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STRAGGLERS FROM MERKELBACH’S 2022 VINTAGE




But first there is sad news. After a long illness that had him bedridden, Rolf Merkelbach left us a few weeks ago.

 

Rolf had been ill for quite some time. One year during my March visit, he was dealing with some cruddy lung thing and was wheezing like a cat meowing to be let in (or out). A year or two later, as I was arriving for the March visit I asked after his health and he answered “I’m doing badly,” which, if you knew Rolf, was really a shock to hear. He always seemed imperturbable in his good cheer, and for him to say it so baldly was an admission that things were bad and he was depressed about it.


Though Rolf was older than his brother Alfred, he tended to occupy the background socially. Or “socially,” because neither of them was especially sociable, at least around me. I sometimes regretted being a big customer because it prevented them from relaxing with me. Rolf was the one who’d leave the room to fetch the bottles, and I doubt he ever spoke unless he was asked a direct question. And yet! You never saw anyone as hale, as eager to enjoy himself. Whatever was taking place, whatever anyone was saying, Rolf had a ready and ongoing chuckle.





Others have remarked upon a sharpness of wit I confess I never got to see. Even when we were loosened by wine, Alfred did most of the talking. You see it in my film, where the footage of the Brothers was the high point for me. So I can’t really say I “knew” Rolf, but his death has hit me….how exactly? Not hard, yet hauntingly, as though some curious unknowable light was extinguished. I wonder what Alfred will do now. (If you don’t know, the brothers never married, and resided together in the old stone house on Brunnenstraße in Uerzig.) Rolf was his companion his entire adult life. The absence will be large, and Alfred is going to feel it.


I met them in 1985 and saw them without fail every year in March. I’ve told their story many times, but this isn’t about me. There was a permanence about them, and though such things are illusory it became impossible to imagine the world without the two of them, without their simplicity and contentedness and the unfussy elegance of lives lived as they ought to be lived.


Did I ever see a picture of Rolf when he wasn’t smiling? Did I ever see footage of him when he wasn’t chuckling delightedly? Could anyone really have been so thoroughly and constantly jovial? If he held a darkness in his heart, it wasn’t there for me to see. And now it is here, in mine, because I never believed he could end. It is not only the death of a man, it is the death of a happiness, of the type we almost never see. At his funeral it was often said what a good life he had led. This is true, and a little comforting, and it also makes me angry. Did anyone celebrate being alive as much as Rolf did? He gave the gods every measure of happiness and if he wasn’t ostentatiously grateful, the gods know gratitude when they see it, and you can put on a big ol’ show and they don’t care.


Rolf should have had a better time in his last years. It’s wrong, what he suffered. But of course what I’m really saying – like a little child – is that Rolf should have lived forever. His wines seem to be imperishable, so why not him?


 

I received the balance of the Merkelbach ‘22s, except for any dry wines that may have been made. I’ll simply say that I wasn’t inspired and leave it at that.

 

However, I was greatly inspired by a Selbach-Oster straggler that was also in the case.

 

This was the 2021 Pinot Blanc Reserve, a highly ambitious wine – in a needlessly super-heavy bottle, which pains me to say – but which reminded me of some of Georg Prieler’s wines when they set about to “achieve.”

 

In essence we have the best grapes, subject to the “expressions” of wood. Freshly opened these two factions were staring each other down across a sort of vinous DMZ, but after a day, (and served warmer), the factions united in a rather thrilling détente; the fruit grew richer and more delineated, and the wood retreated to the point of seasoning rather than dominating.

 

Some of the initial disconnect could be the ’21 vintage, which tends to run “cool, steely” rather than “warm, murmuring,” but this almost-masterpiece split that difference in a compelling way. It was all tortilla and fire-roasted corn and masa harina, with some top-notes of melon and a lot of umami from the (very sweet) lees, in a juicy mélange that got more and more interesting, until I was actively pissed off to reach the bottom of the bottle.

 

Indeed the wine was such a success that I hate to admonish about the bottle, but I’d also observe that the connection between “Reserve” and overt wood flavor is not inevitable, which is to say the wood could be curtailed in future vintages, maybe please.



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I heard about Rolf Merkelbach several weeks ago, and despite never having met him a dark shadow crossed my heart. Farewell Rolf.

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I'm sorry to hear about Rolf Merkelbach. I never met him, but I did meet, and loved, many of his wines and I feel a very real loss at this news.


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Sad news, indeed.

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