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German Eiswein Tasting (April 1, 2002)

What is the stylistic difference between Ontario and BC Icewine and German Eiswein?

We are familiar with the Old World/New World dichotomy when it comes to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other dry table wines: the traditional European wines are more restrained, relying on elegance and balance for effect, while the contemporary New World style is forward and fruit-driven. New World wines are extrovert and immediately accessible. The same thing I found applies to Eiswein/Icewine.

Since 1982 German Eisweine have to be at least Beerenauslese level in terms of sugar readings at harvest. Ontario, at the requisite 35 Brix (143 Oechsle degrees), demands higher sugar levels than, for instance, the Rheingau (125 Oechsle). As a result, German Eisweine are generally lower in alcohol (some as low as 6.5 per cent, most around 8–9 per cent – Ontario's range from 9 per cent to 10.5 per cent and higher).

While both styles rely on the balance of residual sugar and acidity, German Eisweine tend to be more racy; it's the acidity that drives the wines rather than the fruit. Ontario Icewines, because of their higher alcohol, tend to be rounder, fleshier and more mouth-filling. In fact, virtually all Ontario Icewines have to be acidified to bring them into balance because of their huge sugars (some Icewines have up to 20 grams of residual sugar). Because of this forward fruit, Canadian Icewines are more approachable at an earlier age than German Eisweine that need more time in the bottle to develop their bouquet and will eventually age longer.

The German model I find to be more delicate and more complex while Canadian Icewines are more powerful and muscular.

I tasted a series of German Eisweine that will be featured in a tasting at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival in April. Here are my notes.

Balbach Nierstein Oelberg Riesling Eiswein 2000 (Rheinhessen)
6.5% alcohol
Colour: old gold
Nose: hint of Botrytis, honeyed grapefruit, minerally note
Taste: rich, unctuous, great concentration of sweet fruit with driving acidity; dried apricot. Still tight.

Graflich von Hohenthal Munsterer Romerberg Weisser Burgunder Eiwein 1999 (Nahe)
8% alcohol
Colour: straw
Nose: straw, citrus, peach, tight
Taste: peachy, honey, lemony acidity; dry straw-like finish.

Geil Bechtheimer Heiligkreuz Scheurebe Eiswein 1999 (Rheinhessen)
8% alcohol
Colour: gold
Nose: burnt sugar, marmalade, a touch volatile
Taste: better on the palate, earthy, dried apricot, honey; short finish, lacks final acidity.

Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium Falkensteiner Hofberg Riesling Eiswein 1998 (Mosel)
9% alcohol
(750 mL bottle)
Colour: bright gold
Nose: petrol, lime, honey, grapefruit, minerally
Taste: elegant, grapefruit, racy acidity, light and lively, apricot and lime. Wonderfully balanced with great length. An exciting taste sensation.

Prinz von Hessen Winkler Hasensprung Riesling 1998 (Rheinhessen)
8% alcohol
Colour: old gold
Nose: grapefruit peel, orange, green tea (Tokaji-like)
Taste: sweet, syrupy, orange and honey; good length.

Edmund Reverchon Filzener Herrenberg Riesling Eiswein 1996 (Mosel)
9% alcohol
Colour: gold with a lime tint
Nose: marzipan, petrol, grapefruit
Taste: dried apricot, firm structure, good acidity, good length but marred by a little bound-in sulphur White chocolate finish.

Schloss Schonborn Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Riesling Eiswein 1991 (Rheingau)
8% alcohol
(Won the Inniskillin Trophy for the best Eiswein of 1994 at the 25th International Wine & Spirit Competition)
Colour: brassy gold
Nose: woody, lime, petrol
Taste: mature, casky, mandarin orange, good acidity, mouthfilling, not overly sweet, well balanced.

Graf von Schonborn Gaibacher Kapellenberger Kerner Eiswein 1989 (Franken)
9% alcohol
Colour: old gold
Nose: floral, tropical fruit salad, grapefruit
Taste: rich and concentrated, intense, spicy, rich with lively acidity; well balanced. A great Eiswein.

Ballthasar Ress Hattenheimer Schutzenhaus Riesling Eiswein 1985 (Rheingau)
(The first Eiswein that Balthasar Ress estate produced )
Colour: old gold
Nose: volatile nose, woody, hint of Turkish Delight
Taste: drying out, toasty, dried apricot, burnt orange peel, bitter almond finish.

If you want to taste some German Eiswein, on Tuesday April 30th (6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.), Wines German & Jazz at the Imperial Room, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, offers the wines of 30 German producers, including Eiswine from the following:

Schloss Schonborn
Balthasar Ress
Weingut Reverchon
Wilhelm Gymnasium
Moselland (Nahe wine)

Cost: $5. Call 905-815-1581.




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