One hell of a lunch tasting..... - Printable Version

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- Bucko - 08-08-1999

A group of wine friends met at our favorite Thai restaurant in a suburb of Seattle for another round of decadence, gorging ourselves on great food and washing it down with mass quantities of even better wine.

1986 Domaine Schlumberger Riesling, Kitterle, Alsace - A hint of oxidation, fruit has peaked and sliding, petrol evident, good acidity - drink 'em if you got 'em.

1990 Trimbach Gewurztraminer, Ribeaupierre, Alsace - Atypical (to me anyway) with musky, oily diesel flavors, good fruit and acidity. Good wine, just not what I was expecting.

1996 SA Prum Riesling, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Spatlese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - Big slate on the nose, crisp acidity, already developing petrol flavors.

1994 Scharzhofberger Riesling, Spatlese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - Beautiful petrol nose that carries over to the palate, nice acidity, but has some cotton candy flavors
that do not personally appeal to me.

1997 Schloss Saarstein Riesling, Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - Crisp, developing petrol, peach fruit flavors but not very complex. Not my cup of tea.

1989 Chateau Bellerive, Quarts du Chaume, Loire - More funky than Baumard, but in a good way. Wonderful old Chenin fruit flavors of honey and peaches, minerals, crispness, sweet, complex - received mixed reviews at the table - I loved it.

1996 Z-H Riesling, Brand, Alsace - Nose is tight,good acidity but not for me with its butterscotch/candy flavors. I am admittedly not an Alsace Riesling fan.

1996 Chateau Soucherie Coteau de Layon, Loire - Corked!!

1971 Uerziger Riesling, BA, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - Big time petrol on the nose and palate, very deep, complex fruit - WOW! This is what German Riesling is all about.... One of the wines of the day.

1990 Hugel Gewurztraminer, VT, Alsace - What a killer! At its peak now. Deep, rich fruit, lovely, looong aftertaste. One of the wines of the day.

1990 Z-H Pinot Gris, Cos Jebsal, VT, Alsace - Pure decadence! What a beautiful wine. Mature, complex fruit, nice crispness to carry the moderate sweetness. A classic example of what an Alsatian Pinot Gris can be. One of the wines of the day.

And I skipped a few wines...... whew! Fun time was had by all.


- Tabby - 08-09-1999

Arg! You lucky fella, those wines sound terrific.

But what is it with Rieslings??? I seem to have incredibly bad luck when choosing my bottles. 90% of them seem to have that "rubber" or warm plastic nose that is really quite offputting. I know the rubber is due to overuse of sulphur in most cases, but it seems to affect practically every Riesling that I taste. Is this a typical Riesling trait, and if so, I presume it just takes some getting used to?

- Bucko - 08-09-1999

By rubber, I assume you mean the slate of diesel nose that is typical for a true Riesling. Gotta love it or avoid Riesling.


- Jason - 08-09-1999

If you're not digging the petrol, then try some of the Cali Riesling. Less acid, less nose. Personally though, I like mine to smell as if it were a fire hazard.

- Thomas - 08-10-1999

Jason, you were with me on the Chardonnay and now on the petrol of Riesling. Can't even get up a good fight these days...

Should say, the petrol smell generally develops over time. Young Rieslings often come sanas petrol but with perfume. I still prefer the former.

- Thomas - 08-10-1999

Make that sans petrol...

- Tabby - 08-10-1999

Hmmm, don't think I recognised petrol aromas in any of those Rieslings; some of them were very reminiscent of head-in-a-bag-of-thick-rubber-bands - right down to the finish! Should point out that these were all Australian Rieslings. The German Rieslings I've tasted have generally been OK; slightly on the acidic appley side, but OK. I'll continue my search for the perfect Riesling...

- Randy Caparoso - 08-11-1999

Okay, Bucko. You probably sensed that at one point I'd rear my ugly head. Re: Petrol in Riesling. Certainly a common charactistic, but one that I've found particularly strongest in places, and vintages, in which acidities are not particularly strong and alcohol levels are relatively high in relation to level of fruit extract. Definitely also pH related characteristic.
But my thesis is this: Bottle age has a lot to do with evolution of petrol qualities, but probably more so with origin and growin conditions.

For instance, I find petrol aromas and flavors far more likely in Rieslings from Napa and/or Sonoma than, say, Monterey, where it's cooler and kinder to Riesling, allowing it to develop a cleaner, gentler fruitiness on a more consistent basis (J. Lohr is a good example). I think this is what Jason was citing.

Petrol is also far more characteristic of Alsace and the neighboring Baden region of Germany than, say, in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It's a heckuva lot warmer on those particular sides of the Rhine where the alcohol and glycerol levels are high, acidities low, the women wild.

