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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
(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.
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.
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!
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.
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?