PART TWO – A JOURNEY OF FRIENDSHIP AND RESPECT, PLUS HAULING MY BLOATED PALATE TO TASTE A FEW WINES…
First, a small note. These visit impressions will be out of sequence depending on whether I wrote notes directly into the computer – the ones you’re now reading – or into my tasting notebook, which are yet to be transcribed into this document.
Though everyone accepts the utility of writing directly into a device, I still don’t like the vibe. I did it to save time, and because I have a little carpal-tunnel in my writing hand, which makes lengthy handwriting a challenge. The computer also creates a metaphorical barrier between the vintner and the taster, which they may not notice, but I do.
Again I emphasize these are sketches, not really “tasting notes,” which I am learning require a good deal of white-space and deliberations. I scribbled such as I was able under the circumstances. The reason I went there at all was not to taste wine in depth, but to take deep, long friendships out of cold-storage and return them to the warm present. I missed my guys. They needed to know that I loved them. They needed to know I was okay. They also were glad to know that they would be okay in the marketplace. They probably didn’t need to see how much weight I’d gained, but they saw it anyway – alas. I tried blaming it on covid but it felt like blaming the dog when someone farted. (Come on Fido!)
We had, needless to say, a lot to talk about, big stuff, life-stuff, and the nuances of individual wines seemed less germane. If you find me waxing sentimental, all I can say is how damn HAPPY I was to see everyone.
“This won’t take long; I only have three 2021s to show you,” said Johannes Selbach. The day before I’d tasted the entire just-bottled vintage at Willi Schaefer, and also at Carl Loewen – but Selbach’s wines were in no particular hurry, it seemed.
2021 Riesling Trocken (cask samp; bottle-ready) a little fluffy here, freshly filtered; palate is ”even,” not smooth but w/o sharp edges. Has the Selbach “ambience,” but it’s blurry. Proper elements in place. 2021 S-O feinherb (settled but not filtered), this is ’21; floral, flow-y, acidity present but not clamorous, autumn-ripe quince, classic. 2018 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, a cask-aged wine still on the fine lees, stored in 3,2, and 1 year(s) old fuder, to be bottled “when ready”; it shows beeswax and chamomile, and obviously wood, but in the Burgundian creamy way, not plastered on, mineral and textural but forget your paradigm of “Mosel” or even Riesling. More like a sprightly old-school white Burg from an overachieving grower in an “ancillary” commune. Its name’s TBD. This is one of Johannes’ most successful experiments.
2021 Zeltinger Himmelreich Kab H-T is marvelous, will be one of the best ones, as the vines age (40+) this wine gets deeper, ’21 florals and mints and a kind of green cream, like a pudding of herbs led along by a charming jab of mint. Empty glass smells of fir and ylang-ylang. 2020 Bömer bottled too late for my big vintage report….(3/2022); shows fuder (which I like) and also the stern side of ’20; also shows astringency and pepper; it’s the ascetic face of Schlossberg. 2021 Weh-Son Spät 1-star is seriously magnificent, with every facet of ’21 at its best and every facet of the site at its best, a floating host of eerie blue spirits washed their wings in this water. 2020 Anrecht (replaces a corked bottle I had at home), a pink duck breast with hibiscus and pink peppercorns, savory and not overtly “sweet” with vetiver and angularity. Bravo!
I see I used the word “flow-y” again. The Germans have the ideal word to depict this quality: Trinkflus, a limpid and slow-moving flow of flavor that creates a curious sort of joy, like the negative ions in the air near a patient little stream. The better ‘21s all showed it. I’d been led to expect a vintage crisp to a point of briskness, and brisk to a point of pointedness and pointed to a scrape of astringency, but I saw very few wines like that. Instead, all these swaying, supple beings doing qigong on my palate.
Big doings here. Christopher has married, become a daddy, and assumed proprietorship of the estate, which at this point has to be included among the Mosel’s best. We chatted and tasted in view of a weird little sort of roomba that cut the grass outside, in the droll and winsome way of such things. It should have had a face painted on it.
