Alfred Merkelbach Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese 1998
A few weeks ago I featured one of my many purchases from the 2005 vintage in Germany, namely the 2005 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett Trocken from JJ Christoffel, and at the time I mentioned that 2005 was the first vintage where I had purchased heavily since 2001. Only a points-following fool sticks to only the great vintages though (admittedly points don't really seem to have afflicted German wine in the way they have other styles, something for which we should perhaps be grateful), and I have certainly purchased from other, less exalted recent vintages, such as 2004, 2003 (two bottles that were substituted without my consent, otherwise naught from this vintage), 2002, 1999 and 1998. Then there comes a little hiatus in my cellar, before a few bottles from the 1994, 1991, 1990 and 1989 vintages. Germany is featuring quite strongly on The Winedoctor at the moment, with my new German Wine Guide as well as new profiles for Christoffel, JJ Prüm, Loosen, von Kesselstatt and more, and so it only makes sense to open one of the bottles from these earlier vintages. I settled on this wine, an Auslese from the same vineyard as that 2004 Kabinett Trocken mentioned above.
The word Auslese conjures up images of long, golden capsules and shimmering, sweet golden wines. Fortunately I was prepared...I already knew, before opening (and before purchase, in fact) that this wine is not such an example of the Auslese Prädikat. As I have explained in my guide to the Prädikat, the inherent flaw in the system is that it describes must weight, not the style of the finished wine. So an Auslese could be bone dry, or hedonistically sweet. In addition, a wide range of must weights are eligible, thus adding a further frisson of complexity to the picture. From the style of this particular wine, I can only imagine it just scraped in at the lower end of the Auslese category; it has a rather dry style, likeable perhaps to a Kabinett from a good but not overly hot vintage, and yet has a delicacy conferred by only 8.0% alcohol.
The other remarkable feature of the Merkelbach Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese 1998 - and this is not something I usually comment on, so it must have made quite an impact on me - is the beautiful label which adorns the bottle. Not many wines give such an admirable panorama depicting the vineyard of origin, and those that do are unlikely to present it in full technicolour as here. I think it is just fabulous, and the wine itself isn't half-bad, either. It has a pale colour, but with a firm, undeniably green-tinged hue. The nose shows a little maturity, and is quite expressive but it needs a little work in the glass to get it going. Notes of lime spring up first, peppered and spiced, perhaps redolent of a spoonful of pickled limes. There's a little nuance of richness in the background, honey and toast as well. Lovely freshness, unassuming character on the palate, rounding out to a mellow richness on the midpalate. But this is no super-sweet Auslese; as I said above it must be creeping in at the very lower limit of the legally defined must weight for Mosel Auslese, as it has an ethereal presence and sprightly acidity, without any of the real, creamy, textured weight that one might expect from this Prädikat. In fact, I have had Kabinetts from the very warm 2005 vintage that have more weight and impact that this, which illustrates just how difficult it can be to predict the style of wine from the Prädikat on the label on occasion. A lovely style though, and who can ignore that label? Limey richness, delicious. No rush to drink up here as there is a mealy-mineral persistence on the finish which suggests this will last well. Very good. 16.5+/20 AP number: 2 602 065 013 99 (23/10/06)