Phases of Aging Riesling

As try to soak up more and more information about wine, I find myself reading a lot, and since I love Riesling, I really enjoy the Mosel Fine Wines publication. I was recently reading their very interesting and informative (for me) piece on aging Riesling (The Magnificence of Maturing Mosel Riesling), which included the following general advice:

Fruity [Rieslings] typically go through the following phases (here on the example of Spätlese / Auslese):

  • Primary Youth Phase: for up to two years, the wines burst with primary fruit and can be a joy to drink and taste the essence of the grape.

  • Muted Phase: Mosel wines have a tendency to close down after 1-3 years after the vintage. During this period, the wines do not show much beyond vague notes
    of citrus, a touch of hay and, in extreme cases, even a touch of caramel.

  • Fruit Phase: at around 8-15 years old, the wines start to open up again and show their full primary fruit, but nicely integrated.

  • Terroir Phase: at around 15-25 years of age, the wines still show some fruitiness but the sweetness has receded and blended into the flavors of the wine.

  • Mystic Phase: at over 25 years of age, the wines tend to develop their own dynamics: Differences between terroirs disappear (to an extent) and tertiary flavors kick in, with notes of marzipan, candied fruit, etc.

I was very surprised to learn about this “muted phase.” While I have noticed some younger Rieslings to be muted, I thought it was due to that particular wine, not part of a pattern of Riesling in general. I know some wines go through awkward phases, but I didn’t realize Riesling did this. With my limited exeperience, I just assumed Riesling aged a bit linearly, going from more acidic and primary fruit notes, to more integrated fruit and sweet/honeyed/candied notes, and eventually developing more tertiary notes.

What is your personal experience with aging Riesling? Does it seem to follow the information above? This year, I’ve been loving all of the 2015s I could get my hands on, but should I be getting ready to throw them in the cellar and forget about them (I have to admit, I’m a sucker fur young, acidic Rieslings)?

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Thank you!

I think you will find many people on the board agree about the muted phase of Riesling. It’s been discussed on many threads, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what kind of search terms would lead directly to those.

Generally not wrong, but it depends vm on sweetness/dryness, vintage, producer - and also region. Saar is different, and also Pfalz, Rheingau etc. not to speak of Baden, Alsace, Austria

I have been drinking German Riesling for over 25 years, and yes, many wines go through a muted phase. My general rule is 18-24 months post harvest is when things start to shut down. I then try to wait until 7+ years from the vintage to approach the wines again.

That is what works for me, but it varies from wine to wine, depending on many factors.

Thanks for posting the link to the article. A few years back I became fascinated with the potential of aged Riesling and began to cellar a few bottles every year as an ongoing experiment. All bottles are non-German though and made in a dry style (the thought of trying to understand and select German wines was too intimidating). The oldest bottles are from the 2012 vintage and I was planning to check in on one of these at age 10. Can I expect something similar to what is explained in the article regarding aging of my wines, or should I be checking in on them now? Cheers!

Thank you! This is very helpful.

Maybe this helps explain why, to my surprise, a 2016 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #10 I had recently, seemed much more muted than the 2017 vintage I had slightly prior.

2016 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #10:

49.5 degrees; pop and pour; crappy wine glass

Look: medium - pale yellow; pretty much no apparent viscosity

Nose: bottom of new sneaker; soft Meyer lemon; not much nose

Palate: riper Meyer lemon; lime; soft petrol; salinity; limestone; medium sweetness; med-high acidity; light+ body; a touch of creaminess; very slight fizz

Overall thoughts: great balance, energizes mouth with good acidity; good, fresh lemon flavor and crispness from minerality, but seems a bit tight and reserved. I think it might need more air and just more cellar time (even though, I usually love young Rieslings). I’ll see if it has improved at all the next day.

Update: There was no noticeable/significant improvement the next day. I suspect that this wine needs some more time in the cellar.

It either stinks or doesn’t of petrol
If not, lucky you
If so, the stink keeps getting worse
And worse
Then reportedly the hydrocarbons fade and degrade or morph and you have old Riesling.


Great question and good to see the responses.

It is really tough to make generalizations about the development curve of a category with so much variation in sugar, acid, and CO2 content. Spatlese and Auslese can range from perceptibly near-dry to sickeningly sweet and lots in between.

I’m always disappointed when I open some of my aged Rieslings and they don’t smell of petrol.

I opened a 2008 Alsace Grand Cru last weekend and it had a subtle whiff of petrol back then when I bought the bottle some 7 years ago. Now it had no petrol notes whatsoever, only somewhat developed Riesling fruit but still going remarkably strong, still far from its peak.

I think the original chronology makes a lot of sense, with Robert and Keith’s caveats. For example, Mosel Kabinetts can get to the mystical stage long before 25 years, while Ausleses are unlikely to.

Age is the #1 most important thing for German riesling, in my opinion. I think $20 90 point kabinett at age 20 is not only better, but far better, than $60 95 point spatlese when young.

Young riesling is a sweet grape beverage which tastes nice, but isn’t really a wine experience to me. And I think they taste very similar to each other when young, too. When the fruit recedes and you have modest sweetness alongside the bony mineral, that’s when it really become a wine experience for me.

And it’s amazing how high your odds are with older riesling. You don’t have to have gotten the perfect producer, bottle and/or vintage to get good results decades down the road. Solid bottles from solid producers seem to have a very high hit rate, at least for me.

But it’s not easy to source mature riesling. I think very little of it makes it to older age, and most of what does is the ultra-sweet dessert style ones that don’t interest me as much. It’s sort of the curse of being a wine that goes down easily at younger ages, so it doesn’t make it to when it becomes really great. It’s a lot easier to lay off your Barolo and Bordeaux until maturity, since it’s not that compelling along the way.

Those are must my opinions, and I think I’m in a smaller minority in it.

I might add a flab phase after the mute phase, and overlapping with the fruit phase, in which dissipating spritz makes the wine taste sweeter and softer than it did on release. Then you’re at the fork in the road where the bad ones hold on to the spare tire the rest of their lives and the good ones hit that terroir phase.



My experience is like yours. A case in point, a bottle of 2001 Willi Haag - Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese last week. This wine showed well young and I bought a bunch. But this Haag has a reputation as an uneven producer, and bottles I’ve opened over the years have been disappointing – disjointed, a bit simple. Until this bottle and another one earlier in the year. Finally, the wine has blossomed. It’s not in the first tier by any stretch, but it’s come together, it’s no longer disjointed, and it’s starting to show some real complexity and (finally) gives real pleasure. I’ve had many other bottles over the years from less producers that showed very well with age.

I don’t know if this is still true, but most producers I visited between 1997 and 2006 (my last trip to Germany) had sizeable back lists at different sweetness levels.

I echo all your points! I wish I had a bottomless cellar that I could fill with inexpensive yet immensely delicious Mosel Kabinett.

Very good thread here. I have various German rieslings in the cellar…mainly Kabinett and I am hoping they will continue to age nicely.

There is never a need to spend $65 for Spatlese. :wink:

I love the BA and TBA wines, but so rarely open them that it’s a waste to buy them. Of course they are essentially immortal, so if it takes 40 years to get to one, who cares.

Chris is right on all counts, except the price of 60$ on a 95 point Spätlese, as David points out is far to high, and the availability of cheap mature QBA, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese (1975-2001) that is still quite good in Germany.
A bottomless cellar of Mosel Kabinetts would probably be the cheapest bottomless cellar to obtain. champagne.gif

Where are you guys finding all these $60 Spatlesen? Are you sure you are not buying GG wines?

They’re buying 2 bottles. [snort.gif]