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Weingut Goldatzel

Tasting Year

2021

There were wineries where, when you were done tasting, you could “feel your teeth,” a strange feeling of sensing each tooth individually, not exactly a pain, just a low level thrumming. Though I asked and asked I never really got a sustainable explanation why or how this would occur; it didn’t seem to entail tannins or phenols and it could happen with wines not especially high in acidity.

It came down to texture; it always comes down to texture. And I only bring it up now because Johannes Gross’ Goldatzel wines aren’t as applauded as they should be, and I’d like to understand why. Because I entirely adore them.

If you open a bottle or two and drink them down of an evening, you’ll wonder what I’m talking about. Remember that the “tasting environment” is a deliberate distortion, because no one ever makes a wine to go with fourteen other wines. Yet we render judgments, sometimes categorical judgments, based on how wines “show” in this very particular situation that we have contrived.

I’d be eager for a piece of bread and a big glass of water after tasting here. That didn’t happen at, say, Künstler, though Gunter’s wines were similarly dry and detailed. My theory is, Goldatzer’s wines, though highly regarded, are underrated because they’re not flattered by being tasted in a single chunk of fifteen at once.

If you read the word “cerebral” you probably think nerd, which is both inaccurate and unjust. Goldatzel proprietor Johannes Gross makes wines of explication, not chilly, not aloof or introverted, just articulate to a point that’s oblique to seductiveness. Some of them hold me in quite a thrall, and I often feel a language being spoken to which I vibrate instinctively. Every wine doesn’t need a yum factor. We can be engaged and even moved, in other ways.

For me the special smartness of these wines aligns to my sense of the Rheingau in general. There are other places to find fruity or spicy or juicy wines; all over the place really.  But I can’t think of another region where the wines are so impeccable. And this estate is a classic gem in a proper setting, not to mention the Rieslings smell amazing and taste wonderful.

But first…..

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2019 Spätburgunder Spätlese Trocken          glug-glug-glug

The 2017, the first one I offered, came from the (GG-level site) Kläuserweg, in Geisenheim. This one doesn’t carry a site name. Nevertheless, it looks pretty – the limpid hue reminds me of Dautel’s PNs – and smells even nicer. It has 13% alc without chaptalization, so ripeness isn’t a problem.

That fragrance is wonderfully strange on closer study. Astride the varietal aroma is an herbal almost vetiver note typical from Rieslings from this site – but surely that cannot be? It’s a light-bodied wine, along lines of some of Breuer’s PNs, and so it won’t wash over you. The question is what lies below the brisk northern lucidity? It grows, after all, exactly at 50º N latitude.

Delicacy, sour-cherry and as much herbality (is that even a word??) as I’ve ever tasted in PN, it’s a wine you want to say is “interesting” because it is, but that word is understood to be a synonym for dubious, and I have no doubts about this wine except to say it’s for drinkers who don’t mind doing some of the work. If  Johannes Gross has ambitions to make a bigger more succulent PN – and there’s no reason why he ought to – he’ll need to question the evident possibilities. If he’s just riffing (which to me would be really cool) then he’s got something (truly) interesting to show for it.

My only question is, how many people are willing to study a kindly pensive light wine that has nothing ingratiating about it? I fear I could fit them all in my kitchen. And I’d love to be wrong. Not to mention, PN has this thing where it expands and sweetens in the glass, which this tantalizingly fragile being seems to be doing. Let’s see what the days bring. I won’t be surprised to have to disavow much of the foregoing!

 

Second tasting two days later, and it leads with amazingly sweet fruit (!), so the early reticence is misleading. That said, the herbality perists, and so the wine becomes fascinating in its grinning sprite energy. The nearest cognate is Dautel’s Trollinger, another wine that advanced the frontiers of simple joy.

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2019 Alte Reben, Spätburgunder Trocken

IMPORTANT NOTE: no wine I have tasted since this project began underwent a greater change than this one, between “examining” and “drinking.” Details at the end of the note. 

13.5% alc now. Darker color. More determined aromas. Quite a different profile from the previous wine. Lower voice, more rumbly.

A surmise of CO2 brings a subtle – and I mean subtle – reduction. On the palate, this wine “has ideas,” as the saying goes. It reaches higher, and may or may not grasp what it reaches for. Sometimes I think it’s an error to reach for something dark-and-strong with PN, but if there’s embedded fruit waiting to unfold, my hesitancy will seem inane.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment of “PN: WTF?” free with your subscription to “The Unmoored Mind.”

