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2021 Forst Riesling Trocken

I’m assuming this is once again a pre-selection from the “GGs” Pechstein, Musenhang and Jesuitengarten. It certainly smells better than the simple estate-Riesling would.

It tastes good too. It’s everything there is to like about 2021, and just one little thing to allow for – the acid-driven finishing sharpness. This isn’t crude or unbalanced, but you have to accept it.

I want to say loving things about the wine, because in most ways it is lovable, and the grower can be proud of it. If the vintage played him false, well, it played a lot of other people false too. Its cherubic energy is actually a little touching under the circumstances.

It’s full of Pfalz vim and ginger (and even gingerbread, without the sweetness) and has the sapid flow of the vintage, which seems especially fetching in the Pfalz. A waft of hickory smoke and Tasmanian pepper takes us home, but not before we pause and appreciate the intensely salty mid palate and the bright herbal energy throughout.

Two days later this has a rockin’ set of aromas that vault from the glass. Even the finishing bite waits for fifteen discreet seconds before you notice it. This has all the virtues of a “normal” 2021, the irrepressible juiciness, the chipper energy and extroversion, the spirit-of-playfulness, and I find these more pleasure giving than I find the finish pleasure denying. Eat some food, tell some jokes, and drink up. And oh, by the way, it’s markedly better in my basic Spiegelau.

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2021 Ungeheuer Riesling Trocken

Again I must infer; this would seem to be the new nomenclature for what used to be “Kabinett Trocken,” which the current crafters of the new wine law seem to feel is illogical, to which the most intellectually conscientious response is Whatever, dude.*  It’s bottled under screwcap and has the same 12.5% alc as did the village Forst. The site, as you know, is frequently offered as a “GG” but it is large and not everything in it is GG-standard. Regardless, it smells like Ungeheuer – in fact it smells like the Spätlese they used to make (and discontinued in favor of one from the Freundstück). The palate has charm and fire and length, along with the ’21 bite at the end. I must repeat that this doesn’t bother me, as it’s the flip side of a lot of agreeable things, but you need to indulge it and you also need to think about what it might signify for aging.

In the Jancis glass its innate class and complexities are vividly displayed, and it doesn’t seem to perturb the finish. Curiously! There’s a cherry blossom note, along with nettle and spearmint, and it resolves into lemon balm on the first finish, then pepper, then that vintage bite. But what precedes it is nearly euphoric, and clearly from excellent land, and is a lovely aerial and buoyant expression of a site than can sometimes play a little brusque.

Like the first wine, this underwent a blossoming over the days – something I’m starting to feel is common with screwcapped wines – but in this case it gained in astringency and force, but not in charm. It has the Ungeheuer girthy richness but it’s quite laden with the strict side of ’21. That said, I respect its adamant expressiveness – rich for a ’21 -  and no one’s saying wines have to be giddy all the time. We need some serious-business once in a while!


* I actually do get it; the word “Kabinett” refers to a special attribute (a “Prädikat”) which is reserved for sweet wines, such that “Kabinett Trocken” is an oxymoron (like “conventional wisdom,” for instance). This requires some finessing of logic on a grower’s part, in order to stay within the regs. We can talk about the concept of “regs” some other time.

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(2020) Ungeheuer Riesling Ziegler

The vintage appears only on the back label, and the letters “GL” are on the front, inconspicuously. The bottle is heavier than it should be. “Trocken” appears only on the back.

Ziegler is a cadaster (now known in Germany as a “Gewanne”) in the Ungeheuer, emphasizing such minerality as this site can show. Think Clos de Vougeot and the variabilities among its many sections. One could argue for Ziegler to become a true single-site, as it’s quite different from Ungeheuer in general.

This is surprising in many ways. It’s unusually introverted, first of all. It emerges more promptly from the Jancis. It shows the clipped-ness I saw also in many of the ‘20s from Bürklin, the echo of something that wanted to culminate but couldn’t. Yet the clear class of the site is also evident, in this stubborn shady nature.

