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WEINGUT DAUTEL  -  WURTTEMBERG

Tasting Year

2021

[Note I received a supplementary selection of wines, after my first tasting. You can find these wines at the end of the report]

 

This was my first real immersion into Christian Dautel’s wines, and to the thinking that underlies them. My first encounter was a first-visit to the domain, and between touring the vineyards and the cellar, plus getting to know him, not to mention tasting completely new wines from terra incognita, it was a lot to absorb. A year later he was sweet enough to drive to Deidesheim with his samples, but I didn’t get to anchor my rather disorderly first impressions.  I do refer you to my last catalogue – page 80 in the hard copy – for such impressions as I was able to organize and convey. Because everything about the man, the history and the place, is fascinating.

Look, what we do here is to infer what we hope are credible generalities from a particular range of wines from these particular vintages, but I did have a nice conversation with Christian, and he did not say “That is not at all what I’m doing with my wines!” and so I am comfortable with the impression I formed.

He will default to delicacy. That is clear. You can see it from the moderate alcohol levels, from the modest color saturation among the reds, and from an accumulation of conviction that he will pivot away from power if given the option. As such he presents a group of wines that answer my own deepest wishes for wine; that it give the utmost complexity and the utmost expressiveness with the least possible impact. I’ve called this “the intense whisper effect” and found that it satisfies me not only theoretically but also physically and somatically. My emotional world welcomes such wines as fellow-citizens, and my animal body responds to them with thirst because I am relieved that they don’t want to pummel me. I’d go as far as to say that expressive delicacy is the highest aesthetic wine can aspire to. 

There are groupings of wines to be found. The reds run to (tasty) Trollinger, sinuously “sweet” Lemberger, and refreshingly adult Spätburgunder. Christian Dautel gives every indication of a totally sure hand with his reds. If you like beauty more than muscle, you’ll blush with pleasure to drink them.

Then there are his Rieslings, which are spicy and minty and which show a twang he refers to as “gin-tonic” which is as good an image as any. They range from a ludicrously good estate wine to a profound and compelling GG. Here, again, he shows a steady hand. The wines have added to my “sense” of Riesling in really wonderful ways.

He makes two Sekts, a bone-dry Spätburgunder that’s more “impressive” than it is drinky, and a Riesling that’s lustier and more forthright.

His forays into the Pinots consist of several Pinot Blancs (a primary-fruit-driven estate that can be delightful) and two riper versions culminating in a leesy beast about which my impressions have been mixed. There’s also Chardonnay.  I know, ouch: “there’s also Chardonnay.”  Sorry! Chardonnay is not the reason to explore this domain, though it’s a perfectly good glass of wine.

Finally the incidentals, a cuvée called “Charmeur” wherein the aromatic varieties are blended into a super little glug-fest, and finally a perfectly effective rosé, which may contain more hidden intrigue than I’ve been able to eke out of it. Apropos “effective,” Christian himself is a markedly cool guy and thus an effective face for the winery. He’s easy and fun and memorable. But below that magnetic affability is a serious and ambitious vintner who feels deeply about every wine he makes. With him you can not only “drink the wines,” you can join his world. And be happy you did!

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2019 Spätburgunder

There was a cork problem with this bottle, not TCA but a manufacturing issue, and I couldn’t get an honest read. I’ll get another bottle in a couple months and will report back. This is a crucial calling-card wine for the estate, one that usually over-delivers, and it’s vital that I get a true impression.

I received a second bottle later in 2021, from which I tasted. You can read the note below.

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2018 Spätburgunder Schilfsandstein, Cleebronn

“Schilfsandstein” translates (uselessly) as reed sandstone. It’s a hard yellowish sandstone often used in building construction. “Cleebronn” is the village, and this is an original, a PN with an attractive rusticity and a twang that makes me fantasize a few rogue liters of Lemberger made their stealthy way in. I’m sure they didn’t, by the way!

It doesn’t offer more weight than the estate, but rather more spiciness, density and personality. I’ve had Chassagne reds with this dusty resinous quality. The tannin is refined. It’s PN in its adamant profile, though the wine is far from overstated. It unfolds inexorably. It reminds me of Ziereisen’s Talrain, though this is bloodier. You could write “Blood, iron and roasted black cherries” and you’d be most of the way there. 

We’ll see what the coming days bring, but a decent first impression is it’s a wine more impressive than loveable. Yet I’m also sure this impression may be distorted.

SECOND LOOK, two days later, and the wine seems to show more wood now, at least from the MacNeil “creamy and silky” whereas it’s improved from the Jancis; more animated, livelier dialogue of flavors – grilled eggplant, harissa, tallow. For all it shows the “dark” face of PN, it’s also easy to drink; it isn’t temperamental.

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2017 Spätburgunder Forstberg GG                                                   +

Massal-selection PN cuttings from the Côte de Nuits, planted in marl/limestone/clay, the 4th vintage for this GG from the village of Oberstenfeld (small print on the label).

I rarely write about color – but this color is beautiful!

As is the wine. It’s what I hope for from a Spätburgunder GG. Let me tell you what the wine is not; it isn’t top-heavy, it isn’t “forced,” it isn’t over-concentrated, it isn’t over-oaked, and it doesn’t have the thing Caroline Diel calls the “Cola flavor.” On the contrary! It is elegant, balanced, enticing but not “seductive;” it has a fine thread of green running through it (tatsoi, savoy cabbage) and some of the resinous quality of certain Beaune 1er Crus. It has maturely deployed, carefully balanced wood. It’s both complex and delicious. A lot of fine funky sandalwood. MacNeil’s glass rounded its contours yet I favored the explications of the Jancis, but however rewarding it is to study the wine, the best thing I can say is It made me hungry.

Two days later it remains crazy-good. It’s so generous yet not at all gushing. It’s intricate enough to attract analysis yet it’s not at all difficult. It has repose but it’s not inert. All of which is to say, it’s a delicious, refined and sensible wine.

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2017 Spätburgunder Bönnigheimer Sonnenberg  Erste Lage    +

Oops, I’m out of tasting sequence – but no worries.  This is grown on “gypskeuper” (clay with a high gypsum content) along with our old friend “reed-sandstone.”

The fragrance isn’t as sweet as the GG but I think the wine is differently and equally good. Imagine a thinking person’s Pinot Noir and you’re getting close. Some faces are beautiful when they are not smiling, and this is one such. You know the grill marks on your eggplant and zucchini, that oddly pleasant bitterness? Think of that.

Think of the honest answer you never thought you’d get.

I love the lack of affect in the wine, I love its lucidity and calm and also its alertness. It’s a feline wine. I love how deeply its sweetness is buried; you have to probe for it and then coax it out, but it’s discernibly there, below all the iron and leather.

I am susceptible to the charms of the GG, but I think I’d make deeper friends with this one.

And can I praise the colors of all these Spätburgunders? There was (still is?) a tendency for German PNs to be over-endowed with color, perhaps to demonstrate that these are serious wines, but Dautel’s PNs show a delightful hue and limpidity, and remind us that PN isn’t supposed to be inky and dense.

Tasted again 48 hours later, the incipient sweetness of the first encounter is somewhat more tangible now, and I really like this wine, like how it tastes, like how it splits the difference between tastiness and cerebrality, and love how it doesn’t pander with any come-hither “sweetness.” Instead it is serenely and self-assuredly beautiful.  It’s like sockeye salmon from the Jancis and like king salmon from the MacNeil.

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2019 Lemberger                                                                                 +

A.k.a. Blaufränkisch. In my merchant-time, I fussed a bit about offering this wine; it was hard enough selling Austrian Blaufränkisch, etc. Christian pointed out that the variety was innate to his region, woven deeply into the tradition of Württemberg and thus to him, and that was what I needed to hear. Full confession: his is the only one I know, so I can’t draw any sensible conclusions, but that said….it seems softer and smokier than the typical Austrian, less clearly acid-driven. It’s quite complex from the Riedel Chianti Classico and brighter from the Jancis. The wine is a delight from both.

I grope a bit for a cognate. Teroldego? (Less alcohol!) High-elevation meager-soil Languedoc? Hmmmm, maybe. Austria??? Not really!  All I can really say is, imagine you have a fistful of violets. Imagine you decide to crush them in your hand and inhale the fragrance. Now imagine you’re squeezing them and suddenly a limestone dust comes out. And the little dust-powder smells like violets. Now imagine you run to find someone to tell this amazing thing to, and the first person you find is your uncle, smoking his pipe with the cherry tobacco. Now imagine yourself thinking This is fabulously beautiful, I hope it isn’t a dream. 