Second tasting two days later, and this wine has weakened somewhat. It’s showing some char and what tastes to me like a use of oak that might have been more deft. For all its solemn affects, it strikes me as an earnest pretender. Tasters who respond to brooding richness and density will find that judgment unkind.

BUT WAIT: last night we had spaghetti and meatballs cooking. The sauce was perfuming the house, the meatballs were in the frying pan, the ‘sketty was ready to dump into the water, and I thought I’d pour a glass of this to drink while cooking and then take the lighter wine to the table to drink with the grub. 

The wine was transformed. Full of fruit, no overweening oak, no brooding sourness, no char; just a fine chewy PN with plenty of joy. I took it outside to take a sip away from the food smells. No change.

If I’d let the original note stand unaltered, the producer might have thought “That doesn’t sound like my wine,” or “No one else has said that,” or perhaps it was a bottle that didn’t show well. Tasting is an examination to determine how a given bottle of wine “shows,” and I try to mitigate that by examining each wine in multiple ways, to arrive at an aggregate -  or more poetically, at a holistic view. Yet even so, tasting is only a partial truth, even if it entirely true in its own context. The same is true of drinking, of course; another partial truth, of how a wine behaves when one is not micro-examining it and when it’s part of a nexus of cooking and conversing and eating. In this case it was two truths, competing yet interlocking, amounting to a kind of dissonance of judgment. Who was it who said “Truth is a sliding floor?”

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2020 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Kabinett Trocken    ++

Why yes, “Kabinett Trocken” is archaic, and I am SO happy to see it.

First sniff – Daddy’s home! This is so much of what I crave from white wine in general and Riesling in particular, just this insane psilocybin clarity, as if you had never actually seen the world before.

Hasensprung is a cool Grand Cru, elevated, windswept flavors, some of the Turkish anise-seed we buy down at Formaggio Kitchen, some really sweet tarragon, some lime-leaf and conifer….and then the palate. Okay, what a flavor! Crisp enough to break a freaking tooth, green enough to make a salad from, yet with a sideways key-limey “sweetness” that’s like scratching the itch you can just barely reach.

I could wrack my brain to nail each scintilla of nuance, but suffice to say, he got this wine exactly, perfectly right. Each piece is precisely where it needs to be in this eerily seamless being, a mid-weight treasure that gives all we could ever ask for in the taste of a wine.

More pith and mid palate on third encounter (not counting a glass drunk as an aperitif one evening), and nothing to diminish my ardor.

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2020 Goldatzel Glanzstück                                                          +

The back (or side) label says Rheingau Riesling Glanzstück Trocken, and the alc is gain 12% (as was the above).

This “jewel” plays on the legend of the thieving magpie – “Atzel” in the local dialect – which gives the (superb) site its name and which site gives the estate its name. Whether this wine hails from the (Goldatzel) site is unclear, and I seem to have tasted it out of order, based on the ex-cellar price. But wow, it smells fantastic.

In fact it’s a mélange of several sites and harvest times, mostly Kilzberg and Kläuserweg, and young vines in both.

If I say it’s the least bit less high-def than the Hasensprung, that’s in the context of a winery where everything is high-def, so we’re talking the difference between millions versus billions of pixels. This wine is comparatively luscious (as well as drier) than the above. It tastes like a rising flight of a flock of doves against a high white sky.

What a parlous time this is, mid-omicron, everyone in danger it seems. Most of the time I just want everyone to be all right; well, maybe not the anti-vaxxers – but everyone else. It’s a bitter prayer, that one. I have no idea what might heal it. The vision of a slew of doves lifting off silhouetted against a swollen cloud…seems to help a little.

The site Goldatzel – even if this isn’t among its citizens - gives the “sweet-green” flavors, jade-oolong teas, orchids, lilacs, sorrel, as though one might smell emeralds, somehow. All of it is here. But I’m thinking back to my summer bird, the dove I named Caroline, who squatted in an empty squirrel’s nest for a week, until she was rousted out by a bigger dove, and flew away. I wonder where she is, and if she’s okay. It isn’t easy to be a bird.

What a strange “tasting note” this is. Where is this piece of myself, when it isn’t hiding?

Meanwhile this wine just keeps singing its silvery song of green melons, a delicately perfect and perfectly delicate dry Riesling.

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2020 Geisenheimer Kläuserweg Riesling Spätlese Trocken      +

Up to the “big” wines now. It’s the broad-shouldered profile, and yet something in these wines makes them feel sleek even when they’re fuller bodied. And this wine really limns two crucial distinctions: one is the difference between “powerful” (which it isn’t) and strong (which it is), and the other is between “intense” (which it flirts with) and expressive (which it is in spades).

