2010 Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Rotlay
This wine is a miracle, a tribute to the victory of terroir and the human spirit over the fickleness of the weather. It comes from Rotlay, a small parcel, just about one hectare of reddish slate, within the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard. The name means “red rock” in German, and “barren rock” in the Rhenish dialect used along the Mosel. To truly allow the vineyard to speak, Johannes Selbach vinifies together all the grapes from this tiny site, whether they be green grapes usually used in Kabinett or the botrytis-affected grapes found in dessert wines. The practice is heretical in Germany, and that’s why the wine could not legally be designated as Auslese. Blending all the grapes together was actually a suggestion of his father Hans, a great winemaker in his own right, and Johannes promised Hans on his deathbed that he would continue this practice. This turned out to be fortunate in the challenging 2010 vintage in Germany, where almost everyone was forced to water down their wines to tame the savage acids. The incredibly complex mixture of fruit from Rotlay produced balanced levels of acid that allowed Johannes to craft a wine that was almost universally acclaimed by critics as “the wine of the vintage.”
At the same time that the wine was in high demand throughout the world, the timing of a change in the distributorship of the Selbach-Oster wines here in Seattle meant that none originally came to this market. But we have had a long and productive relationship with Johannes; we still have pictures of his wonderful visit to the shop in 2009 on our website under “Free Tastings.” So when he visited earlier in the year, he promised to send us three cases of the 2010 Rotlay from his personal cellar. In Bear’s spirit, we opened it at our last club tasting, and the customers were in awe of its elegance, depth and complexity. There’s no doubt this wine will continue to develop for thirty years, although it will shine at whatever special occasion you choose to open it. And we even have a few bottles left at $55. Vielen dank, Johannes!
2001 R. López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Reserva
If there’s another winery in the world that we admire as much as Selbach-Oster, it might very well be López de Heredia. We have had the pleasure of meeting members of the López de Heredia family on several occasions. They are charming and generous and, we’re delighted to know, completely committed to keeping traditional Rioja wines alive. It is one of the oldest houses in Rioja, and one of the most staunchly traditional anywhere. For well over a century, they have made their wines using only their own fruit, no filtration, and all natural yeasts. They make no concessions to modern technology or expediency, sometimes aging their wines 20-plus years before release (not an inexpensive task). During the period about ten years ago when “international” and “hedonistic” wines were in vogue, they were regarded as an anachronism, but in the last few years such celebrated arbiters of taste as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have selected them as “winery of the year.” All their wines are from single vineyards, and Tondonia is their oldest vineyard, originally planted in 1913. Located in a shell-like depression next to the River Ebro which serves as a border with Rioja Alavesa (the part of the Rioja appellation region belonging to the Basque Country), it is characterized by alluvial clay soil that has a high proportion of limestone. The Reserva is a multi-dimensional wine, with a distinctive nose, crisp red fruit, minerality from the soil, and powerful, deep flavors. The tannins are fine-grained but still noticeable, so the wine would benefit from another five years or so in the cellar. It’s a relative bargain at $42, and would be a great match for meat dishes, tapas, or charcuterie.