J. & J. Ratzenberger Bacharacher Posten Riesling Spatlese – Halbtrocken - 2013
Winegrower: Weingut J & J Ratzenberger
Region: Mittelrhein, Germany
Grape: 100% Riesling
German Riesling is magic. Few other white wine grapes, with the possible exception of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc, offer such diversity of expression. In each, the common denominator is acid, which is perhaps diminished in some of the really sweet incarnations, but never extinguished. Riesling’s high level of natural acidity produces wines that force us to confront what we really mean by ‘sweet’ and ‘dry’, how they vary depending upon personal taste, and how the wines with very pronounced sugar levels manage to ‘finish’ dry or almost so.
If you think that a touch of sweetness is ‘bad’ in German Riesling, well, that’s history. This 2013 Riesling halbtrocken (off dry) from J. & J. Ratzenberger is a joyfully delicious and surprisingly complex white wine and the hint of residual sugar only heightens its beauty. It’s made from fruit sourced entirely from the Posten vineyard, one of the Mittelrhein’s most prized and which is regarded as being just a step below vineyards rated as Grosses Lage (think ‘Grand Crue’). Wines from the Posten vineyard usually carry a much higher price tag. I want a few chilled bottles of this on my back deck with grilled sausages or when enjoying Szechuan, Vietnamese or Thai food with a few friends. This wine is about conviviality, incredible food friendliness and straightforward deliciousness. It is a wine you should have because at this price it over delivers on all fronts.
As with all German Riesling wine labels a little decoding is in order; so let’s decipher. First off J & J Ratzenberger is the name of the producer. They use organic farming methods and all labor, including the grueling work of maintaining the vines and picking the grapes on the perilously 50˚ to 65˚ steep slope is entirely by hand. Yields are low, only a little organic fertilizer is used and pheromones replace insecticides to attract beneficial insects and chase away malevolent ones. In the cellar the fermentation occurs spontaneously in old 500 litre wood barrels and the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks.
Second, ‘Bacharachar’ indicates that the vineyard is in the medieval village of Bacharach, which is located on the west side of the Rhine west of Frankfurt. Third, ‘Posten’ is the name of the vineyard; it is four hectares and faces south by southeast at altitudes of 150 meters to 230 meters. It overlooks both the village of Bacharach and looks east over the Rhine.
Fourth, the term ‘halbtrocken’ means off dry and the wine must have at least 18 grams of residual sugar per liter with acidity within 10 grams of that. This level of acidity counters the sweetness of the sugar making it taste less sweet. Remember what I said in the first paragraph introducing this wine.
Finally, look at the capsule covering the cork; it has the Letters ‘VDP’. The Ratzenberger Estate is a member of the Verban Deutscher Pradikatzweinguter (VDP), which is a bastion of high quality in today’s globalized world. Members of the VDP oppose anything that is artificial and nondescript, and represents the highest achievement in German winemaking. The Ratzenberger Estate represents an uncompromising commitment to excellence and produces Riesling of unsurpassed quality.
This small, family run winegrower is one of our favorite producers and has a dazzling lineup of Riesling wines from their highly regarded but little known eight hectares of vineyards. Jochen Ratzenberger, a man dedicated to producing Rieslings of uncompromising quality, manages the estate. The vineyards are dominated by blue and black slate and have a perfect southern exposure. The slate absorbs the warmth of the sun’s rays by day and radiates it back to the vines by night, helping to ripen the grapes to perfection.
At a mere 11% alcohol this wine is refreshing and energetic. It’s pale yellow, with green tints at the rim. Its inimitable Riesling aromatics jump from the glass: juicy peach and green apple with white flowers and a whiff of crushed slate. On the palate it’s lush and slightly fruity, like biting into a perfect piece of fresh fruit. Then a wave of acidity and minerality zips across the palate and cleans everything up. What little sweetness you noticed a moment ago doesn’t linger on the finish. You’re left smacking your lips and enjoying the aromatics anew, ready for that next sip, and since you’re now salivating from the acidity, that next bite of food. Serve at 12˚ in flared Riesling stems or all-purpose wine glasses with some Asian food with some heat. The combination of a touch of sweetness and low alcohol makes it a perfect chile tamer.