The vineyard is on a hill facing south midway between the river and the forests, and it’s a site where the sun-beats-down, and that sense of seething heat makes it into the wine along with a sense of nights-cooling-down, so you go to Kläuserweg for mojo but because this is a very special winery, you also receive precision and articulation, and these are things that don’t often ride in the same car. You also get the maize and green and meadow-flower thing that echoes Grüner Veltliner in a curious way. It’s a wine of gnarled calloused hands and sunburned faces.

I’m hugely impressed by the balancing act here, and my admiration for this exceptional wine is unqualified, but I am less in love with it than with the last two. My curious tastes!

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2020 Bestes Fass                                                                               +

Full name Johannisberger Goldatzel Riesling Spätlese Trocken

Alas, we have a STUPID HEAVY BOTTLE to contend with.

Since 1991 the estate has selected a single cask to represent the finest the vintage could give. It’s not necessarily the ripest wine – the Kläuserweg is riper – but it is the most quintessential.

If just one single wine could advance the argument that this vineyard deserves GG-status, it would easily – blatantly! – be this one. Its greeny vaporous being is allied to a depth one rarely sees from the cool sites. I’m sad that you won’t know what I’m talking about, but there are Winter-picked Alishan oolongs with this character, an almost creamy texture along with evanescent fruit and the sense of a thing that is permanently fresh.

Imagine a summer day in a warm spot and you’re sweaty and maybe a little tired of the heat, and your host says “Don’t worry, in this spot it always gets fresh at night; in fact almost exactly at 8:13pm you feel the first cool breeze…” And there you stand, and there it is.

The wine itself has a wicked finishing saltiness and a wrap-around almost analog generosity. And as excellent as it is, it feels like another few grams of RS would have catapulted it to an even more exalted level. The sometimes-phenolic touch at this estate is markedly evident here. Still, the sheer quality of the material prevails.

The wine changes on further tasting, today for the third time. It’s more resinously herbal now, still texturally aggressive (“needs food” would be the shorthand) but working from a broader base. This observation is obviously of limited value unless you planned to open the bottle and keep it five days, popping in to check its progress from time to time. And why would you do that?

 

It’s my job….

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2020 Alte Reben                                                                           ++

Full name Johannisberger Vogelsang Alte Reben Riesling

Mostly 70-+ vines in a loam-based vineyard with stones and sand in the topsoil; the old vines are at home with their deep root systems.

It’s another style. Vogelsang is umami, grainy, bake-y, not herbal and not fruity: savory. And woo hoo, this guy offers a shattering concentration somehow grafted on to an aerial energy itself holding hands with a kind of breathing stillness. And once you even start to suss how this thing could ever function, along comes this alpha-wave of minerality, yet different from the minerality that accompanies more “skeletal” wines – because this wine has meat. That is, meat, not fat! It’s also like spelt or faro or barley or consommé containing little dumplings of rampant mineral. You don’t drink it as much as suck it down.

It gets peppery in the glass, and starts to challenge the theoretical possibilities of dry Riesling in general. The last nuances are – I swear – basmati and ylang ylang.

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2020 “Wie Im Fluge” Riesling

“As in flight,” or idiomatically, as time goes by. A wine of whim and caprice, ideally drunk in the early summer after the harvest, it has just 11.5% alc and smells like it was made to quench thirst.

It’s the first of their ‘20s to show a (charming) green note, just the faintest Sauvignon twang; it is certainly herbal and cressy, like you were playing with how many different greens you could throw into your salad. It arises from a pre-selection among many sites, and it floats around the upper limit for Trocken (nine grams) though the label, wisely, does not indicate. For all intents and purposes, it is dry.

I’m mindful that tasting it now, on a cold day after our first big snowfall, is inimical to its nature and function. Better to be sampling the new 2021 vintage, actually. But even so, it shows the signal virtues of this winery, freshness and clarity and transparency (and wildly vivid aromas), and constitutes a sort of granita of Rheingau Riesling.

Even so, it has much of the character of those ridiculously fresh aromatic bombshells we see from many Grüner Veltliner liters when they’re first released. Cousins.

Third look, from a Jancis glass this time, and the wine feels creamier, plus the green note is diminished, plus it seems less adamantly dry. Given its modest price, and its equally modest ambitions, this is a super admirable entry-level wine for the estate. For any estate!

