Anna Reimann, together with her husband Stephan, had a dream-come-true moment when they were able to take ownership of an old venerable (and small) Saar estate whose proprietor was getting on, and had no heirs. Reimann’s first vintage was 2016.
So, a new/old estate, steered by a woman on a mission. As a not-quite aside, the couple are deeply interested in plant biology – hence the names of their twin estate wines (the masculine and feminine terms for “the gardener”), and hence the beginning of a chain of events that finally took her to a wine estate in Chile, where her fate was sealed. “This is what I want in my life; to be a vintner,” she said.
I’ll tell the story in greater detail in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, it is told (in English) on the estate’s website, to which I recommend you.
Our current business is to examine the vintage 2020, which is a creature of another color from the “golden” years 2018/19. If you judge a vintage by the number of superb wines it issues, then Cantzheim’s ‘20s have to stake an exalted claim, as will be reflected in the selections below.
If you note the relative paucity of Trocken wines, it’s because I felt this particular vintage favored wines with RS. At least according to subjective me. I shared this opinion with Anna, who observed: “2020 was a light vintage, I left them light and do not chaptalize, this is for me authenticism. I gave them a bit of backbone with maceration, [because] I am certainly not doing the wines for early accessibility only. Vintages like 2018 were easy, [but] in other vintages you [think you] need to interfere much more and that is what I don’t do.”
That’s an admirable position, and one with which I am entirely in accord. Her ‘20s, as a group, tend to be driven by a curious entente between phenolics and minerality, which I felt suited the not-dry wines best. Even with acids not especially high “on paper” the wines are driven by a firm snappiness. Anna also feels he wines are tight at the moment, and will open both texturally and in releasing an incipient fruit. She knows her wines better than I do, obviously!
2020 “die Kupp” Riesling Saar +
Back label shows the single-site AYLER KUPP, Qualitätswein Trocken, cork-finished, and alc up to 12%
This smells beautiful, and for me it smells like history. Back before you were born, I shopped at a long-gone winery in Ayl and locked in an ur-memory of those scents and tastes. I sometimes see it again in Helmut Plunien’s wines at his Vols estate, and I’m sure y’all are seeing it constantly and happily with Florian Lauer. Though the site is (over) large, there does seem to be an overarching DNA to it, which I would call “green-apple skins and charred slate.”
Ockfener Bockstein is prettier; same with Wawerner Herrenberg, and the Kanzem hill has that charcuterie thing we sometimes see with the red soils. Ayler Kupp can seem rustic in comparison, but I feel otherwise. And we’re rocking and rolling now, thanks in part to a cheery blast of new(er) cask, which doesn’t make it “oaky” but gives it a sort of elegant nostalgia. Wines like this used to be commonly encountered. Of course it was another time, with other weather and other grapes and other assumptions among the clientele. But when you taste a wine like this it makes you wonder what we’re sacrificing in our quests for the acme of primary fruit. We gain perhaps a lot of clarity, but we lose a lot of aura.
I asked about the origin of that pleasing woodsiness. “ It was in a new tonneau (second year, no toasting but fresh oak) and got more air for micro-oxidation (softening of the little bit of tannin the other wines might have). The wine has a bit more extract than [for example] Fuchs. The berries were quite broken, no real botrytis yet, but due to late harvest very delicate breaking skins.”
I find this vinification perfect for a vintage like this seems to be here. It’s like sleeping on a hard mattress, under a satin quilt. And wood, when it’s as subtly deft as this, has a curiously fruitful relationship with slate and apple.
2020 “die Gärtnerin” Riesling Saar glug-glug-glug!
Back-label shows Qualitätswein feinherb, screw cap.
From the aromas I think this is different material than went into the dry version. Is it? “No, [not] at all the same. They are masterpieces of blending what I learned in France ;-). But most is already decided at harvest. I know our vineyards better and better by now. In the Gärtnerin I am looking for over 9 acidity, in the Gärtner not. Gärtnerin is often from Wiltinger Schangengraben and Filzen, Gärtner is often Kanzemer Sonnenberg and Wawern, Wawern being perfect for dry Riesling due to expressive fruit and a bit lower average acidity.”
We have a little screwcap-funk. Which I don’t mind, because the wine is really in another whole key-signature from its Trocken sibling. How so exactly? It is more angular, more zig-zaggy, more mischievous, more animated, wittier, zippier and, um, better-tasting. It even has a finer texture.
I keep telling myself “Don’t be the guy who’s always fussing about RS,” but good grief, it strains my credulity to observe how such wines as this are so undervalued, as though fruit were somehow a child’s taste, whereas the serious grownups prefer a wine that raps their knuckle with a slab of granite. Also, there’s a tendency to use the word “salty” to describe one of those fruitless ghouls, but what’s truly (and dramatically) salty is this very wine. Thus my advice to you is, pour this into a carafe, take it to the table and drink the f@!k out of it.
2020 “der Kanzemer” Riesling Saar +
Back label indicates Qualitätswein feinherb.
Okay, now we’re in it; a superb fragrance, firm, complex, (yes) “salty” and a little of the pancetta thing, i.e., smokiness and seeds (fennel, anise, caraway, dill) and even a bit of peppermint. An imposing schnoz, basically.
It leads to a spastically twitchy and energetic palate yet with a mid-palate extract-drenched juiciness that’s just bewitching. I do sense that a smidge more RS might have catapulted this into the outer orbits, but it might also have cost this wine its captivating urgency, its drama of crushed rocks. And so what we have, pending re-tasting many times, is naked slate and pure cherry resolving into a purity of Saar quince.
This really rocked the glass the following day, and I’m finding the moderation of RS to be wickedly effective in giving the wine a neon buzz and a delightfully pesky saltiness.
