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2019 Pinot Noir Caroline                                                                ++

This was the current release when the samples were packed to send to me, but that was 9-10 months ago, and it may have been supplanted by the 2020 in the interim. Back when this wine was first made, ambitious Pinot Noirs were much less common than they are in today’s climate-altered Germany, so it’s interesting to see how this pioneer stands up to the current (and excellent) competition.

Not that Caroline sees herself as “competing.” She’s making the PN she always sought to make, elegant, not overripe, convincing but not pushing. (This ’19 is so limpid it resembles the color of Cru Beaujolais.) The aromas are elegant and polished; oak is gracefully interwoven through them, but there is no char, no smoke, nothing to obtrude upon the cordial fruit.

On the palate it most harkens to the silky grace of Gunter Künstler’s Pinot Noirs (the Reichestal GG sprang into my mind…) while also being more overtly tannic. I’m (over)sensitive to tannin, but even I can marvel at the purity of fruit here, not to mention the improbable length. In the Jancis glass the tannin grows lacier and the entire wine more explicit. Only the tertiary finish indicates the presence of cask, yet this is far from blatant or distracting.

The wine has some fruit, so much so that I don’t seem to remark on it, because the interplay of textures is even more beguiling. Overall the wine is like stretched out silk, but astride that ur-texture is a mineral jolt playing diddly-hands with a mid-palate fleshiness in a manner so tactile it’s almost ticklish. It’s elegantly clear and logical, even to a point of brashness, from the Jancis, which dispenses with umami and makes the entire wine explicit.

I can’t remember a better vintage of this wine. Just when I wonder whether it isn’t too comme il faut it blasts me with a vivid rippling energy. It is deliciously satisfying and civilized and considerate. You want it on the table; your wine-freak pals will find themselves short of their usual words. Shit’s just good! They will exclaim. “Let’s finish the bottle..”

After three days (and one evening sipping with dinner) the wine has yielded a bit of fruit, which lets the wood show more. But this ain’t no thang, because any sensible person would empty the bottle toot sweet, as opposed to your pitiable scribe, who must taste professionally. 

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2020 Riesling Dorsheim                                                                        +

Trocken on the back label. I get the reason, but this is bothersome, in light of the huge majority of people who won’t approach Riesling “because it’s sweet.” Shouldn’t we make it flagrant that a wine is DRY???

Aromas of honeycrisp apples and guava announce the Dorsheim fruit. (The village Burg Layen is more thready and mineral.) The palate shows a side of ’20 I thought I might not see again; it’s silvery and green (as in sorrel, wintergreen, woodruff) and has a bee-balm lemony bite – the whole palate is more (pleasingly) “sour” than the aromas suggest, and the wine shows a pungency that is perhaps “improper,” which is fun and welcome.

It has the essential shade of ‘20s, it’s cressy and makes me write “tough herbs” and I’m really pleased by the surprise firmness of the palate after those sweet aromas. The marjoram-like resinousness is another element in a complex mélange. Of all the ‘20s I’ve had lately, this comes closest to effacing the gritty finish that seems like a feature of the vintage.

Considering how (almost) rude some of these flavors are – and I like that – there’s also a refined dialogue of elements, and more juju than one might expect from the “village” echelon. We expect the GGs to be significant, but we don’t expect the village-wines to show this dance-y motion and intricacy.

This is quite an achievement. And my working theory is that this is the one to beat among the dry Rieslings, even though the others have greater stature. It has a ton of fruit and nothing “temperamental” in its behavior. It prefers the Spiegelau stem.


2021 Rosé de Diel                                                                                +

Generally among the best Rosés in Germany, or anywhere really, a frivolous essence of serious Pinot, balanced to perfection and laden with class.

It’s got more zip in ’21 but that doesn’t perturb it, but only gives it an edge of fir to go with the insanely vivid fruit. The wine has substance, length, vitality, and is basically serious without insisting on ideas above its station. There’s also something that reminds me of pink Champagne when they get that wild-caught salmon thing going. It’s a picnic with your patrician friends, if you have any, or at least more than I do.