2021 Pinot Blanc is just the ticket; it isn’t Riesling but it’s MOSEL, it has minerality, contour, a pleasing stiffness; it is interesting wine. And the wood is discreet. 2021 Quant (the basic estate Riesling) is markedly delicious; ’21 flowers, crush of blue slate, a little snappy on the finish but a ton of charm up to then. Has 12g RS, so feinherb w/o being labeled as such. I love that they do this. Varidor is higher-toned, stonier, acids are….chipper, let’s say. Worthy, but not my type. 2021 Maximiner Klosterlay is lissome, winsome, demurely numinous, tremendous minerality, it’s Riesling, it shows the fundament, the backbone and laciness. 2021 Laurentiuslay Alte Reben Trocken is implosively juicy and virtually translucent, such is its fruit density. 2021 Maximiner Herrenberg Alte Reben Tr is pepperminty! Green tea of the spicy type…sencha, verbena, original vetiver, the actual root. 2021 Ritsch GG is a fine wild animal, oolong at its bushiest. 2021 Maximin Herrenberg GG is rather a riot of clamor and shouting right now. Can’t wait to taste it properly in a few months
2021 “1896” good god what an aroma –okay, a masterpiece, ten stars, not entirely dry and miraculous for it. I need an hour to write the thousand words the wine asks for; the empty glass smells like a Mandy Aftel fragrance. 2021 Herrenberg Kab tastes feinherb and is juicily floral, melon and verbena, it shrinks a little toward acid at the end but not to worry; a spectacular and perfect Kabi. 2021 Laurentiuslay Spät 1st sponti aroma vanishes in 30 secs, leaving spice and guava and soursop and white pepper, the lemony highlights don’t prepare you for the massive depth and dignity. An emperor of Mosel Späts. 2021 Ritsch Aus (room temp) is a fine vintage, but that Spät is a hard act to follow. Ritsch also “develops” in the empty glass. 2021 Klostergarten Eiswein smells like it should, and while it’s a tiny bit shrieky it’s also got the perfect Eiswein fruit. Remains to be seen whether it makes peace with its acidity.
A quick-and-dirty on Champagne MARC HEBRART, with whom we dined last evening. Just when you think this grower can’t possibly get any better, he ambushes you with something like the 2016 Noces de Craie, which is simply otherworldly Champagne that not only tastes ridiculously beautiful but also offers at least three skeins of flavor, amounting to gorgeous dialogues of nuance, so that you are only protected from dissolving into a puddle of bliss by your fascination with the wine’s intricacy. The 2014 Clos De Leon, with it’s “old fashioned” vinification – not to mention the grateful pride its proprietor takes in the plot itself – creates a dignified, savory Champagne that’s half way to food.
Both of these tasted best in the Juhlin glass 2.0, which appears to have been a commercial flop but which made each wine shimmer, at least last night.
A NOTE ON VINTAGE 2019 IN CHAMPAGNE: Obviously the Millesimes won’t be issued for several years, but the vintage is in many of the NV blends, and everyone likes it. (Rodolphe Péters says it’s “the best vintage in decades.”) I like it too, but I’m not sure I share the prevailing view that it’s better than 2018. All this is provisional, but ’19, for all its generous warmth and grainy “sweetness” is sometimes suspiciously nice, and if I’m going to confront a “nice” vintage then the fruit of 2018 makes just as good a claim – at least to me, at least now, at least superficially, etc.
The Cuis 1er Cru based on 19, reserve wines from ‘18-‘10, is markedly ready and is as charming as this wine has ever been, in the warm way of this vintage. Toasted brioche, less jasmine and green tea than usual. Rosé (interesting to observe his tasting sequence) is becoming a successful and chipper sprite with the loveliest fruit. Base 19, deg. 12/21, a bit stiff compared to last year’s “Needs time,” and middle, to shore up the low dosage. Gastronome ’18 smells wonderful! I really like ’18. This will be two-plus, and with a long note! It’s complex and animated and full of nuance. Oenophile 16 is finely fragrant, deg. 1/2022, and with time it’ll join the list of successes. Fleuron 2017, strong, almost peppery, smoky, cherry tobacco, tastes like Oger but is actually mostly Chouilly/Cramant; quite long. “Without herbicides, we have more and more smoky flavors in our wines.” CLUBS: Chouilly 2015, is angular but also thrilling, galvanic, herbally monstrous; I can’t wait to dive into this. And I’m happy to taste on this spring morning with an interesting man who makes scintillating wine.
