The last group of red wines I tasted was a trio of Spätburgunders from Künstler, which I described as polished and “spiffy,” which I meant as praise for their deliciousness and civility.
“Polished and spiffy” would occur near the end of words you’d use to describe Hanspeter Ziereisen’s red wines, and I am happy to be reminded of the many ways a wine can deliver pleasure.
The word “rustic” has negative connotations when we talk about wine, though positive ones when we’re considering an Air B&B in the Tuscan countryside. If I say Ziereisen’s wines are “rustic” I don’t mean they’re clunky or unshaven or coarse or stinky, because they are none of those things. I mean they are wines of the farmhouse, not of the parlor. They’re like the hiking boots that last for decades, not the shiny loafers you wear to your promotion party.
We think of refinement in one single way, and yet I will argue that these wines are refined in a countryside kind of way. And remarkably, for all their lusty candor and energy, they are superbly distinctive, focused and articulate.
I think I told you I don’t go back and read what I wrote before. If I repeat myself inadvertently, so be it. I find Ziereisen’s wines, the reds especially, occupy a little patch of identity where few other vintners stand. They are adamantly natural and yet not at all “natural” as that luckless word has come to connote. They are determinedly un-fucked-with, but they’re the farthest mentality from “anything-goes.” They are, in short, correct but not “polite.” They couldn’t care less about “good manners” but they also don’t fart at your dinner table. They achieve a great deal without apparent affect or pretense. They are enormously expressive without “elocution.” They have force but not attitude. And when you have such virtues, you have wines like very few others, and that makes them hard to describe because there are few paradigms to which to refer them.
Obviously I haven’t tasted everything, and I invite those who have (e.g., Piggot, Rheinhardt, Schildknecht) to correct me if I’m mistaken, but my sense is that most of the “important” German Spätburgunders are glossier and “sweeter” than these. I’m not talking about concentration or complexity or even “quality,” but rather about jumping through pre-existing hoops, such that we “get” them. There’s a bunch of other mavericks in south Baden whose wines are similarly dark-bearded and gravelly, but I don’t yet know them. Thus I see Ziereisen as a self-contained world, not sealed hermetically, but speaking a singular dialect.
The sharply improved Syrahs are perhaps exceptions to this rule. The two ‘19s I got to taste were certainly beautiful but easier to place in the rubric of “Syrah,” comparing them to others that we know. I find it impossible to do that with the Pinots. If that’s because I lack experience, then I better get me some.
The whites, while original, are more plausible. The Gutedels, the most compelling among them, are yeasty/sponti kinds of wines, to a degree one can find extreme depending on one’s taste. Here, though, we have a cognate – the Jura – and apart from their restrained alcohols, Ziereisen’s Gutedels could be mistaken for Jura whites, or at least usefully compared with them. Tellingly perhaps, his Pinot Gris and Chardonnays are more in the “family” of the reds. While I appreciate his desire to remove Gutedel (Chasselas) from the realm of the innocuous, I find the yeasty/sponti thing rather much of a muchness, or put another way, yeasty/sponti tastes the same whenever its used, and while it can be attractive, it loses a bit of distinctiveness.
That said, I happened to taste a couple wines from a Mosel Wunderkind operating in the natural-wine nexus and the difference between those and these is roughly the size of a universe. With Ziereisen, such cavils as I might have are pretty rarified, but with the other guy…let’s say the wines should carry a warning label “Caution: A potent emetic.” For all they are certainly recherché, Ziereisen’s wines always stay on the right side of the line between “quirky and idiosyncratic” versus “at best weird and at worst actively repugnant.” One is clean and doesn’t fuss about it, and the other is unclean and makes a virtue of it!