At risk of sounding twee, the wine has a suavity that elides the usual presumption that rosés are inconsequential, because for all its substance it never insists on impressing you. I have always found it amazing, and still do.

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2020 Riesling Schlossberg, Burg Layer, 1G

Trocken on the back label; 13% alc, heavy bottle (come on guys, lead the way on eliminating this pretentiousness!)

I must confess it’s kind of droll to see that looks like the word “IG” in big gold letters on the label. Yo Ig! Wassup dude?

This often hidden gem in the lineup is more phenolically adamant than the Dorsheim. I thought “angry sassafrass” at first. The astringency makes you feel like your dentist’s tapping you on the shoulder….”You need to come see me…”

There’s a lot to admire here, a pit of crushed rocks and petrichor and an odd sense of a fish you’re sautéing skin-side down and that’s gotten just a little bit burned. All of this is to say that you can see the elemental motor that runs this wine, and it is impressive. Now comes the “but…”

No one sets about to make phenolic Riesling, especially one in a “classified” category, and if anyone did it would certainly not be Caroline and Sylvain Diel, who favor a more scrupulous and polished style. That means two possible things. One is that I am wrong, and my impressions are not accurate. That’s always possible. Two is that the wines are either in some developmental funk, or they have yet to recover from bottling.

The bottles were opened at about 52º and I am noticing that this wine gets less scrape-y as it warms. I’m doing what I always do; tasting from two different glasses, inside and outside, taking at least 15-20 minutes with each wine, and so I note that this offers more toasted-slate and a less aggressive attack with air and warmth. It teases with all kinds of compelling facets but it also scratches the furniture. Not sure what’s in store for this feline….

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2020 Riesling Pittermännchen GG                                                   +

Heavy bottle, natch. 12.5% alc, refreshingly. Longer cork than the IG.

sponti-like pungency to welcome us. This fades within a minute. Left in its wake is a classic slate aroma; you can teach a class with it. Also present, at least at first, is the tannic attack of the vintage. It crouches behind an almost psychedelic terroir fragrance, lying in wait to blast away at your tooth enamel.

As it warms it repeats the action of the IG, easing away from its gravelly texture and showing the depth of its basic essence in slate. The palate recovers its lime and ginger saltiness, and while it doesn’t linger as long as that modest little Dorhseim, it’s a more compelling basis.

What can I say? The wine needs 5-10 minutes to wake up and be itself. Decant it, I suppose! In a way it’s refreshing for Diels to make such a complicated wine. Sometimes a high degree of polish can seem to neuter one’s wines; no danger of that here.

It’s quicker to unfurl in the Jancis glass, and its virtues are more manifest. That said, it is rather a study-in-slate, and as such it’s more pedagogical than sensual. That is not the type of wine Diels set out to make, so they may be one of many who were played false by the ’20 vintage. Yet the terroir notes are so expressive I find it keenly interesting.


2019 Riesling Burgberg GG                                                              ++

Alc just 12.5%, and that in a warm year. I’m almost willing to forgive the heavy bottle.

I adore Burgberg. It’s stern and gaunt, and in hot years it becomes resplendent, as if it were freed from its carapace and able to dance and laugh at last. 2019 is one such year.

The fragrance is knee-buckling, combining the golden-yellow aroma of the year (flowering fields with a little dried apricot) with a craggy coriander savor. It draws you into its hypnotic promise, and so the firmness of the very dry palate comes as a bit of a shock. A delightful shock, mind you; the wine’s like a cranky old coot with a tender heart he shows to very few people.

It’s that mix of sternness and benevolence that makes this wine so poignant. On one hand it’s terribly serious. On the other hand it is laden with magnanimity, and it reminds you that all of us, even the occasional wine, are creatures of paradox.

