Brian Cain

Riesling: Germany vs Michigan

Brian Cain
Riesling: Germany vs Michigan

Riesling: Germany vs. Michigan

Compared to the noble wines of the Rheingau, Nahe and Mosel, the wines of Michigan scored higher.


Even those of us who love Michigan wine and tout its quality every chance we get,  have to be surprised when our wines score better than the most noble wines of Germany’s top wine regions.   Although I scored the German wines a hair higher than the Michigan wines, the group as a whole scored the German wines cumulatively with 457 points while the Michigan wines scored 471 points*.   Yes, that is splitting hairs, but, the fact that these German estates have been making the best Rieslings in the world for several centuries while Ed O’Keefe planted the first Riesling in Michigan at Chateau Grand Traverse in 1975, this is a remarkable showing.   Tom and Kim LeRoux recently hosted this tasting of the Rude Tasters.   As always, the wines were served double blind so no one knew what kind of wines we were tasting or which wines were served in what order.


Initially, we started with a couple of blind “warm up” wines which were not rated but served first in order to calibrate our palates to some extent.   Most of the tasters felt the Fenn Valley was a tad sweeter than the Chateau Ste. Michelle and slightly richer and more aromatic.  Both were excellent in my book, just different.

2017 Fenn Valley Lake Michigan Shore Riesling $12 (11.5% ABV)  Remarkably fresh and bright with lots of citrus-like impressions and subtle cilantro and green herb nuances.  Long lasting.  My score 87 points.  No group score or ranking.

2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling $13 (12% ABV)  Classy!  Also, very young and fresh with pear and peach subtleties.  My score 89 points.  No group score or ranking.




2nd place overall group score

2015 Weingut Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling $15 (10% ABV)  Extremely bright with vivid floral scents, mineral-like nuances and crisp, elegant peachy impressions.  It feels sweeter and rounder than it really is.  My score 93 points. 


3rd place overall group score

2016 Dr. H. Thanisch Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling Feinherb $11 (11% ABV)  Earthy limestone mingles with fresh citrus aromas finishing with crisp semi dry pear and apple nuances.   It is a bit lean, though not shy with plenty of stuffing.  My score 88 points.


6th place overall group score

2015 Weingut Martin Tesch Nahe Riesling Krone Trocken $17 (12.5% ABV)  Though the bouquet was a bit odd (some fruit, but sesame paste and earth scents very noticeable),  it had quite a bit of character, considering its rather dry, acidic, lean demeanor.  My score 85 points.


7th place overall group score

2016 Schloss Johannisberg Rheingau Riesling $19 (12% ABV)  Even with the fine balance, pleasantly fruity aroma and a soft easy finish, the overall impression as just a little bland compared to the other wines.  Several tasters gave low scores.   Probably time will help.  My score 85 points.




4th place overall group score

2017 Rove Estate Leelanau Peninsula Riesling $18 (12% ABV)  Bright, spicy bouquet with star fruit and limes in the nose.  Fine balance and supple finish.  My score 88 points.


8th place (last) overall group score

2017 Ciccone Vineyard Leelanau Peninsula Riesling $20 (12.9% ABV)  A few of the tasters really disliked this wine.   I found it fairly simple and not a lot of bouquet, but did not find any flaws.  The mouth feel is balanced and offers citrus and apple nuances.   My score 85 points.


5th place overall group score

2016 Chateau Grand Traverse Whole Cluster Old Mission Peninsula Riesling $11 (11.5% ABV)  Classy wine; fresh, clean, well balanced and fine.  Nice nuance of peppery bitter herb to counter the tropical fruit that carries through from bouquet to finish.  This is what is possible in Michigan!   My score 92 points.


1st place overall group score

2017 Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Old Mission Peninsula Riesling $11 (9.8% ABV)  I guess the Rude’s have a  sweet tooth.   Don’t get me wrong, the huge ripe grape aroma and rich stony herbal palate is pure class, but, for me the higher sweetness made the focus of the wine its long juicy semi sweet finish masking its complexity.   Time will be kind to this wine, however, so don’t hesitate to keep it for 5-10 years to let the sugar calm down and the big flavors to come through.  My score 86 points.


Overall, the wines were highly refreshing and none too sweet.   With the exception of the Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest, all would fall into the “dry” category though some may contain a percent or two of residual sugar that is balanced off with crisp, fresh acidity.  Even the Late Harvest was just right for most of the tasters.   We know the German wines will age and gain complexity for at least a decade.   I have had similar experiences with the Chateau Grand Traverse and Fenn Valley.   I have no reason to believe that the other wines will be any less long lived.


Enjoy in Good Health!

A Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner



*This number is based on 16 tasters rating each wine 0-10; 10 being a perfect score.   We use the entire scale.   We rate wines as low as 1 point if we perceive flaws.   So, 471 points is a very high cumulative score for this group of tasters.