It’s not. It’s only me, being ridiculous.

SECOND LOOK, and the wine has grown more angular from the Jancis, with more of the twang I associate with Blaufränkisch (though this wine is furrier, less starkly minty), but trust me, you won’t keep a bottle for two days; you will open and guzzle and appreciate.

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2017 Lemberger Michaelsberg GG                                                 +

High hopes for this. It’s compellingly interior yet magnetic from the Riedel – actually smells like what we used to know as “Claret.” It has added ripeness, concentration, a veneer of unobjectionable but detectable oak along with the physio-sweetness of warmer places. It’s an alluring wine in the hedonic syntax. It’s easy to love, easy to desire. It has something of the nuttiness of Iberico ham. The finish is smoky-sweet.

It is impressive in every way, in a “language” we all speak. It’s deft and transparent and lovely in a way that’s almost angular, almost sinuous, with just enough earnest tannin. I admire the wine unreservedly, but there’s a way in which it’s familiar; it is outstanding in ways I’ve seen before, many times before. That doesn’t make it less beautiful! It only means that my particular and perverse strangeness is responding with leaps and bounds to the estate Lemberger, while here it is calmer, because…this is a thing I know. It is by any reasonable reckoning outstanding, and for me it is – plausible. 

I need to challenge this sentiment. It is reasonable, yes, but that doesn’t mean it has to stand. One would expect the GG to outpace the “basic” wine more dramatically. And two days later, I think it does. That’s because the spine of the wine has emerged from all that “appealing” ripeness. Something more sinuous has joined us now. Drinking it at the table really underscored the quality difference between the everyday wine and this one. I find them equivalently attractive, but this wine is more complex and dramatically more mineral now.

I have to wonder, how much of the totality of a wine was I ever able to convey with ten minutes exposure in a distracted situation from any single glass, a good one or a poor one? I was habituated to those conditions, I had a lot of experience to guide me, I did my best, and I was generally in the ballpark. If the impression was superficial by necessity, I could draw inferences thanks to the thousands of wine that came before. Yet I suspect that all professional tasters become virtuosos at managing imperfection, especially an imperfection of exposure. And this is perfectly fine; they’re still amazingly talented and we can still use them as guides….until we get to the point-score. A topic for another day….

Meanwhile this wine has improved in ways I would never have known and may not have predicted. I’m aware I have the gift of time in which to deliberate. I’m aware most wine reviewers don’t have it. I hope these little tasting essays justify their length by the elucidation they offer.

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2016 Pinot Brut Nature

The current release. 100% Pinot Noir, disgorged 10/2020. I’ve always loved this wine; it’s ambitious and compelling. And it shows a serious PN aroma. It continues to be a fine, original sparkling wine with solidity and even a measure of gravitas. You feel it is straining to understand what it, particularly, has to say; it’s the kind of wine you want the grower sitting with you so you can ask “What were you trying to do here?’

The next day I tried it from the MacNeil “crisp and fresh” which either works quite well or else very badly with sparkling wines. It’s an extroverted glass, making a chummy wine chummier and a misaligned wine more stroppy. Dautel’s Pinot was unmoved by it; the wine is still earnest and subtle and pedagogical. It doesn’t care if you’re having fun; it needs to explain itself. I myself like what it has to say, but it’s a wine one doesn’t so much “enjoy” as observe.

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2018 Riesling Brut

This is a creditable sparkling Riesling, much better than rustic but not quite up to refined. There’s good fruit and decent character and I’ve had Champagnes that weren’t as good. But I wonder what might be attainable with more time on the lees and an atmosphere less of pressure. I’d call it a useful first step on what could be a fruitful journey.

It reminds me of a Blanc de Blancs Champagne from the area around Etoges, or even the Sezannais. It’s not light-footed but rather rudely generous. The dosage, which isn’t very high, is sufficient. I wish this didn’t sound like damning-with-faint-praise, but the wine is altogether pleasant with things of interest within.

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2020 Weissburgunder

This is entirely nice, correct, drinky, does the job for which it’s intended. That’s not insignificant; some vintages I’ve liked this wine and other vintages I found sharp and stingy. This one suggests good things to come from 2020, especially if you like things to be clear and tasty and forthright. This is the mussel-y side of PB, more toasted straw than sweet corn or biscuit; a fine warm-weather PB that comes to the table unobtrusively, yes, we’ll take it, and oh, could you bring another bottle (How did we drink that one so fast?)?

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2018 Weissburgunder “S”

Clearly this is the “reserve” class when the GG designation isn’t available (for whatever reason) and/or when an even greater designation of quality is needed. Not surprisingly it entails oak. Thus for a taster it becomes a referendum on how well oak was managed.

Taking Prieler’s top PB as a Platonic Perfection, we consider several criteria: is there an aroma of charred-ness? (We don’t like this.) Is the oak in the center of the fragrances? Is it ameliorated by any sweet/silken lees? Is fruit able to supplant it?

We’ll have to see, because I made a rookie mistake and tasted the wine too cold. I’ll fix that and look again. From the tall Spiegelau glass (which normally flatters wines like this) a roasted corn fragrance emerged, and I find myself betwixt and between.

On DAY-2 I used a Jancis glass and tasted at 62º which revealed the wines creaminess, but also a few spikes here and there. Oddly enough I found the varietal character was stronger in the basic bottling. Clearly this wine’s meant to be an amalgam of lees and wood and ripeness with varietality thus subdued. But I want more fruit, and it’s that deficit that exposes some of the coarse edges and the sense that the structural elements don’t quite line up.

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2018 Chardonnay “S”

This more subdued wine has more integration of components. On first glance the Weissburgunder has everything shouting while this wine has all its voices speaking in a cordial murmur. It’s salty, a little oblique, the wood makes more sense…

Again, on DAY-2 at 62º and from the Jancis glass, the wine is comparatively “polite” and proper. Only the stoniness is adamant, as it is in some Maconnais wines. I’m just guessing here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both of these “S” wines were low in extract.

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2020 Riesling                                                              glug-glug-glug

A wowza! aroma – anise hyysop, chervil, lady-apple, wonderfully expressive. The palate is zingy and hyper with rampant extroversion, everything you want a “basic” Riesling to be. The herbal complexity is striking, and the salty zip is magnetic. Look at this little guy to see the crucial difference between “expressive,” which this is, versus “crudely overstated,” which this isn’t. You can make a grocery-list from all the associations….lime-leaf, fennel, cilantro…(oh, and can you pick up some dog food? We’re almost out.)

I’m really blissed out when a wine does just what it should do. Pour, glug away, be happy. Simple exaltations are still exalted!

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2019 Riesling Wurmberg  Erste Lage

The vineyard in Besigheim grows on “Muschelkalk,” which we know as fossil-bearing limestone, and which we often see in Alsace and the Pfalz. Albert Boxler’s Grand Cru Sonnenberg is largely (but not entirely) from this soil.

Typically the aromas are smoky and earthy, as they are here. It’s a thick fragrance, and it leads to a dense palate. It’s chewy and full of allspice and cardamom. Thirty years ago you’d never have smelled anything like this, except in Alsace. The wine is weighty without being exactly heavy. It’s for Riesling lovers who don’t always need to be charmed.

I drank this wine with a dinner of pork chops and green beans. I gussied them up and all, but it was still pork chops and green beans. I wanted the wine’s earthiness, and it was perfect. And tasting again now, a day later, this wine gets better and better. It only seemed a little oafish; that was the proximity to the zingy estate Riesling. It is also not austerely dry, and whatever pittance of RS it does have, does it a world of good.

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2019 Riesling Steingrüben GG (Bönnigheim)                                  ++

Back to “reed-sandstone,” which yes, does sound like the name of a news anchor in a Ron Burgundy movie.

And forward to truly superb dry Riesling.

If you ever wondered what “GG” was supposed to be – and forget the political compromises that were made in some regions – then just look here. How do you account for these flavors? The Grand Cru announces itself immediately, with a panoply of flavors that feel extra-terrestrial, “otherworldly.” Here it is such an extremely esoteric mint you really doubt that it grows on this earth. Below it lies a stoniness, and below that lies a saline, sea-spray aroma that would be merely “pleasant” if it weren’t accompanied by the most fervidly coniferous element that joins sea and forest in an unlikely union, finished with a jab of white pepper on the scintillating finish. Christian himself calls it a “gin-tonic” finale.

It isn’t a Riesling for hedonists; it’s for thrill-seekers with more esoteric aims. You have to dive into the wilds. You’ll be rewarded by a blast of cherry-blossom madness after about 10-15 minutes in the glass.

