BRAND SPAKIN’ NEW DARTINGS
Such changes as may be evident at Darting are subtle, especially if you’re looking year after year. In general the reds are improving, showing more fruit, less wood and less alcohol. In general the sweet wines are less sweet and more restrained, though some of this may have to do with the ’21 vintage. In general their dry Rieslings are best in vintages with Goldilocks acidity – and at times ’21 was rather too high. They are geniuses at Pinot Blanc, both sparkling and still. They don’t seek to “re-imagine” the variety but instead to imagine it at its most insanely drinkable. Muscat, Gewürz, Scheurebe….all are steady as she goes.
Darting continues to embody the best and most responsible face of (what some would sniff is) “commercialism” and what I would say is pragmatism. I have the wines in my cellar and what I have is amazingly useful. I have the choice to drink almost anything, and I like to drink these. There is no pretense here. The wines deliver tasty pleasure (and sometimes more than that) and they cost less than they’re worth.
I asked them to send me the reds….
2019 Pinot Noir Trocken
It has a rather brittle aroma, not exactly “oaky” but exposed and un-sensual. At least at first. (The sample is a slightly-too-cool 58º) The palate is something else again. It’s suave and salty, still neither fleshy nor yielding, but juicy and drinky.
Still, the impression is one of straight lines and right angles, so I’ll taste it again at room temp. I do like the tomato-leaf fragrance and I don’t mind the wine not being submissive. Every wine can’t be Trollinger or Gamay or Zweigelt. But I wonder what PN should be, when it doesn’t have grand ambitions.
So on first pass: firm, spicy, smoky, rather prominent cask, and I wouldn’t mind more fruit. It seems a little 4-square.
Further tasting (and drinking at the table) hasn’t really effaced that impression. The wine is “just fine,” but there have been better vintages.
2021 St Laurent Trocken (Dürkheimer Feuerberg) +
A Bordeaux bottle; I wonder why. But a lovely aroma with no reduction, which is rare for this variety. It isn’t exactly animal, but it’s quite baked. It’s like an eggplant you fire-roast on your gas burner; equal parts char and earth and nightshade umami.
As a rule, the more splendid a St-L is, the more you have to hold your nose for a couple minutes to gain entry into its erotic inner sanctum. Not here. This fragrance is refined and beautifully detailed. The palate isn’t profound but it is honest and candid (and delicious). I would pause before this wine. There is reason to linger, but not for long. You want to return to simply drinking the bugger.
Don’t you love it when an “unpretentious” winery succeeds in something that often eludes their loftier colleagues? This SL makes it look easy, but trust me, it isn’t.
This turned out to be the pick among the reds, and did nothing but improve over four days.
2019 Pinot Meunier Trocken (Dürkheimer Feuerberg)
Surely the most improbable success I enjoyed (or stumbled into) in my merchant days, this has become an “item” for the estate in the US market. Turns out it isn’t hard to see why.
First there was the oddity factor, which appealed to somms (especially) looking for novelties. And then, it tasted gorgeous. It was 10 out of 10 on the wait-till-you-try-THIS scale, so addictive the wine basically drank itself.
I’m fairly sure there’s a Coteaux Champenoise Meunier that’s superior to this, but I haven’t run across it yet. This fella has some attitude in the ripe ’19 vintage, showing more torque than usual, asking to be taken more “seriously.” While it’s often sweeter than the St-L, and it is again here, it has a similar insistence. In effect it’s too earnest to glug, which of course is fine. It most resembles Mencia, curiously, and no one would be shocked if you said it was Ribeira Sacra.
I find myself wondering if this bottle is 100% clean, as I recall a lot more fruit when tasting it at the estate.
2019 Malbec Trocken
Hey, it was in the case; I had no idea they even made it. The bottle, alas, is one of the heavy ones. Naughty naughty. The color is on the inky side.
