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SCHLOSS LIESER

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2021 “SL” Riesling Trocken

I love it when the whole room smells like Mosel Riesling the very second you unscrew the cap. The wine itself smells rapturous, led by herbal aromas that suggest origins in Lieser itself.

The palate – and this is the “acid-test” of these ‘21s (and the pun is definitely intended) – is both polished and aggressive. There’s no excess of sharpness in the tactile mouthfeel, but it’s also a wine that doesn’t give way, and that asserts the vintage briskness. It’s a snappy wine some could find cerebral, and of course I’m quite aware I’m tasting this as the 2022 is on the market, and the estate is unlikely to worry about how this cuvée might taste with years in bottle.

That said, it’s one of the crisp ‘21s and if you like that style you’ll find plenty of class here. And you’ll be glad for the mid-palate accommodation to those of us who like this kind of wine to be at least a little juicy.

And yet, after it was open for six days (and about two inches remained in the bottle, it presented with a fine snappy charm as an apero in the kitchen while we were prepping dinner. It didn’t gain “juice” as much as lose sharpness, but if it had been my first impression, this little note would read quite differently.

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2021 “Heldenstück” Riesling Trocken                                             +

Heldenstück is a trademark for the village-wine from Lieser, as explained on the back label.

Again, the aromas are really splendid, with a sort of determinedly precise insistence I also found in Willi Schaefer’s vintage.

The wine is a crucial leap up from the SL, and is about as excellent as could possibly be fathomed for its vintage and quality level. It’s also a paradigm of what’s meant by “mineral” in wine descriptors.

Specifically, what this wine carries with it is rich and tactile texture, with the full flavor of slate expressing as a categorical extract, so that this isn’t something one infers because one is such an imaginative taster; this is there

Yet we register extract as the peal of a bell made from crushed shale. We don’t “taste” it discretely as we would fruit, yet it inhabits the wine entirely with its chiseled generosity. It rewards attention; it isn’t a casual drink, even with its modest status as a “village” wine. Honestly, I want to give everyone a glass and tell you, this is what we love Riesling for, because the beleaguered variety is forever misunderstood.

It is a wine evidently without “fruit” and I’m also not sniffing any flowers of which I am aware; nor do I glean spices or even the implied florality of oolong teas. What this is, is a riot of salts and fennel and petrichor that’s shockingly generous and doesn’t yield an inch – a little creature with all of 12% alc and more flavor than many, many wines of greater ostensible “richness.”

Standing ovation for this quietly spectacular wine.

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2021 Goldtröpfchen Riesling

The back label tells us it’s feinherb (and hails from Piesport). The capsule indicates VDP Grosse Lage.

I applaud Thomas Haag for downplaying that this wine is not dry. In many ways I wish he didn’t even indicate “feinherb” because my (certainly inane and definitely unfashionable) view is that these things don’t actually matter. The taste of the wine matters.

And this tastes very good, and I tend to be cool toward this vineyard, or more accurately I am wary of its excessive stature.  (I imagine there are perhaps 5-7 hectares of true Grand Cru, and the rest is relatively “easy” Mosel wine that doesn’t stab and jab but gives relatively opulent exotic fruit with a wrap-around structure less challenging than, say, Ritsch or Domprobst.)

It’s very good wine. It’s ideally balanced, has a fine salty length, a keenly expressive finish suggestive of nightshades and satsumas, and I appreciate that it avoids the usual “Mosel-easy-listening” so common to this appellation. I like its pungency, and its tomato-leaf resinouslness. It’s a fine glass of wine, and don’t worry that it doesn’t happen to scratch my particular Mosel itch.

Next time it showed a kind of underripeness registering as herbaciousness, that also thrust the sulfur and phenolics forward. It remains pleasantly salty, but empty the bottle when you open it.

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2021 Niederberg-Helden Riesling                                                 +

Again, back label says feinherb and identifies Lieser, and the capsule shows VDP Grosse Lage)

Is anyone else making serious wine from this vineyard? I didn’t know it until I tasted Thomas’s wines, and I’m sad at having missed out. It seems to be a wonderful site.