I tasted it repeatedly over days and days. It started out superb and stayed that way.

There are very few Rieslings like this. That’s another thing to cherish. A Riesling that’s great in its own singular way. I know that a lot of my readers are lovers of Riesling, and I need to tell you, I don’t know what this costs but it can’t be that much, and believe me, you need to have this.

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2019 Riesling Schlipschälde  (Bönnigheim)                                       +

In fact this is an erste Lage.  It’s being tasted in this sequence because I spied “11.5% alc” on the label and inferred residual sugar. Whatever I inferred, it has the loveliest aroma! I mean, a perfect Riesling aroma, but nothing you’d find in the “familiar” regions of Germany.  If I tasted it blind I would have guessed Switzerland, simply because it couldn’t be Germany/Austria/Alsace and where else could it be? There’s something granitic in it, and something of the sweetest fennel.

He hasn’t put “Feinherb” on the label, nor anything else to indicate what the residual sugar might be. I don’t know what it is, and I didn’t ask. I only know it’s perfect.

Some palates are on a search-and-destroy mission for RS, which they think they hate, or wish to avoid for any of a dozen stupid reasons. But there may be cause for hope. There’s a recent vogue for “Kabinett,” a rediscovery of what is truly a precious gesture for German Riesling. I had a Selbach 2018 Kabinett a few nights ago that also understood this old, great truth. Sweetness is best when it’s silent, discreet and infinitely helpful. It confers innumerable benefits to a wine, and this wine calls to mind a “classic” Kabinett in the old school. 

What the unreasonable/misguided palate may discern as “sweet” I discern as “a heightened fruit, florality, minerality, length and balance.”  Indeed I find the (invisible but useful) RS underlines the complex herbaciousness and introduces a note of wild wisteria to a picture that is finer than a dry wine could display. Not better – few things could be better than the above GG – but finer because of the one cunning note in the chord.

It’s lovely this wine exists. It shouldn’t supplant the dry ones by any means – they too are beautiful – but this is a type that doesn’t get many invitations to the party, and we don’t know what we’re missing.

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2020 “Charmeur”

I’m sure you can imagine what this entails. The aroma is beguiling and the wine offers an acme of simple pleasure when wine isn’t “the point” but it still needs to be good. It has a Welschriesling forthrightness and the straw/hay/herb thing, with a smidge of apple and smokiness way in the background. That said, the wine has substance, and in its genre and for its purpose it is a resounding success.

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2020 Rosé

Christian, when he first poured this for my colleagues and me, said “Here it is, the dreaded rosé,” as we laughed knowingly.

I’m no longer a merchant, at least for now, and I don’t need to worry whether such a wine earns a “place” in a portfolio. But I still want it to offer more than “You’ll like it, if you happen upon it.” In other words, what is its raison d’etre? In this case I’d draw your attention to a basic (and agreeable) sourness, a brightness and a tart-green element that removes it from the usual pink-porn and lets you feel you can drink it and not feel like an idiot. Lots of rosés with flavors like rose hips, but not that many with flavors of rose hips and sumac.

Wild salmon, here we come!

WEINGUT DAUTEL  -  NEW ARRIVALS

 

I did something a little different this time. On day-2 I only used the Jancis glass. I wanted that particular glass as a “constant” though I doubted it would be the “best” glass for several of the wines.

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 2019 Trollinger                                                              glug-glug-glug!

There’s only one word that will do for this wine, and that word is “gorgeous.” 

It’s gorgeous the way really really good Beaujolais is gorgeous. And I don’t mean the Crus, I mean just perfect basic Beaujolais from a good grower. Along with endless gushes of fruit there’s that sour cherry bite that precludes the wine being simple and sentimental.

Not that there’s anything wrong with “sentimental.” When I was a pup, living in Munich, I often bought Südtirolian plonk from the supermarket, because it was “cheap and cheerful” as the phrase goes. Stuff called “Terlaner” or “Santa Maddalena” (or if it was bottled by a German negoç, “Sankt Magdalener.”) Back then the wines were unpretentious and low in alcohol, definitely cropped to within an inch of their lives, definitely made to glug and give you headaches, and god did I love them. 

And when I visited the region these were the (red) wines I saw, and drank, and wondered if anything would ever be so delicious again.

Trollinger is Schiava. Think “Tirol-inger” and you’ll grok the name. The variety is common in Württemberg, where it makes the entry wine and the bottles you glug outdoors on a summer evening. It’d a little silly to deconstruct a wine like this; suffice to say it works on the tension between its (crazy-attractive) fruit and the zing of its sour cherry twang. And though it would seem like you’d find wines like this all over the place, actually you don’t. In most of France the only way to approximate this is with carbonic maceration, and then you get that amylic banana aroma. A rare few German Portugiesers can be this tasty, but they can’t be made profitably because no one will pay a price that covers production costs (older vines with lower yields, etc.), and of course there’s Zweigelt (which has a different fruit), but a lot of places that used to make such wines have fallen victim to both climate change and market expectations, and everything is bigger and more “important” now.

On day-2 the Jancis glass insists on more affect than the wine can hold; it accentuates the sour cherry and suppresses the gushy fruit. But it really delivers that amazing aroma.

A final thought. Often you congratulate yourself for having healthy unpretentious tastes when you enjoy a simple tasty wine, and I think you’re right to do that. But quite often such wines will surprise you with some new element in the finish that taps your shoulder and whispers not as simple as you thought, eh sailor? This one does it, though the impression is fleeting. Okay, if there were two words to describe this wine, the second one would be adorable. 

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2019 (estate) Pinot Noir

The sample I tasted a few months ago had an issue with the cork. Not TCA, something else. Christian sent me another bottle, of the same wine (same A.P. number), because what I described to him was nothing like the wine he knew.

This one is fine. It has a reduction for about 90 seconds; decanting would help if that bothers you. I just poured and waited.

Now that I “get” this grower’s Pinot Noirs better, I have a context in which to place this one. He doesn’t seem to have wanted a slight or delicate entry-level PN, but rather something adamant, a little rustic (there’s some purchased fruit in the mix) and showing more torque than the 12.5% alc would augur. There’s tomato, tomato-leaf, resinous herbs, some tannin, but the MacNeil creamy & silky  made the fruit sweeter and introduced a minty finish. This is a sturdy, forthright wine; I like drinking it and so will you – but it doesn’t prepare you for the leap in quality to the estate wines (village, 1er Lage, GG) which are not “like-this-but-better” but actually a whole other order of beauty.

Let’s see what the next days hold. I actually like it best from the smallest glass on the table, a Spiegelau white wine glass I find too big and misshapen for most white wines.

Day-2 (Jancis) and this glass explicates the living daylights out of the wine – mostly to the good. It’s a dark-flavored, ferrous sort of PN that reminded me of Ziereisen’s Tschuppen, and flavors are delineated precisely. That shows some interplays I found interesting, and it also showed some rustic tannin and a finish of gravels and shadows. That said, this wine craves air, and you may want to consider any big balloon type glasses you have sitting around. So, curiously, either the biggest or the smallest plausible glass will work, for different reasons. It is the sort of wine that needs assisting from the choice of glass.

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2020 Weißburgunder Gipskeuper Bönnigheim                          +

This was the missing link in the first group of samples; I had the estate wine and the top level and here’s the one in between. It isn’t stronger or more intense than the (excellent) estate wine; it is more detailed and more interesting. But before we get there, it is also fantastically drinky, and there is much to be said for a wine you want to gather into your arms.

But! We also have a strong terroir signature, so that it isn’t quite like any Pinot Blanc I can recall. Smoke and spice and peppercorns and like every nightshade you can think of. The last time I was this gripped by a Pinot Blanc it was one of Jean Boxler’s from the GC Brand (not allowed on the label, but Jean has a “system”). The Austrian PBs are warmer and more meadow-flowery, as a rule. A striking example of terroir trumping variety here; I doubt too many blind tasters would alight on “Pinot Blanc” – and oh the innocent fun of confusing the fuck out of them! Nor is your humble scribe exempt from the tomfoolery – I wouldn’t guess it either.

But I’ll tell you what I would have guessed, as I fumbled around pathetically. I would have said a Grüner Veltliner from  Nigl, grown on Urgestein. It would have been one of those good-wrong guesses. Blame it on the rampant salt.

It shimmers and sparks from the Jancis, but it’s superb from every glass I used. With no “show of force” this is one of the most adamantly interesting wines I’ve tasted all year. And it’s delicious, in its slinky rippling way.