I barely know Malbec. I know it from Cahors, but I tend to avoid the excessively alcoholic Argentians. And even my Cahors knowledge is out of date. But I do like how this smells, a little Lemberger, a little Cab Franc, maybe a little Petit Verdot.
The palate is actually compelling. Good tannin, great angularity, wonderful poise of florals and irons, a complex finish. Too stark from the Jancis glass, it likes the Riedel Chianti Classico. It’s an ambitious wine and would be for any German grower, and its grasp almost comes up to its reach. Assuming this is a maiden-voyage (and young vines) I’d say it’s more than a curio.
We drank (and considered) this with some lamb (rib chops) and of course the match was correct. The wine itself is interesting and agreeable, if not compelling.
BUB, BUB, BUBBLES BUBBLES:
2019 Pinot Blanc Brut
(They make it themselves. Not everyone does.)
It’s not like I’ve tasted every sparkling wine on earth (but hey, I’m tryin’…) but I’ve never tasted a better one for a “bubble” occasion that doesn’t call for Champagne. Actually, I’ve never tasted one as good. Nor have I tasted anything better for by-the-glass in a brasserie or bistro.
There’s simply nothing coarse here. There’s no crude “manufactured” flavor. There’s no confected fruit. There’s none of the flim flam by which sparkling wines are made to taste like pricier versions of their hapless selves.
What there is is – good bead and texture, true varietal fruit (it tastes like the charming wet-cereal side of PB), fine balance (dry but not brutally so), lovely scallopy “sweetness” and mussel-y salinity, super pretty roasted corn umami (often found in Pinot Blanc) and finally that semolina leesiness that gives the doughy thing we like so much.
When I was a merchant I’d taste this and think “People don’t know what they’re missing,” and then I’d think “But wait, it’s my job to tell them,” and then I’d think “But there’s a zillion tons of stuff coming at them and everyone has something they think you just have to buy,” and so you hope for some weird unplanned ignition like we had with the red Meunier. But now I’m just an unassuming country scribe, but I still can’t shake the frustration that people should know about this, and they don’t. I wonder, is this some vestigial leftover from my “selling” days? It’s not like I was a born salesman, you know?
I’m sure Dartings sell this wine very well at home and elsewhere. They don’t need me to shill for it. I just seem to have some basic sympathy for the neglected – or what I perceive as the “neglected.” I want to advocate for them.
WHILE ON THE TOPIC OF PINOT BLANC…..
2021 Pinot Blanc Trocken glug-glug-glug
Another wine I always liked. It’s odd with this variety; it does well in Germany (especially) with people who want a dry wine without Riesling’s acidity – and also with less personality – and which is “good” but neutral enough to handle whatever food or occasion they throw at it. A reasonable desire, I’d say.
Over here we’ve always struggled to “place” Pinot Blanc. It’s tasty, it’s (usually) cheap, it does the job without demanding center-stage – so where’s the love?
I mean, this is perfect Pinot Blanc. It’s not trying to be anything but addictively delicious. Is it one-dimensional? Sure! But that one dimension is completely wonderful. You don’t have to “think about” this wine, except if you have a moment where you realize the bottle is nearly empty and you’d better open another. You could pause and consider the basmati umami, but you really don’t have to. You could, if you were a geek like I am, consider the precise etching of varietality, and what it might signify. But there won’t be a quiz. You can also mull over the poise of the warm fruit against the cool silvery briskness of the ’21 vintage. I did, and it made me happy. But you’re free to gulp away.
Critters tend to gather underneath our bird feeder, scavenging for whatever bits might have been dropped. Just now there is a dove and a squirrel nibbling about, maybe a foot away from each other, neither perturbed by the other’s proximity, and both of them perfectly camouflaged against the dirt. Peaceful coexistence, the world just humming along as it should be. This is the wine of that tableau, the wine of as-it-should-be. It wants to be taken for granted, and believe me I will, following this little sermon.
