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Tasting Year


My gang and I would arrive at the winery, typically in early March, and the baby-wines would be lined up, and we’d taste as thoughtfully as circumstances allowed. Infant wines, another appointment afterwards – we did our best. Stephan Müller would often say that his wines needed at least a year to reveal themselves, and I tried taking that into account, but could I really make a decision based on how I thought (or hoped) a wine would taste in the future?

If I put myself in Stephan’s shoes I’d have been somewhat distressed, that my importer had to decide what to offer based on what was most flattering (or simply accessible) in a fleeting moment. I’d sometimes acknowledge as much to him, apologetically, and he was merciful.

Just before writing these words I tasted his Jesuitengarten Trocken five times, from three different glasses, inside and outside, at cellar temp and a few degrees warmer, and this on top of having done the same thing yesterday. By the time I write my final “notes” I’ll have tasted every wine 12-15 times. Obviously no importer can do this, and few writers have the wherewithal, but at risk of boring my patient readers with every wine’s “story” I’m grabbing the chance to do it right, finally.

Can I get tangled in all the little variations among how a wine “shows?” I can, or could, but I know when it’s starting to happen and then I look for (and find) the through-line that every wine contains. Most of all I am grateful to be able to encounter wine this way, and to tell you about it.

You could be thinking “Yes that’s all well and good but most of the time I open a bottle and drink it. I am, after all, hoping to relax…” and yes, you’re right. That’s also how I drink wine. My delineating the virtues of the multi-day study is less a service to you and more a service to the wine, because here I am in black and white with my notes, and I know how easy it is to be misled by a first impression. I want to be sure I am attentive and fair.




(2018) Spätburgunder Trocken, Alte Reben

The vintage is in parentheses because it only appears on the back label.

The wine hails from the Forster Musenhang (which is a Riesling “GG” for some estates), fermented in small lots after a 20day cold-soak, and aged on the fine lees in used barriques. The aromas are spicy and woodier than the vinification would indicate, and the palate is sweet and rugged. It’s actually more appealing than the fragrances led me to believe.

In fact I’m having an entirely bifurcated response to this wine. On one hand, it’s one of those wines with a Statement to make. It has affect, as sometimes happens when a 97% white-wine estate sets about making a “serious” red. Such wines can’t help being assertive, and so they seem uncomfortable in their own skins. We have some of that here, flavors feel forced (no pun intended) in a way that usually puts me off.

The problem is, I really like the wine.

Sure, one piece is overstated in a somewhat ungainly way, but there’s all that sweet fruit! Behind it is a little char and a little green-olive twang, yet the part that’s agreeable is really agreeable. And it’s a credible effort from someone who isn’t a red-wine specialist. If I were asked, I’d counsel to “trust the fruit and ease up on the wood,” but I’d happily drink the wine. Indeed I like the wine more than I like myselffor liking it.

Tasting it a second time two days later an interesting thing happens. You’d expect the fruit to fade and the oak to lunge to the center, but actually the opposite transpires. There’s a big whomp of earthy peppery fruit and the oak is crouching in the corner like a scolded dog. This is on the palate, mind you; the fragrance is rather unchanged.


2020 Riesling Forst Trocken                                    glug-glug-glug

Shows the earthy side of Pfalz aromatics. There were two bottlings; this earlier one was (as usual) the pre-selection from the Grand Crus,  and it’s delightfully mouthfilling and balanced. It knows the task and performs it generously and open-heartedly. It also improves over the days, and the glass I drank last night, from a bottle opened six days earlier, was the best showing.

It’s the most successful “basic” dry Riesling I’ve had in the last two weeks. In effect it encapsulates the virtues of this producer; it is hearty, giving, welcoming and kind and yet it shows polish, and yet its polish isn’t such as to draw us away from the simple joy of glugging it down.

Bready, crusts, spices, and a satisfying “chew” round out the picture. I hope Stephan Müller is proud of this wine – he should be.


2020 Jesuitengarten Riesling Trocken

Back label indicates “Jesuitengarten / Forst”

While this is certainly an elite “GG,” Müller’s holding is too small to permit the production of multiple wines from it, and so we have a “modest” sort of kid-brother “GG” with 12.5% alc. And a rampantly alluring fragrance.