Cramant 2015 is greener, but is subdued by the stinging, flowing minerality. This will require an essay, about components and the various ways they “discuss” things with one another. Potential masterpiece – but we’ll see. “Basic” Club 2015, is the greenest of the bunch, but like all of these it’s engulfed, in this case by a mass of doughiness and a sort of bone broth from excellent poultry. Oger 2015 is perhaps the least successful among these – perhaps. Like all of them, this wine has a questionable overture but it leads to some pretty sumptuous music. The finish here is quite beautiful!
OK, now the Oger blend: base 19, but seems to be 100% 19; and it’s barely “Champagne” any more. It’s like a sparkling Pfalz Riesling (or even PN) GG, though a specific chalkiness does in time emerge. 2008 Oenophile (disg 4/22, but what’s on the US market was disgorged last Fall) – and this is completely outstanding! Blind wine…..(vintage of the 70s? There’s a sweetness of fruit here, and a smokiness recalling ’71, but the “green” aroma recalls a 69, as well as the raw-bacon, and the antique verdigris finish, both in flavor, vapor and length, suggests the 60s, as does the finely sorrowful music that plays around it. That, plus the woodsy finish. It is actually a non-dosé 2004 without sulfur! Well fuck me! It freshens in the glass, but even so. Ha! Big wine expert guy.
A BRIEF ENCOUNTER WITH PIERRE PETERS’ CURRENT LINEUP
I emphasize “brief” and am only reporting (even) this because I won’t be able to taste the wines again. Rodolphe does not believe in sending samples to writers to taste remotely.
In general the wines indicate this domain’s movement toward a classical profile as a statement of values, a preference for permanence over self-conscious “creativity.” The Cuvée de Resérve (aka the “NV Brut”) is based on 2019. My own encounters with ’19 suggest a toasted brioche savor and broad “horizontal” flavors, yellowflavors, savory rather than fruity. This bottling is on-the-money. I liked the 2017 L’Esprit with its stern dried-orange vinosity and class. The two wines from 2015 – a vintage I usually find atypically grassy for Champagne – showed that vintage’s note as a nuance in an otherwise compelling mélange. Montjolys had such a fine spicy finish that it ought to move further in that direction. M. Victor was roastier, savory and markedly autolytic. If these wines represented the 2015 vintage, I’d be far less wary of it. But then, Peters is no ordinary grower.
My favorite wine was the 2016-base Resérve Oubliée, which adds to its usual suavity of yeastiness a fine vein of mirabelles, jasmine and meringue. “Almond powder” was Rodolphe’s descriptor.
I did not taste Chetillon.
A serenely excellent collection.
These are Valerie Varnier’s first from-scratch wines, following the abrupt death of her husband Denis five years ago. She insisted I be candid with her, and I was happy to tell her the wines tasted like really good Varnier-Fannière Champagnes, and I wouldn’t have noted that someone “else” had made them. I’ll report on these with the detail they deserve when I get the samples to taste at home later in the year. But I was happy. The basic Brut Grand Cru is based on 2019 (55% is a perpetual reserve started in 2012), and is the wine I have known, and loved for many years. Incisive, pixilated, incisive, full of graphite. The old-vines Cuvée St Denis was richly satisfying; 2018 based, from the lieu-dit Maladries de Midi; it is exceptionally and finely fragrant, glowing with herbal quince nuances. There are two vintage wines, a 2015 that was muted from disgorgement and a sensational 2014, as good a wine as I’ve ever had from here. Finally the Rosé is steady as she goes, if a bit more rouge than it once was.
There will be another time to detail the beauty of Ms. Varnier’s choice to carry on the domain, but I must admit it’s awfully satisfying to see how good and typical the wines are. I have always loved them and now I can love them more deeply.
Again, a detailed report will follow, but two wines, the 2013 Cramant “Emotion”and the new disgorgement of the NV La Grace d’Alphael were both standing astride the balance pole between classicism and idiosyncrasy.
ALL RIESLINGS: Among my favorite growers, yet his chiseled and etched style can strike some tasters as cerebral, as if that was a problem. Among the 2021 dry wines, the Glanzstück is charming and winsome, an essentially ideal guzzler with flecks and feints of minerals and apples. Wie Im Flüge is basically mountain-stream water in the form of wine; Bestes Fass is rampantly mineral, and the Alte Reben is another potential masterpiece.
Goldatzel Kabinett feinherb is perfect Riesling about which nothing more need be said. Hölle Spätlese feinherb is roastier and crustier, feels drier (but isn’t), and finally Hölle Kabinett has the pith and contour it can sometimes lack. This is a brilliant group of wines, from a grower deserving of far greater renown.
