The concept of great wine is subjective. Personally, I believe great wine starts in the vineyard. Wines that have a special sense of place–a uniqueness of expression–qualify in my humble opinion. The technical term for this is what we wine geeks call “terroir.” It is the effect of factors like soil type, climate, altitude and exposure on a vineyard. Small, single-vineyard bottlings generally express this best for obvious reasons.
Now don’t get me wrong, you can certainly make an outstanding wine from a regional, multi-vineyard blend. But these wines are often the product of good winemaking and less about terroir; they tend to admirably display a grape’s varietal character, but not the uniqueness of that same variety grown on a particular sub-soil, like Blue Devonian slate for example.
Perhaps no other white wine reflects its sense of place better than Riesling, and discussion of great Riesling wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Germany, the grape’s ancestral home. The Mosel River Valley has many great terroir-driven, single-vineyard sites planted to Riesling. Between the towns of Bernkastel and Wehlen likes the tiny village of Graach, location of the Graacher Himmelreich vineyard, which tranlates aptly to the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
Graacher Himmelreich’s steep, southwest-facing slopes and deep soils produce wines that combine both richness and elegance. There’s an abundance of blue slate here, giving Graacher Himmelreich Rieslings a detailed minerality on the palate. Wines from this site often have excellent aging potential.
And while wine from a great terroir can at times be extremely pricey, they don’t categorically have to be expensive. Carl Graff Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese ($13) is an exceptional value. This bottling is a late-harvest style with juicy, sweet fruit balanced by bright acidity which cleanses the palate and invites you in for another mouth-watering sip. It displays a delicate nose of lime-blossom and green fruit with apricot, apple and citrus flavors leading to a long, minerally finish.
It’s a suitable a match for pork, soft white cheeses and Asian cuisine.
Established in 1860 by Carl Graff, Weingut Carl Graff has been owned and operated by Weinhandelhaus PJ Valckenburg since 1969. Valckenburg’s talented chief winemaker, Tilman Queins, oversees the production of all Rieslings produced at the estate.
Jim Greeley, Wine & Spirits Supervisor, SW Florida
Follow me on Twitter @ABCWineJimG