Spotlight on Riesling: Selbach Oster 2008 Riesling Spatlese Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Rotlay”

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Riesling, the world’s most transparent grape, is not friends with the standard wine tasting note. ‘Electric’, ‘citrus’, ‘peach’, ‘laser-like’. As far as I can tell from the majority of wine writers, all Rieslings taste the same.

But there is some truth to be found in the repetition. Riesling’s differences are not best expressed as flavours. Rather, it is in the manifestation of the grape’s core elements. How do the citrus, mineral and stone fruit elements play off the acid structure and aromatic lift? The balance of acid and sugar, rather than their existence, is what tells us about a Riesling’s origins and character.

Great Riesling elides. It slips and shimmers through our conscious appreciation of it, and disappears almost without notice. The trajectory from first sip to empty bottle is a wormhole through time. Of course, bad Riesling confronts and pushes its ‘laser-like’ acidity into the face of everyone who dares approach. Time slows painfully with each sip, and the bottle remains brimming. This is why the level of acid must be balanced with appropriate sugar levels. Those wines that taste sour or harsh have failed to find this balance.

This is why the best Rieslings of the Mosel are so compelling. They make bold statements without shouting. They are profound without needing to be.

Walking the Line

Only the Germans consider Riesling a late-ripening variety – and this is why these Rieslings are unbeatable. Because Germany is at the limit of possible ripening zones for Riesling, site selection is essential. The vines must see maximum sun exposure and avoid the overt cold of river mists and higher elevations. They must walk the line.

Because of the liminal nature of the Mosel’s climate, vintage plays almost as important a role as the region’s slate soils. The trick is managing acidity. When the vintage is warm, picking at the wrong time can make wines overtly sweet without sufficient acid balance. When the vintage is cool, the difficulty is managing extremely low PH levels while ensuring ripeness and concentration. Picking time is essential to increasing the content of tartaric acid (which tastes riper) as opposed to malic acid (of the granny smith apple type). Aggressive Rieslings tend to have too much malic acid. This is why for wines of higher ripeness levels like Spatlese, grapes are let hang for a considerable time (often until November). This ensures that a greater proportion of the acid is tartaric and the wine tastes fruitier and texturally softer.

All this complexity leads to considerable effort in the vineyard. According to Oz Clarke, the average hectare of vineyard requires 1200 hours work per year. Compare this to 800 in the Pfalz.

The Result

A wine in perfect harmony with spot prawns, Selbach Oster’s Rotlay is a dazzling wine. Currents of lime and rock, the wine’s mineral sweetness is impossibly born of the same coastal habitat as B.C.’s famed crustacean. With its outstanding balance and levels of extract – only the Mosel tastes like this. 8% ABV.

~$50 at Kits Wine


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