2021 Riesling Kabinett Trocken (LITER) (Dürkheimer Fronhof) glug-glug-glug!
If anyone can make a little Liter dry Riesling (this one has all of 11.5% alc) it should be Helmut Darting. AND THIS ONE IS PERFECT.
You taste a thing like this and wonder why this “thing” seems so difficult for so many others. Dry Riesling doesn’t actually need to be bitter and austere! It can be direct and clear and juicy and gluggable, and when it’s those things it’s a shot across the bow for all the others who seem to want to make a virtue of unpleasantness. You know what? Poo on them; I prefer a wine that tastes good and lets me drink the fuck out of it and isn’t pimped up with this-or-that but just shows up to rock my occasion whatever it is.
But be mindful of the prevailing “situation” with many ’21 (German) Rieslings; as their fruit retreats their astringency shows, and I found this bottle was best when opened and for a day later. That said, it won’t be very hard to empty it toot sweet, so you’ll be fine.
2021 Riesling Kabinett Trocken (Dürkheimer Spielberg)
Classic Spielberg fragrances of violets, hyssop and ginger lead into a wonderfully spicy and balanced palate; juicy and salty, brisk and angular without being sharp or spiky.
I’ll open myself to charges of philistinism, but this wine puts some more “significant” Trocken Rieslings to shame. Let’s first discard the useless platitude that taste is beyond dispute. Obviously! I don’t argue that my position is objectively or categorically correct. It’s just my subjective position – but it isn’t merely subjective.
There’s a lot of sour dry Riesling out there whose sourness is called “minerality.” It is not minerality, and it trashes a true and valid element that really doesn’t need dogshit on its shoes. Sour wine is just sour wine, and if it also has “mineral” flavors they have usually been impinged upon by a disagreeable sour-or-bitterness. What is appalling is to mis-apply minerality to give a “sophisticated” veneer to wines that are actually just nasty.
But let’s return to our Spielberg. It actually does show a kind of bitterness, that of mizuna or tatsoi or arugula. It does so in a matrix of juiciness and properly poised acidity, but it’s not a “fruit-forward” wine.
And so to acidity. They say that geezers such as myself grow less tolerant of high acidity, which gives us tummy troubles. Those do not bother me; my problem is in the mouth. Insufficient acid makes a wine taste flat and invertebrate. The “right” acidity gives a fresh splash of energy. Too much acidity is caustic. Acidity isn’t a flavor; it is a felt sense. I don’t want my palate corroded.
Excessive acidity is a less frequent problem now than in the pre-climate-change era, but once in a while a year like ’21 comes along, and then we have to confront it again. Add a high-acid vintage to a cultural default toward dryness, and you’ll have some clunkers. These again will be excused as “brilliant” or “mineral” whereas in fact they simply have too little fruit.
It’s still said you can ‘correct” for high acid with residual sugar, insofar as sweet wines become an ever-shrinking minority of German Rieslings. Regardless, the idea doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Correcting excessive acid with excessive sweetness simply creates bizarre wines with, at best, a theoretical symmetry of extremes. Bristly little beasts, often disjointedly sweet-sour, these are a terribly poor argument for “sweet” Rieslings.
But our Spielberg awaits again. Like a number of ‘21s, it starts to show its elbows and knees as the baby-fruit recedes, and while I find it a wholesome Trocken Riesling I also think it sounds a note of caution, that we should watch how this acid-driven vintage develops. Its puberty seems to have arrived early. I like this wine, but it tasted better five months ago.
2020 Riesling Spätlese Trocken (Dürkheimer Michelsberg)
’20 at its most agreeable is developing this lovely Christmas tree fragrance along with some of the florals (and the kombu-kelp) of the vintage. But ’20 has always smelled good. Yet it can behave like a sweet-looking dog who approaches you easily but then suddenly snarls at you for no evident reason.
This wine has an inviting aroma, and it enters the palate with a burst of juiciness and a brisk green backdrop. You’re already 80% satisfied. And then a strange thing happens; the fruit appears to deflate, leaving a phenolic bitterness in its wake. This is true of a lot of ’20 German Rieslings.