2020 “der Fuchs” Riesling Saar +
Back label indicates the single-site Saarburger Fuchs, a Qualitätswein, cork-finished.
If you like Saar Riesling I think you’ll agree; this is a beautiful fragrance. And on the palate I also think you’ll agree; this is precisely the point where sweetness dissolves so completely into the wine that it subsumes whatever “self” it had and is content to disappear.
Aromas of herbs and apples. A little of the Yushan oolong type (which you’ll have to take my word for) and an utter seamlessness of structure and expression that makes me wonder why Saar Riesling would be made any other way. But even as it’s seamless it is also racy and vigorous. Balance in this case simply means that the pieces of structure are invisible. All the joints and hinges are silent. The thing works easily and completely. And we get to see that energy and serenity are not mutually exclusive.
We also get to see that we don’t have to have “crunch” in order to have crispness, as this wine is certainly the opposite of “yielding” by virtue of its mid-palate density, yet it seems to quiver with expressiveness. I don’t yet know where it is in the pecking order price-wise, but absent that I’d say this is the one to buy if you only buy one.
2020 Wiltinger Schlossberg Kabinett Riesling Saar +
The site faces east and looks at Wiltingen from across the Saar. It has a steep section and a small flat section closer to the river. It’s one of those “marginal” sites that climate change has really elevated. Anna describes it as “SUPERSTEEP, mix of blue slate medium sized stones and earthier parts. Good water supply. Southeast facing, so sun is gone earlier then in others. Old vines in Vertiko training (it is a [method] some guys invented hoping to have less work, but at the end to do it right we have a lot of hassle with the leaf management ;-)) We are slowly changing to other system where we took over this system, but respect the nice old vines that grow in some of these vineyards.)”
Wines like this are why we love the Saar. So many of the wines have a cool waft of green freshness, even in warm years, and in a silvery vintage like ’20 this wine is like inhaling a tisane made up of every herb that likes to grow in the shade. It’s not about acidity as such, and it’s certainly not at all about sweetness – neither stands out in this impeccably seamless loveliness – but if it’s “about” anything it’s that strange tendency for Saar Rieslings to taste as if they have some Eiswein ghost invading them through the pores.
It’s a pith that’s not at all steely, or not necessarily steely, but it seizes the mid palate in a resolute grip we don’t see as often in Mosel wines. (Theirs is another structure, and another kind of backbone.) So we have a portrait of Asian pear and quince in a jumpy yet seamless matrix of pure flavor. You barely register “sweetness” at all, and you only register acidity at the very end. I mean, I know the sweetness here, and it is noteworthy on paper but entirely absorbed into the wine.
I need you to understand that the old saw about “sugar-acid balance” is at best a partial wisdom. You can look for some correspondence in theory, but in practice you can end up with a symmetry of extremes. What seems to make it work is the spontiand the time in cask, and I glean an analogy to (of all things) white Burgundy. In those wines a prominence of cream and leesiness helps the wines taste less conspicuously oaky, and here a similar mid-palate creaminess buffers both sugar, acidity, and whatever sparks they strike as they explore their tandem.
Welcome to a master class in German Riesling.
2020 Saarburger Fuchs Spätlese Riesling Saar
Well this smells good!
The palate is nervier than the Kabinett, a little more jagged. And here we do have a palpable conversation between sugar and acid, giving the wine an edginess and crackle. I like it very much, and you will like it even more if you cherish a whippy angularity.
The fruit echoes the previous Fuchs and beyond repeating the slate-apple-lime-herb-oolong recital, what is salient here is an acid-driven tension that sends me back to a year like 1985. I’m curious to see if this will calm itself down over the next few days.
On third exposure (and again from Fresh & Crisp) it doesn’t really; it remains a nerve-driven wine with a certain twitchy jiggly-leg urgency. Drinkers new enough to German Riesling to have only formed their impressions of Spätlese by the last 7-10 vintages may well be taken aback by this – but it makes me happy.
EARLIER VINTAGES STILL AVAILABLE:
2018 der Kanzemer Riesling Feinherb ++
Gloriously complex red slate aroma; plus balsam, wintergreen, charcuterie, leading to a WOW palate, with poise, lift and contour. Esoteric salts, pungent and minty and earthy with a crack-the-whip sizzle as it it’s shooting sparks in your mouth. A cordite smokiness at the end, with near-perfect equilibrium until the very last impression, which feints toward chewiness and alludes to a tiny (and agreeably) sour note, which leads in turn to a vapor of key lime and Christmas tree.
As with the upcoming wines, these were “auditioned” many months ago, while I was getting to know this interesting new winery, and I wasn’t tasting over multiple days as I do now. I was just being blown away….
2018 der Kabinett +
A ludicrously vivid aroma of grapefruit, lemon balm, lime blossom, red salt and even Espelette peppers. It’s racy, very Scheu-like. If Dönnhoff made a Kirschheck Kabinett it might taste like this.
Zingy and mineral, with some of the sponti chocolate below the siren-song of brilliance; a thrillingly risky flirtation with screechiness, but always – like a tensile jittery gymnast – makes the landing. I wrote “like dancing on the chalk-white moon.”
Can it be it’s showing white pepper, and sweet Charlie? Why not?
2018 Saarburger Fuchs Riesling Spätlese ++
Once again this seems to split the difference between the utmost polish and a certain atavism in its determinedly old-school mentality.
It’s hard to fathom how this could be any better. Whatever sweetness it has is effectively invisible. Full of balsam and conifer, with ‘18’s pliant texture; it seems to embody the very Saar itself, in all its verdant peace and its tender spine of melting silver on the truly haunting finish.
You really can’t conjure a finer equipoise of acidity, extract and sweetness, rendered as a fresh green psalm.