Quite spritzy for a Müller wine, it begins with the enveloping suavity of the Cru and quickly reverts to something sharply spicy. There’s also a phenolic element with which to contend. Actually, I wish there was somewhat more to this wine, something more culminated. Stephan often told me his Crus needed to get into their second year before really displaying themselves, and I’m willing to believe this wine’s behaving true to type.

But what’s the true herald, the lovely aroma, or the abrupt clipping of fruit into an austere finish? Let’s see if any clues appear in the next few days.

Day-2, not surprisingly, was better. This is often the case here, and is (yet) another argument against scores purporting to be precise. It’s fine to render judgments based on first impressions – if you come clean that’s what you did – but it’s appallingto assign absolute values based upon a superficial reading of a wine.

Today the narrative arc (if you will) of the wine is unchanged; an enticing aroma, and elegant first act before an abrupt shift in tone for a final act that felt, yesterday, like a slamming door, and today is more an assertion of solidity. You could say the structure is in two misaligned pieces, but today there’s evidence they will join soon. And the entire picture is kindlier. In effect it’s typical Jesuitengarten, from a vintage with a few sharp teeth.


2020 Ungeheuer Riesling Trocken                                               +

Back label indicates “Ungeheuer / Forst”

Again, though we have a “GG” site here, this is a screw-capped wine of just 12% alc.

(Readers unfamiliar with my catalogues may wonder how on earth that site-name is pronounced. It’s easy: Oonga! Hoyer! Be the envy of your friends while watching them mangle “Echezeaux.”)

It’s large as GGs go, with some variability as to soils (as we’re about to see), but in general this is a kind of ur-Pfalz in aroma, at least here in the Vosne-Romanée of the region. Though this is lighter than the Jesuitengarten it is substantially more satisfying, as the ample fruit carries all the way through and provides a platform for all the Cru mojo to express itself.

It’s essentially a savor, it reminds me of Meunier in its breadiness, it tastes of mycelium and leaf-dust and caramel; it is almost always oblique to typical “white-wine” flavors – yet what could it be if not Riesling? Here we have the shimmer of the ’20 vintage along with the typical cordyceps sweetness along with an atypical wash of minerality, and while it firms up on the finish it does so delightfully, getting all salty and crunchy with all that sweet savoriness chiming away.

This masterly wine also proves a point we tend to ignore. All the Cru flavors are here, in a highly elegant and expressive framing that offers everything but power. I get that the GG buyer spends a bunch of money and wants high-chi and “important” flavors in return. But it is faithless to the basic idea of terroir to insist it must only express one single way. Where might delicacy fit into this rigid schemata?

Meanwhile, we benefit! Because this is to all intents and purposes an affordable entrée into the exaltation of the Crus, in the most drinkable conceivable way. Which leads us to….


2020 Pechstein Riesling Trocken

Back-label, again, shows “Pechstein / Forst.”

Another little guy with 12% alc. One time in Switzerland I found a bottle of 2008 Clos de Béze on a wine list at a price I could afford, and ordered it. The wine was completely beautiful because of the light vintage, which allowed the innate fruit to be seen without needing to crouch behind a structure of “intensity.”

This, though, is a very different animal from the Ungeheuer. Pechstein usually is, but the differences are starkly exaggerated in the ’20 vintage, and this Pechstein is quite the enactment of its essential stoniness. Look, I revere this vineyard, and had high hopes for this wine – but it needs more schmaltz. 

It’s true to type, the aromas are pure Pechstein basalt and crags and mints but with barely a hint of the flowers that complete the dialogue, or the sweetness that would have harmonized the entire picture. Still, so-called “rockheads” will be indecently happy with this in their glass. In any case, something needs to emerge to bring this wine to flourish – so let’s see what the next days may offer.

Day-2 is very curious indeed. As far as I know, a wine cannot attain glycerol after it is made. An open bottle can certainly shed some bitter or tannic material that may have been blocking (what we call) juiciness. And let’s be careful to recognize the distinction between juiciness in the wine versus the salivation that follows a mouthful of high acidity. One is your own juiciness and the other is the wine’s.

Taking all that into account, fruit can emerge, and has emerged here. The wine is still taut and the flavors vibrate along that tautness, but there’s more fruit now, and the wine has much of what it seemed to lack yesterday. In the MacNeil fresh & crisp it is almost viscous, though I’m not sure I want all the corrugated edges smoothed out.