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2019 Weissburgunder “S”                                                                +

His best. I wasn’t sold on the 2018. He wanted me to taste the ’19. I make the mistake of believing the Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay must be ancillary from a winery that makes such scintillating Rieslings and refined Pinot Noirs (and amazing Lembergers), but Christian is committed to them, and he wanted me to taste the new vintage.

Alc 12.5%, which is lovely! Certainly a white-Burgundy template, also lovely – if it works. How it works, for me, is when there’s a seamless melding of fruit, lees and wood, linked by a kind of creaminess inside of which the oak reposes discreetly.

On first glance this very good wine almost nails it. Let’s consider that “almost.” Is it warranted? I’ve had lots of Chassagne 1er Crus no better than this. From the basic Spiegelau white stem it was a little overtly “toasty,” but from the taller rounder glass it was really close to perfect. It was basmati and languistine and rice pudding and brown butter. The lesson is, don’t drink it from a glass that’s too tapered. Rounder is better. Jancis was mean to it, exaggerating the oak and making the flavor pivots feel splintery and angular.

The brown butter and lees tandem is captivating. Many things about this wine are seductive and convincing. I’d love to have it next to Prieler’s best. And I am loving the unfurling deliberate finale, which so often yields to crass oak, but here does not. Here it tastes like fantastic popcorn with fresh-churned butter and Parmesan cheese. Just take care which glass you use.

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2019 Chardonnay Sonnenberg Bönnigheim (Erste Lage)

Again new to me; last time I only had the 2018 CH –S- level. Grown on “reed-sandstone” and gypskeuper. Curiously, while it makes a seamless good first impression, it seems less intricate than the Bönnigheim Pinot Blanc.

It is less intricate. But it is also really smart and comme il faut and balanced and civilized, and it expresses a measured friendliness that I like more with each sip. It is also more explicitly mineral than the PB.

I find this to be quite an achievement, and Christian should be proud of it. I am personally more synched to the Pinots, but in many ways this is the more admirable wine. I’d compare it to many Jura Chards (and most favorably) and to the best among the Maconnais.

Round glass please. Though I confess it was lovely from the Jancis.

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2019 Chardonnay “S”                                                                    +

Again – and wonderfully – Christian had a 2018 label on which he’d crossed out “13% alc” and written in “12.5.” You could be forgiven for thinking low alcohol is a fetish of mine, but when’s the last time you had a white Burgundy with 12.5% alc?

All right, this is seriously impressive. Counterintuitively, these Chardonnays are markedly less “Burgundian” than the Pinot Blancs, and this one has the sinewy serpentine movement of a top Chablis, without (of course) the Kimmeridgian vibration. And it needs a capacious glass; my little Spiegelau makes it stark and plank-y – if you ever worked in a warehouse you may remember the smell of a new pallet. But from the MacNeil it’s another one with the flowering-field thing that Grüner Veltliner can do.  Hiedler’s Kittmannsberg comes strongly to mind!

If Chardonnay is indeed a “winemaker’s wine” then Mr. Dautel can be happy with his winemakering here. In a sense great Riesling makes itself, you just get out of its way. But here you need a guiding intelligence to avoid all the mistakes to which the variety is prone.

Bear with me here; I have to ask a question based on a TOTALLY OPINIONATED ASSUMPTION, and it is, why would anyone drink even this outstanding Chardonnay when there are such fabulous Rieslings in the vicinity? I mean, I know the standard answers, Not everyone likes Riesling, or Riesling is sometimes too expressive to drink casually at the table with friends, and I think maybe that’s the key. Chardonnay is simply more discreet, except in the few places where it blasts into magnificence, and discretion can be really useful if you want your food (and your friends) to get a word in edgewise. Rieslings as good as Dautel’s attract attention, as they ought, and I’m in such thrall to them that I work my environment around them. Not everyone makes that choice.

And for those who don’t, here is a Chardonnay that is wonderful and satisfying and expressive in its own way.

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2020 Riesling Gipskeuper Bönnigheim  (cask-sample)    (++)

Again the “in-between” quality missing from the first set of samples.

I have to be very, very careful not to overrate this, given how completely superior Riesling is even to good PB and CH. But jee-zus, this is good!  I also have to take care not to succumb to the allures of the cask-sample, yet if even 60% of this vitality is preserved the wine will still RAWK. 

It’s the kid brother of the GG, in essence, with lots of that “gin & tonic” thing, certainly all kinds of juniper and schnapps from mountain herbs. Just not as intense and not as lingering. But it’s everything in the family that includes chervil, carrot-greens, fennel fronds, dill, lemon grass, yuzu – don’t come here looking for peaches. But there’s some of that fennel-seed thing we find in Nigl’s Goldberg Rieslings, and I can even recall similar elements in Künstler’s Weißerd GGs.

It’s not a wine that will beat you arm-wrestling, but it will totally kick your useless ass at Scrabble. Riesling is just smarter than other wines. And Christian Dautel is becoming a master of Riesling.

2022

The Winzer des Jahres (vintner of the year) for Württemberg according to a leading (if not the leading) German wine guide, sent me a curious case of samples, which I assume is part-1 of an eventual duo. It’s 67% red, with some Sekt and a couple Rieslings.

1) THE PINOT NOIRS

As I write each of the wines has been “seriously” tasted three times, and sipped another three times. They’ve all been open five days, and about three inches remain in each bottle.

 

They’ve been quite steady. The Cleebronn, which was generous and available out of the gate, is showing the slightest sign of flagging, while the Sonnenberg, almost opaque to start out, has woken to the point of mumbling logical phrases. The two GG-s have traded places several times in my estimation, but the Schupen is always explicit and mineral, while the Forstberg is always more inferential and umami-driven. Each time I compare them I decide a different one is better.

 

I feel privileged beyond measure to have had the chance to live with these wines day upon day and evening after evening. Apart from their own beauty, they have become friends. They are hale and consoling, every single time.

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2019 Cleebronn Spätburgunder “Schilfsandstein”                         +

I don’t have the estate-PN among these, so we start here at the village level. The soil is a hard yellow-ish sandstone often used in building construction, and it’s rarely seen outside of Württemberg. 12.5 % alc is also noteworthy, and refreshing.

It smells utterly lovely. If PN has an herbal side, this wine shows its profile with the utmost sweetness. It has a narrative arc, one that goes around a number of corners, without being what we’d call “angular.” It shows a conversation with two points of view, conducted between two people who love each other.

 

In the Jancis glass it’s a small bit grittier, and shows a Sangiovese type sourness (which is what we like about Sangiovese, right?) and it also flashes some hints of cask. In the regular Spiegelau red  it’s more comely. The wine has character and explicit minerality. It is also ineluctably German, which I mean as a compliment.

 

Burgundy looms over all the other Pinot Noirs in the world, which is fine and can’t be helped, but Christian Dautel’s  PNs are the work of a man who loves Burgundy but has no wish to create its facsimile. The wine shows blueberry and rose hips, stewed tomato and basil, and gliding along with all that sweetness is a nuance of resinous sourness, without which the wine would be too ingratiating. I liked this last year too. It finishes with a lovely and deliberate wash of minerality, like a dissolve of scree.

 

Open 48 hours now, a barely discernible oxidation shows up. It isn’t displeasing. In the Spiegelau it croons and murmurs; in the Jancis it instructs, scowling. Neither glass shows any element of the other one. There’s no Venn-overlap. All you can infer is that Jancis suppresses the sweet fruit and Spiegelau ladles a lovely sweet sauce over whatever’s happening below the surface. Both wines are wonderful, in mutually exclusive ways.

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2018 Sonnenberg Spätburgunder Bönnigheim

This is the Erste Lage, the step below the “GG.” Just 13% alc, even in this hot year. Soil blends our friend Schilfsandstein with Gipskeuper (a kind of clay with a high gypsum content).

This is more broody, intense, with a fiery reserve, as if it’s sitting on a powder keg of ferocity. That’s at first. It will benefit from air, this is clear.

 

It has a rustic polish that sent flashes of New Zealand into my mind.  Rather more solemn than its predecessor, it also tastes more expensive – you know just what I mean. We pony up for strength and vinosity, and we have that now; the question is what lies below. And that question, I think, won’t be answered for a few more days. The Jancis glass suggests a ferrous note and a swollen mass of complex fruit. And so we watch and wait.

 

Once again, it’s 48 hours later, though I cheated and drank a glass last evening while a chicken was in the oven. The wine remained broody and opaque. Yet not at all sullen. Today it’s stirring a little, but it still feels like an umami wine, and I think you should decant it several hours beforehand if you’re drinking it now. That, or insist on the Jancis glass, because this wine really benefits from that glass’ insistence on explicit articulation from its contents. At this point – and I’ll taste this again and again – one begins to sense a sort of floral/mineral lyric touch beneath the drowse.