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2020 Johannisberger Goldatzel Riesling Kabinett feinherb  ++

It has always been, for me, the emblematic wine for this laudable estate. And for them, “feinherb” is a drier wine than for many others.

If proof was ever needed – and it isn’t, not anymore, despite the unbelievers – that a few skooshes of residual sugar above the rigid “Trocken” limit could elevate a Riesling exponentially, you’ll find it here. It is for all intents and purposes a dry wine, but there are about 300% more nuances and elements in the flavor conversation.

It is more aromatic, both in volume and beauty of fragrance.

It is more animated and complex.

It has a markedly more balanced finish.

It has a far greater range of uses, especially at the table.

It is a vinous Ideal, and a vivid example of the uniqueness of German Riesling.

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2020 Johannisberger Hölle Riesling Spätlese feinherb

The steep and stony site is based on quartzite with occasional thin  overlays of gravel and sandy loam. The wines are an aesthetic antonym of the “sweetly” fragrant Goldatzel; this is the Rheingau as militant power. It’d be the wine for someone who objected that “Riesling are too frilly for me…” Ya think? Deal with THIS, ace.

To me it relates to the Alte Reben Trocken. It’s chewy, even phenolic. It’s crusty – it Means Business. It’s more impressive than charming, if it’s charming at all. I get what they wanted to do, but this wine isn’t sweet enough, in fact.

It smells wonderful, especially from the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp glass. There is quite a wash of toasted mineral on the palate, and I can easily imagine how impressive it would have seemed when the wine had all of its baby fat. It’s a stern wine, but I don’t mind that. It’s the middle and back palates where the tell-tale sweet/sour thing takes place, and I do mind that.

It will be interesting to see if this wine alters its shape over the days. And it has been suggested (more than once) that I refrain from issuing edicts as regards balance-points in wines, since everyone doesn’t share my taste. Well obviously. But neither I nor any other taster can claim to speak for Everypalate. Nor is it useful to lard my prose with endless “in-my-opinion(s)” because it is boring, and you already knowthat these are my opinions.

Thus, IMHO, with slavering apologies to everyone who has the temerity to have their own opinions, I assert here that this wine, for all its impressive attributes – and there are many – isn’t sweet enough. Disagree at your peril, tough guy.

I’m tasting it again – third time, Jancis glass – because all these wines have lost a little brilliance and gained a lot of middle over the days. Not surprising. When I took it outside (in 26º with god knows what wind-chill) it plumped out and didn’t seem as unknit. What this observation is worth, or how it might be applied, are open questions. But now, so is the wine.

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2020 Johannisberger Hölle Riesling Kabinett                             +

It’s curious, or maybe not so curious, that despite this being less ripe than the feinherb Spät, it smells riper – which is to say, more complete and seamless. One could speculate that RS would gild the lily for the super-perfumey sites but the fructose aromas it introduces are helpful for a wine without a marked fruit profile of its own.

In any case, this is a perfect example of the estate’s not-sweet “sweet” Kabinetts, where sweetness is a silent partner content to remain silent. Here it creates a tangy angularity of structure and accents an herbal crunch like mixing fennel/dill/anise seeds into your sourdough boule. There are some high-toned spearminty aromas, probably from the vintage, that provide a pungent lift.

This wine will take repeated tastings to really grok. It’s in a developmental trough right now, between two phases, and somewhat un-integrated. Tasted now for the 4thtime, Jancis glass again, it’s far from mute but it doesn’t cohere. Nor is that a problem, because you’re not drinking it for another five years (if you want it at its best), but it does compel the question: What is Hölle asking for? Given that both the feinherb Spät and the Kabinett are less than tranquil at present.

 

What I need is Johannes Gross at the table, the evening stretching happily before us, and plenty of schnitzel to be had. Or, if we’re feeling more civilized, all the pike-perch we could ever hunger for. “What does Hölle” want?” would be the question of the hour.

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2020 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Spätlese                          ++

10% alc, which is telling. Look at the huge number of mostly (but not exclusively) Mosel Späts with 8% or 9% - not to criticize the Mosel by any means! But 10% alc denotes a Spätlese that won’t be confectionary, won’t be one of those show ponies with 100+ grams of RS that get, god help me, “scores.”

We have here a stunningly excellent wine.

Though its texture is less melting, its fruit will remind you of Dönnhoff’s Kirschheck Späts. As will its length. As will its exquisite interior perfume, that lingers into the finish and doesn’t seem to fade at all. It is a sublimity of lime and melon, wonderfully chiseled and refined, vigorous and yet lacy, and holding on to the merest scintilla of fine botrytis that does its malty thing on the finish.

