things. If, say, Germany had a tiered land categorization similar to Burgundy's Cru system they could more easily showcase the best of German wines. In the Prädikat system, some of the best pieces of land are lost in the mix among thousands of other bottles-- only a small group of those in-the-know have memorized the best plots of land. Sometimes, price is an indicator, but until the concept of Grosses Gewaches and Erste Lagen came to be, there was no official guideline.
In 2011, this transition from Prädikat to a VDP GG/EL system seemed prevalent-- mostly for those producers who are making dry wines from Spätlese and Auslese oeschle levels. Here was the problem: There is no country-wide standard for what GG, EG, and EL means. Producers in different Anbaugebieten use different terminology, and this is/was confusing. Furthermore, as the VDP sets these standards, their labeling systems are only available to members. Thus, if you are a small, poor producer making dry Auslese and you cannot afford VDP membership, you cannot use the GG system and your wines will be misunderstood by the majority of the wine-buying market.
Observing all of this, I got the overall feeling that producers liked the Prädikat system (or at least were comfortable with it), but became so frustrated at how poorly the system interfaces with the global wine market and with how it disregards terroir, that most were ready to abandon the idea of Prädikat for its clear inefficacy, and many grew willing to embrace an alternative, even a budding system with changing terminology.
What is the Fundamental Issue with the Prädikat System?
And why does the international market have such trouble accepting the Prädikat system? I think this is because at its foundation it is fundamentally different than every other major wine taxonomy system. The Prädikat system revolves around the state of the fruit-- wines are different and achieve different statuses based on the state of the actual fruit berry and how much sugar it has gathered. Pretty much every other European wine taxonomy system revolves around real estate and treats the actual fruit as secondary consequence. To illustrate: Grand Cru Burgundy is high quality because of the expressiveness of the vineyard site-- not because of the brix levels achieved in the final moments before harvest.
Suddenly with the VDP, producers are offered a chance to market their wines in a completely different way-- this time, linked to real estate and not oeschle. This is a concept that fine wine consumers can easily understand: My wine is superior because it comes from X place. You start to lose the attention of the fine wine collectors when the fundamental argument for quality is: My wine is superior because my grapes were picked at X oeschle. Most consumers get the link between quality and terroir, while only a few will forge a link between quality and a variety of pre-fermentation sugar levels. [Of course, there has always been the meticulous though oft misleading Prädikat Einzellagen vineyard site labeling system that functioned in tandem with the oeschle indicators of Kabinett/Spätlese, etc., but as I mentioned earlier, the VDP's system takes this to a whole new level and stratifies the pieces of land into Erstes, etc. The VDP's method takes out the guess work and tells you how good the vineyard site is, while the Prädikat's method only tells you where the site is located, leaving the quality judgement to the drinker].
Visual Sweetness Meters
To tackle the sweetness perception issue, some producers are putting visual scales on their labels. This is a global problem that producers in several countries are dealing with-- not just Germany.
To some extent Alsace faces the same challenges that Germany does concerning dry and sweet wine production. Domaine Gresser in Andlau, Alsace has one innovative answer: he includes a dry-to-sweet meter on the back of each label to help guide consumers.
In the last year, I have seen countless producers add similar images to their label backs, to help guide consumers to a bottle with the level of desired sweetness.
The IRF Scale is a scale specific to Riesling, and it is growing quite popular.
Still, even these systems have flaws. A wine can have loads of RS but still be perceived as dry if the acidity is at certain levels and if it is very malic. Another flaw is the fact that the scale assumes that dryness and sweetness are mutually exclusive, and they are not. One of my favorite kinds of wines is a wine that is both dry and sweet at the same time.
2012 VDP Charter
Ok, just when we were starting to get a handle on the Grosses Gewachs, things really changed in January 2012. The VDP released their new charter that outlines this system:
Grosse Lage (like Grand Cru)
Erste Lage (like Premier Cru)
Ortswein (like Village AC)
Gutswein (like regional AC)
This is an amazing step forward that is a well-thought out attempt to solve the issues laid out above. We will start to see the effects of this new system when the 2012s start to be released.
But the main problem with this great system is that it is only available to VDP members.
What Would I Do?
I often ask myself, If I were a producer of German fine wine, how would I chose to label it and what would inform my decision? Or, if I could install an entirely new system that made sense for everyone, what would it be?