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2018 Schupen, Bönnigheim                                                             +++

This is the “GG,” but you only know it from the embossed bottle; it’s also Spätburgunder, but you only know that from small print on the back label. Still a nice, moderate 13% alc.

Okay, this has a mind-blowingly beautiful and interesting fragrance.

 

I find I am short of words. What I want is to disappear with this, where no one can find me, and nuzzle with it for a few hours. I think instead of rummaging around flavor associations – of which there are many – I’ll point out an uncanny poise of intensity with light-footedness, of the ethereal with the earthbound, of the assertive with the tactful. It’s packed with carob and dark chocolate. Its pieces fit to form a mélange of gracious power.

 

I have an image of a huge sail, swollen and blown by a powerful invisible wind. Weight, and an unseen force. Oh, and it is also wonderfully delicious, lest we forget that part. It’s also sophisticated and soulful. I can’t wait to see what it does over the days.

 

Two days later…..you know, it hardly ever fails. If a wine justifies its status as a Grand Cru, it introduces a flavor that doesn’t make sense. It isn’t fruit, or animal or vegetable or any other comestible – it’s just Place. It’s a kind of scroll of curious identity that we can see unfurl. (Whether we can read the text remains to be seen!) It doesn’t matter if you can give words to it; you know it immediately. It is the gesture of consequence. A virtuosity of nature, a synergy of soil and grape and human that results in this ecstatically nebulous thing that’s electrifyingly beautiful and entirely inexplicable.

 

And this wine from the Jancis glass is nothing short of amazing. It has the gloriously brash minerality of white wines. It’s feverishly expressive yet also graceful, and it prefers a little quiet around it. I can’t erase the image of my palate as a mineral-detector clicking and buzzing like crazy as it runs across the surface of this masterpiece. “Hey babe, I found your bracelet! The kids must have buried it…”

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2018 Forstberg, Oberstenfeld                                                         ++

Same as above, the bottle says “GG” and the back label says Spätburgunder – and it still says 13% alc.

We have “colored” marl and stony clay with limestone veins, and we have massal selected cuttings from the Côte de Nuits; the Schupen is weathered limestone with gipskeuper, by the way.

 

I know the Burgundy paradigms are often fatuous, but if we agree for argument’s sake to accept them, this is very much Volnay and the Schupen is very much Gevrey. The aroma here borders on the haunting. It shows more cask, but not obtrusively so. It shows an easy-to-understand sweetness of fruit. It has an evanescent vapor of loveliness on the long, poetic finish. It is ludicrously complex from the Jancis, and incredibly caressing from the Spiegelau.

 

What it really has is a quality I have rarely seen outside of white wine; in the best possible way, this doesn’t add up. It refuses one’s entreaties that it should make sense. I sometimes experience this with old reds, but almost never with young ones. My shorthand for this attribute is “The Dönnhoff thing,” because on one hand the wine seems spectral and on the other hand it has more information than you can assimilate.

 

Wines like that – wines like this – are less like prose than they are like music. They play, and you dance, or you cry, or you drift and dream.

 

And now, at least for today, I’ll turn off the word spigot. You won’t ever drink a more beautiful German PN than this.

 

It has remained stable and serene over three encounters in 48 hours. It’s sweeter and has more sous bois than the Schupen, but it also has more heft and tannin. I’m not sure what to make of the peppery finish. For all its current serenity, I infer a turbulent adolescence in store.

 

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2020 Lemberger

This of course is the artist also known as Blaufränkisch, and it is traditional in Württemberg. It’s the entry-level bottling.

 

From the Riedel “Chianti Classico” (which I’ve introduced for these) it starts a little brett-y, and a furtive reduction wafts away in a minute or so. Interestingly it cleans up quicker in the Jancis glass.

 

Now even the brett is gone, and the wine is happily direct and available. Somehow this variety is “fluffier” here than it is in Austria, and what you lose in detail you gain in friendliness. And no sensible person’s weeknight lamb chops should be without it, especially if you can forgive a little funk.

 

It reminds me of Cahors the way it used to be, before it got hijacked by the ripeness douchebags.

 

It does the job, it’s pink and lamb-y and while it’s simple it isn’t mundane. It is difficult in Austria to make an elemental Blaufruankisch; that’s what Zweigelt is for. BF is serious and should be treated as such. But here we can drink it in its basic form without feeling as though it had been stunted or distorted.

 

If you’re looking for a cognate, perhaps an entry level Australian Shiraz would come close.

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2020 Bönnigheim, Lemberger Gipskeuper                                      +

The village-level, and quite the step up. This is a W-O-W sort of wine. It may be the first time I’ve ever found this variety so flowery; it’s like a parade of irises and violets, and even the dark purple lilac shows up saying don’t forget me! 

 

On the palate the picture is harmonious and complete, yet each component is tactful and discreet. There’s mineral, but its quiet. There’s fruit, but it’s inferential. Herbal notes avoid being bitter or resinous. Everything resolves into a charmingly “sweet” finish. The wine has a charm it can’t help having, one that isn’t cultivated or designed to seduce. 

 

This evening I’ll try having a glass in a noisy kitchen full of cooking smells, and we’ll see if its charms demand quiet.

 

To some degree, it did. And now, a couple days later, the wine has folded its wings, and while it’s not asleep, it has tucked itself in. (The sample’s a little cooler than the others, as it happens.)

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2018 Michaelsberg, Cleebronn                                                            +

Again “GG” is indicated by the embossed bottle, and “Lemberger” appears discreetly on the back label. The soil is colored marl. And the alc is 13%

First of all I love that there’s three levels of Lemberger. And next, I love the amazingly intricate aroma here. And finally, the palate renders me outdone, amazed, blissed out.

 

It is very, very rare to see such a flowing interplay between cask, fruit and minerality, none of which dominates, all of which are as fine as can be. Yes, in the Jancis glass the tannin is assertive, as is the minerality, but some tasters like things that way. In either glass we have great length alongside the sense of an elusive Whole that refuses to merely let the parts add up. And I do recognize I’m saying this again. Yet it’s a slippery creature, giggling as it escapes our demands for logic. We must have logic! We have to nail these wines. We must delineate their every furtive nuance and describe in detail how they fit together, how they proceed along the palate, how they conclude, and everything that tapped them along the way.

 

That’s the taster’s goal, and sure I do it too. It’s what we do. And it’s why we’re nonplussed when a wine doesn’t want to yield itself to us, yet it’s also gorgeous, and beautifully inexplicable. You could say this is the goal of the “GG” idea, the Grand Cru that needn’t explain itself because it is so clearly Other.

 

If Austrian Blaufränkisch shows the precision of Medoc, then these wines show the sweetness of St Emilion. They are both “Bordeaux,” but  one is the math major and the other does theater. And with wines as Important as this one, we don’t see a single false move; no inelegance, no excess of power, no opacity, no enticements of fruit-sweetness. Just the final glory of poise, the pleasure of being oneself.

 

Unlike the Pinots, though, the upper levels of Lemberger are more reserved with each encounter. “I showed up, okay, now let me get some rest!”  Straight from the bottle: euphoria. Two days later, an echo of energy.

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2020 Trollinger                                                     glug-glug-glug!

I always assumed this was Schiava, but Christian insists it’s Vernatsch,  and I wonder whether it depends on which side of Bolzano you’re on. In any case it joins a category of red wines I thoroughly adore: Addictive reds. A good simple Zweigelt is a noble citizen of this place, as is the right Beaujolais, as are sundry other wines that have managed to resist the pull towards “significance” as expressed by skin contact and lots of new wood and “physiological ripeness” and an aura of High Solemnity. This little dickens has 11.5% alc!

 

But if it only smelled sweet and charming it wouldn’t cast the spell. It needs some edge. Here this takes the form of a robust acidity, a bit of funk, and some of the sour-cherry that makes Beaujolais so refreshing. The ’20 is cooler and higher-toned than was the riper (sweeter) ’19; it’s a bit friskier and not completely civilized. It’s like little schoolchildren sprung loose for recess.

 

Just for shits and giggles (and because I was tired of washing so many damn wine glasses) I poured this into the Riedel Chianti glass I’d be using layer for the Lembergers. It’s a glass for “serious” wine, and it did seem to moderate this guy’s puppy energy. It couldn’t subdue the sheer deliciousness, but it introduced nuance and structure.

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SEKT: 2017 Pinot Brut Nature

No disgorgement date available, but the condition of the (diamant) cork suggests 9-12 months ago. 