Of course, they say the Mosel is where Riesling is truly Queen of the hill, and who's to argue? Beautiful, pure fruit fragrances mixed with minerality; and if anything, minimal petroleum oil characteristics. But even in the Mosel you can see the pattern. Collectors of 1975 and 1976 vintages -- both considered great drinking in their day -- have marked the differences. '75 was a generous but more classically defined year -- subtly concentrated fruit, with great extract and acid levels. Therefore if you go back to the '75s now (at, say, the Spatlese to BA levels) you'll still have wonderfully floral, honeyed, creamy textured fruit, with just subtle nuances of petrol in spite of the wines' age (last month I had a '75 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese as well as a '75 Monchhof Erderner Treppchen Auslese with just those qualities).

In '76 -- an exceptionally warm, dry year for the Mosel -- the wines were a lot bigger and more flamboyantly fruity, but lower in acid harmonies. And so today, you probably won't find a '76 that isn't tasting predominantly of petrol, since just about all of that blast of initial fruit has long since blown off (a '76 Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese that I also tried last month was like that, in spite of its underlying honey and fat, dried apricot flavors).

So if my previous notes are correct, I would surmise that the '95 Spatlesen and Auslesen would be more likely to develop that petrol earlier than the fruitier but more solidly acidic '96s; which is what you can also expect in the fine but rather gentle '97s. The '98s also look very good for very high fruit/perfume, as opposed to petrol, year.

As for Alsatian style Riesling? Heck, you gotta like the Indianapolis 500 atmosphere to truly get into those! Then again, you and your friends probably found plenty enough hot oils in amongst your Chinese banquet to bury those wine qualities.

- gvhouten - 08-28-1999

The petrol is increasing by the influence of oxigen when you decanter the wine

- Randy Caparoso - 08-28-1999

Sorry, but I don't think so. What you've experienced is probably temperature service variation. When a Riesling warms up, whatever petrol characteristics (and any other qualities, good or bad) that are part of the wine itself becomes more detectable to the nose. That's why you don't want to drink really good wine too cold, and lousy wine as cold as possible!

- gvhouten - 08-31-1999

Can you tell me, what makes the petrol in wine? Is it the soil?

- Randy Caparoso - 09-03-1999

I'm sorry it took a few days for me to reply. Somehow, I kept missing this thread.

"Petrol" in Riesling is not exactly a flattering, or orthodox descriptor. The fact that it is common enough is proof enough that it is one of instrinsic characteristics of the grape. Just like an apple tastes "appley," and a blueberry "blueberryish."

But petrol in Riesling is probably similar to the words "grassy," "weedy," or even "green peppery" which are associated with Sauvignon Blanc. It doesn't mean that such characteristic are automatically to be found, or even desired, in such varietals. In fact, it's generally conceded that these qualities (or "negatives") are noticeably absent in the very finest examples of these varietals.

For example, the most famous British wine writers -- such as Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson -- are thunderously silent when it comes to the usage of the words "petrol" or "fusel" when talking about Riesling. And outside of Germany itself, there are probably no greater experts on the subject than the Brits. I'm fairly certain that the reason that the word doesn't enter into their vocabulary much is because their idea of Riesling is what is grown in the great regions like the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the Rheingau, Pfalz, Nahe, and Rheinhessen; where you are more apt to find characteristics of lime, peach, apricot, and flowery perfume, and very rarely anything similar to what makes your car run.

I first heard the word "petrol" used in a story written about Napa Valley's Andre Tchlistcheff in the late '70s; in which the late, great winemaker was describing the aroma that he finds common to Napa Valley grown Rieslings. Thank goodness, virtually all of Riesling vines in that region have since been pulled out.

You'll also find the Aussies often throw that word around when talking about Riesling. But because their growing regions are, like Napa Valley, on the warm side, for the Aussies an oily connotation in Riesling has actually become something of a positive. It is so common that they not only expect it, they love it!

So in conclusion: Petrol is definitely a characteristic inherent in the Riesling grape, but more common when grown in warm climatic conditions, resulting in wines with higher alcohol and glycerol levels, and lower fruit extract. Which means virtually all the time in Australia, very often in California, and only occasionally (in particularly warm, dry years, or in warmer sub-pockets) in places like Germany and Alsace.

- Randy Caparoso - 09-03-1999

One final word: This is not to say that petrol-like qualities don't develop in Rieslings as a result of bottle age. As Bucko originally cited, if it starts off as a subtlety in a Riesling, it emerges with more strength after five, ten, even twenty-plus years. Of course, if it is a quite noticeable in a young Riesling, it starts to predominate with age.

My previous discussion touched upon the originating likelihood of the characteristic.