Monday matchup: Finger Lakes vs. Rheingau

13 May 2009
By Tom Mansell

Yep, it’s still riesling month. I decided to put some FL riesling up against another famous riesling producer, Germany.

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The two competitors, plus my trusty Purity spit cup.  Featuring the festive Easter tablecloth.

The two competitors, plus my trusty Purity spit cup. Featuring the festive Easter tablecloth.

This test was done blind, with identical ISO 9000 wine glasses. Both bottles were opened at the same time and not decanted. Wine was poured into the glasses from the bottle before the test began to avoid bias, as one is a screwcap.

Stats:

Wine Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2007 Fürst Löwenstein CF Riesling QbA trocken 2007
Appellation Finger Lakes Rheingau
ABV 12.5% 12.0%
RS 0.9% 0.9%
Price Point $17 $16

Here we go:
Wine 1
Looks: pale yellow with a hint of green, with a little spritz
Nose: very strong lime peel, dominant petrol. It’s like WD-40 (I toasted enough tent caterpillars with my friend Brian when I was a kid to know what WD-40 smells like. It’s part gasoline, part floral sweetness) Part of that may not be all TDN, it may be more sweaty/grapefruity.
Palate: nice acid balance. Also limey on the palate, like biting into a lime. Not as acidic as a lemon, and a little bitter. A bit of pear on the palate, but the finish is what makes this wine really good. After a while in the mouth it develops some tropical fruit flavors*, like the Skittles that come in the blue bag. But you’ve got to be patient!
Rating: 3.5 corks corkcorkcorkhalfcork It’s really, really good, but the petrol is a bit much.

I need some better lighting up in this piece.

I need some better lighting up in this piece.

Wine 2
Looks: about the same as wine 1, including the bubbles on the bottom of the glass
Nose: Very different. Intense green apple, cotton candy, and a little bit floral
Palate: Very acidic, almost off {balance}. Palate like the core of a pineapple, the part that’s not quite ripe and really tart. As for the finish, the only thing I get is acidity, like the one oboe player that didn’t cut off the note with the rest of the section.
Rating: 3 corks corkcorkcork Also pretty good.

Some of you reading could probably tell which wine was which from the descriptors. Well, maybe. Anyway, I had a hunch that #1 was the Finger Lakes riesling, and it was! Overall, in spite of the WD-40 on the Wiemer, I liked the overall palate better. I liked the nose better on the Rheingau, but it just wasn’t enough to carry it through. Both good wines, and I would definitely buy them again. In this case, Finger Lakes riesling takes it.

Hermann J. Wiemer also produces premium single vineyard rieslings, which I have tasted before and are really, really nice, but a bit more expensive than the standard dry (~$30 or so). Wiemer is one of the most respected riesling producers in the Finger Lakes and it’s easy to see why.


*Science!

Sometimes flavors show up only after a little while in the mouth. This could be due to the way we perceive aromas (it’s not clear whether things are parsed one at a time or all at once), but in the case of some aromas there is a molecular reason why they may take a while to show up.

Many tropical fruit, peachy, grapefruit, passion fruit and other aromas are thiols. They’ve got a sulfhydryl group sticking off of what is usually an alcohol. Now, we’ve talked before about some sulfur compounds being rank-smelling, like hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans. Some mercaptoalcohols, however, can be quite pleasant.

s-cysteine

But there’s one problem. The thiols like to bind up with the amino acid cysteine (which also has a thiol group). The S-cysteine conjugate molecules are not volatile and therefore are not perceived as aromas. During fermentation, yeast enzymes can liberate the volatiles from their cysteines, but often a large portion are left cysteine-conjugated. However, saliva contains enzymes called lyases that free these compounds from their cysteine anchors and lets them fly into the nasal cavity retronasally. This phenomenon was discovered in sauvignon blanc grapes (many, especially from New Zealand will have pronounced tropical/passion fruit aromas) (Tominaga et al., “A New Type of Flavor Precursors in Vitis vinifera L. cv. Sauvignon Blanc: S-Cysteine Conjugates”, J. Ag. Food Chem., 1998), but these compounds have also been found in riesling and other aromatic whites (Tominaga et al. (again), “Contribution of Volatile Thiols to the Aromas of White Wines Made From Several Vitis vinifera Grape Varieties”, AJEV, 2000).

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2 Responses to Monday matchup: Finger Lakes vs. Rheingau

  1. Evan Dawson on 13 May 2009 at 6:08 am

    Tom,

    Your tasting notes in the Wiemer are almost exactly, word-for-word, what I said to my wife when we first tasted it back in Feb. I told her, “Wow, it’s the most petrol in the nose I’ve had in a young FL Riesling probably ever. And I like it.” In other words, I think you and I have very similar preferences in our Riesling!

    Thanks for the thorough explanation of process, and for tasting blind. Great stuff as usual.

  2. Even van de Merwe would love this one « Ithacork on 15 September 2009 at 8:45 pm

    [...] burnt match, struck flint, etc., but are also known for accentuating flavors and aromas caused by volatile thiols. Whether or not they actually cause reductive aromas, and the mechanism thereof, will be the [...]

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