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An Unforgettable Wine Weekend in the Rheingau

by Steven Spurrier
The noble “Landhotel” Kronenschlösschen on the banks of the River Rhine at Eltville-Hattenheim is prized by food and wine lovers for its superb cuisine and incredibly deep and varied wine list and is also revered for hosting the Rheingau Gourmet & Wein Festival, the 21st version of which will take place with 24 chefs and 16 wine producers from February 23 to March 12, 2017

While Herr Hans B. Ullrich, the hotel’s owner, is the host of this annual event, he was a guest in his own house of Jan-Erik Paulson, Swedish-born and German resident owner of Paulson Rare Wine, a continuously refilled treasure trove of mature bottles purchased through a web of contacts built up from deep knowledge and constant research. In a spirit of generosity which is so admirable in those with fine cellars, he had planned a weekend at the end of October to share a few dozen bottles and had sent me an immediately accepted invitation to take part. Here are the wines we savored and the dishes that accompanied them:

Dinner Friday October 28 – Ch. Cos d’Estournel 1996–1928
The wines were served in six flights of five wines, after each flight Jan Paulson asking for a show of hands of who preferred which vintage. Across the range the colors were very fine, younger than I expected, with depth, clarity and “Cos-ness” very present.

Aperitif – Bride Valley 2013 Blanc de Blancs [ the author's sparkling wine from Dorset, England –Ed.].

Flight One – Kikok, corn, fermented garlic.
1971 - Still lively with more vigor than expected, ripe middle fruit, very pure, a lovely claret, still quite there.
1973 - Light and nice clarity, but the lightness of the vintage leads to a dried out finish.
1975 - Good depth of fruit and firm but not green tannins, the concentration of the year is there and it still has a future.
1979 - More youthful with warm, slightly earthy flavors, shows the over-production that year, but pleasant and balanced.
1981 - Quite robust on both nose and palate then tightens up on the finish, but the Cos fruit will stay for a few more years.
Voting was varied, 1975 coming out ahead.

Flight Two – Chestnut soup.
1982 – Very good ripeness and lovely nose, depth, suppleness and purity, now to 2025.
1983 – Nose and palate showing a briary leanness but still good and plainly St Estèphe.
1984 – More fruit and “claret-ness” than expected from this unripe year, still good for a year or two.
1985 - Looks much younger than 30 years old, really good fleshy fruit with depth to keep it through 2030.
1986 - Lots of depth and some spice, but a bit hard and “four square” compared to 1985 and a much shorter future.
There was support for 1983, more for 1982, but 1985 got the most votes.

Flight Three – Veal cheeks with parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes.
1928 – Deep red, tawny rim, lovely wild roses bouquet with both fragrance and sweetness on the palate, great presence and purity, not drying out, a great wine.
1934 - Oddly concentrated and “porty”, finishes chunky and dry.
1950 - Pale and cloudy, no fruit, probably poorly stored.
1952 - Still very young looking, coffee bean nose, impression of “roasted” fruit, interesting but not elegant.
1953 - Fine color with no real age, beautifully expressive with fine texture, a “feminine” Cos, slight dryness on the finish, a really lovely wine.
Only the 1953 and 1928 received votes, the majority going to the latter.

Flight Four – Ibérico pork curry with pumpkin.
1955 - Sadly corked but there was fine, firm fruit behind this.
1959 - Deep and still fresh color, nose and palate show the heat of the year, a hint of volatile acidity but a good solid wine.
1962 - Good firm color and very good claret, quite dry but the natural richness of St Estèphe is still just there.
1961 - Surprisingly lighter in color and body than 1962, but showing a supple, lissome texture of fruit with ripeness that will keep it going.
1970 - Young color, firm and full, robust and rich, almost “Californian”, more solid than elegant with a few years to go.
There was a little support for 1962 and 1959 but 1961 took it with ease.

Flight Five – Deer, brussel sprouts and dumplings.
1987 - Nicely balanced wine, nice clarity of fruit but drying out.
1988 - Very good color and depth of fruit and very Cos, robust, firm with striking clarity and good future.
1989 - Lots of depth and shows the heat of the vintage, shows huge richness but also a little raw on the finish, less balanced than 1988.
1990 - Quite different to 1989, with fragrance, wild violets on the nose, classy depth, elegant and smooth, a “Lafite” Cos, good for another decade.
1991 - Richer and deeper than expected but slightly earthy and chunky, young but more concentrated than elegant.
The votes were split between 1990 and 1988, the latter winning on a recount.

