2018 Pinot Noir
estate-level, 12.5 alc.
The color is appropriate and the first aromas are markedly “northern.” Even in the hot year ’18, the green elements of PN – the unlikely ones – are expressive here.
This is less evident on the palate, which has the urged-along feeling you get from hot years, without going all the way to cola. There’s tannin and muscle; it’s as weighty as one of the higher categories – even the GGs – without their minerality or the specifics of terroir. It sweetens in the glass – the Spiegelau red-wine stem – and has reasonable length on the palate.
Basically the wine delivers the goods, works a little overtime, and over delivers in vinosity and concentration. It’s shape-shifting as it gets oxygen, growing more floral, with more cerise, resolving into a kind of funky cherry blossom. With no affectation of Great And Lofty Purpose, this is both generous and interesting. I’ll use a Jancis glass when I taste it again, and see if the maple and sorghum notes are more than the over-firing of my imagination. Like that never happens….
It’s now 48 hours later, tasting again, this time from a Jancis glass. (We drank a little with lamb chops the day I opened it, but those guys wanted Blaufränkisch, not PN.) I must say the wine grows ever more winsome and tempting. I doubt there is a bettervalue for basic PN on the market, but do decant it about 2-3 hours out, and try not to serve it warmer than about 62º.
The estate is known for these, and has won several high prizes and many accolades. They didn’t send me any last year (but they did send all the Pinot Noirs, so I can’t kvetch). German Sekt is having a moment, and none too soon.
Blanc De Blancs
Back-label indicates 2018 Chardonnay, deg. 11/21 after 28 months of tirage. Most significant, they make it themselves. (Many German Sekt are custom-made by various operations which deliver the finished wine back to the grower.)
There is just enough cork here to preclude an accurate tasting note, and little enough to suggest how fine this might have been. On the other hand, these borderline bottles can surprise you with air, so I’m letting it sit while I taste….
Nah, it’s corked, damn it.
Back-label indicates 2018, deg. 2/22, 31 months of tirage. (Their website has already moved to a 2020, so I don’t have full analytics for this wine.
But I do have a charming and inviting Riesling fragrance. It hails from an early picking among their top parcels, and sits on its lees until the following June, when it enters tirage. It’s a classy sparkling wine with no particular cognate to Champagne other than detail and floweriness – though in place of the lemon and jasmine of Champagne we have mandarins and peaches here. There’s still some disgorgement gear-grinding in play and some nice warm autolytic note trying to push through. The astringent mouthfeel (at least in the “tasting” environment) is acceptable for something half the price of Champagne. And I suspect this will improve on retasting.
DAY-2 is essentially what I expected; the wine is more coherent, creamier and more yielding. It still needs another six months on the cork, but it reminds me somewhat of Margaine’s “Le Brut” in its basic nature. It has charm, class, cunningly poised dosage, and will become a riotously great value if it goes the way I surmise. It is also, not incidentally, an excellent Riesling. And you gotta snuggle up to that Tarte tatin finish.
Grande Année 2015 +
Chardonnay Brut Nature, deg. 4/22 after 70 months of tirage. Grown on chalk, vinified in “Stück” and used barriques, and they’re claiming true-zero RS, though this is rare as there’s usually at least a little after the second fermentation.
The aromas are intriguing, which is hardly surprising. Toasted brioche – maybe just slightly over-toasted – and apple eau-de-vie. The palate is serious business, and this has real depth and remarkable balance; I know of few “zeroes” in Champagne with this generosity and deftness. And this wine does suggest a connection to Champagne, perhaps Marne Valley or even the area around Ecueuil or Jouy-les-Reims. (A little more recherché and it might have been Aubry….)
But be patient. The best thing is the finish. Wait for the warmth and the porridgey generosity. It’s the gift you appreciate later, after your friend has gone, and your house is silent and lonely and yet you feel consoled. This beauty is inferential and not hedonic, and yet it is clearly beautiful.
On my third encounter it’s a bit more pensive, naturally, as the mousse is less overt. The finish - not the flavor element but the tactile sensation at the very end – is kind of scratchy, which might have been mitigated with even a gram or two of RS, which you wouldn’t have been able to taste. (As an aside; don’t you wonder whether there’s a sort of machismo with zero-dosage wines? Like “My wine has such a big-swinging-d**k it doesn’t need dosage…?” This is not an accusation leveled against Braunewell, but rather an intuition that there can sometimes be an unsavory mentality at work in such determined purism.)