Hasensprung is a (too) large site, over-extended by the ’71 wine law, but one hopes future bottlings from this estate might use cadaster names to distinguish among its parcels. Meanwhile we have a tightrope-walker balanced Spätlese, not afraid of its sweetness because it is under control, infinitely detailed and delicate, a dream wine.

With repeated tastings, I’ve been chewing over the question “Could it be even less sweet?” and the answer seems to be no, both because it might be too pointedly minty in that case, and because the sweetness it carries augurs a long life, and because it isn’t annoyingly high regardless.

2023

In warm vintages these wines appreciate the details revealed by the Jancis glass. In 2021 they are already endowed with every possible detail; what they need is juiciness, and so the basic Spiegelau was consistently the glass.

The 2021 vintage has seemed to bifurcate after bottling. The “little” wines (and the not-sweet “sweet” wines) are classic Goldatzel – silvery, breathy, articulate, nearly sublime. The more (ostensibly) important wines are, as a rule, phenolic and disjointed, which leads me to wonder to what extent they have recovered from bottling. Yes, this is a benefit-of-the-doubt hypothesis, because it is highly unusual for this estate to make disjointed wines. Of course this is a boon to consumers, since the best wines cost the least. But I’ll let myself offer a note of caution. The “important” wines would best amplify the virtues of the little ones, but these give the sense of operating with essentially different recipes.

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2020 Spätburgunder Trocken

The color is much darker than any previous vintage I’ve seen. There’s a fascinating aroma that “involves” oak but isn’t bossed around by it. The dominant impression is coriander and tomato leaf, black pepper and delicate smoke.

This wine is really fun, and really good. It’s expressive, pointed and spicy, and I swear it has some of the rooty vetiver aspects of Riesling from Kläuserweg. It’s a rare example of an ambitious wine that doesn’t overreach, and it has the diction and clarity of this estate’s Rieslings. Less elegant than, say, Künstler’s Pinot Noirs, it has some of the burl and earth of Ziereisen, and some of the iron of Dautel’s Cleebronn cuvée. A charred note comes along with air, but it doesn’t carry any sense of crudely overused cask.

It also shows the weediness and the curious surmise of minerality that makes me think of Lemberger or Lagrein or Teroldego or even one of those resinous peppery Sicilian reds. Truly a fascinating, articulate and singular Pinot Noir.

We liked it while sipping as dinner was cooking, and today as I taste it again I’ve made sure we are at room-temp, 64º as I write. This makes the wine rounder and even smokier, and it shows an Assam-like robustness and leafy depth.

Hat’s off to this improbable wine! Normally a white-wine producer’s “experiments with red” are seldom more than interesting, but this wine feels known, and I’d be pleased to make space for it in my cellar.

THE RIESLINGS:

I jumped around a bit, so I could taste site-by-site, and I’ll maintain the sequence in this report. We start with a duo from the Hasensprung, a “little” wine and then the GG.

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2021 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Kabinett Trocken              +

Oh you naughty boy, with your “Kabinett Trocken!” I can hear the VDP tut-tut-tutting all the way here in Roslindale, MA. Alc is all of 11.5%.

The fragrance is out of this world, as his Hasensprungs always seem to display. The palate has all the flowing flower of ’21 at its most appealing, with none of the finishing bite. I wonder if he deacidified it, and with this result, I can’t say I’d object.

A small digression: I don’t think a German Riesling grower should be enslaved by the insistence that his/her wines must be able to live 25+ years. (Not must they be beholden to high acidity as the dubious guarantor of that longevity…) There are times, I think, when a comely bottle of wine that can be happily consumed in its first five years is a perfectly noble thing to offer.

And having said that, the wine shows much more pointedness from the Jancis, and now I doubt he reduced its acidity. Okay! In either case, we have the utmost explication of Hasenprung’s singular combo of green-apple, lime, wintergreen and sorrel, all leading to a deliberate finish whose tertiary notes seem to alight on cherries (of all things) before its mineral farewell.

It’s spirit-kin to Nigl’s basic Piri Riesling, which I often find miraculous. They share a weightless substance, and an exquisitely tactful deliciousness, intensely charming, and just the tiniest bit aloof. I’ll have this impression again a little later in the sequence.

It has the currant-leaf aroma of certain Sauvignon Blancs, but much less alcohol. It is a masterpiece of lightness partnered with complexity partnered with substance, partnered with distinctiveness. It’s a Platonic ideal for German Riesling without ambitions to “lofty importance.”

