You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

by Chuck Hayward

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Post by David Derby| April 27th, 2011

During my recent trip several people inquired if I had been to Germany before. "About a lifetime ago," I replied. My answer was both a reference to the number of years, as many of my fellow travelers were not even born then, and also how modern today's wines are compared to those antiques of yesteryear.

I think I saw these barrels on my last trip

At more than one cellar they would show us their old barrels, long since replaced, while commenting how fermentation has been done in clean, temperature-controlled stainless steel vats since the early 80s.  A portion of the better wines are still aged in foudres (large 1,000 liter barrels), which offer very little—if any—oak flavor, yet allow the wine to breath.

Comparing 2009 & 2010

Happy vines, happy wines

The French like to say, "The best vintage is the one we have to sell.” The Germans, not so much. Old timers talk of 2, maybe 3, vintages in 10 being very good or better. But the climate shift has benefited Germany immensely, and now it is the reverse—7 out of 10 are good or better. The 2009 stands tall when you go back a full 20 years as a truly GREAT vintage of incomparable structure and balance. The flowering started early with good fruit set. The summer was warm, with a golden autumn of dry weather to bring in the grapes. What sets this vintage apart is that all levels from kabinett to beerenauslese came in clean with proper ripeness and sufficient quantity. This is a vintage with very few under achievers and a lot of super stars. Hard to miss with so many winners. Short term buying plan: stock up on 2009 fast and furious.

Every vintage has its good side and 2010 has many. They will be very tasty and will age remarkably. This is a vintage to seek out riper, sweeter wines that you should resist drinking for many years, and I guarantee you will be justly rewarded in spades for this extra effort.  With good ripeness and outstanding acidity, often record breaking, this creates wines that are better food matches. Since they will still be youthful and full of vigor many years down the road, these are wines for the long haul (think birth year and anniversary celebrations). Buying strategy: be warned that with a very short crop, in combination with a weak dollar, prices will rise. In addition, because of the very high acid levels, these will not show well in mass tastings, leading to lower than normal scores from the press. These are wines to buy, but shop carefully. Look for wines of spatlese and auslese and from the warmer sites. There will be values to be had.