It won’t ever be charming. It’s a wine for drinkers who cherish a certain zing. But yesterday it was austere and today it isn’t.


TWO WINES IN STUPID HEAVY BOTTLES. (Sorry Stephan, but these bottles are hateful and you do not need to use them.)


2019 Ungeheuer Riesling / Ziegler “GL”

Because Müller isn’t VDP, his back label can say “Riesling Spätlese Trocken, while his front label says “GL” (Grosse Lage) as opposed to “GG” with its particular market meaning.

Ziegler – once labeled “Im Ziegler” – is a cadaster within the Ungeheuer with particular properties. And this wine is a big, flourishing powerhouse.

You can’t help admiring its resplendent, regal command, and you will know why the site was named “monster,” as this wine is monstrously spicy and strong. Possibly to a degree that makes me question the received wisdom about 2019, a vintage I begin to think may have been excessively lauded. Still, this is a fiendishly concentrated salty beast, and when I taste it tomorrow I’ll pour some into the MacNeil creamy & silky and see what happens. I’d like the wine to calm down and find its inner logic. (It seems to be starting that process even in the 15 minutes I’ve been tasting it.)

Day-2, and it still walks with a heavy tread. It is Ungeheuer, after all, and it ought to huff and seethe, and part of me admires its mule-ishness. It seems to want sweetness, or failing that it wants the leesy woodsy elements the folks at Von Winning do so adroitly. I can imagine its college roommate was a Pinot Gris from the Kaiserstuhl and the Ungeheuer picked up a few habits.

If you enjoy a corpulent powerhouse with a sort of gargantuan grace, you’ll cozy up to this.


2019 Kirchenstück Riesling “GL”                                                 ++

Again, back-label says “Kirchenstück / Forst” Riesling Spätlese Trocken.

The Great One.

What I wish is, I wish I had a bottle of Jean Boxler’s Sommerberg “D” to taste alongside this. They really do feel like fraternal twins, though I think Kirchenstück is a smidge more complex than even the great Alsacien.

The fragrance is gorgeous and “important.” The palate is seethingly intense, to a point where it’s almost fiery on the finish. Actually it’s kind of thrilling the way this wine flirts with exaggeration and falls just short. In the Jancis glass it’s like a Mahler symphony.

I’ve spent a lot of images on Kirchenstück. It’s that kind of wine. Clearly great, vividly complex, fiendishly inscrutable, it will yield to associative language (black cherry, tomato leaf, currant, ylang ylang, morels, goose fat…the list goes on and on) but it has other more arcane business at hand.

I once wrote of its “medieval scholar face,” which isn’t bad, yet there’s also something almost forbiddingly Jesuitical in play, a wine with a craggy jawline, thin lips and piercing eyes. The question is, is there love in those piercing eyes….and the amazing and beautiful answer is: Yes.

Because the wine seems to give you everything. It tumbles down on you like a landslide of scree and dried blossoms. Rampant rocks and potpourri, engulfing you almost scarily. Kirchenstück isn’t tender or sentimental. It’s beauty at its most strangely violent. It’s also minerality at its least explicable, like what fucking planet does this salt come from???

Perhaps I should withdraw my hesitancy about 2019? Because this is the best dry Riesling Stephan Müller has ever made. It is a black raven in a bare tree in the snow outside your window, holding a glowing little trinket it has found for you.


SEKT Riesling Extra Trocken 2019

Made for him by a company in Speyer, and of course “Extra Trocken” in this case is sweeter than Brut.

It smells pleasant, has character, isn’t too sweet, and I’m glad he sent it but I wonder why. He made a Sekt from 2013 Pechstein I thought was wonderful. In any case this is perfectly nice, not coarse and not rustic.


(2020) Riesling & Gewürztraminer

No clues from the back label except for “11.5% alc” suggesting the presence of RS.

Müller’s old Gewürz from the Reiterpfad (a “GG” site in Ruppertsberg) was a kindly beast of litchi which he had to label fancifully, as the site was only authorized for Riesling, if you wanted to identify it. “This was always a dream of mine,” Stephan says. “In fact my grandfather made a gemischter Satz in just this way.” (It was typical in that era to blend Riesling with a low-acid variety, especially for drier wines.)