Flight Six – Assortment of local cheeses.
1992 - Good color and some concentration but the lack of ripeness is evident.
1993 - Good lifted floral fruit, very expressive and freshness and vigor for a few more years.
1994 - Good color and depth, more than a hint of Bret, solid and grippy.
1995 - Good broad fruit, depth and weight, all of a piece, just a little chunky, but good future.
1996 - Deep rich color and more depth and polish than 1995, still very young and has a very good future.
The vote went almost unanimously to 1996.

Asked for the best wine of the evening, nine of the fourteen chose the 1928.

Lunch Saturday October 29 - Weingut Robert Weil 2013–1921
One of the Rheingau’s greatest estates with 100 hectares of only Riesling around the village of Kiedrich. The soil is green/grey slate. The Klosterberg and Turmberg vineyards are Weil monopoles, the Gräfenberg, with a little loam soil, is 95% owned. The wines were presented by Wilhelm Weil.

Aperitif – Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Rosé.

Flight One – The three estates in 2013 - Halibut with radish and gooseberries.
All wines were harvested at 96 degrees Oechsle, so of potential Auslese ripeness, and were fermented dry to 12.5 degrees alcohol. The wines were in magnums.
Kiedrich Klosterberg - Lemon pale, beautiful florality, superb purity, perfect acidity to match the 6 g/l residual sugar, still so young. 96/100, 2020-40.
Kiedrich Turmberg – Same purity and florality but both tighter with unbelievable clarity and precision. 5 g/l RS and 8.5 acidity for the long term. 98/100. 2020-60.
Kiedrich Gräfenberg – Fuller color, broader and richer on both nose and palate though just 4 g/l RS, this is Montrachet to Turmberg’s Chevalier. 98/100. 2020-50.
Eight votes went to Gräfenberg, three each to Turmberg and Klosterberg.

Flight Two – Kiedrich Gräfenberg 2010–1953 – Salmon, pak choi, sweet potatoes.
Wilhem Weil had chosen cooler years, less full-bodied and rich, as for him this is the “optimum” style of Riesling, not the “maximum” style.
2010 - Lemon yellow, touch of dry honey, great purity with the slate showing more than the loam, very fine weight and structure. 94/100. To 2030.
2008 - Fullish yellow, relatively rich with the same touch of honey that softens the acdity, quite open. 92/100. To 2025.
2004 – Pale lemon/yellow, still quite tight and very fresh, a beautifully vibrant wine, totally pure with brilliant clarity. 98/100. To 2040.
1953 – For Weil one of the two (with 1921) best vintages of the 20th century. Fine gold color, terrific vigor and vibrancy on the palate, evidently mature but not showing its 63 years, concentrated light honey matches Riesling acidity, a great experience. 98/100. To 2033.
The 1953 being in a class of its own, thirteen votes went to 2004, one for 2010.

Flight Three – Kiedrich Gräfenberg Auslese 2007–1921 – Assortment of local cheeses.
2007 – Pale amber gold, really lovely expression with richness (130 g/l RS) and bright acidity. 93/100. To 2027.
2004 – Brilliant pale gold, terrific vibrancy and grip, very much follows the dry 2004 with 180 g/l RS showing a perfect expression of the vineyard in Auslese style. 97/100. To 2045.
2001 – This was the estate’s Gold Capsule bottling, with 200 g/l RS but never any botrytis. Full amber gold, very rich and full, more Sauternes, even Vin Santo, than what has come before; hugely rich with superb acidity showing through. 97/100. To 2035.
1921 – (This bottle was offered by Wilhelm Weil, who now has just seven bottles left in the cellar. The only time in recent years that a bottle of the estate’s 1921 was sold was at a Christie’s auction at Schloss Johannisberg held by Michael Broadbent on November 13, 1999, with a reserve price of 1,000DM, the hammer price rising to 20,000DM, a price still not rivalled at auction for a single bottle of white wine.) Bright amber gold, quite incredible “burnished” nose, waxy and polished like dark wood, concentration, elegance and maturity meet to form a totally perfect wine, nothing out of place, quite incredible at this age. 100++
The 1921 left the room silent, no votes were offered.

Dinner Saturday October 29 – Rare Wines from Jan-Erik Paulson’s Cellar.

Aperitif – Champagne Chartogne-Taillet “Les Orizeaux” 2010.

