Today was as good as it gets in terms of wine-drinking occasions: we had two great friends over to our place to celebrate their recent engagement. They are both amazing people and are perfect together, so this was definitely cause for opening something special. Most people might think to toast news like this over Champagne — me, not so much. We went with German Beerenauslese dessert wine instead, and once we tried it, there was no doubt that we came out ahead.
As discussed in my post yesterday, Beerenauslese (or BA for short) is a ripeness designation on top-quality German wines that indicates an extremely high sugar content in the grapes at the time of harvest. The word “Beerenauslese” means “berry selected harvest”, and it is literally true that BA grapes are individually separated from less-ripe fruit when picked. These grapes get their enormous sugar level from a type of mould that grows on their skins called botrytis cinerea. Instead of ruining the fruit, the mould acts to super-concentrate the flavours and sugars in the grapes’ juice by pulling most of the water out of the juice. The BA grapes end up shrivelled and dehydrated (see the disgusting picture to the right), but when they’re used to make wine, the crazy-sweet and ultra-powerful remaining juice turns into something pure, focused and often mind-blowing. The botrytis itself actually adds complex flavours of the resulting wine which, gross picture notwithstanding, don’t taste bad or mouldy at all.
I had never had a Beerenauslese before today. I got this one at Highlander Wine & Spirits (Marda Loop location) — it’s not every day you see a high-end 1989 dessert wine sitting on the shelves of your local wine store (and going for less than $200), so I’ve been quite excited to give this a try. But one look at the bottle to the left makes it clear why I tried to remove some of the fear factor associated with German wine labels yesterday: ”1989 Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Riesling Beerenauslese” is 70 characters of panic, an absolutely terrifying set of words to look at, let alone understand, pronounce, or invest part of your wine budget in. Once you apply the basic ground rules of German label decoding set out in my post below, though, it’s not so bad. Schloss Reinhartshausen is the producer, Riesling is the grape, and Beerenauslese, as described above, is the ripeness level. The German wine region of origin is Rheingau, and the Two Word “Er” Rule applies to “Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen”: Nussbrunnen is the vineyard that this wine is from, and Hattenheim is its nearest town.
The first thing that absolutely jumped out at me about this wine was the colour…wow. Have you ever seen a Riesling that looked like that in the glass? The picture to the right gives the best indication of the BA’s appearance, a deep, rich, orangey-brown colour that most closely resembles steeped tea. There are very few instances where brown wine is a good sign, but this is clearly an exception, because this wine was in great shape, albeit probably in the last few years of its prime drinking window. The nose was bracing and floral, with sweet notes of maple, burnt sugar and honey mixed with ripe tropical fruit aromas (mainly lychee and peach). On the palate, the mouthfeel was unbelievable: lush and viscous, yet still light as a feather and not at all syrupy. The sweetness was definitely present (it’s a dessert wine, after all), but it was never dominating, just supporting the lychee, apricot and apple cider flavours and leading them into a soft, lingering finish that went on for ages. After 20-odd years in the bottle, this was a mellow wine without any sharp edges or strong acidity. I wouldn’t drink it with any food (and would have no idea what to match with it), but by itself it is a sensory experience in a bottle.
Congratulations on your engagement, Tyler and Farrell — with any luck, I’ll get to toast your wedding and anniversaries long into the future with a glass of Beerenauslese as well.
$40 to $60 CDN