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There are below-ground flavors and above-ground flavors; Selbach-Oster wines helped teach me that. The below-ground flavors are similar to umami but not identical. They are tangible but inferential. In contrast, above-ground flavors are explicit and visible and they arrive with all their details evident. A (very) few wineries might sometimes combine the two types, though this is quite difficult. I love them both and neither is the “better” way. I can say that below-ground flavors seem especially fluid and flexible at the table, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. I like the tact and introversion of those wines, but that’s because I’m the way I am, and all one can properly say is “my kind of person loves that kind of wine,” which is true but not helpful.

This isn’t to say that below-ground wines have no above-ground elements; of course they do. The opposite is also true. But wines like Selbach’s (among others) wrap around you, arriving from no fixed point, yet they encompass you. Nor is this so terribly nebulous. It inheres to types of winemaking, starting with ambient ferments, going to oxygen-tolerant cellar work (which includes the 1,100 Liter casks called Fuder) and often including the eschewing of fining and the relishing of lees both as flavor and builders of texture.

An estate like the Selbach’s has vintages that suit it and ones that don’t. This is apart from how “good” they may be. It’s a question, you might say, of acoustics. The kind of wine estate-X makes is best expressed in vintages like –Y- because conditions align best with that estate’s house style. On the other hand, what I think of such things may be different from the vintner’s own thoughts. A blatant (and hypothetical!) example could be a grower who loved “high acidity” and yet the way she makes her wine is basically inimical to dramatic acidity, and it turns out her best vintages aren’t the ones with boffo acids.

You see where I’m going with this. 2021 is a highly “special” vintage, one whose galvanic nature is better aligned with above-ground flavors, which may be at cross-purposes with the classic Selbach type. ’21 keeps shooting flavor rockets up into the sky, but what of the deficits in the depths?

In fact it is amazing how many excellent wines Selbach made in a vintage I would argue doesn’t quite suit them. Oh there is plenty to appreciate here, but often those wines seem to prevail against the vintage. I doubt Johannes Selbach will agree with me overall, and I hope he’ll recognize that I myself recognize the degree to which my palate has left its earlier obsession with acidity. That being the case, it stands to reason that I wouldn’t be entirely at home with ’21. That he has made so manyexcellent wines in such a year testifies to his wise guidance, but the vintage as a whole is a matter of light and shade.

It bears mentioning, just to offer context, that the prevailing consensus among Mosel observers is that Selbach’s ‘21s are among the least affected by the charged acidity one sees in so many other wineries. I’ve tasted a few of those, and they were “quite zingy” for those who relish acidity as-such. For the rest of us, they were borderline undrinkable. A few tasters have opined that Selbach’s ‘21s are too plush, which says more about their tastes than it does about the wines. “By the naked numbers, we picked grapes with very good ripeness and flavor and with crisp, yet ripe acidities, so an amelioration of the acidity levels didn’t present itself as a necessity, “ says Johannes, continuing: “Still, 2021 is a “greener” and crisper vintage than most preceding vintages back to 2008.”

It also says that habitual and repeated exposure to a certain type of wine will often dull the palate to the wines’ excesses. During the “sweet-wave” in the aughts (when so many RS-wines were grossly over-sugary) I saw myself guilty of having developed an analogous blind-spot, accepting as “balanced” a lot of wines that strike me as far too sweet now. Not to mention, lovers of high-acid wines are, let’s say, a special bunch.

By the time I was finished I’d had every wine at least four times, and many of them six times. There was “tasting” and drinking before and with dinners, and I tasted them in different sequences every time. To do so was both a luxury and a necessity, as the 2021 vintage tends to shape-shift, in general and at Selbach in particular. I would have to disavow any notes I wrote for a wine I only tasted once, and even now I can’t insist these are “conclusive,” but only the result of all the study I could give them.

That doesn’t mean it’s a free for all where nothing can be known. I have a bead on Selbach’s vintage as an entirety, but most of the wines squirm around, leaving often vivid impressions but very few explanations. What’s definitive is how few things are definitive.

That said, I grow ever more confident in my instinct to drink these high-acid wines on the young side. Having lived with 24 open bottles for seven days, they need their fruit – and if you taste a lot of them at once, you’ll need a good relationship with your dentist. This is also a minority view, but I stand by it.

The first time through I tasted these twenty two Rieslings as I’d have done at the winery, in ascending order of sweetness, so that on day-1 everything I tasted was dry.

A WORD ABOUT TASTING LANGUAGE: With typical Mittelmosel wines – and Selbach’s are paradigms of the type – you can presume upon aromas and flavors of lime, herbs, apples and the taste of slate. I’ll try to avoid repeating them in the notes, but if any are especially present or absent I’ll let you know, and if other nuances appear I’ll tell you.

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Before starting in on the samples, I had a quick look at a few 2023’s last week, not enough to offer a judgment but enough to offer a speculation. In Germany, based on samples from Dönnhoff and Selbac

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May 08, 2023

I sure hope the 21 Selbach wines make it to Albuquerque NM!

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