And this is a screaming good wine. It’s the diametric opposite of the Goldtröpfchen; it’s all thrust and chisel and knife-edge and it is definite in all the ways the last wine was inferential. It has the wild-herbal element seemingly a site-signature, and it’s so sauvage it almost leaves Riesling behind and becomes a crazed radishy and nettle-y being you’d think was Greek, or Sicilan. The ’21 sharpness is exciting here – because it’s a matter of mints and not of excess acidity – and I adore its loony energy.

Nor have I had many Mosel wines I’d describe as “peppery,” but this has a mizuna snap and would certainly clear your sinuses if necessary. I need to learn more about this vineyard….

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2021 Juffer Riesling

feinherb, and Brauneberg, and VDP Grosse Lage

The first wine to show a sponti shroud.

Juffer makes wines you don’t so much drink as bite into, as though they arrived on earth as solids and haven’t entirely melted. Here, along with the obdurate sponti notes, are the first phenolics I’ve seen in this collection.

I see what wants to emerge, and I remember that this was my favorite among the ‘20s, but this wine is dancing on my toes a little. Juffer is usually a creature of pear but this one if like a quince, both fascinating and not quite edible. If the wine is just slow to unfurl I’ll know when I taste it again (and again, and again) but for now it feels, at first glance, like a misstep. And I am very willing to be wrong. The empty glasses smell good!

The second tasting shows a more tangible aftertaste, and a nice one, but there’s still a peculiar scrim, a gauze between palate and wine that’s odd for this usually expressive terroir. There’s an indirect substance here yet it doesn’t register as discrete flavor. Hmmm.

Tasting it for the fourth time now, six days open, having sipped it in the kitchen last evening, it has yielded yet is still curiously “quiet” both for Brauneberg and for Haag’s home terroir. My gut sense is there was a “weather-event” confined to Brauneberg at some point in the vintage, but this is only a wild guess. Though improved, it remains atypically graceless for a Schloss Lieser wine.

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2021 Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett

The usual explications apply!

This has a markedly paler color than any of the previous wines.  At fridge-temp (around 40º) it’s markedly salty and relatively soft, even as cold as it is. The sweetness balance appears to be ideal. Acidity is not a problem.

Aromas are refined and the palate has a bounce the feinherb was missing. It’s a pleasing Kabinett and a true Kabinett, with barely perceptible sweetness and a springy high-dive energy. I realize the “softness” I referred to was a distortion brought about by the excessive sharpness of so many ‘21s, because this wine is by no means soft. It has the wrap-around character of the site but it’s also a fun thing to drink.

And that in turn is because it’s a worthy thing to study, this ostensibly everyday wine. We are duly intrigued.

It’s another wine that doesn’t benefit from being open over many days. Make some food that will talk to the wine’s peachy charm and drink to the bottom of the bottle.

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2021 Niederberg-Helden Riesling Kabinett                                   +

They apply again.

I seem to vibrate to this vineyard. The fragrance of this little wine is entirely captivating. And at first glance this is simply perfect Mosel Kabinett. “Perfect” is a loaded word, obviously, but how else do you convey the surety that a wine presents as though it were carefully ordained to be exactly as it is?

 

When writers claimed the ‘21s harkened back to a time of “classic Kabinetts” this is the sort of wine they meant. Geezers with long memories might shed tears of relief that such a thing hadn’t gone extinct after all. A wine like this is like a lullaby sung to you on your deathbed, that steeps you in the freshness of your childhood again.

Is it edgy? Yes it is, but it’s basically even tempered. Brisk? Sure, in a refreshing way. It’s also interesting, because its serene balance lets you study its salty herbal depths. It’s also modest and unassuming, even while it spins out its lovely calculations of nuance and flavor. A leafy and lovely iteration of Riesling.

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2021 Juffer Riesling Kabinett                                                             +

You know the drill….

What superb Kabinetts these are! It isn’t easy to resist the urge to pimp them up to get “scores,” but these wee ones come at you giggling and entirely happy in their giddy skins.

 This has all the sinewy chew of Juffer and is (yet) another Kabinett with no perceptible “sweetness” (and which just might prompt a guy to wonder why German Riesling should be made any other way….) Again, we deal with not-quite-ripe pear, and with tapioca pudding, and with coconut milk, and with a fervid crunch of mineral, and with a finish that sits on its knees and begs you to sip it again.