With air it seeks to sing, and mostly does, yet for all it is a lusty melody it seems to come through a veil of hoar frost. So on one hand you have exceptional clarity and diction, and on the other you have a kind of parsimony. A breath of cask seems evident, but it doesn’t really pry open the wine. Naturally I’ll taste it several more times and will see what oxygen does to it. The juniper flavor is fetching, but the gristly ’20 finish is admonishing. Yet the empty glass(es) smell really nice.

I wonder whether this is, honestly, too much analysis. My purpose is to engage-with, but not to wrestle-into-interpretive oblivion. Maybe part of my process is to challenge the process.

In any case, tasting the wine a second time it is less wary. And the third time it was wary again! 2020 is becoming (in some cases) a seriously weird vintage, and this wine embodies it, with its cacophony of prettiness and irritability.

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(2020) Pechstein Riesling                                                                      +

Same issues as above; vintage only on the back, “Trocken” only on the back, that suggestive little “GL” on the front and an unfortunately heavy bottle.

The opening fragrance is as diffident as was the Ziegler – but that probably doesn’t matter, and might mislead. It changed completely when I tasted it after a couple days.

I mean, Pechstein, right? You genuflect before it. I’ve taken just one sip (from the Spiegelau) and the whole portrait is there; the sleek mineral and florals of the site, and the sulky nature of the vintage. It’s very spicy and has the physio-“sweetness” of some Austrian Rieslings. Everything is impressive, and everything’s a little sharp. There is also some actual residual sugar present, though (obviously) within the Trocken limits.

Which faction will prevail? The innate glories of the site or the trials of the vintage? I can’t surmise what may happen 10-15 years from now, but today I think the inexplicable “thing” of Pechstein is greater than the snide asides of 2020.

That has to do with my regard for Pechstein, which prompts me to excuse the various “issues” with the wine. Even the discernible cask element doesn’t really “tenderize” the wine, which could be said to have almost too much brilliance. But this could be superficial, as the mid palate has the Pechstein “miracle,” that concatenation of rock-dust and flower pollen that makes these wines so bewitching. 


When Pechstein is great it also has the ancient flavor, the inexplicable “ur,” a quality that seems to have been forestalled by vintage-20. Yet this is a remarkable wine for all that, one that drinks better than it “tastes.”

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2021 Jesuitengarten Riesling Trocken                                                 +

This screwcapped wine corresponds to the “smaller” Ungeheuer above – what used to be Kabinett Trocken.

It has a lot of spritz; the glass-bottom is festooned with zillions of wee bubbles. The initial aromas have the elegance and rectitude of this outstanding site, perhaps the closest the Pfalz comes to the stoic reserve of many Rheingau Rieslings. At first glance the palate is also better integrated than the Ungeheuer.

The fragrances are rowdier from the Jancis glasss, and the palate has more thrust and attitude. This is neither better nor worse, simply different. A rich suave umami arrives from either glass, and a restrained but tangible saltiness. For a light wine it has impressively clinging length.

The vintage-typical finishing asperity is present but not bothersome, though I’d want to drink it now while it has its young primary fruit. Many German growers don’t want to hear that their Rieslings won’t last for decades, but my instincts are suggesting that ’21 could end up angular and even vegetal in its “maturity” whereas it offers a useful pleasure today. I can’t imagine this lovely wine being any more delicious than it is right now.

It’s also a master class in the virtues of restraint. This is inherent in the terroir, as it seems consistent across different growers and vinifications. The other (true) Grand Crus – Kirchenstück, Pechstein, Ungeheuer – all have more torque, more of what we call expressiveness, and what I might call narrative. Jesuitengarten is calmer, more graceful and inferential, more serene and limpid – yet no less regal. Wines like this make me really happy, because they show no unseemly eagerness to be admired. They fit perfectly within their skins.

I took a second look a day later, and other than an uptick in clarity, the wine stayed true to its finely flowing nature.

And it is seriously amazing that the site is next to Kirchenstück; it’s as if Montrachet were next to Chablis Les Clos.

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Jesuitengarten Riesling                                                                    +

Back label indicates 2020 (and Trocken, which we will have inferred from the stupid heavy bottle, and from the little “GL” in the corner of the main label.

I seldom remark on color, but this one is quite pretty.

