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Extended tasting note

The wine: Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett 2001 Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany

The overlong tasting note: First some context to explain where and why I’m drinking this German Riesling. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Tsukuba, Japan. It’s not far from Tokyo, and I’m here for a conference. Earlier on, wandering through the town I came upon a quite wonderful wine shop (Cave de Yamaya), with rather boring cheap wine but a whole selection of gems from top producers, and the prices are remarkably fair. Add to this you can get things here off the shelf that you simply can’t in the UK, and it’s quite exciting. Well, for an anorak like me, anyway.

All the other conference participants that have arrived so far are taking an early night, so rather than sit on my own in a restaurant, I’ve purchased a bottle of German Riesling (the above, Y2000, which is just over a tenner, English money), a waiter’s friend-style corkscrew (Y100) and a glass (Y200). The glass is actually pretty respectable for around a pound – a perfect tulip shape with a long stem. Quite elegant. Maybe I won’t leave it in the hotel room when I go to Tokyo.

To complement this I popped into a department store whose top floor is devoted to a food market, where I bought a small box containing a variety of seafood and tofu patties. They’re actually rather good, with delicate fishy flavours combined with that lovely sweet and savoury Japanese flavour that’s hard to describe, and they go brilliantly with the wine. The Japanese love fish, particularly in a pickled or cured incarnation, where they take on a lovely ‘umami’ character. All manner of odd-looking fishy things were being sold here.

I’m actually a little jet-lagged. It’s 8.30 pm here, and 12.30 pm in the UK. But this sort of wine is the ideal antidote to drowsiness. On pouring, it’s quite effervescent, giving off a cloud of fine bubbles that rapidly dissipate. I take a sniff. Wow. Aromatic, pure, focused and limey, with what I describe as a minerally character. I doubt this has anything to do with the minerals in the vineyard soil, as some would assert, but it’s a nice thought.

Maximin Grünhauser, owned by Carl von Schubert, is one of the great names in German wine, and this wine comes from Germany’s most celebrated region, the Mosel Saar Ruwer. I have to admit, this is the first of his wines I’ve tasted, which is a terrible confession. I’ve never seen them for sale by the bottle in the UK – I suspect they sell out en primeur (when wines are sold by the case in advance of their bottling). German wines are definitely a niche item in the UK.

‘Kabinett’ is the lowest quality designation of the QMP (Qualitätswien mit Prädikat) system (which goes Kabinett, Spätlese and then Auslese, before going to the noble rotted styles) and reflects the amount of sugar in the must. ‘Trocken’ means the wine has been fermented to dryness: typically, German Rieslings have some sugar left in to counter the acidity, but trocken kabinetts are a little controversial because some feel that they are unbalanced, with too much acidity apparent.

Acidity is important in wines. But its perception depends to a great deal on what else is present, in particular sugar. Balance is a key quality in fine wine, and I think this wine is in brilliant balance. Yes, it is acidic, but the intensity of the fruit and minerality counters it very well, and these aren’t aggressive acids. I wonder whether there is any correlation between the nature of the acids in a wine and how they taste?

2001 was a classic vintage in the MSR, followed by another good – albeit slightly less exalted – vintage in 2002. This certainly seems to hit the spot, for what is supposed to be a fairly modest wine. It’s actually a shrewd thing to try the least exalted wines from the best producers, because these seem to be a bargain because they aren’t sought after by trophy hunters who only want the best. For me, this evening, this is pretty much a perfect wine. So much depends on the context – anything richer, or sweeter, wouldn’t have worked so well, no matter how many points it had been awarded by me or anyone else.

Two other things worth mentioning about this wine. First of all, its ageing potential. This is hard to guess, but a high-acid wine like this is going to last a decade without any problems, likely picking up complexity along the way. Second, the alcohol content. At 9.5%, you can drink a couple of glasses of this without feeling light-headed. And I suspect that it’s the low alcohol that helps the nose to be so delicate and fresh.

As I’m progressing through the bottle I’m getting used to the nose, and the palate is getting a bit more grapefruity. Nice. Finally, a word about the label. It’s grand – very grand – with intricate engraving and gold plate-effect finishing. I bet it hasn’t changed in 100 years. Would I buy this wine again? Yes, for the right occasion. This works very well with food, and I can imagine serving this at a dinner party. Is it good value? At £10, I'd say it is. It offers enough character to justify this sort of price tag.  

Other ETNs:
; Roc des Anges; Gaillard; Veratina; Arturo; Wynns; Drystone; Foundry and Columella; Meruge; Foillard Morgon; Clonakilla

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