2020 Pinot Noir, deg. 4/22, so fruit is the point here.
The fragrance is really pretty. It isn’t complex – how could it be with such a brief tirage? But there’s a lot to be said for clean laughing primary fruit. As it happens, its boisterous nature is partly a question of commercial necessity. Stefan says: “We sold double the amount of sparkling during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, that is why [this is] younger. But especially for Rosé will come some changes, we do experiments with Riesling and Pinot for Rosé [which] is really interesting stuff. More precise, more fruit …”
We have surprising vinosity on the palate. This is ripe Pinot Noir, and shows sandalwood alongside the heaps of cherry. The mousse could be less aggressive, but the wine is young. The two previous wines had things to say while this one has A Job To Do. It’s brash and a little full of itself, and the Elder taster may be heard issuing a tut-tut-tut at the wine’s youthful high spirits. I fear the joke’s on him, for the wine begins to unfurl itself in a manner we tasted before with the estate Pinot Noir – and with similar effects. Stealthy little devil.
It is calmer a couple days later. The puppy energy has worn off.
“Dry” (or Trocken) only appears on the back label. Estate Riesling in Germany is presumed to be dry, I guess.)
Okay! We are up to our ass in sassafrass. A little sponti aroma peeks through. Root beer and chocolate. Juniper too. The weirdest gin & tonic you ever sniffed, wonderfully. The palate is feverishly racy. These are not words one connects to “Rheinhessen,” but that world has changed.
Recalling my diffidence to the last vintage, I brought out the MacNeil ”Crisp & Fresh” glass, which likes to coax each bit of charm from the wines you pour into it. That happens here too, but the herbal determination and the (agreeably) chicoree snap of bitterness are not to be subdued. Acidity, not freaky-high on paper, is expressive on the palate.
Growers think about their dry estate Rieslings, because they make them in “volume” (such as it is with small domains) and because they’re the calling-card of the winery. So it’s fair to consider the “semiotics” of their choices, the meta-message they seem to wish to send. You can make such wines to be agreeable, you can make them fruit-forward, you can make them miniatures of mineral, but however you make them, you are saying something. So, what is being said here? As it happens I posed that very question to Stefan Braunewell, who told me they make their Liter Riesling to be easy-drinking but this wine intends to express the character of the Selztal, which I infer is essentially zingy.
I’d have to await a ripe generous vintage to see whether the tolerance for asperity and pepperiness is inherent to the vision for this Riesling , or whether it just so happened two years in a row. I have great respect for uncompromising wines, but this wine is expressive in curious ways.
On day-2 I used the Jancis glass alone, and only tasted one wine ahead of this one. For whatever reason – perhaps some sulfur blew off when the screwcap was open – its strident voices have been stilled and its sharp angles filed smooth – though it remains a minty (tarragon, lemon grass) sort of critter.
Should you ever wonder (which you don’t any more, right?), this is why I taste every wine multiple times over many days. To render an absolute or even a confident judgment based on a first impression is…folly. Okay, it’s stupid. Don’t trust a taster who does it. First impressions are inherently valid as long as we never forget their limitations.
2021 Essenheim Riesling Limestone
Their motto’s on the back label, “wines of character with edges and corners.” There’s also a surprising 13% alc (for this vintage).
The aromas are beautifully naked. Rock-hewn Riesling, with summer savory and marjoram leaves pushing upward through each little fissure. This has what the estate wine seemed at first to lack – dialogue, dialectic, an intelligent argument among its components such that minerality bounces off warmth and the herbals are green but not bitter. I have a fir tincture in the kitchen than I can use to perfume a dish (and confound my guests) by adding just a drop or two. This wine virtually reeks of Fraser-fir, along with the omnipresent limestone.
It’s very dry and not without acidity yet tastes entirely rounder than its estate sibling. Sponti aromas emerge with air, and wild-yeast ferments offer a less austere texture, which converses with the peppermint and with a sense of incipient stone fruit (which I could be imagining) to produce something almost juicy, and certainly interesting. This is ambitious, very dry, and cerebrally delicious.
On the second day it doesn’t seem dramatically better than the estate Riesling, but it’s significantly more mineral and interesting. “But wouldn’t that mean it’s better?” a sensible person might ask. I dunno. The first wine punches above its weight, whereas this one ought to be more interesting, and is. I find them equivalent, in my lovely arcane world where “points” went extinct eons ago.
2020 Teufelspfad Riesling +
This single-site wine isn’t offered as a GG, nor is it (thankfully) in a stupid-heavy bottle. It has a Cru aroma (avec le sponti) that I’d have guessed was Nahe. It is fine, and the stone-fruit nuances are actually there (!).
2020 lives an obscure life alongside ’21. If I try to tell you what it’s like, I’ll get silly. But here goes; you’re on a walk in some woods where it’s rained in the last few days and everything is grippingly fragrant and you feel like you can smell all the mushrooms you can’t see, but you can also smell the last-of-the-season peaches you have in your sack for the lunch you planned – so, earth, fruit, woods, the leather from your boots, all these things that weren’t there a year ago in those infant ‘20s. Baby, they’re here now.
