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WEINGUT DAUTEL  -  Bönnigheim

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.


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.


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.


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.


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… 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…”


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.



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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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