Tasting from Juhlin, 2.0. Without knowing better, this tastes like 100% PN, but based on the color it likely isn’t. This wine has always been ambitious, and if you consider the flavor alone it mostly grasps what it reaches for. That much is refined and sophisticated.

 

You’ll see I had an issue with this wine – or had” an issue, or thought I had one, because each time I tasted it again it seemed to improve. The fourth and final time I used the old Spiegelau flûte, in order to preserve what little mousse was left, and those parting sips were lovely. I persist in supposing I needn’t choose between these two mutually exclusive truths, but my brain feels double-jointed.

 

My caveat is due to the wine’ structure. Simply put, there’s more bite than I like. I don’t think sparkling wines have to be soft and fluffy but I do think they should convey a certain sense of luxury, and be texturally pleasing. If Christian didn’t take this through malo, that might be a useful idea. These flavors deserve a better showcase.

 

On the other hand, this could be precisely the wine he wants to make and that his customers want to buy. In that case I place myself off to the side and say “Y’all have fun!”

 

On 2nd encounter I used a larger glass, hoping to urge the fruit forward and tamp down the sharpness. I got the first, but not the second. You can tell how much I like Christian Dautel and how much I want to like his wines, but I did think this one was an interesting dud – and then I doubted that impression.

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SEKT:  2020 Riesling Brut

It smells like 2020 Riesling, as indeed it should, with so little tirage. And for all its ostensible modesty, it has greater harmony than does the Pinot. Nor does this have to do with the higher RS; it’s just a more complete wine, for all its simple ease.

 

The flavors are yuzu and quince, and the umami makes me think of parsnips, sweet ones. There’s nothing awkward or coarse here, just the flavors of good Riesling. It pleases, shows skill, and doesn’t demand. The tertiary finish has the surmise of maple we taste in candy cap mushrooms.

 

Don’t know candy caps? If you cook with them (especially dried) you’ll get six tons of maple flavor without any sweetness. Amaze your guests! Confuse your auditor! Make your kids think you made pancakes for dinner! You can buy the ‘shrooms from FarWestFungi, among other options.

 

Meanwhile, this Sekt is entirely lovely.

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2020 Wurmberg, Riesling (Besigheim)                                             +

Erste Lage, muschelkalk, 12% alc.

While the first aromas are Pfalz-like, the palate has a fine angularity and a sort of chomp of the countryside. From the Jancis there’s quite the interplay of earthiness, mineral and root veggies. I’m tasting it a wee bit warmer than ideal – 56º - so my sense of its breadth may be deceptive.

 

Regardless, you have to love a wine like this. Without anything that suggests frills or that offers “expensive” flavors, the wine just comes at you with generosity and expressiveness and a little dirt under its fingernails. It’s a giving wine, with its carrot-y umami-sweetness and its herbal-mineral swirls.

 

There are plenty of wines with affectations that don’t offer anything like the delights of this guy. It has an entirely wonderful crookedness.

 

A day later, it’s even a little rude. Not “natural” sweaty-bog-shrimp rude, but it’ll belch when others are in the room. Yet the palate keeps being wicked and fun, and I keep adoring it.

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2020 Steingrüben, Riesling, Bönnigheim                                       ++

The GG, as the bottle (but not the label) indicates. PRETENTIOUS HEAVY BOTTLE ALERT. A glorious 12.5% alc, and I can almost forgive the stupid bottle.

 

This has quickly become one of my favorite GGs, and I owe a dazed gratitude to Mr. Dautel for introducing “gin & tonic” both to my tasting vocabulary and to the possibilities for Riesling.

 

I mean, take a sip and what can you do but be happy? Without a particle of prettiness, this just oozes class and complexity. Its internal dynamism, penetration of flavor, fugue of mineral nuance, and sense of concentration are astonishing with such little alcohol.

 

We do have some of the astringent textural grit of so many ‘20s, and I’ll be watching to see if the fruit is as perishable as other 20s have been. But for now, this emblematic GG is establishing a record for excellence to which attention should be paid. I had a small audience at a culinary weekend recently, and I wanted to confound their assumptions about “Riesling” and used an earlier vintage of this wine. (I also had a Von Winning GG, but that would have been too simple, with its familiar wood flavors.) Predictably, I heard a chorus of amazement along lines of no idea and is this really Riesling and I thought they were all sweet and you know the rest. 

 

At this point it’s become fair to say, if you are a Serious Riesling Person, then you have to add this wine to the list of things to which you attend most closely. It is that good, and that distinctive.

 

Another day, and you can add scallion to the flavor picture. Sencha also. I’m watching for the finishing brevity and grittiness of (so many) ‘20s, and finding a bit of it. I’ll keep watching; there’ll be at least two more tastings after today’s.

 

But no, the wine held steady, improved even, and when I took the last sips from the Spiegelau white-wine glass, I was sad to see it go.

2023

PART ONE: THE WHITES

As much as the reds shape-shifted, the whites were stable and “well-behaved.” Which is to say, to the degree they improved (as many did) they didn’t so much alter as flourish.

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2020 Sonnenberg, Chardonnay Bönnigheim

An erste lage with 12.5% alc.

Christian knows I need to be “overcome with conviction” when evaluating German Chardonnays, because I begin by wondering whether they need to exist at all. I will happily confess, this wine is very good, and I’d drink it joyfully.

I’m not sure I can isolate what (if anything) it adds to the Chard world that was missing before, but on the other hand, I like it. There’s a fleeting reduction when it’s first poured, after which it runs to straw and stone and a discreet cask backdrop. It’s  grown on Schilfsandstein and Gipskeuper (clay with a high gypsum content) and reveals a serious minerality with time in the glass. It’s rather like a cross of Chablis with serious Aligote, and it’s a civilized and graceful wine, with a vein of cardamom-like spice running through it.

Having tasted it twice (and sipped it once) I have to yield the point: The wine is excellent. I hardly care any more what place it might occupy in Planet Chardonnay, because it’s a delight to drink, and it’s a seriously worthy wine all by itself. Its intensity is true, and as someone who recoils at mere hints of “smoky oak,” I’m not minding them here.

An interesting note: at one point I tasted these wines with a friend who’s a serious Burgundy expert, and whom I was sure would be “cool” toward the Chards, Nothing doing.  To my surprise he loved them both.

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2020 Chardonnay -S-

It’s a winery-internal designation for the top level of Chard and Pinot Blanc. This usually connotes wood. The alc is a moderate 12.5%, which is encouraging.

Last year there was an oaky Chardonnay from Künstler I disliked on principle but sensually enjoyed drinking. I hate it when that happens, right? The genre is so often vulgar and mundane, and my first sniff of this wine put me off – that translucent veil of cask. Then the palate was truly impressive, with a measured intensity and really prominent minerality, and then the finish repeated the oodles-of-toasty-oak business until I wasn’t sure what to think.

I’ll amend this view as the evidence warrants, but on first pass the actual palate is really fine, while the aromas (both initial and finishing) are sort of been-there-done-that. Can these both be true? Because it’s certainly plausible to question my deeply ingrained assumption that a certain characteristic is repellant.

So I’ll try to leave it aside. The wine is expressive in its mineral, poised in its gestalt, both firmly angular yet also juicy in its attack and texture, and these things are true even if one doesn’t care for this “type” of wine.

To be continued.

This wine is doing two things at once. On the palate (tasted three times and sipped once at the table) it’s admirably sleek, focused and mineral. The aromas, though, come dangerously close to those of an over-reduced chicken stock, just as it starts to smell tacky. It teeters right on the pivot-point where some drinkers are thrilled and other drinkers are indifferent, or repelled. But I myself must pay attention to that lucid, cool palate, and so my own response is truly mixed.

That said, I want to drink it. I don’t want to bury it with my assumptions and prejudices. I like it sensually, or maybe it’s better to say that my sensual pleasure overtakes my “opinions of this type of thing.”  Still, it is no match for the  wines coming up….

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2021 Weissburgunder.                                                Glug-glug-glug!

It’s the little screw-capped “basic” estate Pinot Blanc. It smells wonderful. After the affects of the Chardonnays this just blasts forth with elemental purity and cheer. It answers the question, why do we love Pinot Blanc? Of all the iterations of this variety, this one and Darting’s have brought me the most primordial joy.

There’s some of the scrape and snap of 2021, but I’m tasting it in late October and the wine is saying warm summer evening and you’re thirsty. 

It’s actually futile to offer a “tasting note” for such a wine.  Or if one had to, this would do: “He isn’t the smartest dog in the world, but boy is the little fucker happy to see me when I walk in the door.”

