German wine can be intimidating to anyone. Even if you speak fluent German, the label tells you almost nothing about what is inside the bottle, the names are near impossible to us non-speakers to pronounce, and they even use different names for some of the same grape varietals grown in the rest of the world (read: Spatburgunder = Pinot Noir). Thankfully, the majority of production is based in Riesling, which we are at least somewhat familiar with.
After tasting through many German wines this past week, I was reminded of two of the smallest, but most fantastic categories: Beerenauslese & Trockenbeerenauslese. These Riesling wines are made from rotten, shriveled grapes. Disgusting? Absolutely not.
The grapes are left on the vines after the normal harvest period, and in certain climates, the fungus “Noble Rot” will affect the bunches. Although a similar production theory to an ice wine, the bunches here are not frozen, but rather still continuing the ripening process, while being affected by the rot. These bunches are hand-picked very selectively, pressed, and then fermented, usually ending under 10% abv. Trockenbeerenauslese is simply sweeter than Beerenauslese, all governed by specific sugar quantities in the grapes. The result is a very sweet, luscious wine. However, the acid is so high, that after you swallow it, you’re not left with the sugar, but with a crispness that keeps you going back for more.
Due to the super high sugar content combined with the high acid, these wines have extreme aging capabilities, for 60 years or more, and with age develop amazing aromas (think marmalade, honey, almond, toast, petrol, and so on).
Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines are only made in exceptional vintages, when the weather conditions are just right for the noble rot to affect without too much rain. These are small and expensive productions, and thus are sold in small bottles, most commonly seen in the 375ml half-bottle.
One of the standouts was the Wingut A.J. Ada m Dhroner Hofberg Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel, Germany ($263). It’s a shame to drink these wines so young (this was the 2010), as they’re going to develop so greatly, but they taste so good right now it’s hard to resist!