With around two years in the bottle, it’s fair to observe that the ’19-vintage aroma is drawing ahead of the inherent fruit and terroir. The umami element is really strong here. But the balance is striking, all the more so because the wine is essentially rigorous, and yet some golden chord can be heard in the background. From the Jancis glass it is acutely beautiful. The contrast between this wine’s glow and the 2020’s snarl is telling, though that’s easy for me to say, tasting bottled wines with a few years’ remove.

Still, this strikes me as an essence of Diel, its restraint, its clarity, its class, and also its particular dryness, its disinclination to yield. And it is purely Nahe in its light-footedness and improbable complexity, all the way to a definite coniferous note that only arrives near the end, predicted by nothing that came before it.

The finish is modal and golden. The wine is wonderful.

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2020 Riesling Von Der Nahe

“feinherb” is alluded to on the back label; alc is 11.5%.

This is one of several Theise-cuvées I established, some of which have been discontinued since my “retirement.” (Loewen, Catoir, and Spreitzer most prominently) I’m stoked to see this one go on. Mind you, those wines existed because of my adamant conviction that “feinherb” was the best possible expression of Riesling, most delicious, most flexible, most irresistible – albeit entire populations seem to be capable of resisting it – and it is proper for things to change as I’ve moved on. Yes I think it’s a loss for the cause of Riesling, but they should have sold better, and no one needs to perpetuate my forlorn causes.

Needless to say, this wine is lovely.

The basic question is, what is the role of residual sugar other than to taste “sweet?” Because fundamental to feinherb is that the wine does not taste “sweet,” but that it offers things that the dry wine cannot give and that the truly sweet wine can sometimes obscure. Then again, that’s my taste; I never wanted to taste “sugar” but I never wanted to notice its absence. What I wanted was the moment where I knew This wine has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t need. I goofed up once in a while; my tastes went loopy in the mid-aughts when everyone’s wines were far too sweet. Sanity prevailed eventually!

This type of wine appeals to drinkers naturally and spontaneously, unless they are automatons programmed to be repulsed by any suggestion of sucrose – self-programmed, quite often. I’ve seen this countless times. That cusp between dryness and sweetness is a scintillating and electrifying place to be, as this wine demonstrates, and does so in a markedly difficult vintage.

If I’ve induced you to investigate, I can also assure you this wine will outlast its dry sibling, and if you can give it 4-5 years you’ll end up with something you can’t believe how good it is.

If you know Nahe wines you’ll know what I mean when I say this tastes red-soil derived – redcurrant, currant-leaf, charcuterie – as opposed to slate or volcanic iterations. In general such wines can manage with less RS, which is what we want here. I thank both my successors and also the Diels for keeping this wine going, because all the people who find their ways to it will discover something uniquely valuable, that they will prefer not to live without.

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2020 Riesling Kabinett Nahesteiner

Nahesteiner is a registered trademark.

It’s an unusual aroma for a Nahe wine; grainy and umami driven; the palate is rendered to be racy and vigorous and bracingly refreshing. You have to manage a screwcap-funk at first.

The fragrance resolves into something stony and minty and with a pea-shoot kind of “sweet” vegetality. The palate pulls toward its basic stony skeleton, so that it arrives (quite) sweet and leaves dry. It has the ’20 texture, but I’ve tasted six wines now and it affects ones mouth, which grows oversensitive to astringency. Maybe.

If they sought to make a racy, almost feral Kabinett that’s on the steely side, they succeeded. The previous feinherb is more seamless. But this crackery guy is not without his virtues.

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2020 Riesling Kabinett Goldloch                                                      +

It gets its full name (Dorsheimer Goldloch) on the back label, along with the “VDP Grosse Lage” designation, as it ought to.

This is a peachy Goldloch. It is Nahe Riesling in its seductive vein. It is exceedingly pure with a poignantly restrained richness that respects a skeletal structure that is basically dry. Curiously, it has few of the textural “issues” I found in the dry wines. Are they simply blanketed, or is something else going on?

