November 25, 2011

Tasting In Stereo with Pop & Pour: 2009 Dr. H. Thanisch Berncasteler Doctor Riesling Kabinett

This is the second instalment of Tasting in Stereo, a concept where simultaneously along with my counterpart, the highly talented Peter Vetsch: author of Calgary based Pop & Pour, and man of unparalleled systematic taste, we publish our thoughts on a predetermined wine without influence from each other.  Other than to agree on the label, we have not spoken about the wine whatsoever.  Last time, our opinions were in difference:  Peter enjoyed the sample while I found it only acceptable.  I think all who read our reviews gained insight on the influence and importance of serving temperature.  I sampled the Shiraz at the warmer end of the tasting spectrum while Peter enjoyed his somewhat cooler.  The warmer temperature accented the alcohol in my glass causing an undesirable amount heat on the finish.  Will the distant cling of our glasses clash once again this time or resonate in harmony?  Join us right now as we taste from most famous of the legendary vineyards of Berncastel, Germany in this edition of Tasting in Stereo.  

On the ziggurat of white wine greatness there are many plateaus.  The top spot however is reserved for a matter of personal preference.  And for many, that element of vinous superiority is none other than Chardonnay – I rest with one foot firmly planted in this camp, while the other travels the world making regularly stops on the banks of the Mosel River

Riesling is the ‘other’ white grape; it has been for centuries, and likely always will be.  Cut from a different cloth than the white knight of Burgundy, Riesling is of greater purity – arguably.  Foregoing the influence of oak, it projects an individuality and clarity unique to the variety.  The word used to describe a wine’s uniqueness of place is terroir, though when discussing Riesling I also like add the term transparency.   Riesling leaves little to the imagination; nature dictates the resultant wine and better German winemakers do little to tamper with the process.   German QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) standards dictate the classification of the wine as one of:  Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, or Trockenbeerenauslese based on the natural sugar content (brix level) of the grapes at harvest. According to regulations, chaptalization (the addition of sugar) is not allowed and the resultant wines can range from bone dry to the ultra-sweet nectar of the Gods known as Beerenauslese.

* It is important to note that higher brix does not necessarily dictate a sweeter wine, and that the first three levels of the QmP if allowed, will ferment until full dry. Ascending through the QmP levels, German Riesling becomes richer in flavour and intensity.   

Enough of the theory, let’s dive into the wine:  In addition to the ’08 Spatlese and the ’05 Auslese, I have tasted the 2009 Dr. H. Thanisch, Berncasteler Doctor, Riesling Kabinett wine twice before.  The entire Doctor vineyard measures only 8.1 acres in total and is comprised of 100 year old pre-phylloxeria vines that have a root structure extending over 10 metres below the surface.  This plot of vines is said to be most expensive agricultural land in Germany.  But does that also make it the greatest expression of Riesling in the world?  The Alsacian winemakers will tell you otherwise, but I tend to side with the Germans here – this is the standard by which all Riesling is compared. 

The Legend of the Doctor vineyard

‘The story goes’ that in the 13th century, the Archbishop of Trier was passing through the Mosel Valley when he became deathly ill.  After countless failed attempts to cure his ailing health, he was offered a glass of Riesling as comfort in his final days.  Miraculously, after drinking the wine, his health was quickly regained.  From then on, the Berncastel vines that produced his miracle cure were renamed ‘The Doctor’…  Sounds like a bad case of the flu to me but hey, it does make a good story.

Dr. H.Thanisch - Erben Müller-Burggraef, Berncasteler Doctor, Riesling Kabinett 2009

As of 1988, the house of Thanisch was spilt to produce wines under the two family names:   Dr. H. Thanisch: Erben Müller-Burggraef, the example we are sampling today, and Dr. H. Thanisch: Erben-Thanisch.  Both are exceptional and share the fruit of the steeply sloping Doctor vineyard with one other producer: Wegeler of Deinhard.   

The deep yellow colour (the picture really doesn’t do it justice) might cause one to mistake this for a much older bottle.  Aromas of peach leap from the glass to reveal notes of spiced honey, apricot, and hints of almond extract – Initial impressions have me questioning the Kabinett (first harvest) status, and tasted blind I would likely label this a Spatlese wine; evidentially, all Riesling Kabinett is not created equal.  Incidentally, the origin of the term kabinett dates back to when German winemakers held on to a few of their best bottle for personal consumption.  These prized bottles were stored in the winemakers own ‘Cabinet’.  On the palate, this wine redefines the definition of balance.  Nothing is out of place: sweetness, acidity, and body all resonate in luxurious harmony with no one note projecting its tone above the others.  Sensations of ripe red apple, juicy Bartlett pear, and hints caramel on the finish define the flavour profile beautifully.  This is a truly fantastic wine and when compared to a label of comparable quality from the Chardonnay camp, the ’09 Thanisch, Berncasteler Doctor is an unimaginable bargain at $42.  

Doctor Riesling is produced in very limiting quantity, but if you do manage to locate a bottle, do not hesitate.  A wine like this will change the way you view the sea of Riesling on the store shelves. 

In terms of awarding a numerical grade, I will give this sensational effort a 93+ point score. And had I not previously tasted the Auslese from the same house (which nearly brought a tear to my eye) I would undoubtedly grade this example higher. 

* Now that you have my take on this wine, please flip the record over and listen to Peter’s thoughts via Pop & Pour  at

Over to you Peter!


  1. Fantastic review! I love the idea of having two opinions! I believe I actually visited this vineyard as a young teen and alas was not old enough to partake of the wine my grandfather so adored. Perhaps I will have another chance to visit.... sigh!

  2. Thx for the comments Holly and Bini. I too hope to visit these vineyards and marvel at the landscape some day. I'll bet the wine tastes even better when you are sitting on a patio at the foot of the hills :)


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine