The Sec Wines Blog

This is the blog for Sec Wines in Portland, OR by Eric Pottmeyer. The posts are generally about wine, wine personalities and the wine market with food creeping into posts every now and then.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grosses Gewachs - The place of dry single vineyard Mosel rieslings in the German pantheon. (What gives?)

“If this wine’s a trocken, don’t come a knockin’”  is a playful response often heard from German wine aficionados who prefer classically styled off-dry to sweet Mosel rieslings to  their dry, or “trocken”, counterparts so favored by most Germans.  So the idea of Grosses Gewachs, or GG as they are commonly referred to, is confusing to many German riesling lovers.
I was weaned on kabinett, spatlese, & auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wines and so, came to understand these wines through the lens of residual sugar.  I loved, and still do, the balance of sweetness and corresponding acidity that the best of these wines offered in addition to the kaleidoscopic complexity and slate-driven minerality.  
When I first started tasting high-quality dry German wines, I found them interesting, but not necessarily satisfying. I often dismissed them as lacking, or incomplete wines that would benefit from a little residual sugar to balance their naturally high acidity and give them some lift.   Upon hearing that most Germans prefer their Mosel rieslings dry while disregarding classic kabinett, spatlese and auslese wines, I assumed that this was merely a case of the misperception that sweet wines are beginner wines and not to be taken seriously.   
So what it the deal with GGs?  At it’s most basic level, Grosses Gewachs, roughly translates as Great Growth (seemingly attempting to copy the ideal of Grand Cru in Burgundy). It is a term used by a group of Mosel riesling producers referred to as  the VDP, who seek to promote dry Mosel rieslings from special, ultra high quality vineyards.  GG is not a legal term.  Instead, it’s an idea that promotes the Mosel vineyards that carry the GG moniker as the very top vineyards for producing terroir-driven dry wines.   And really, whether you’re a fan of these wines, or not, that’s exactly what they do.  What GG may do for American drinkers is give these dry rieslings from the Mosel some street cred - like their great Austrian and Alsacian cousins already have.
As the thoughtful Dan Melia, of the Mosel Wine Merchant - a small, highly respected German wine importer, points out, there are complications.  To wit:  “ As long as it is a VDP-only term, and not a legally sanctioned one, GG has currency only for VDP members.  That means that great dry wines from great sites from growers who are not in the VDP (and there are many, both within my portfolio and without) are not allowed to use GG on their labels.  That's fine, as far as it goes, since many of them don't want to (i.e., they are not interested in joining the VDP), but it is undoubtedly a complication for the consumer, who - if all the GG enthusiasm achieves what the VDP hopes it will - will come to equate great dry German Riesling only with the term GG.  That would be a shame.  There are countless delicious, ambitious, age-worthy, transparent, playful, terroir-driven dry Mosel Rieslings that are not GGs.”  Yep.  Know how to hit a curve ball?
Regardless of the tangle that GG presents it’s important that people know that “...this is not some new, trendy thing.  The Germans have been making and drinking dry wines for a long time, longer than the style we often now think of as ‘classic.’  But that isn't really the point, and dry or trocken isn't really the point either.  The point is, of course, balance -- and part of our goal has been to tell the story that the great dry wines of Germany can be just as beautifully balanced as the wines with residual sugar.  This notion that a Mosel Riesling needs sugar to be balanced is just painfully out of date.”  states Mr. Melia. 

Indeed, this is the point; great Mosel riesling can be appreciated with or without residual sugar - it just may take a re-calibration of one’s palate to accept the style to which one didn’t first become accustomed.  That American consumers won’t give dry Mosel rieslings their due is just as ridiculous as Germans consumers not accepting off-dry to sweet Mosel rieslings as valid.  The great Mosel riesling producer and maverick (sorry Palin, we’re stealin’ the term back) Clemens Busch perfectly demonstrates that terroir can speak with equal grace and eloquence with, or without residual sugar with his head-spinning collection of great Mosel rieslings.
Below are a few highlights of some of the great dry Mosel rieslings available in the Portland OR market (including some GG and Erste Gewachses or “first growths” equal to Premier Cru status in Burgundy).  The following wines are  available from
2008 Clemens Busch, Riesling Kabinett, Trocken $17.99
2007 Clemens Busch, Riesling, Pundericher Marienburg, Rothenpfad GG $44.99
2006 Heymann Lowenstein, Rottgen $41.99
2007 Heymann Lowenstein, Uhlen-Laubach $56.99 
2008 Heymann Lowenstein, Uhlen-Laubach $56.99
2008 Van Volxem, Wiltinger Gottesfuss $35.99
2008 Van Volxem, Scharzhofberger-Pergentsknopp $61.99


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