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2021 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Trocken (“GG”)

The taller and (sadly) heavier bottle announces a wine of Lofty Consequence. The modest 12.5% alc is thus unanticipated and very much welcome. The cadaster is called Ansbach, and you will smell its quartzite subsoils right way. But first you’ll smell a reduction.

That’s curious given the wine’s cask aging. But there’s a suggestion of sponti here. Or is it an inconvenience of the screwcap? At first it shows a pointed intensity on the palate, but it’s actually opaque in actual tangible flavor. This is bound to change (among other things to which it may be bound….) but I doubt your first impression will differ much from mine.

It’s no secret I love this winery. But this wine feels forced in some way, pushed toward a power it doesn’t know how to wield. We’ll see what the days bring, but right out of the bottle it seems to have two left feet.

Yet after 10-12 minutes it cleared up and wriggled free of its reduction, leaving an appealing Riesling with a sort of compound-butter texture (imagine lime-leaf, bee-balm and woodruff) and a kindly sort of pliant warmth at the end.  I suspected a distortion at first, and even then this wine – which has many things to like about it – is less dancer-y than this estate’s standard norm, albeit I am quite willing to change my mind.

Looking at it again two days later, it presents more like a ’20 than a typical ’21, especially in its gritty finish. I’m guessing (and will leave the guess stand if/when I am corrected by the winery) we have both sponti and also skin-contact here, and as such it deviates from the norm. There are things to respect, appreciate, and enjoy in this wine, but in the overall context this feels like a misfire.

In the end certain things improved. There’s tangible fruit and herbal notes now. The reduction is gone. It’s rather earnest after the scintillating effortlessness of the “smaller” wine, and the gritty finish comes on strong with air.

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2021 Geisenheimer Kläuserweg Riesling Spätlese Trocken       ++

And here we go again with the Prädikats! I’m being facetious, obviously, but it’d be nice to see this stuff get worked out legally, because the next wine is the Kläuserweg “GG” and it has the same 12% alc as this one does.

Meanwhile….I always did love a rebel.

Like the “lesser” Hasensprung above, this has a yowza fragrance. Classic vetiver Kläuserweg! Let me take a geezer privilege and tell you I’ve been drinking Rieslings from this site since, oh, 1980 or so, and the big question was whether this or Rothenberg was the “best” vineyard. One has finesse, the other has power. Ah, but power, in this case, need not preclude finesse.

The warm, savory minerality is hard to resist here. The combination of clarity and generosity is remarkable. The sense of lavish firmness eludes most other wines. Imagine melting ghee and steeping kefir-lime leaves in it for an exotic “butter.” Imagine a corn bisque with peppermint. (Imagine I have gone bananas.) Or imagine what you will – the wine is superb. It’s a cousin to the Wachau’s Steinertal in its fundamental greenness, yet perched atop a mellow savor. Apart from tasting good, it probably raises your IQ.

Pause just as you’ve swallowed (or in my case, spat droolingly) and think about the finish(es), because it takes place in three acts. First it’s all texture with a flashing glitter of fruit and mineral, markedly green. In about twenty seconds the basic ’21 identity appears, which in this case means acidity, but if you wait past that you get a final tertiary finish that’s warm and generous and pure terroir, and it remains constant for at least five minutes, and if it happened to be the last wine you drank that evening, you’ll taste it for at least a half hour, or until you brush your teeth, whichever comes first. 12% alc my friend….you don’t need power in order to have length!

All it did was improve the six times I tasted it (over five days) until I nearly wept to see it go.

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2021 Kläuserweg Riesling Trocken (“GG”)                                    +

<sigh>…heavy bottle again.

It’s a different kind of grace, here. It is (amazingly, with the same alc) much juicier, with much more umami and mid-palate, and yet this is congruent and shapely, with a kind of firm voluptuousness like that of a large, muscular person. 

And despite all that it has a glimmering minerality that tells you it’s a GG. I mean, this is what we expect to see. Not more fruit or higher alcohol or even necessarily more intensity (though this wine has it) but rather something that narrates the land in a fundamental way. 

In the most compelling way, this wine makes no sense. I can’t fathom this much torque and power with such moderate alcohol. I can’t “get” the rampant minerality astride the savory meadow-flower richness. I tend to be skeptical towards “intense” wines but honestly, this one breached my defenses. It is amazingly deft and detailed for all its muscle and capaciousness and power. And if it goes against my grain, fair is fair; this is wonderful Riesling. A kind of Corton-Charlemagne of Rheingau wine.