Flight One – Terrine of goose liver with pear and hazelnuts.
1949 Ch. Bastor-Lamontagne Barsac – Pale amber-gold, fully sweet and full of energy, richness and length, totally balanced, perfect example.
1934 Ch. Filhot Sauternes – Amber gold, really beautifully expressed, acidity coming to the fore, but still sweet, pure and elegant, very fine.
1891 Ch. Coutet Barsac – Red amber, the color of a 40 year old Tawny Port, rich waxy nose, vibrant fruit but also vibrant acidity which takes over after a fleeting impression of sweetness, strikingly fresh for 125 years old.
The Bastor-Lamontagne took eight votes to Filhot’s six.

Flight Two – Raw marinated fjord trout, avocado, miso, chanterelle mushrooms.
1990 Riesling Brand Domaine Zind-Humbrecht – Quite advanced pale amber colour, rather burnt caramel nose but Riesling comes back on the palate as does freshness to match the broad richness. 93/100. To 2020.
1990 Le Montrachet Louis Latour – Full gold, baked apple nose and full maturity on the palate, has weight but the fruit has not held up. 88/100.
1990 Grüner Veltlner Vinothek-Füllung Weingut Emmerich Knoll – Fine lemon yellow, floral white and yellow summer fruits nose, superbly expressed and lifted palate, still young, a very fine blend of power and elegance. 98/100. To 2030. (It was this wine that came top in a mid 1990s London tasting alongside international Chardonnays organized by Jan-Erik Paulson which opened the world’s eyes to Grüner Veltliner). This wine took majority votes.

Flight Three – Veal with marinated vegetables.
1953 Ch. Palmer Margaux– lovely color, rose petal bouquet and taffeta texture, a wine of great purity with some weight, presence and natural ripeness. 95/100.
1953 Ch. Haut-Brion Graves – Bright red, clear and clean and youthful, all the wild roses of Haut-Brion on the nose and firm delicacy of fruit on the palate, pure harmony. 99/100.
1953 Ch. Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac – Richest color of the three, surprisingly robust for 1953 with touches of iodine and iron, but opens up well at the end. 92/100.
All 14 votes went to the Haut-Brion, declared later the wine of the evening.

Flight Four – Shoulder of Beef, celery and plums.
1949 Charmes-Chammbertin Doudet-Naudin – young colour and good smooth flavour with strong hints of wine from further south to add richness. 89/100.
1937 Clos des Lambrays Morey-Saint-Denis – Superbly young colour and full of energy, purity and depth, the tannins will take over, but very fine now. 94/100.
1926 Nuits-Saint-Georges (German bottling in a Bordeaux bottle) – fine ripe red, no real age, lovely fragrant nose with natural sweetness and balancing acidity, the flavours still vigourous at 90 years old. 94/100.
Votes were split equally between the last two.

Flight Five – Pigeon Breast and Leg, mushrooms and pommes dauphinoise.
1970 Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion Graves – Rather murky red, slight lack of clarity , some ripeness but also volatile acidity which dominates. 86/100.
1970 Ch. Latour Pauillac – Dense young red, lots of grip on the palate, very young, not yet fully open yet recognisably grand and recognizably Latour, reckoned to be the best wine of that year. 97/100.
1970 Ch. Cheval-Blanc Saint-Emilion (magnum) – Rich, young and smooth color, lovely rich texture and still full of black fruits and energy, a classic Cheval Blanc with a fine, always seductive future. 95/100.
The Latour received ten votes with four to Cheval Blanc.

Flight Six – Assortment of local cheeses.
1997 Taylor’s Vintage Port – Dense color, no age at all, fully rich and spicy but still a bit raw and tannic, a great Port which needs another ten years. 94/100.
1963 Taylor’s Vintage Port – Still youthful red, lots of spice and energy, still floral with wild violets, harmoniously smooth with finesse and natural strength. 96/100.
1948 Taylor’s Vintage Port (bottled by Christie, Manson and Wood) – mid-red, slightly cloudy but lovely sweet fruit, chocolate-y with lifted acidity, quite delicious. 97/100.
Votes were two for 1997, five for 1963, seven for 1948.

Before we broke up a vote was taken for the wine of the weekend. Three guests chose Cos d’Estournel 1928, five chose Haut-Brion 1953 and seven chose Weil’s Kiedrich Gräfenberg Riesling Auslese 1921. Perhaps the Hotel Kronenschlösschen will see such wines again, but I know I will not.

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