And I'll tell you this: If the Prädikat system ever goes defunct I will dreadfully miss the creative variety of wines that this system encourages. The Prädikat system is so special and unique to me, because it presents the vineyard as a prism, and in a single vintage a producer can express his or her land in many hues. A producer who passes through first to collect the bunches for the Kabinett, then returns later for an Auslese is allowing us the unique opportunity to taste the same land/vintage expressed in two different ways. This is fascinating, and it is a level of matrixized vineyard expressions that no other systems have successfully achieved. Though at first glance the Prädikat system seems to abandon terroir for oeschle, the Prädikat system has a backdoor way of honoring terroir by unfolding its many potential expressions during a single season.
I believe that historically, the Prädikat system emerged out of need-- multiple vineyard passes were a way to gather crop in stages to hedge bets against a poor harvest in Germany's marginal climate. This need based practice has evolved into a highly specialized method of production-in-stages that is a pretty unique phenomenon in the wine world.
I'll also tell you this: My mind has been blown by the crazy awesome quality of some of these dry Spätlesen and Auslesen that producers are releasing in the VDP. These are some of my all-time favorite wines. This shift in fundamental dogma toward a more terroir-focused discussion is far reaching, and it has really shaken the foundations of what German wine means today. This shift revolves around the concept of sweetness, and the idea that sweetness is undesirable.
Sweet and Dry
Before I continue I'd like to make it clear that sweet and dry are not mutually exclusive in wine (though you probably already know that if you have read this far in the post). I'd also like to make it clear that I enjoy sweet wines, dry wines, and wines that are both sweet and dry at the same time. For me, the perceived sweetness or dryness of a wine has little to do with its overall quality. Before reading on, know that I am not criticizing or supporting sweet or dry wines; I am simply curious as to why some producers are taking stances on dry wine.
From what I've observed (and, please, leave a comment if you disagree), VDP producers seem to look down on sweetness, and drive toward these dry wines. I can't help but wonder: What seeded the concept of dry wines being superior? Why try to avoid RS? Is this impetus driven by the outside demands of a global market? Is it driven by the internal whim of personal preference? Is it driven by a desire to produce more natural wines that don't stop their ferments? Did later harvest wines used to be drier when there were more plentiful ambient yeasts? Did chemical farming cause a shift in the '50s that caused many late harvest types of wine to taste sweeter because the ambient yeasts had been killed? Or, is it simply a quest for more of those seemingly magical esters that we can only get with a fermentation?
In a way, this is puzzling to me, because I appreciate both dry wines and wines with RS. I'm afraid that if we move too far from the Prädikat system we may lose an entire kind of wine (high must-weight & partially fermented) that is beautiful in its own way. Though neither system (Prädikat or the VDP's system) outright aligns with sweetness or dryness, that is what is happening. Producers of sweet wines find an easier time marketing their wine under the Prädikat system, and producers of dry wine have an easier time marketing their wine under the VDP's system.
I wish that there were some way to assimilate the Prädikat system of must weight classification and the VDP's terroir based 2012 system, and to make these systems available to all producers regardless of membership in an organization. Yes, creating a nation-wide Cru-like map of land will be time consuming and frustrating-- it is a politically charged task where powerful wineries would have a better chance of getting a higher status in the system, but a necessary task that should be hashed out nonetheless.
The VDP's system is a major accomplishment. I'm curious to see how it plays out in our market as the 2012s find their way onto our shelves and tables. How will each Anbaugebiete react to the changes? Upon what basis were the Grosse Lagen chosen? Will it be confusing now that we have the Prädikat's Grosselagen and the VDP's Grosse Lagen to distinguish between? If using the system is based on membership, how will they reconcile this system for longevity in the event that, say, a member leaves the VDP-- will their superior site no longer be a Grosse Lage?
I have this feeling that we are all witnessing a major wine revolution (in its early stages!) spurred on by the changing needs of the VDP members-- but the revolution is happening slowly and quietly, and mostly in German. It will take some time for their true meanings to ripple over to the US. There will also be lasting consequences for non-VDP members. Will the Prädikat system evolve and catch up to the issues that the VDP is attempting to address?
I'll be here, waiting... puzzled and confused, but thirsty enough and ready to try and taste it out.
Mleinek, Markus. (2012 April) Quote from a talk he gave at Rudi Wiest's Dry Wine Tour.
Torri, Tre. (2010) Deutschlands Weinelite Wiesbaden: Tre Torri Verlag.
I’m Erin, and I’m thirsty for drinks and the secrets they hold. Wine is my main game, but I’ve been known to love a cocktail here and there, and who doesn’t like a good beer on the regular? This blog is for wine/spirits/beer geeks. No beverage will be left unsipped! Posts are at least weekly, more if possible.