WEINGUT DAUTEL  -  WURTTEMBERG

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!