The honor of a lost art, that’s what’s on display here. That, and a reminder that sublimity has nothing to do with dimension, because these  Kabinetts are as glowing as wine can ever be.

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2021 (Graacher) Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett                             

The front label says just “Himmelreich,” but there’s also a site by that name in Zeltingen, though this estate has no land in it.

This is straight down-the-middle Mosel Riesling, perfect in its way. Parcel location is crucial here, as the hillside (which is unstable and which therefore had no Flurbereinigung) has steep sections and rather substantial flat and nearly flat sections. The wines from the latter can be wonderful; the soil is crumbled and such “feinerd” gives wines with their own finesse, and with more moderate acids, welcome in a year like ’21.

Perfect in its way, if I had to guess it blind I’d rummage through my mind eliminating what it couldn’t be, but I don’t know where I’d arrive. The wine is snappy, sweetness is moderate (as good as invisible, in fact) and acidity makes a statement. When I taste again I’ll place it first in the Kabinett flight.

It only needed time, since the second look is far more expressive, manifestly mineral, with available fruit and still ideal balance. I’m glad I babied it along, as it enacts all the density of extract and springy freshness we loved – or loved – about this genre and this place.

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2021 Domprobst Riesling Kabinett                                               +

As before, so again.

There’s more character here. The wine is edgy, angular, and seems to be a wee bit sweeter; it shows the exotic fruit, Cox’s orange pippin note (as opposed to the mutsu note of Himmelreich), the typical pistachio flavor, and greater torque. Even among the Grosse Lagen this is a pinnacle, and even this little fella does it full justice.

Domprobst is antithetical to those who want Mosel Rieslings to charm them. Of course there are fruit-lavished wines from here – Schaefer’s Spätlese #5 is aglow and magnificent with fruit – but for me the essence of this vineyard is a challenging complexity and an insistent minerality.

Sometimes slate is so expressive it veers off into resins and pepper, as it does now. Acids are vivid but not punishing. Still, with that said, it’s one of those ‘21s I can’t see hanging on to. Purists might yelp “What do you mean; this wine will last for decades!” Which, yes, it will, but that leaves an unanswered question: Okay but what will it taste like?

I am less wary when I taste it again. Acid and phenolics are present but fruit is more protective and gives me hope for a tasty evolution.

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2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett                               ++

More sponti than the Graachers, below which is a fervently expressive Weh-Son with all the “blue” flavor that characterizes this Cru. Blue is just my image tone for it, or perhaps a little impulse of synesthesia, but this, for all its renown, is quite a particular slice of land with flavors all its own.

This flyweight Riesling is carrying a megaton of mineral in its satchel, and in this case the structure is less aggressive and more accommodating, so that the crushed-scree mid-palate is almost shocking in a wine that seems to want to snuggle you. Yet the sweetness is so subtle as to render the wine as-good-as feinherb.

Rieslings like this are entirely miraculous, and nothing else in the world is like them. As weighty as a wisp of tow, the volume of flavor and the depth of intricacy it shows truly boggles the mind. Nor do we see such wines much any more. There’s more overt juju these days, juice and fruit and the pliancy of body that goes along with them. 

I’m remembering a wine that deeply inspired me – a 2008 Kanzemer Altenberg Kabinett from von Othegraven, that also seemed to encapsulate every single great thing about Riesling in something small enough to put in your pocket but intense enough to drink from a spoon. This wine is another such, and for all I’ve inveighed against the over-hyping of the ’21 Mosel vintage, this wine justifies the hype.

It behaves more like a wine to study (and wonder over) than a wine to wet the whistle with. It didn’t sing in the kitchen before dinner, and I hated to see it go to waste not “showing” well. With air it started to show a nuance of Taiwanese Yushan oolongs, for which obscure association I must beg your indulgence. It’s true, though.

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2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese                                  ++

This is my second time tasting these wines in detail at home, and I scanned through a bunch of them when I visited the estate. Something I’m starting to glean is a sense of a singular otherworldliness of fruit in Schloss Lieser wines of a certain ripeness and sweetness. It’s the draping of a garment knitted by a celestial being of some type, or a nature of flavor that seemed to have dropped from the stars and not risen from the earth. It begins to be present here, though the wine is extremely firm and has its “structure” on full display.