This is a fine, lovely, stylish wine, with grace and fluidity, lift and cut, and a complicated mélange of stone and fruit and herb the palate “reads” sweeter than it actually is – and it is very dry.
Terry descends into total weirdness: There’s a restaurant in France that serves blood sausage with a quince chutney, and I’m smelling it now, whipped along by who knows what firing of synapses, yet this shoots me to that. As Zippy says, reality is a sandwich I did not order.
A day later, sanity having been tenuously restored, we’ve left the blood sausage hallucination and are now swimming in sweet fern and woodruff. The wine remains civilized, introverted and lovely.
2011 Teufelspfad Riesling
It is Trocken of course. It was bottled in 2012 and (I assume) held back to be their ne plus ultra.
2011 was a hot year that we assumed would be quick drinking. We are usually wrong about such things, especially among the hot years, which often seem to confound us by aging well. What happens is, they take on secondary characteristics very quickly (2-3 years after the vintage) which makes us think they’re aging rapidly, but then they stay there as if they were frozen in place, and here we are ten years later, considering this strange smoky animal.
It starts with sweat and fennel. I know this vintage, and it tastes like ’11 – but it isn’t polite. It shows a clamorous vegetal note like celery or parsley root, alongside the usual ’11 note of hot hay. The wine may have tricks up its sleeve, but I’m surprised (at first glance) that it would be offered as the crowing-glory of the estate’s Rieslings.
And now I remember. 2011 was a ladybug vintage, but only in a narrow band of latitude which encompassed this winery’s village (and all of Champagne, alas). As it sits in the glass the pyrazines grow more blatant, and this makes me sad. I hope they tried again from 2012. In their defense, some of the ladybug notes became more apparent over time, and we know there are tasters who don’t register pyrazine. It really annoys me, as it happens, and so I find it indefensible, notwithstanding my great respect for this estate.
THE NOT-DRY WINES:
(2021) “Unser Täglich Scheurebe” glug-glug-glug!!!
Give us this day our daily Scheurebe (feinherb).
Give it to me in any case, because I’m drinking this by the boatload, it is so addictively tasty. A mere “Landwein Rhein” that punches above its weight, I’m here to tell them that it lasts much longer than the 3 years they guarantee.
I have nothing to add to last year’s effusions on behalf of this criminally habit-forming thing, except to say that if you have a house-slopping wine other than this, you have a worse wine than I do, Schnookie.
2021 Scheurebe Kabinett ++
Not very sweet, and for the variety, high in acidity – so in effect along Feinherb lines. It’s rampantly aromatic – big shock – and considerably delicious.
From what I’ve been able to suss about ‘21` Scheu, it is typical (which it isn’t always) but restrained, so that it shows a “polite” degree of pink grapefruit and a polite degree of cassis and none of the cat-pee it will show when it’s not ripe. It’s a Scheu vintage for people who usually don’t like its blatancy.
This is really finely rendered, and if Scheu can be graceful it’s doing that now. It also has a caressing cling (that prompted the “plusses”) and a sonority that’s at once breathy and murmuring, even as it sings its lilting, piping melody. I like Scheurebe – like you couldn’t have guessed – and therefore I like it x-treme, yet I can’t recall a soft-spoken example I have enjoyed more than this. The balance is perfect, the length is lovely and unexpected, and then there’s the thing I can only call the wisdom of touch; the way your skin feels when you get a superb massage. This wine knows you. It isn’t extravagant or even intense; it just knows exactly how you like to be touched.
It hasn’t changed a day later. This will be a highlight of my tasting year, and this almost demure beauty is purring and haunting.
2021 Riesling Kabinett
The fragrance sings “I am Riesling!.”
Pause for just a second to think about that. It’s clear I love Riesling in all its guises, yet there’s something ineluctable about the aroma of Riesling with RS, that seems to draw right from the ur of the thing.
It was a 2016 Kabinett that led me to this domain in the first place, and here’s another high-acid vintage with restrained RS, in a classic form. If you wanted to enact a genre of “Riesling Kabinett” you could do it here – which I mean as a compliment. It’s better than the angular ’20, not as sublime as the ’16, the acidity lends a subtle grassiness, and the structure is stingingly zippy even while the fruit is discreetly but definitely present. But food is called for, unless you enjoy trips to your dentist. A couple days later the aroma is a riot of wisteria and day lilies before they start getting funky. The palate just zooms along, and the entire effect is in a register so high you need a dog to hear it for you.