I’ve been drinking such wines too long, by which I mean I’ve come to take their miracles for granted. But you don’t have to.

If you can, taste this and think about it. You have stone fruits leading to citrus, and you have herbal flavors engaging with tropical (coconut, soursop) and peppery ones – the floral types (Timut, Tasmanian), and you have a flowing motion on the palate that takes you from fruit to mineral, from sweet to dry, all in an inexorable but weightless motion, like a child held in her father’s arms in the water, and then swung slowly around.

It’s so expressive in the Jancis, which takes its flavors into sleek rivulets of nuance, and you can see them all. You can drag your fingers in them all. Wines like this are part body, part dream.

Still, what this-or-that tastes like is less important than to be present for the loving flow, which is something I don’t think about any more, really, but if by any chance you are someone for whom this all is new, oh I envy you; the miracle is never more vivid than the first time it visits. 

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2020 Riesling Spätlese Goldloch                

Back label shows full name “Dorsheim Goldloch, and, like the Pittermännchen, the VDP Erste Lage designation.

In many vintages this wine has had a cask treatment, such that a pleasing little echo of wood remains. I think I find it here, though this could be a placebo effect. The wine, thankfully, is obedient out of the gate, though it does show the scratchiness of the vintage.

The RS is restrained. That’s a happy thing; the last thing this vintage needed was sugary wines, and this is old-school Spät; richer and fuller than a Kabinett but nowhere near the patisserie of an Auslese or a facsimile thereof. It’s actually a smidge less good than the Pittermännchen, but it’s easier to work with.

But we are not finished here. The thing to do is taste the Kabinett alongside this – and that will be visit # 2.

Okay, I have just done it, and it seems like the Kabinett is a much better wine. It has purity, dialogue, animation, whereas this wine is turbulent, reduced out of the bottle, awkwardly plump in body, a botrytis note (or so it seems) that doesn’t really interact with the other elements. The question is whether the wine is temporarily unglued or fundamentally so. Or whether that scintillating Kabinett is too hard an act to follow.

It prefers the Spiegelau glass, yet even that glass cannot efface a basic gawkiness.

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2020 Riesling Spätlese Pittermännchen                                        +

Full name “Dorsheim Pittermännchen” on the back label.

Aroma’s a little turbulent at first, because that’s how ‘20s roll. In about two minutes this retreats to reveal the classic site fragrance of black raspberries atop a Gregorian chant of slate.

But the reduction is glass-specific. I have the wine in Spiegelau and Jancis, and while it cleaned up in the former it’s quite obdurate in the latter. This irritates me, because now I know what lies below it. Because the Diels do not make such “rookie errors,” I must assume the vintage is just truculent and uncooperative.

Once you reach the wine (and is the guarding shroud a sponti byproduct?) you’ll be happy. I am, at any rate. The terroir is pungent, the way I like slate to be; the wine is vigorous and zippy, not laden down with excessive “richness,” and the basic site character is shown by its usual notes of root beer and ylang-ylang.

It’s probably what they call a Zuckerfresser (a sugar-eater) by which they mean the wine absorbs more RS than is tasted, and feels like it leans dry. The dramatic mineral finish buttresses this impression. The wine in fact is superb, though it takes a lot of forbearance to reach it. These first impressions were mostly erased when I tasted it again.

The next time I tasted it there was a truly weird note of puff-pastry at first. Not disagreeable, just strange. And in fact there are many agreeably strange things about this wine. This time it feels sweeter. One notices botrytis but it’s wickedly apropos, and adds to the minty spice and pungent tropical fruits. It shows glaring anise and hyssop, but not anise-hyssop, or not really. It’s sweet Riesling rendered by Pierre Gagnaire, a compelling curio, amazing to taste (and drink) but I wouldn’t mind if it were one-and-done. One wackadoodle Pittermännchen is enough for a lifetime.

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