Tradition 1er Cru, base 2015, deg 1/22, (dos 6g), 34% 2014 for reserve wine; other than disgorgement stiffness this is “with the program,” albeit the “particular” nature of ’15 is apparent.
The market demand is perturbing Nicolas’ desire for older blends with longer cork-time. He either has to decline orders or else sell less mature wine. No easy choice. Blancs d’Aÿ (2017) deg. 10/21, currently on the market but the ’18 is on-the-water. A markedly generous bottling, really grainy and flowering fields, drier than earlier but properly so, swashbuckling and geared up for action. The most overt and present since I started tasting these 25 (!) years ago. The 2018, identified by deg. date 2/22, is a fruit-bomb as many ‘18s are; jasmine, basmati, ginger, lemon rind, arranged differently than usual, with lower dosage accenting the stern elements and solidifying the chalky finish. Question of taste; I may have preferred it in its old idiom, but this is tasty and valid. Rosé 19-base, deg 12/21, Nicolas winces at its youth. Dos 8g, and a slightly higher proportion (15%) of red wine, 2018 PN. This of course is very fruity and because of its youth, relatively simple. In some ways I like it more, as its usual rhubarb is subdued in favor of all that rapture of fruit. Cuvée de Réserve base 2013, deg 7/21, this is the current release. 7% 09 for the reserve wine. I tasted it last year with higher dosage. Here it’s more vinous, solid, but the bargain is you give up charm to obtain seriousness and solidity, and give up affection to gain admiration. My appreciation here is cool, but it does exist. “I miss the gourmandise at the end,” Nicolas says, in a moment where he wonders whether the old dosage may have been better after all. I’m agnostic. The finish here does miss what would have given another color to its portrait, but what exists is chalky and serious. 1er Cru 2016 (as we drank delightedly at dinner last night.) is as adorable as most 16s seem to be. I’m going to utterly love this wine; as it’s first poured it’s coolly articulate and graceful and then its fruit arrives and it becomes pretty rapturous (deg. 8/21, dos 6g), leaving a lovely internal perfume that’s as unique a gesture of PN as you can ever receive. 2014 Club (deg 8/21) , aggressive aroma, more herbal than the gorgeous 2013, it’s as core-dense as a nuclear reactor, you sense it desperate to unfurl itself; a lot of sheer power for a Chiquet Club, but the melting doesn’t seem far away. I wonder how it’ll be later this year when I taste it at home. I sense it will always be strong but there’s an explosive complexity waiting just backstage. If the ’13 was dinner with your beloved, ’14 is dinner with your faculty mentor. This, though, will change!
There is an old wine in the mix….amazingly, movingly. Amazing only because I’m alone, and to broach a treasure just for one guy (even an imperial guy like moi) is seriously generous…though generous isn’t quite the word. It is the loving maintenance of a durable thread of kinship. It is the ’85 Blanc d’Aÿ, and it smells wonderful; the palate is spicy and spearminty with the glowy green of this ripe high-acid year; peppery, wildly herbal, huge fun! A perfectly flourishing adult wine, not antique and by no means tragic, too much energy for that, and too many splashes of fraicheur.
Grand Reserve, deg 7/21, base 19, res 18-17, certainly very good years for this assemblage! Tasted from three glasses; some reduction in one. Best in the “Sy” glass, and typical of this wine in all three. Finest in Juhlin.
Grand Cellier, deg 1/22, base 2018, res 17-16; needs time to emerge, rather a jagged puzzle right now, and un-coaxable.
Grand Cellier d’Or 2017, here’s the typical aroma. The adamance of 17, the pepper and char; likes a wider glass; thrust and torque, ought maybe to have been less dry, for the sake of tendresse, but if you like an “expressive” wine you’ll be fine. Best from Juhlin, which integrates the elements.
Coeur de Cuvée 2014, deg 3/21, a lovely edition of this, and it really likes a wine glass. Continues the development toward finesse, umami, loving-ness; baked apple sprinkled with nutmeg and cinnamon and brown butter. A markedly glowing wine in our world, with nothing it needs to prove any more.