The aromas mix the vintage fragrance with the site, and I am appreciating the elegance and suggestiveness – the classic wine that doesn’t “make statements” but instead asks questions.

’20 delivers sorrel and pepper and the rather gnarly tertiary finish I’m calling “ground-up twigs” in my (no longer!) private notes. Yet for all that, this wine either surmounts the vintage or comes damn near. There’s an element in Jesuitengarten that reminds me of pioppini mushrooms, their echo of caramel, like the fragrance of crushed dried leaves from the Katsura tree.

Yeah, I know; is there no limit to my arcane references? Yet I am right; we live near the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, and their Katsura is well known (at least by arborists) for producing this effect. Regardless, if you imagine a not-sweet caramel with an earthy leaf-dust touch, that might describe this wine, and Jesuitengarten in general.

We even have a mid-palate creaminess working here, and while it’s fleeting, how many ‘20s show it at all? What’s beautiful here is actually beautiful, and what isn’t is “wine-taster-stuff.”


Kirchenstück Riesling                                                                        ++

2020 on the back label, “GL” on the front, another heavy bottle, but if there’s a true monarch of Riesling, it is this.

At times you sniff a so-called great wine, and you just don’t get it. That won’t happen here.

The aromas have command and also something greater than intricacy; they have mystery and complexity. They are truly esoteric. And they show a cask element that makes me wonder whether our friends at Von Winning may have had some influence? Regardless, it is welcome.

This is entirely superb wine, probably the best dry Riesling Stephan has made, not just from Kirchenstück, but ever. The ’20 sharpness wants to crash the party, standing at the door yelling to be let in, and all you can say is STFU and go home. Besides, it’s not that kind of party. It’s like a group of musicians of some experience, playing a game in which they compete to find the strangest thing that someone can say about music and still make sense.

I’ve liked the coinage “serious but not solemn” and used it (too) often – yet solemn isn’t a bad word to describe a wine like this. Maybe we can adapt – solemn but not somber?  Solemnity can be a pathway into a rare tenderness, I have found. And beauty such as this is always humbling; we’re never worthy and we cannot rise to meet it at its level. Kirchenstück is never a rapture; it is an elegy. It is essentially stern, but not unyielding. Deep within it is a forgiving nature it lets very few people see.

I was about to write, “Leave a little quiet around this wine,” but there’s no need – it brings the quiet with it. It is pulsing with quiet.

My dad died when I was seventeen, and most days since then I still talk to him. I am sure the dead need us to talk to them. In that way, we have an absence that is also a presence, a kind of bursting forth of emptiness. If you have ever experienced this yourself, you understand something about loss and love that will give you a home in the paradoxes of a wine like this one.


The Kirchenstück Reserve was badly corked, damn it to hell. You want to talk about “somber?” Imagine me pouring that luckless bottle down the fucking drain.


2021 Riesling & Gewürztraminer                           glug-glug-glug

I bet you don’t see too many blends of R-Gw these days. I’m ancient enough to remember when such things were common, Riesling with Silvaner most often of all.

Before I’m tasting, I note the 12% alc which suggests the wine will be on the dry side. Though Riesling’s the majority partner, Gewürz has assumed control of the fragrance. And now that I have taken a sip, I find the wine is witty and wicked.

I always liked Stephan’s Gewürz. It came from the (Ruppertsberg) Reiterpfad, which is a “GG” for other growers (and whose name is thus only permitted for Riesling), and it was rather delicate, more lychee than rose. This one’s along those lines, boosted upward by Riesling’s vim and acids. It is beautifully balanced and drinks like an uncommonly graceful (and moderate) Alsace wine – though where would you possibly find anything like it in Alsace?

It’s an entirely lovely and successful wine.

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2021 Pechstein Riesling Feinherb

Telling perhaps, that the residually sweet wine has the most informative front label!

It doesn’t have the little “GL” designation, but maybe Stephan will suss how to get the “Erste Lage” thing for this wine going forward. Because Pechstein is Pechsteinregardless of whether it has six or twelve or fifteen or eighteen grams per liter of the residual-unmentionable.