This wine has a markedly yellow tinge to its normal youthful green. I don’t think it’s botrytis, but I wonder what it could be….
Interesting, isn’t it, that the most seamless and tasty of the dry Rieslings was the simple little Liter! But as always, the “tasting” environment is sometimes pitiless to perfectly worthy wines, and I suspect both of these two Trockens will be perfectly fine when we’re just drinking them. I will, of course, report.
And yes, they were better, which is to say they were best when not being scrutinized and deconstructed; in short, the way the average person would drink them. The “tasting room” is a special place, and we occupy it best if we’ve been inoculated against tunnel vision.
2021 Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken LITER (Dürkheimer Feuerberg) +, and glug-glug-glug!
Well, wow. I mean, with ‘21’s acids this wine tastes effectively dry. It’s just balanced! Not sour, nor bitter, nor problematic in any way – just seamless, interesting, USEFUL, delicious bloody wine.
“Oh Terry just likes the wines with more dosage,” you might say, and some havesaid. Well yup! But let’s consider why.
There are aromas and flavors here that simply do not exist in the bone-dry idiom, and there is also an interplay of flavors enabled by the fructose and suppressed by its absence. THESE ARE NOT UNIVERSAL OR CATEGORICAL PRINCIPLES: they pertain to these (and other) wines, and the most one could say is they tend to be true.
But how to account for the focus, animation, dialogue among interesting (if not intricate) elements and sheer expressiveness if you ignore the actions of the fructose? This is just a better wine than any Riesling that preceded it, adjusted for my subjectivities!
Like its brother-Liter, this is best within a day or two of opening, not because it is fragile but because it needs all the fruit it can offer to mitigate the vintage’s tartness.
2021 Scheurebe Kabinett
Amusingly the front label simply says “Scheurebe.” As though that will suffice – which of course it does.
To say it again, and for whatever it may be worth, 2021 looks like a superb vintage for Scheurebe. It’s worth a lot to me, since I adore the variety.
The sweetness here is cunning. (Scheu is cunning in general, but that’s another story….) At first it seems too high. Then on the mid palate the innate (and agreeable) bitterness of the variety comes through, and by the end you’re convinced the finishing lash of spice absolutely required just exactly that sweetness.
The wine is really spritzy, even for Darting, and it has at least three “acts” of flavor and a definite momentum. It’s on the cassis and passion-fruit spectrum of Scheu, along with (cooked) parsnip and tarragon/wintergreen. And as an aside, is it really an accident that, right this minute, we have a brilliant goldfinch and a blazing male cardinal and a gaudy woodpecker at the feeder all at once? I think not!
They were summoned by the Scheu.
The next time I tasted this it was fridge-cold, and roaring with grapefruit.
2021 Gewürztraminer Kabinett (Dürkheimer Nonnengarten) +
Heike Darting dotes on this variety.
Back in the 1970s when I started tasting, this was an “old-lady” wine. In Germany it was usually sweet. When I later went to Alsace it was almost always dry (or almost dry) and I started to see it differently. Then it began to get sweet (and heavy) in Alsace, and the Germans – at least those who still grew it – made it drier and lower in alcohol. Flips be floppin’.
There are a number of resonant and important Grand Crus in Alsace, but leaving these aside, I don’t ask for much; accurate varietal aromas, a degree of grace in the structure, and not too sweet. The greatest German example I (happen to have) had was a vintage of Minges’ “Edition Rosenduft.”
This wine is lovely and surprising. It’s decidedly on the dry side yet with just 9.5% alc. It’s fresh and bright in its affect. It is highly specific in its varietal scrupulousness. I am a notorious hog for Scheurebe, but I confess this is even better wine.
And again, below the level of the (rare) profound, this is everything we can ask from Gewürz. I’m impressed.
This also held up better than any of the Rieslings, tasting as pure and fresh on the third day as it did when opened.
