Bruce Sanderson of the Wine Spectator has just written and published a very professional, eloquent, and well-researched account of this tasting I'm about to share here, which you can find on the Wine Spectator website. Here is my humble perspective.
Saturday afternoon, after that wonderful lunch of local vegetables and bit of mingling, we launched immediately into Rudi Wiest's tasting of his private collection of German Riesling Trockenbeerenausleses ("TBAs" as they are affectionately called) - get this - 50 years and older. Actually, they are all older than 50 years - the youngest of the wines in this tasting were from the heralded German Riesling vintage of 1959... this being 2010, the young-uns at this tasting were 51 years of age. Now, the oldest Riesling I have tasted to date, I believe, is 1959, and that was at the Wegeler Rheingau estate when I was there in September of 2007, my first trip to Germany. I had also previously hosted an older vintage Riesling tasting which was the cellared wines of Dr. Cary Feibleman back a few years ago when I worked at The Wine Country - I did post about that tasting, and I'll have to go re-read what I wrote to see if I had on that evening experienced something older than 1959.
But this tasting went all the way back to a time I know little about - 1921. Imagine that. My paternal grandmother (with whom I was close) was not yet born; my paternal grandfather was 10 years old. World War I was over but World War II was not yet close to being conceived. 1921 - there were 6 wines from this vintage that we tasted and they were older than anyone in the room.
To my surprise, we started with the oldest wines first, these ancient 1921s. Bruce Sanderson, sitting to my left, said this was often the case in these vertical old wine tastings, that the oldest, being the most delicate, were tasted first. Though sometimes it would happen the opposite way. I thought we would start with the young-uns and work our way back to the most mysterious of the wines. But instead, we plunged into the oldest ones.
Those 6 viscous, dark-coffee colored wines, darkened by almost a century in the bottle, were:
1921 Schloss Vollrad Riesling TBA (Rheingau)
Complex beautiful nose of caramel and cinnamon; palate chewy, dense, with chocolate, fig, medicinal herb.
1921 Reichsrat von Buhl Deidesheimer Leinhohle Riesling TBA (Pfalz)
Nose of light, fresh mint; palate rich with caramel candy, mint, quince, orange rind; clean and elegant. My favorite of the first flight of 3.
1921 Schloss Schonborn Marcobrunner Riesling TBA(Rheingau)
Nose is muted while palate is high acid, bright, with a slightly chalky texture, cranberry. Some said this is typicaly Marcobrunner style; others said this bottle was slightly corked, or not showing well.
1921 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling TBA (Mosel)
Best wine of this second flight of 3. Nose is very beautiful, aromatic, elegant, captivating, full of fresh figs and dates; palate is savory, lush, sweet, bright, balanced. Shows the beauty of this vineyard.
1921 Maximin Grunhauser Herrenberg (Ruwer)
Nose had a hint of TCA (cork), otherwise muted; palate dry-ish, high acid, lighter body.
1921 Staatsdomane Serriger Vogelsang Riesling TBA (Saar)
Nose of spiced raisins, some oxidation; palate very concentrated, rich, dense, brown sugar and coffee, Christmas spice, some bright acidity, long finish.
We went on to taste wines from 1927, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1942 (WWII!), 1945 (WWII just ending!), 1949. Then we left the 1950s to day 2. I won't post tasting notes on every wine I tasted, but I will say that the following wines had stars next to them, and the 1949 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener-Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling TBA (Mosel) had double stars!
The best of the bunch:
1938 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling TBA (Mosel)
What is it with these Bernkasteler Doctors proving how great they are? While Bernkasteler Doctor is a terrific vineyard and shows its beauty in youthful wines, it really stands out after these wines age like 60 or 70 years, it seems! Then we see what everyone is made of. This wine had a very light coffee color, a nose of sea salt caramels, very interesting and savory; the palate bright, elegant, delicate and balanced like a Mosel wine should be. Fresh and so far from oxidation, even at 72 years old. Gramps looks good and is running faster than you are...
1935 Bassermann-Jordan Deidesheimer Hohenmorgen Riesling TBA (Pfalz)
Nose of caramelized sugar and mint; palate bright, succulent, hint of prune
1945 Franz Karl Schmitt Niersteiner Kehr-Flachenhahl Riesling TBA (Rheinhessen)
Viscous, color of dark honey (not brown, but honey gold); nose of sweet unctuous brown sugar; palate richly sweet but well balanced. Notably, Bipin Desai, physicist and avid French wine collector and host of many big (impressive) vertical tastings, sitting nearby said that this wine most reminded him of a '45 Chateau d'Yquem (sweet white wine called Sauternes from Bordeaux, France). With that comment, I did note that this wine would be quite terrific with a generous portion of seared foie gras.
1949 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener-Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling TBA (Mosel)
For many in the tasting, this might have been the wine of the day. It was really able to show why J.J. Prum has been reigning in the Mosel for so long, and why the wines at this estate are revered and regarded as cellar gems, why they command the prices twice as much as their neighbors making wines from some of the same vineyards. This wine, a young-un, only 61 years old, was orange gold in color, with a nose of sugared orange slices and dates. The palate was exciting, rich and delicate at the same time, with orange cream and fresh herbs, tons of complexity while remaining clean. Perfect.
As for the source, this is harvested not as a single vineyard, but as a blended selection of 2 vineyards: Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (the Wehlen Sundial and the Zeltingen Sundial, no doubt the best suntrap vineyards in both of those wine villages). Prior to the 1971 Wine Law in Germany, this was allowed. Since 1971, this type of labelling is forbidden; it is single vineyard, or estate wine, nothing in between.
It was an afternoon of curiosities. A great 4-hour long tasting, after which we were overwhelmed with strong feelings and newfound knowledge. The oldest of Rudi's collection had been opened, revelled in, consumed, pondered over, discussed. We would then break for a couple hours before dinner. And then be in for another gastronomic treat.