This one did change over the many exposures. As I have it now for the 6th and final sampling, it is showing a deep underlying minerality but also the phenolic finish more typical of ’20 than ’21. I loved it 3-4 times, was perplexed by it the next time(s) and now have found things that got better, and things that didn’t.

I wonder sometimes whether the vinification for wines intended as the “GG” type tend to shove them along into structures that they sometimes don’t support. The kid-brother of this is certainly the better wine, though it doesn’t affect significance.

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2021 Alte Reben                                                                              ++

Old vines, heavy bottle, 12% alc. Back label specifies JOHANNISBERGER VOGELSANG from 70-year-old vines.

Often this starts with a stunning aroma. It does so again now. At first it is every fascinating way Riesling can smell apart from flowers, fruits, herbs or spices. It is pure rocks and sun-toasted grains.

The palate is an explosion of drenched earth and stones. It does not say “Trocken” on the label; neither does it indicate any other descriptor, and I love this! The wine is the wine; find fault with it if you think you can! For me it is about as stunning and gorgeous as a wine can be, short of an apotheosis into the ethereal. This amazing wine is not ethereal….

But boy, is it fireworks. It’s the last crazy pyrotechnic climax before the smoke clears and the show’s over. It is virtually overwhelming yet not at all seductive. It just blasts its mezzo forte while you sit wet-eyed thinking you didn’t like loud music.

Have I ever had a better wine from this domain? I wonder….

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2021 Johanisberger Hölle Riesling Spätlese Feinherb                ++

It truly baffles me how anyone could lift this glass to his nose and think anything other than “This is going to be spectacular.” Outside of the Côte d’Or Grand Cru whites, this is every great way for a white wine to smell.

It actually feels drier than the Alte Reben, though I don’t see how it can be – it has just 11% alc – and yet it is such a perfect integration of RS that – as always, always,damn it – dissolves into the wine when the balance is perfect. Why do so few people understand this???

It’s more apparent in the little Spiegelau, which tends to reconcile a wine’s factions, rather than the Jancis, which tends to explain them. Hölle is a warm site that doesn’t offer “fruit” so much as toast from a bread made with just enough honey to be noticeable but not enough to be sweet. For my tea-drinking readers (the few, the proud!) you will know this characteristic from the Fuijan oolongs described as “orchid.” I depict it as “honey in the vicinity, but not in the tea.”

The finish is a gliding glee of stones.

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(2021) Goldatzel Glanzstück

Back label says Trocken, alc is 11.5%, bless its little heart.

It means “shiny object,” and the label shows the magpie (after which the winery is named) holding a pendant in its beak. This is in essence the “estate-Riesling-dry” for them. It’s also a STEP BACK from the previous wines – which I tasted in one contained flight yesterday.

It’s zippy in ’21, bone dry, racy and rippling. It’s hard to imagine how it could be better – in this idiom. The domestic Riesling customer inside Germany relishes this decidedly-dry style, and appreciates its lack of compromise. I think I like it more in riper years, but in fact I’m limning a stylistic issue, not finding fault with the wine.

And I’m fascinated that it holds up so well in the Jancis glass, which tends to admonish wines it interprets as “lean” whereas the Spiegelau likes to make them as juicy as can be. There’s a whisper of RS that bolsters the middle and imparts an addictive saltiness, and no small amount of complexity in the Jancis, though that stem emphasizes a rather tart finish.

Boy am I picking nits here. The wine is lovely, and it is a privilege to find these minute cavils because the prevailing level is so high.

The next day – and waiting can be decisive with screw-capped wines – this is far juicier and less spiky in its acid-impression. It does prefer the Spiegelau, from which it recalls Martin Nigl’s “basic” Riesling (which was called Dornleiten; not sure what it’s called these days) and this is high praise. It also has the juniper note of Dautel’s estate-Riesling. Paradoxically it’s too good to be a glugger, too chiseled and spicy. But <whew>….this estate makes superb Rieslings.

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2021 Bestes Fass

In fact it’s a Johannisberger Goldatzel Riesling Spätlese Trocken, with 12% alc (and alas a heavy bottle)

It is ludicrous that this site isn’t a “GG,” certainly in our new climate era, where its relatively cool setting (uphill near the woods) works to its advantage. Then again, I have always cherished it, back to the late 70s when I often thought it was the unsung hero at H.H. Eser, a crystalline and passionately introverted Riesling that trades strength for exquisiteness, a bargain I always love.