In effect it is the Kabinett with more flesh on its bones. It takes those virtues and adds the sauce that finishes the dish. Atop the dramas of slate we now see a meyer-lemon tang and a Cox’s orange pippin element, that malic grasping at the richness of pitted fruits.

But there’s no accounting for the sense of divinity this wine starts to hint at. In a way it’s held in check by the superbly firm structure, but the surmise is there among all this filigree articulation.

Is it a “better” wine than the Kabinett? In a way yes, in another way no. It adds fruit, and a little sweetness; there’s “more” taking place here. But the adamant foundation and mineral expression is no greater than its kid brother’s. That said, the added ripeness and fruit expression send this wine veering off into the siblime.

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2021 Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese                                      +

From Lieser, of course, as the helpful back label clarifies.

 

Let’s flip the script, shall we?

 

We uproot ourselves from charm of fruit. We cross a border into a new place, of grasses and herbs and resins. Of iron, even. The buildings aren’t as tall here. Something soberer is in the air.

In a sense the wine is simpler now, yet it’s also more fluid, and that supple juiciness is an attractive counterpoint to the matter-of-factness of an un-mown field. In contrast to the bright smiles of Sonnenuhr and Domprobst, we have a resting face, not awfully stern but definitely calm.

And decidedly dry. And in a way I find fascinating, unlike the usual Mosel parameters. Structurally yes, but essential flavor, no – or put better, it presents a new way to view “Mosel” that has few cognates I’m aware of.

The tertiary finish – that is, the lingering of the umami – is savory enough to be confused for some rogue Grüner Veltliner, until the obdurate skeletal backdrop confuses you even more. I sense this will locate its guide-beam of Moselness with air, and we’ll see if any of this holds water the next time I taste it.

Well, yes and no. Each thing is exaggerated with repeated tasting, both the essential Mosel-ness and also the particular wildness. It’s an angular, piquant creature who seems content to intrigue us and indifferent to whatever sense we might (or might not) make of it.

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2021 Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

Brauneberger, of course, as the back label makes clear.

Fascinating: This is the second wine to be what we’d all call “backward” and the first was another Brauneberger.

At this point I can only truthfully say, the wine is firm, tight and barely yielding, showing a surmise of vineyard character and then only when I cajole it, and showing markedly aggressive acidity even in the context of the year.

I’ll be glad to see the wine unfurl itself, and I’ll tell you of my joy and relief if and when it does.

Well, it has a lot of muscle for this vineyard. It’s more open but not exactly open. Brauneberg is comparatively four-squared this time around – not that the wine is mundane; far from it. The aromas are captivating, and the wine may just be scrambling to catch up. The finish, also, suggests a many faceted complexity may be lying in wait.

Tasting it now for the fourth time, it does an unusual about-face, entering the palate seeming dry but then finishing sweet, the opposite of typical Riesling behavior. I acknowledge the many attractive facets here, yet the gestalt is misshapen in some way.

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2021 Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese                                      ++

The rapture of ’21 is found in wines like these. I haven’t tasted many of them, but they’re out there. In essence it seems to entail both latest-possible harvest and squeaky-clean botrytis. A rare kind of wine is thus achieved, showing an acme of sublime fruit underlined by a fetching malty botrytis, and showing a gossamer watercolor transparency. 

It feels intensely poignant, this little ray of sublimity against the odds. It’s not without turbulence and trouble, this wine; there’s quite a cut of acidity to contend with below the fructose. And if one wishes for a certain “luxury” in an Auslese, a wine like this could be too delicate, it could seem perhaps too salty, it could finish too dry.

I could also be distorting the wine’s character, but it isn’t easy tasting a lot of ’21 Mosels as a group (except for estates like Selbach and Loewen whose wines were less insistently acid-driven) because after the 5th or 6th one, the palate is crying for relief from the growing sharpness. I can spend all day tasting Champagne (and even want to keep drinking it in the evening) but some of these ’21 Mosels are like scratching an itch until it bleeds. But my god, that fragrance! 

The final time I tasted it I did so following the Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese, and for all its added ripeness, this wine presents drier than that one. I think I’d rather see it at the table than as a wine of meditation.

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