Blanc de Blancs 2012 Les Blanches Voies is actively exciting and animated, after the repose of the CdC. Deg 6/20. Highly floral, peachy. A new bottle now: is it more complete or do I imagine it? It’s colder. Peter Liem says it’s more complete. It’s spicier, a little wilder, but what is real and what is suggestion?
One thing that was very real was my delight at seeing Peter again and spending time with him tasting and hanging out.
Meanwhile, back in Germany….
2019 Pinot Noir, temp too warm but nice and roasty and good fruit. Proper sweet PN fruit. 2019 Pinot Meunier, well, yet again another thoroughly yummy bottle of wine, vinous, more savor than fruit per se, but no less seductive. 2018 Pinot Meunier, is a tiny bit “milder” than the ’19 but with a more narrow point of fruit – again at the right temp we’d have a guzzler. 2021 (!) St Laurent, the usual redux but really seductive primary fruit, crop reduced by the “Kirschessigfliege” so while it’s youthful it’s also substantive, long and charming in its smoky/meaty way. Helmut Darting’s reds have leapt forward in the last five years.
2021 Pinot Blanc, more angular and zippy than usual, pulpy and scallop-y. The wine is very good but I seem to prefer a less corner-y rendition. 2021 Riesling Kab Trocken Liter, delightful! It’s nervy but not jittery; there’s acidity but not in the finish, which is fruity. Super and useful; in a word: Darting. 2021 Riesling Kab Trocken Spielberg, shows its precise iris notes and the Nigl-like pepper; this is spicy and addictive, with a vivid face-splash of ice-water acidity. 2018 Riesling Michelberg Spät Trocken (have I tasted this?), if not I should have! It’s tasty, ready, savory, vetiver; a bit of alc shows on the aroma (but the sample is room-temp). 2020 Riesl Kab Trocken Weilberg, turbulent and not entirely balanced, but maize and grain and dried apricot in a slightly jangly structure. 2021 Muskateller Trocken., aroma works! Palate is catty and pointed, cool-vintage or early picked Muscat, but obviously it’s chipper and forthright.
SEKTS: 2019 Pinot Blanc Brut, just disgorged and shows it, but no reason to doubt it’ll be good in time. 2020 Muskateller Brut, is like one of those spritzers with the elderflower liqueur, flowerier than the previous one. A higher-alc (and dry) Moscato d’Asti.
2021 Pinot Noir Rosé, interestingly unfruity, more racy and textured, like the Gobelsburg could sometimes be. A true “picnic” wine, discreet and virginal, with a snappy finish. The question is whether it’s fragile. 2021 Scheurebe Kab (Honigsäckel), this is really good! Very much grapefruit and lavender and spearmint. Spicy finish, sweet at first, then wild-herbs, then dry.
2021 Estate Riesl. Trocken, thrust, pepper, spice, less belly than usual, 4 weeks in bottle, but this will be racier than its norm, and less “other” than a wine from any top-level estate, though with 100% stainless steel it’s less “other” than most of these wines. 2021 Forster is laden with umami (even withjust 11.5% alc) though pointed in acid structure. 2021 Herrgottsacker, racy and generous and grainy/rye/barley-like as always; exc finish that moves toward flowery, iris. 2021 Paradiesgarten, Turkish anise-seed, SauvBlanc sweetness, as always except better! I don’t recall a better vintage, albeit this might be thought “light” by some people. 2021 Leinhöhle, it’s like someone reversed time so that the adult wines became little sprites in ’21. This is sterner, but also drier. 2021 Reiterpfad, this is stunning! Every dried stone-fruit and sweet corn and passion fruit, and the weensy bit of RS is captivating. 2021 Herzog, yes, new. And rustic in the context. Deferred judgments, but I wonder if this is best used as a blending partner? 2021 Herrenletten, also new, is much, much better, and is IMO a candidate for GG; jasmine, basmati, white tea, with the easy authority the GG-class should show. W-O-W. 2021 seems like a lovely graceful year here, along lines of 16 or 13. This estate does so well in years like ’21! Kieselberg is not as good, but I have long wondered at its place among the GGs. 2021 Jesuitengarten GG is outstanding! One of the best ever, if not the best. A great elegant beauty from Forst, a queen.
TO COME IN PART THREE
Notes from Champagne Lallement, more notes from Vilmart, some quickies from Chartogne-Taillet, a voyage through René Geoffroy, and back in Germany, a romp through Dautel, Müller-Catoir, Willi Schaefer, and Ziereisen.