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2020 Weissburgunder -S-                                                                        +

Absurdly appealing aromas; I don’t know whether the “-S-“ designation entails a particular vinification, but if it does it is better suited to Pinot Blanc (with its flesh and doughiness) than to Chardonnay (with its rocks and corners). It’s a wine of the cask-y “type,” and it recalls a similar wine from Von Winning, 

It displays a more lees-driven creamy seamlessness now, and only an overly blatant toastiness prevents it from approximating decent white Burgundy. That said, it’s a conspicuous success in the 2020 vintage, where one contended with phenolic grit on the finish and with (in this case) unwelcome herbal flavors on the palate. (A year like 2018, whose fruit was already peachy, was better suited to this style.)

Wines like this are often shape-shifters when they get air, and once again I’m sensing an unfurling is likely over the days. A solidity emerges from the depths of the mid-palate, and it seems to overcome both the cask and the alien greens. This wine could make a fool of me.

Even in late October (in New England!) it’s too warm for the cellar to have cooled to an ideal temp, and it takes some jiggling to get the white wines where I want them. (I want 55º for this; the cellar is 61º and the fridge is 40º and how long in advance do I need to take the bottles out, etc. etc. etc, and and and…)

I don’t feel quite foolish. At least not about the wine. It’s excellent, and if you like that roasted-lees thing you’ll adore it. It oscillates between “too-toasty?” and “just right,” and the right temperature would nudge it in the latter direction, I think.

But say you were making a tapioca pudding, stirring away, but you got a phone call and when you returned to the stove the bottom of your pudding was sticking to the pot and you thought oh now my pudding is ruined but then you tasted it and that little burned crust on the bottom was like a pilaf  and you scraped it up and stirred it through your pudding and it was weirdly delicious and definitely fascinating and you thought maybe next time I’ll do this on purpose. Stream of consciousness for Weissburgunder -S- by Terry Theise.

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PART TWO: THE RIESLINGS

“Sometimes I think that every sip of wine that isn’t Riesling, is wasted”. – Hans Altmann

 

2021 Riesling                                                         glug-glug-glug, and        +

(estate, screwcap, 12% alc)

I don’t know if there’s a “taste of Württemberg Riesling,” but if there is, I think this is it.

It’s intensely green, shady and herbal and cucumber-y and Sencha leaves, and it has an underlying bite like juniper berries (which could account for the “gin and tonic” thing Dautel uses in his own descriptions) and there’s also a fascinating graphite and funky herbal thing like a Champagne from the Cramant/Avize border. I mean, the novelty value shouldn’t amaze us any more – Württemberg has established itself as a Riesling region in its own right – so let’s just say it is marvelous to taste a Riesling that clearly sits with the popular kids but tastes nothing like them.

This ’21 is solid, fantastically vivid, preposterously complex for a “basic” wine, crazily salty, giddy and pungent and essentially out of this world.

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2021 Bönnigheim Riesling, Gipskeuper                                                    +

(screwcap, 12% alc, village level) 

 

This smells so good I’m starting to get pissed off. 

Take the previous wine and add a musk-melon aroma and the smokiness and the large-leaf arugula scent that evidently attends to this soil, and then take a stealthy few grams of RS and you have a wine that’s almost erotically compelling – and this below the level of the single vineyards and GG.

Then add the eucalyptus twang of Timut pepper (which you can buy in your local Whole Foods, or at least in my local Whole Foods), and then try to deal with the lingering finish and all its challenging complexity. Sure, ’21 does its pinch-and-hiss number at the very end, but until then – just wow. All the energy and brilliance of Riesling on utterly scintillating display.

Tasting again now (four days later) I have a weird brain-flash that this reminds me of Künstler’s Kirchenstück – not the GG, but the 2nd-wine, the one I often like best. They have an earthy minerality in common. But then there’s that bee-balm juniper thing that’s unique to Württemberg.

What a wine! 

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2020 Steingrüben, Riesling Bönnigheim GG                                          ++

(Yes, GG with its egregiously stupid heavy bottle. What will they all do when these are banned? Emboss them with gold leaf? For surely they must dress the bottles in raiments dripping with Lofty Significance.)

I do detest the heavy bottle and the specious veneer of Consequence it seeks to impart – but the wine? Hoo boy, it’s been amazing the last few years. And this is one fantastic ’20. And one amazing achievement for this vintner.

The wine isn’t elegant; it is pungent, inscrutably rich with an embedded power that seems to arise from the souls of the plants and the herbs and the leaves. Riding atop this is a manic screech of hyssop and anise seeds and some of the minty grass of certain green teas. There isn’t a peach or an apricot in sight. There is, though, a lissome grassiness like nibbling on fennel frond.

For Riesling to be this deep and this brilliant in this register, without the enticements of “fruit” yet irresistibly drinkable, is a small miracle. Maybe not so small, because where else can we obtain such expression and (true) significance with just 12.5% alc in a dry wine? Austria? Alsace??  I adore those wines, my cellar’s full of them, but this wine exemplifies a truly singular genre.

At the very least it shows us how to integrate the quirky into the classical. It also shows us, if we pay attention, how a wine can play in three registers at once – the only-dogs-can-hear high notes, the essential grip of the middle register, and finally the almost unseeable depth, which you only taste if you let the salts and herbs lead you there.

Well yes, wine; you always have more tricks up your sleeve, don’t you.

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2021 Schlipschälde, Bönnigheim

Only on the back label do we see “Riesling” and only there do we notice both the absence of the word “Trocken” and the presence of 11.5% alc. It is also a Grosse Lage, not dry enough for a “GG” but also in a normal bottle.

It smells gorgeous, especially when I tasted it open four days. 

Though I have freaked out over this wine in the past, this one doesn’t quite surmount the 2021 challenge. The weather-beaten acids of the vintage play havoc with residual sugar if it is present. For all the beautiful things this wine gives us, integration is not among them. In short, to be seamless it needed to have been sweeter, but if it had been sweeter it wouldn’t have been a Dautel wine.

I don’t know what sweetness it has – say 12 g/l. That would be my guess. That RS would have been absorbed easily into a ripe year like 2018 or ’19, maybe even ’20, but in ’21, with its sinewy tensile skeleton and its acid-driven energy, we have a sweet-sour dialogue that never seems to resolve. I wonder if time in (old) cask might have helped, because the stainless steel, in this vintage, risks being merely steely.

Mind you, it’s not like the wine is unattractive! It drinks quite well if you aren’t studying it obsessively. It’s x-treme minty, leaving a brash finish in its wake, and you have to respect its torque and batshit energy. The little Spiegelau glass gives it a juiciness it very much needs.

I wonder if it will knit. I do like the spearmint and lemon grass. Christian’s wines have often ended up surprising me, and if this one does, you’ll be the first to know.

It stays the same on second glance. I’ll remove it from the fridge and taste it cellar-temp next time. Over the days it did seem to integrate, and my critique is fussy in any case. Still, ’21 doesn’t always play nice.

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THE PINOT NOIRS

2020 Spätburgunder

Estate-quality, 12.5% alc and ESTATE BOTTLED (this is new, and welcome)

The color is as lovely as all of Christian’s Spätburgunders. (Remember when the French used the term “Belle robe” to describe color? It was Pinot Noir they referred to.)

What does one want from such a wine? Pinot Noir is innately fine, or ought to be, but we cannot demand great finesse at this level. Clean, drinky, unpretentious….that we can hope for.

We get it here, for the most part. Indeed I wouldn’t have minded if the wine had been more modest. PN is capable of an overtone of artichoke or green pepper, both evident now, and the texture is gravelly. This is perhaps a vintage function, and the wine is correctly generous and roasty. But considering the glories I suspect are coming, this wine seems detached from the family, as it were, and I think the solution – assuming Christian will entertain the thought that this is a “problem” – is to make the wine lighter, simpler and more delicate. I’d easily sacrifice body and fullness if I could lose the rusticity.

I tasted it again after three days. Now the aromas are more blatant and inviting. The palate is still ferrous and the green overtones remain, as does the rusticity – was it chaptalized, I wonder? But if it’s kind of unrefined, it is at least open-armed and hospitable.

Insofar as all these Spätburgunders improved markedly over the days, might they have been travel-sick? I’ve never really believed in “travel-sick” but if it isn’t oxygen that engendered this deepening, then what was it? Plus, what was disjointed from the Jancis was pleasingly earthy from the basic Spiegelau red.

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2020 Cleebronn, Spätburgunder Schilfsandstein

This village-level wine begins with a small reduction. Then it shows the solid angularity this wine showed the last few vintages. It also shows PN at its most frankly minerally, and it has the rectitude of some higher-altitude Volnays in “average” vintages.

