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WEINGUT DAUTEL - 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.

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