This is balanced on the zingy side, as were so many barely-sweet wines in ’21, all of which seemed to crave more sweetness. The fragrance (allowing for a reduction under the screwcap) is lovely and classic Pechtein, and the vintage makes the palate scream peppermint and yuzu. There’s also a strangely spicy finish, I mean capsicum spice and eucalyptus. I think this “formula” is designed to work in warmer years, when its firm and seamless balance are more cogent. In cool years the usual sweetness can feel ungainly.

Yet I feel uncharitable (not that Stephan Müller needs “charity” from me or anyone) and that my judgments, while strictly “accurate,” are too austere. With five minutes in the glass this smells wonderful. In many ways the palate is juicy and salty. I recognize the superb raw material. More saliently, I also recognize how vintages like this can fool a taster. At first they flow towards you with their glorious energy and sure, they have acidity, but it seems to behave itself. It’s only after bottling, six to nine months later, when the gushing young texture retreats and the acidity stands its ground, and then you think Were we seduced by the giggling infant?

So what happens the next day? Well, the next day, the wine makes sense. It squirms to get free of the Jancis glass, and relishes the Spiegelau, where its elbows and knees are subdued. As always it is a “light” Pechstein yet it has all the Pechstein elements, only like the notes two octaves above middle-C. It’s balanced on the minty side but it’s plenty of fun. I wasn’t “wrong” the first time; the wine simply had more to show me. This continued with each successive tasting, in which the wine grew tangibly more seamless and integrated.

My general sense with such wines is – this is what Riesling should do. But I’m a hog for feinherb, and those who share my taste are essentially the population of Mongolia, following a plague.

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2021 Vom Basalt Riesling Kabinett

This as you know hails from Pechstein also. It’s never very sweet, and I have high hopes for it in ’21.

These are largely realized, this works in an angular way, and it’s fine for Pfalz wine to be spicy and show a pineapple tartness. 

A lot of the tasting cognates for Taiwan high-mountain oolong tea would apply here, especially lemon-balm and osmanthus and lily of the valley. The finish is “adamant” if you like it, and “shrill” if you don’t. Either way it’s astringent.

But again, the screwcapped wines arrive like an orchestra tuning up, and day later they’re playing the music. We have a particularly “bright” version of this reliable wine, but that’s all right. The aromas are impeccable. The wine leans dry and is blatantly gingery. The firm finish feels even drier but no longer gratingly sharp; in fact it’s a kind of delicate butterscotch with sea salt flakes.


Freundstück Riesling

Now here’s a riddle. We have a normal bottle, but a screwcap, but that “GL” thing on the front label, and only at the back can you see this is 2021, and a Spätlese (with 10% alc, so not that sweet). Some ‘splainin’ required.

Regardless of the label metaphysics, the wine is excellent. The sweetness is indeed moderate, possibly too reticent for the vintage, but I’m starting to suspect that if the sugar-acid balance were calibrated, the wines would be too sweet, and you’d attain  not balance, but a symmetry of extremes. This is likely to become a subtext of ’21, I am guessing.

I like Freundstück. It’s in the family of Jesuitengarten and Ungeheuer (as opposed to the craggier wines of Pechstein and Kirchenstück), but has more lyric lift than either of those – in fact it feints toward the patisserie of Wachenheim as much as the Cajun-spices of Forst. It could be said to be lilting.  The sweetness is charming in a zingy way (think butterscotch and tangerines) and while it resolves into the ’21 acids, these aren’t rough or spiky as they are in many of the dry wines.

An energetic, zippy Spätlese of a somewhat bygone type.

If I got “into” this we’d need to convene a conference of vintners and chemists in Davos or somewhere, to talk about acids and fructose and growing seasons and the surprises of climate change. In superficial form, what I think can be said now is that climate change has upended our understanding of acidity more than that of sweetness. It happens I now know those data for this wine. The acidity would have been unremarkable in the 80s and 90s, but those same acids would have balanced maybe 20% less RS, and therein lies the mystery. This isn’t a very sweet wine by modern standards for “Spätlese.” It’s around 40% drier than the last Spätlese I sampled. Yet the acids present more forcibly, which suggests we need to consider new ways to talk about “ripeness.”

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