Based on the label the wine is majority Riesling, and it doesn’t really smell like either variety. It’s a nice-tasting wine, in the Feinherb idiom; let’s call it pleasantly incidental.


2020 “Vom Basalt” Riesling Kabinett

Historically this hails from the Pechstein.

Some reduction at first. It clings for a few minutes and I have to taste “through” it. It’s less “sulfury” than sopacious. When it dissipated – first in the wider-bowled Jancis glass – it became the wine I know well, this barely-sweet Kabinett that shows all the florality and melon of Pechstein with the supporting minerality as a lovely backdrop.

I think this is often a small masterpiece. I’ve thought so for many years, as Stephan’s wines attained greater polish and sheen. It’s a “serious” terroir at its most winsome, yet there’s a sobriety behind its deliciousness, and a seamless balance. And with all of that said – I need to keep an eye on that reduction, which threatens to get in the way. To be continued….

It is present, though more fleeting the next day. Its hard to speculate how long it might persist in the bottle – 1-2 years maybe? That’s an educated guess, but still a guess. Decanting might help, but that’s more trouble than you should have to go to.

Fresh air helps. When I take it outside (where it’s about 45º with a dry breeze from the NW) it’s all the wine I remember. I set a timer, and it was gone in eight and a half minutes without agitating the glass. None of this would matter except for how lovelythe wine is when it’s in form.


(2020) Freundstück Riesling “GL”                                                  ++

Full name “Freundstück / Forst Riesling Spätlese appears only on the back label, so if you only see the front you have no idea what you’re getting.

It’s going to be a Müller Spät, none too sweet with 10.5% alc. The vineyard selection is new for Stephan; the Spät used to come from Ungeheuer, but this in a way is better. The site is tiny, and stands as the southernmost in the row of great Crus flush up against the village – Kirchenstück, Jesuitengarten, Freundstück – and it has often seemed to me to have the elegance of “Jesu” with the delicacy of certain Deidesheimers.

And oh, is this wine good! It’s a paragon of Pfalz Riesling with (balanced!) RS and a paradigm for what Spätlese should be, and too seldom is. It is also a wine where the cask regime in this cellar is most decisive, because it is already sighing into its tertiaries but without a scintilla of decadence. It smells like the finest sea-salt caramels you ever sniffed, and like pears sautéed in brown-butter sprinkled with 5-spice and browned until caramelized. But mostly it is a dream of elegance and loving kindness. It doesn’t ask to be worshipped and it’s serenely indifferent to how many “points” someone might give it. It’s just a reminder of symmetry and seamlessness and affection and accommodation.

It wants to fit itself in to your life, helpfully; it wants to ease your way. It does notrequire you to step away from your life to pay it the homage it surely deserves. I like that kind of wine also, of course; we all do. But I am melted by this modest being, singing to itself with perfect pitch.


2019 Kirchenstück Riesling Auslese “GL”                                     ++

This is one of the very few wines I offered in every vintage it was made – and it was made in nearly every vintage. Ask me “What was the greatest wine you could offer constantly?” and you’ll expect me to answer Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Spätlese, as well I might. But if I did, I’d insist there were two – and this was the other.

This is one of the “golden” ones. I love these for their crowd-pleasing generosity. Indeed this is a kind of acme of “sweet” Riesling that remains earthy and not remotely “sugary.” I myself prefer the “silvery” vintages, but that’s just me. I respond to their intricacy and shimmer, but when a wine smiles like this one does – smile back!

Imagine walking into the kitchen and there are bowls and bowls of ingredients and dish after dish of spices and four skillets going at once and the result is going to be both insanely delicious and also absurdly complex. Now think of all that distilled into a glass of wine. 

At various times in various catalogues I’ve tried to list the dozens of associations one might glean from fragrance and flavor here. There are more than you can shake a stick at, believe me. But there’s an even greater value at work, because from this winery we get to taste Kirchenstück – the Great One – in its alpha and omega, a great dry wine and a great sweet one – or sweet-ish one, as this is a savor-driven Auslese – and we can understand the vineyard in a different and deeper way. There is a complexity here that the dry wine can never attain. There is a dark solemn dignity in the dry wine that this one can never attain.

And then there is me, glad to experience both.

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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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