The reduction fades, but slowly, and with its burning-shoot smokiness it could almost be St. Laurent. I have always liked this wine a ton, and I am again happy with its grip, seriousness and vivid mineral. It’s the opposite of enticing or seductive; it means business. In the glowing-fruit vintages of 18 and 19, its angularity was a delightful subtext. Here it’s more determined.

That said, some rose hip and ground-cherry emerge, and this may just be a temperamental critter. Fine by me; I don’t mind a chewy Pinot Noir, and this has a lot to recommend it if you welcome a PN that isn’t suave.

Yet as an aperitif while we were grilling some late-season eggplant, the wine suddenly grew sumptuous. I couldn’t account for it. Is it me and not the wine? When I “tasted” it it was 2pm and when I drank it it was nearly 6pm and I was hungry and food was cooking. Now I’m tasting it again, appreciating its firmness and no-nonsense solidity. I still think it will “show” best in a fruit-forward vintage where its angles and minerality would be welcome, but there’s much to be said for a scrupulous Pinot Noir that isn’t hedonic but instead reveals an angular unshowy tastiness.

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2019 Sonnenberg Spätburgunder, Bönnigheim

It’s an Erste Lage, the 1er Cru. The 2018 was a broody beast. This one has a fetching pale color, brighter than the village-wine. The first aromas are beautiful.

The palate is sophisticated, dusty, densely packed – as seems to be its basic nature. There’s more earth now, as though it channeled the local mycelia. It’s more explicit and delineated in the Jancis (not surprisingly) , and it remains a gob-full of wine, notwithstanding its pale hue.

You’ll find more Pinot-sweetness, though the overall effect is adamant. The texture is lacier from the Jancis – which is the glass for this wine. It’s a step ahead of the ’18 from either glass, less opaque. Morels sautéed in duck-fat and strewn over a rack of lamb….

We start to be able to talk about serious grown-up Pinot Noir now. It has that soft-spined seamlessness that’s so seductive with food. It’s the umami side of Spätburgunder, it unfurls a little more each time I sip it, and it is richly satisfying.

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2019 Schupen Bönnigheim Spätburgunder GG                                       ++

The ’18 was the best German PN I’d tasted. And this one has a compelling fragrance.

It has a certain animality below its wonderful terroir expression, and it has a certain coniferous exhale below its chiseled minerality. As I wrote a year ago, it’s what a Grand Cru should be, inexplicable and irreducible, clearly consequential but hard to say exactly why or how. It should also insist on a certain truth, even an obscure truth, and it should carry you there.

Schupen has rhyme and meter; it has an internal logic that seems to have been crafted but actually wasn’t. It’s what the vineyard shows, helped along by a smart vintner who knows when to step aside. It’s beautiful but not gushing; it has a certain sobriety. The ’19 is less ethereal than the ’18 – but that was a one-of-a-kind wine.

What is lovely and impressive here is the conscientious articulation of each scintilla of terroir, yet the effect is neither cerebral nor bloodless. As so often transpires with Pinot Noir, there’s an embedded kindness, a sweetness that isn’t indulgent – that is simply merciful.

Such mercies are useful, as this isn’t an easy wine, and you may wonder if it would rather be studied than loved. But if you let yourself be drawn in, a rare sort of love might well be glimpsed, like a surprisingly dramatic sunset at the end of a cloudy day.

Just the second taste now, three days later. I admire this wine so much it might as well be love. And there are very few wines this articulate yet so mannerly and delicious. How it’s so forcefully expressive yet so halcyon and peaceful, I’ll never understand.

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2019 Forstberg Oberstenfeld Spätburgunder GG                                 ++

Now this has a pretty fragrance! And it leads into an entirely remarkable palate.

Here you’ll see the gleam and the fruit-sweetness you love – that we all love – in PN. But you’ll also see an almost ecstatic force of minerality that borders on breathtaking. I wonder if there’s even a Burgundy like it.

We have “colored” marl and stony clay with limestone veins, and we have massal selected cuttings from the Côte de Nuits; the Schupen is weathered limestone with gipskeuper, by the way.

 

Everything arrives on a wash of tannin, all the sweetness and all the crushed scree of mineral. I wondered whether this would trade places with the other GG (I was ga-ga over Schupen last year), and in many ways it has. 2019 is ripe but also muscular, and muscles are good for this Cru, which I sense could be “merely” pretty in years with less structure. In a certain way this reminds me of the best Ribeira Sacra – which for me is high praise – in its blending of that “black” mineral with the euphoric fruit.

 

What impresses me most now, on first pass, is how sleek the wine is in the face of all its strength and its almost rude ripeness.

 

Fascinatingly, as the Schupen opened up, this one seized up. They were handled identically. Don’t ask me to explain it, but if I had to, I’d posit an extremely subtle TCA getting in this wine’s way, and that was initially unnoticeable behind all that fruit.

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OTHER REDS

 

2019 Sonnenberg Lemberger, Bönnigheim

 

1er Cru. The artist you know as Blaufränkisch. A long tradition in Württemberg. I wasn’t sent the basic wine, so we begin here at the village level.

 

The aroma is exceptionally fine, as it was last year. It’s softer than its Austrian cousin – vinyl versus CD, one might say – but it’s appealing in a rural-France kind of way, like Cahors in the old days.

 

On the palate it engages with the (sometimes) overbearing ripeness of 2019. It’s best from the Jancis, and shows the variety’s low notes of violet and black cherry. The aromas are really polished, sophisticated and lovely, and the palate will follow if it’s babied correctly, i.e., decanted. (You lose the high notes of aroma but you gain a far better integrated palate and a less gravelly mouthfeel.)

 

Time will tell with this fella.

 

So, here’s what time told. It was beautiful at the table, and as it opened it had that deep-woods sweetness some tasters call sous bois. It remained what we tend to call “structured,” and for some drinkers it won’t be gushing enough. I’m not one such drinker; my enthusiasms for the wine are serious, but moderate.

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2019 Michaelsberg Cleebronn Lemberger GG                                   +

 

The fragrance is serious, deliberate, even ambiguous.

 

Jumping in….the sometimes ungainly power of ’19 is loud in the foreground here, but the sheer complexity, depth and sweetness are clamoring to emerge. The process whereby this takes place is clearly enacted from the Jancis, which is serenely determined to eke out every bit of nuance, mineral, and fruit sweetness this wine contains.

 

It is enormously impressive, albeit it’s shouted down by the ruddy assertions of the vintage. That said, now’s a good time to acknowledge that I tend to be cowed by tannin, and other tasters could be catapulted into big fun with a wine like this.

 

I have to echo something I tried coming to grips with last year tasting these wines. The GGs don’t merely culminate flavors that led up to them. They seem in some basic way to be Other. Nor does this entail conspicuous cask. (Hat’s off to our hero for moderating and calibrating their use as sensitively as I have ever seen.) Think of the step between Foradori’s Teroldego and her Granato. It isn’t just another course at the same dinner– it’s another meal.

 

I’m aware how easy it is to contrive this: more new wood, riper material, incursion of “other” varieties – we all know the tricks. But that isn’t happening here. This is purely Lemberger; it has the same (13%) alc as the 1er Cru, and if it has more oak it is barely discernible. It may be salient to point out that at a certain point the Cru trumps the variety – though that’s obscured here by tannin – which may soften with air.

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2021 Trollinger

 

Ha! 11.5% alc. It’s the color of cough syrup. As you surely know by now, “Trollinger” (Tirol-inger) is either Vernatsch or Schiava, depending on where you’re standing in the Adige valley. 

 

The knock-it-back wine probably shouldn’t have “challenges,” and this one begins with a reduction I’d rather were absent. I believe deeply in the value of wines like this; I want very much to gulp away from time to time, so come at me clean please.

 

In 5-10 minutes the oogies retreat and the sweet dark sourness of the variety can emerge, analogous to the “sour” element in most Gamays, the thing that stops them from cloying and gives them that weird thirst-quenching quality. This is heightened by the nature of ’21 (which may also be responsible for the reduction), and complicated a relationship that should be simpler, but reasonable people can debate the consequence of all this. It’s just a basic little wine, after all.

 

And Christian sent it to me because he knows I dote on such things. I don’t even know if the U.S. importer offers it. (You could make a case either way.) I’m sure the estate blasts it out regardless of what I might fuss over, and that’s as it should be.

 

Splash it into a Liter carafe, wait ten minutes, and glug away. Only a schnook has to be serious all the time.

2021
2022
2023
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