Awhile back, I found myself in the possesion of a 1966 Karthauserhof Sang Riesling Spatlese, and that was odd. It wasn't so much odd that I had the bottle, because, you know, sommelier types are always packing bottles of mid-century Ruwer Riesling in their shirt-pockets and such. It was partly odd because the bottle was a 700ml, which you don't see every day (kind of like those old 720ml Barbarescos you can come across), but mostly odd because of that extra word there between the producer name (Karthauserhof) and the grape variety (Riesling). Sang. What was that?
I wondered about it for a few days. Usually a Karthauserhof label, which are a bit weird (but cool!) anyway because the label is only on the neck of the bottle, says Karthauserhof "Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg" Riesling, like this:
Eitelsbach is the town near the Karthauserhof estate, I knew that, so what was this bit about Sang? Was it like Berg Roseneck where the vineyard area name was seperated into two words? That didn't make any sense, because I had never seen the Sang part before. Perhaps it was in reference to a song? Was 1966 the year Frank Sinatra sang that he'd left his heart in Eitelsbach? I needed to know.
So I did a bit of research. It turns out that what we now refer to as the "Karthauserhofberg," the estate vineyard of the Karthauserhof winery, is actually an amalgam of what was once 5 different vineyards sites. These were called Burgberg, Kronenberg, Orthsberg, Sang, and Stirn. There was no Karthauserhofberg back then. Everything was labelled with the individual site in which the grapes were grown. But in the 1980's the current owners decided that this was too confusing and decided to label all of their wine as coming from one estate vineyard, encompassing what had once been seperately known sites. That change also allowed the Tyrell family, who own Karthauserhof, to blend grapes from the different areas when they make their wines. At about the same time as they decided to make the change in how the wines were labelled, the Tyrells also threw out the old wooden vats that used to line the winery, and made a switch over to stainless steel for the fermentation of their wines. So a lot is different now at the Karthauserhof estate than it once was. Which may be for the better, as after all, I have greatly enjoyed many bottles of Karthauserhof, even if they do take forever to develop mature flavors.
I was reminded of all this recently when I found myself opening a bottle of this:
Which of course is an old Kronenberg Riesling. That is Kronenberg, not Kronenbourg. It's not like they were making wine from four of the different parcels, but turning out 1664 beer in the fifth. Anyway, there was this bottle of Kronenberg Auslese, and it made me wonder about that old Sang. I've only ever heard of Sang Spatlese, never of Sang Auslese. I wonder if it was Kronenberg that had the better exposure, where the grapes got that much riper every year? I don't know. Which is the sad part, really. Because I would like to know, but pretty much can't now.
I remember I visited the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo awhile back. They don't tell you this in the guidebooks, but the folks who work in Tsukiji, the fishmongers, aren't too keen on tourists passing the time ambling by their stalls. They are there to work, it is cold in the morning, and if you get in the way, well maybe that brackish water gets pushed in your direction when they throw it out, which is often. Or maybe one of the guys zooming around in a little truck that is more like an overgrown lawnmower decides to brush you back a bit as he passes you amidst lanes much too narrow to be called "streets." Which I guess I am cool with. I don't really dig interlopers in the kitchen, either. But anyway, sometimes tourist folks want a closeup. Like this British guy who I saw at Tsukiji. He decided to get a closer look at a worker who was cutting into a gigantic head of tuna with what seemed to be a hacksaw. The Toro head was like bigger than me. Huge. And there was a man cutting into it like a sculptor might tackle a raw piece of Carrara marble. So whitey starts in to look over his shoulder and see what is what, and our fish sculptor isn't having it at all. He puts down the hacksaw (nice of him, in retrospect), clamps Gordon Brown with one hand on each shoulder, and marches him out of there right nice.
I think about that because I feel like that British guy when I think about Kronenberg. Sure would be nice to get a closer look, but that ain't going to happen is it? Sometimes I wonder if there is mad scientist in the lab at Karthauserhof who lets out a loud cackle when he blends vials of Orthsberg with the Burgberg "Muuuuuwwwhahahaha!!!! They'll never know the secret now!!!! HAHAHA!!!" Anyway, I apologize to anyone at Karthauserhof if that comes off a bit harsh, as I really do like the wines they make there today, but I also feel like something has been lost.
Do you know what terroir is? Listen, because I am going to tell you what it is right now. Terroir is where you put your two index fingers up close to your nose and you see another, smaller finger in between the left and right, linking them together. Terroir is that link. The one that is between the grape variety and the vintage. Look directly at it and it is gone. You can't glean everything about it from a photograph, and you sense it more than anything else. But hold up your palm before your eyes and you can't see it either.
Burgberg. Sang. Stirn. I mean, what GREAT names. Burgberg, Burgberg, Burgberg, I love just saying it. And Stirn. Sang. I mean come on, how poetic is that? One of these vineyards Sings in the vintages, while the other is quite Stern most years. So, so much better than Brune and Blonde, I think.
I guess there is an argument to be made that a balanced wine needs a little Sang and a little Stirn. But do me this favor, if you find yourself opening up one of these old vineyards for a taste, tell me what you find out, okay?