Wine Saves Life – 1980 Forster Pechstein Riesling Kabinett – Weinkellerei Eugen Müller, Pfalz
Today, I opened my first wine from the Wine Saves Life package. A Riesling from the Pfalz, and the oldest vintage in the box (unless that Randersackerer Pfülben from Franken is older, but I can’t get a date off that one). Also one of the two bottles (the other being the 1984 Niersteiner Spiegelberg from Rheinhessen) with the lowest fill-level (called ullage) and the associated increased concern for the quality of the wine. Happily, and contrary to my expectations, the wine was still alive!
First, a bit of information about the vineyard site and the producer.
Following the system of vineyard naming that I’ve described earlier, the vineyard site Pechstein is associated with the village of Forst in the part of Southwestern Germany known in English as the Palatinate. For ease, I will always call this region by its German name: Pfalz. You will certainly not find a bottle of wine where the wine region is referred to as the “Palatinate” anytime soon.
In English we often use “pitch-black” as a colour reference. In German “pechschwarz” carries the same usage. The Pechstein is the only vineyard site in the Pfalz with a large portion of native black basalt in the soil – the inheritance of now long-extinct volcanic activity. Forster Pechstein is a well-regarded vineyard site for Riesling, offering not only unique geology, but excellent water retention in the soil and near-optimum air movement in and around the site. It is not overly large, at just 17 hectares, nor is it as steep as many other famous sites. The grade is between 20 and 30%.
Weingut Eugen Müller has a reasonably long history, establishing itself for wines in 1935 after beginning as a cooperage. They currently possess 1.5 hectares of the Forster Pechstein, and are proud of the finesse and minerality that the site brings forth in their wines. They continue to be a recommended producer for wines from the site, along with such big names as Reichsrat von Buhl, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf and Bassermann-Jordan.
Well, I’ve mentioned that I was nervous about the wine due to the amount of air in the bottle. It doesn’t have to mean the wine has died, of course, but it does indicate that wine has escaped the bottle through seepage or evaporation through the cork. More air in the bottle means more oxidation, so the chance that the wine has suffered with time increases. The label betrays not a sign of the alcohol, which was interesting, and specifies the volume as one litre, which it really doesn’t seem to be. Curious.
As the oldest wine in the package – 36 years old, in fact – I didn’t even consider using my normal corkscrew. I opted for the Ah-So immediately. This delightfully-named contraption is a godsend for old, brittle or frail corks, as there is no screw at all, but two slender, flexible metal blades that go in on either side of the cork. These are rocked gently into place, then twisted so that the blades loosen the cork from the neck of the bottle while holding it together. It worked really well, but let me tell you: that cork was disgusting. At least the top 80% of it was. The last bit was completely healthy, and there was an audible pop of air as it emerged from the bottle – a good sign in this case.
The Tasting Note
Say what you will, I think the wine has a beautiful colour – not brown at all, but a beautiful deep gold with a tendency towards brass, and clear as a bell. I’ll admit, I was expecting it to be darker.
The nose definitely reveals some age, with dried citrus, dried apricot, some honey and a bit of truffle alongside the expected ginger and marzipan.
But it really has held up well! The palate still offers freshness and the alcohol is clearly on the lower side, a bit of citrus, but more dried stone fruits and honey, with a hint of ginger and a tiniest bit of bitterness. It is light, not sweet (anymore perhaps), relatively compact and still has a decent finish, though there is some bitterness bringing up the rear.
For a wine of this age, with a risky amount of ullage, and at this (relatively modest) Prädikat level – even if it is from a great site and a respected producer – it is great! But I’m not going to lie, it is also a bit of a museum piece to me. It was fascinating to drink it and I regret nothing, but if I had another bottle of it I would more than likely only want to open it with people who are passionate about or interested in something like this, I can’t say I would drink it for fun.
The One-Line Takeaway
Absolutely clean, and far better than could have been expected.