The fragrance is superb and typical; green melon, spearmint, tarragon, fir.  The palate is tensile and sinewy, almost to a fault. As impressive as this is, it will test you; do you really like dry wines? Because this one is standing its ground, and does not seem to yield.

Note, “seem.” Some of these (screwcapped) wines have started out almost dismissively, only to gain juice and middle and plain flavor when they get a little air. And palate always follows aroma, eventually. So ask me again tomorrow.

But whatever may transpire, we do have a phenolic finish to contend with, and it may be that the cool site in a cool harvest ends up folding into its own sting.

A day later I was deeply intrigued to see this wine again. Some screw-capped wines are hermetic and distorted by unintegrated sulfur; it’s an inherent risk of the technique. (Diam corks might be the answer, even for this laudable winery.) Mind you, a bad cork is a wine you throw away, while a screw-cap mishap you just have to wait out.

Having spent my life tasting cask-samples, I know how euphoric they can be, and I can see why Johannes and his father found this to be their best cask. Bottling is the imponderable, and tasting it again I think it’s just maybe bottle-sick. I’m tasting it in late February but it was bottled nine months ago – early – and has yet to find its footing. Impressive as it is, it is probably not the wine it will be. This impression persists to the end, six samplings, three different glasses.

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2021 Johannisberger Goldatzel Riesling Kabinett feinherb         +

This has been one of the great Rieslings in my portfolio, which doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. It is, simply, a perfect tasting Riesling, showing every single thing there is to adore about the variety, even in this, its zingiest form since I’ve known the winery. Their preference for the driest iterations of “feinherb” renders this edition quite the crack of the whip, but even so there’s melody here that quickly differentiates it from the Trocken wines – which as you see I loved.

I am baffled that “feinherb” seems to a conceptual hurdle for some drinkers. It’s as if they’re befuddled from the depths of some abstruse perplexity, What sort of wine is this? To which the only answer must be – the sort that tastes perfect. Next question, bitch!

It’s easy to string the associations together, but I’ve done it so many times and they don’t shift all that much from year to year. Just consider every conceivable iteration of green.  Texture changes, gestalt changes, key-signature changes, but the ridiculous amalgam of charm, intricacy, minerality and piquant angularity, these things remain. Not to mention, flexibility at the table. 

But let me meet you halfway. There’s a point where clarity can become sharp, and where sharpness can become arch, and this wine in this vintage is not out of sight of those points. The fragrance is gorgeous; it’s the palate-texture that could challenge a drinker used to more pliant wines, as we are pulled very tightly here. If you relish tension and smelling-salts penetration of aroma, you’ll be as happy (and maybe happier) than I am. Or else, not!

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2021 Johannisberger Hölle Riesling Kabinett

Separated from the feinherb by a half percent of alc – so you’ll expect this to be only barely sweet.

Here’s a curiosity. Every previous Riesling has released a zillion tiny bubbles in the glass when poured. Not this one. Yet the palate is spritzy. (Scratches head, stares off into space….)

Hölle is a hot site whose flavors are those of toasted grains. You don’t look for flowers or fruits here, though you might occasionally sense their presence in the neighborhood. You look for strength and solidity, and in this vintage you also get height, not so much broad shoulders as long muscular legs.

You could teach a class using this as a paradigm for “Rheingau Riesling” in its serene self-possession and stoic reserve.  

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2021 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Spätlese                              ++

A fragrance you can only describe as stunning. For a decades-long observer like me, it’s a reminder that Hasensprung can be supernal, notwithstanding the many mundane wines made (alas) under its name from the overlarge borders of the single-site – brought to you by the 1971 wine law, that pathetic relic that has finally been put out of its misery.

Can this possibly taste as amazing as it smells? And the answer is yes, in a way.

That way involves botrytis, the good kind, that registers as malt and not like mushrooms moldering in your fridge. This has a hint of the Auslese “type” without lapsing over into that idiom – because it remains lithe and fresh. Indeed the longer it’s on your palate the more vigorous and leaping it becomes. Again think green, wintergreen, woodruff, high-elevation oolongs, lime and lime zest, all of which you can consider while being blown apart by a wine that combines an aerial soaring lift with a salty butterscotchy grip. The finish is a concatenation of mineral and some potion of herbs and spices involving rose hips, sumac, lemon grass, ginger, ylang ylang,  and margaritas.

Finally, this is the kind of wine people think of when they say why they love 2021 so much – at least the wines that aren’t dry. There’s no end of those fine dry wines, I love them too, but come on; can this kind of wine be made anywhere else on earth?

2021
2023
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