Very early on in my wine journey, Christmas, 1977 to be exact, my Father-in-law introduced me to a wine that changed the way I thought about wines. It was a 1971 Huxelrebe, Trockenberrenauslese from the village of Nieder Olm in the Rheinhessen region of Germany. I don’t remember the winery’s name but the owner/winemaker had given the bottle to his Mother who was my in-laws landlady in Nieder Olm, a small, wine growing village about 10 miles south of Mainz. She gave the bottle to my Father-in-law on Christmas eve and, after he and I tried it to make sure it was good enough to share, we shared it with the rest of the family. There must have been 10 or 12 of us but one bottle was plenty to go around.
1971 was, along with 1959, one of the greatest vintages of the last century in Germany. Now, Nieder Olm in Rheinhessen is certainly not the Mecca of viticulture in the world, not even in Germany. And Huexlrebe, a bastard offspring of a cross between Gutedel (Chasselas) and Courtillier musque is definitely not the King, nor even Queen of noble grape varieties. But this wine blew me away and I can still clearly remember the taste and feel of it.
“Trockenberrenauslese” translated is dry berry select harvest. The Germans love to run their words together. These “grapes” are really raisins, covered with the grey mold Botrytis Cinerea, which lives off of the liquid in the grapes. When you dump a tank of these “dried grapes” into the press, a cloud of grey spores from the Botrytis blows up. The grapes don’t look pretty but, man do they taste great! By German wine law the juice coming from the grapes has to have at least 34 Brix = %sugar by weight. These puppies are sweet and concentrated.
The wines made from such grapes are always lush, sweet and golden in color due to the Botrytis. The alcohol rarely exceeds 8% because the yeast simply can’t ferment any more sugar than that in such a high concentration. It’s all of the residual sugar that makes the wines so sweet and rich and lush and causes the Aussies to refer to them as “Stickies”.
Another way to produce stickies, though not in Australia, is through concentration by freezing the grapes on the vines; Ice Wine. Most of our Stickies in cool climates are produced from frozen grapes.In either case, these are memorable wines. You probably wouldn’t ever want to drink more than a couple of ounces at one time so make sure you have some family or friends around when you open the bottle. Last year at Christmas my daughter brought a couple of ice wines from New York State. I had one from Germany and a couple of older ones from Michigan (1986 and 1997). They’re not for everyday drinking and they don’t go well with food but, wow! what a treat for that evening with family and friends. We even talked about Opa and that Huxelrebe back in Nieder Olm.
I encourage you this year to splurge a little and create some new memories. Happy Holidays!