TheWineRambler "A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for" - Kingsley Amis



Two Princes - skin-contact Riesling from the Rheingau

Posted by Torsten 08 Feb 2014

That Riesling is Royalty will be intuitively plausible to all lovers of this noble grape. In this sense the Wine Rambler is by now quite used to dine with royalty - after all Riesling is the most common guest at our dinner table. However, to be faced by two Riesling Princess is novelty even for this seasoned Riesling drinker. And yet here the are, quite comfortable on my shiny new table, awaiting their fate: two Rieslings from the noble estate of the Prince of Hesse - Prinz von Hessen.

However, it was not because of their noble lineage that I requested samples of the "Dachsfilet" (badger (mountain) fillet), but because this is noble Riesling made like red wine - fermented on the skin.

2013 has been the year of oxidised, skin-fermented, Orange and other types of "natural", substantial or, if you are more sceptical, funky and weird wines. Now, the Dachsfilet is nowhere near as unusual as some of the orange or natural wines I tasted last year, but it still attracted my interest when I heard that it was fermented on the skin. Usually, this winemaking technique is reserved for red wine - in fact it is what makes red wine red. If you remove the skins after the pressing, as is usually done with white wine, you end up with a lighter, much less colourful wine - rosé. Fermentation on the skin is occasionally used in white wines but it is not exactly common in Riesling.

Before we look more closely at the two princes a few words about the Prinz von Hessen estate. It is located in the Rheingau region, at the famous winemaking village of Johannisberg. In 1957 the Landgrave of Hesse bought the estate and since then it is managed by a trust he set up, currently chaired by Donatus Prinz von Hessen. The Dachsberg - badger mountain - is a the steepest vineyard of the estate, featuring a stony soil of gravel and quarzite. In 2007 the grapes from the steepest part of the vineyard, the "fillet" piece if you will, were for the first time harvested separately. A good third of the grapes are then fermented on the skins for about two weeks and then mixed with the traditionally fermented wines and matured in stainless steel.

I tasted two vintages from the Dachsfilet, the 2010 - 12.5% ABV, 8.2g acidity/litre and 12.9g residual sugar/litre - and the more substantial 2011 - 13.5%, 6.9g a/l and 8.1g RS/l.

The 2010 is a wine of lighter yellow, with a nose of really lovely citrus fruit, juicy peach, nectarine peel, herbal aniseed, a touch of raisins in (apple) cake dough and a fresh seashore saltiness. The fruit theme continues on the tongue, with lots of juicy fruit - including quaffable stone fruit such as apricot but also more bitter apple - and herbs. The juiciness gives the Riesling nice roundness but towards the finish bitter citrus and the noticeable acidity feature more strongly, until all ends in lovely juiciness again. If you hold it in your mouth for a little longer the bitterness shows more. You don't need to do that to experience the texture though - acidity and a certain grip balance the residual sugar. It is that element that lifts the wine above the level of "just" an enjoyable Riesling. I'd recommend the Dachsfilet with food - residual sugar and acidity made my smoked trout with radish sing.

My notes on the 2011 are shorter, but don't let that deceive you - I think it is the more interesting of the two wines. The nose is slatey, it smells of a dewy morning, seasoned with sharp, green flowers, stone fruit, citrus, nuts and a hint of burnt potato peel. On the tongue the pronounced texture and good acidity of the 2010 return, to reveal a wine of a elegance that, despite a certain depth, I would mostly characterise as fresh joy. It is slatey, has herbal background flavours, juicy fruit, the textures of candy and a touch of beeswax in a finish that at first is a little bitter and then ends in freshness. If you have the Dachsfilets without food I find the 2011 more exciting and precisely balanced.

As you may have figured from this description neither the 2010 nor the 2011 Dachsfilet are radical wines and certainly have nothing experimental to them. What they do have - and what I attribute to the fermentation on the skin - is a pronounced texture that gives them more character and punch. Not sure if these are two royal attributes, but I quite like them in Royal Riesling.

Yeah, one, two, princes kneel before you
That's what I said now
Princes, Princes who adore you
Just go ahead now
One has diamonds in his pockets
That's some bread now
This one said he wants to buy you rockets
Ain't in his head now
[...]
You marry him, your father will condone you
How 'bout that now?
You marry me, your father will disown you
He'll eat his hat now
Marry him? Or marry me?
I'm the one who loves you, baby, can't you see
I ain't got no future or family tree but
I know what a princely lover ought to be
I know what a princely lover ought to be

Badger

Like the coat-of-arms-retrieving badgers!