2021 Riesling Kabinett LITER (Dürkheimer Nonnengarten) +
At 10.5% alc, I’m intrigued. In my merchant days I struggled to get this wine less sweet, but Dartings (sensibly) didn’t want it too close to the Halbtrocken Liter.
Following in the line of hugely successful Liter Rieslings among their ‘21s, this wine is superb of its type. In some ways it is too fine to glug. The aromas are refined, wisteria and purple lilacs, and on the palate the sweetness dissolves and the wine becomes effectively dry. It’s precise and articulate, in contrast to the fruit-basket style one might have expected. When Pfalz wines are this sleek and carefully chiseled they start to echo Nahe wines, as this one does. But the real genius here lies in how the 21 acids are managed in light of the wine’s (relative) dryness.
It’s shady, anise-hyssopy, inferential, and even shows a suggestion of rock-dust, none of which are usually perks in the Liter echelon. This is THE BEST LITER RIESLING KABINETT I ever tasted from Darting, and I have 31 years of history with this domain.
If you dig into it, the sweetness is more generous than it “presents,” which is another way of saying we get to consider the interactions of components. The old-school vision of “Kabinett” was that of a crisp wine with a surmise of sweetness, to which this comes very close. It entails a pinpoint balance that a mere Liter bottling doesn’t usually obtain. Someone here is thinking.
Which leads me to a final plea: notice this wine. Sure, it’s just “Darting Liter Kabinett,” just an item to fulfill its purpose, whatever that may be. But if you pause for just ten seconds, you’ll see how deft this is, and maybe you’ll have a fleeting thought for craftsmanship.
2020 Riesling Kabinett (Dürkheimer Hochbenn)
It follows the prevailing current to less sweetness, which is welcome. Hochbenn could entail a rather cloying muskiness when it was too sugary. This is better balanced, and shows a mid-palate that fructose once obscured. I suppose the question is, is it too late?
I don’t want to get too mercantile here (had enough of that, thanks) but this was the “item” corresponding to the demand for Riesling-Kabinett, and now that the wine is really very good, where’s the demand gone? What we have now is something less “fruity” and more savory, even (in a good way) fungal, like piopinnis or chestnut mushrooms or “honey mushrooms” or whatever they call them at your farmer’s market.
It’s firm, moderately earthy, excellently balanced for a ’20, and again the best rendition of this wine I ever tasted. Because it’s drier!
But naturally it isn’t “dry,” and some of you might taste it and think “Ewwww….sweet,” and that’s just our respective wirings at work. For me this is leaning towards dry, especially compared to its forbears, and it lets the chestnut savor come through.
2021 Riesling Spätlese (Ungsteiner Herrenberg)
Pretty aromas of melons and the sweeter apples. The first impression on the palate is that of an old-school Spätlese richer than the preceding Kabinetts but not overtly sweeter. We’ll see if that holds. It is, in any case, not sugary.
I find it a stylish wine, maybe a little slight in terms of length and grip, but smart and crafted carefully. It has lift, it has lovely fragrances in the classic Pfalz type, it has the ’21 firmness, and also a sense that it’s holding its cards close, because it is replete with spices.
A few days later (and fridge-cold) the impression is similar. It’s a still-life of a wine, in effect, only hinting at whatever animation lies in its future.
2020 Rieslaner Beerenauslese (Dürkheimer Nonnengarten)
It has the fragrance you’d expect from ultra-ripe Rieslaner, but don’t ask me to tell you what they are. It’s every tropical fruit! It’s also pointed and electric, more softly overripe fruit than “honey.”
This follows through to the palate, which is “fruit-sweet” with just a smidge of botrytis volatility.
The gestalt is very sweet. Rieslaner’s galvanic acidity is AWOL. And here I must remind you of my indifference to the entire “dessert-wine” category, and yet, having said that, I can easily see how delightful this wine would be in its moment.
You might be captivated by the precision of aromas, the savor at the heart of the rampant fruit, and the unexpectedly crisp finish.