New for me, at any rate. This is what they sent in the middle of 2022, based on what was in bottle at the time.
2021 Riesling Trocken
By now I approach the “smaller” 21 Trockens with guarded anticipation. This smells absolutely wonderful, but they very often do. The palate will tell, and the acid structure will tell the tell.
But wow, what a fragrance. It is the entire argument for Nahe Riesling. Hell, it’s the entire argument for Riesling, full stop. And like so many ‘21s, this is one color (or register or key signature or atmosphere, choose your metaphor) aromatically and a different one in the mouth. Briefly, this is (if you will) “yellow” and sweet aromatically, and green and rocky on the palate. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it could surprise you. You start with not-quite-ripe mirabelles and with yellow roses a day or two from opening and with a yellow apple that you grabbed from the fridge and that ought to warm up before you crunch into it. Essentially “sweet” fruit/flower aromas…..until the palate scrapes you with grassiness and herbs and resins and crushed rocks.
Yet the wine is balanced, however tautly, and it does not succumb to the sharpness of other ‘21s. It stings but not unpleasantly, and if this seems like damning with faint praise I think this wine is a TRIUMPH of the vintage in its deftness, purity and precision. The finish is long and salty. It’s a rare example of a Riesling of utter and absolute dryness that doesn’t taste mean or austere.
It’s also, in its way, a Hexamer classic, in its upward stretch, its sinewy, tensile muscle and its splash of icy freshness. The sheer vim is exhilarating! It may not be cuddly, but my palate’s doing a standing ovation.
As it happened I had a four day hiatus before I “tasted” this again, though we sipped it one evening while dinner was cooking. Today the aromas are riotous, and contain a pleasing hint of oxidation that registers as apricot, along with a deft and delicate surmise of a few grams of (welcome) RS. The wine’s even more likable, and I won’t keep it any longer.
2020 Riesling Trocken Eisendell, auf der Südseite +
Eisendell is already a Gewann in the Rheingrafenberg, and Harald also wants us to know this comes from the south side of the vineyard. “Eisen” means iron, but I don’t know if there’s iron in the soil.
I usually like this wine, because I like mirabelle-plums and the wine usually reeks of them, as it does here, though we’re already seeing a ’20 vintage-fragrance taking priority. It smells good, kelpy and herbal. I’ve had dried sea-lettuce with this oddly exquisite aroma.
Okay; this is a sophisticated and intricate dry Riesling, easily the equal of wines from estates who…get more attention, let’s say, but who seldom make better wine than this. It has a green-leafy grip and overtones of lemon blossom and aloe vera. There’s all the gleam and brilliance of Hexamer at their best, and I can even indulge the curious phenolic finish that seems endemic to ’20. It offers a visible and explicit intricacy that’s riotous fun for palates that like to probe and analyze. The layered, lengthy palate gives you all the time you require.
For all its energy the wine has a kind of resting-face repose. It needn’t scowl to tell you it’s serious. A shimmering minerality pours out of the Jancis glass. It recalls one of my favorite Dönnhoff wines – albeit from a different terroir – the Tonschiefer, with that wine’s leaping-salmon energy and wriggling brilliance. To which we add fists-full of sweet fern, and (unless I have palate-placebo) a dark ferrous note like a Nigl Piri.
At times, not very often, we encounter a wine that displays the thrall of the cerebral, something replete with mind yet which isn’t brittle or aloof. This wine’s about as aloof as Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It retained all its virtues over the four days. It’s the kind of wine that rewards attention and will “show” less well if you sip it distractedly.
2020 Riesling No. 1 Trocken Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg ++
This is the ersatz-GG, which has undergone various names over the years, but which belongs with all those seriously serious wines. Alc is just 12.5%, refreshingly.
Back in the 70s I had (still have) a book covering all the Nahe vineyards, which indicated this was a place of Importance, unknown at the time and not all that much better known even today.
When GG justifies itself it offers para-fruit aromas and flavors – what I call the “Grand Cru Effect,” and which is on display now. There’s a certain urgency to the wine, it’s less serene than the Eisendell, but it avoids the overstatement of more “endowed” vintages and also seems pretty much free of RS. Is it less complex than its forbear? Maybe, but it’s also more elevated, more ambitious, more in-charge.
The site makes wines that beggar description. To me that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t address the question “what does it taste like?” because it tastes like many things that don’t show up on your aroma wheel and also it is more a matter of a dozen inferences than of a single blatant statement. This wine has the powdery, dispersed minerality I really cherish, but I’m not sure it’s a “signature” element. In my many years drinking these wines, the best I can do is: Rheingrafenberg is earthy and mineral, but it’s a refined sort of earthiness. It feels granitic the way Clos Ste. Hûne feels granitic, and in its dry form it shows a similar rectitude.
We see more discrete “fruit” in both riper years and sweeter bottlings, and it’s the usual tart-apple and mirabelle and plum blossom. Normally the minerality if more blunt than it is here, where it feels like it’s been ground into a petrichor-scented powder. There’s even a lovely jolt of mint at the end. This augurs for a new level of articulation and poise for Hexamer wines.
I keep thinking “understated rapture” but then that feels too literary, not to mention it makes no sense, rapture being, by its very nature, overt. As a felt sense, though, it depicts an authority of flavor and expressiveness that stays in the shade because the sun would burn its skin. The finish continues to linger, and the tertiary notes seem to say something about the terroir, even as it remains inchoate. Maybe this vineyard expresses best in its sweet wines….
2020 Sauvignon Blanc Trocken +++
I hated that he planted this, but the wines made a believer out of me. Then he upped the ante by planting Scheurebe, which is even better.
I don’t despise Sauvignon Blanc. I wonder whether it belongs in Germany, but I keep getting my face rubbed in my prejudice by folks like Von Winning and Künstler and Hexamer. Does this add to the expressive possibilities for the variety? I could argue that it does and also that it doesn’t, but meanwhile I’m drinking some of the wines and loving them.
This wine makes me reach for descriptors one doesn’t often use for SB. It is, amazingly, beautiful, and it is replete with a quality of fruit that I don’t hesitate to describe as haunting. With 13% alc it is lighter than gauze. Everything that can be blatant and gaudy about the variety is present here in a weirdly ethereal form, such that you feel the thing has reached nirvana and doesn’t need to assert itself any more.
And with this wine I would indeed claim that an apotheosis of finesse is attained with no equivalents I’m aware of. To be so purely varietal yet display such restraint and subtlety is, in my experience, incomparable. The crazy length takes the form of an abiding perfume whose source you cannot find. Even the empty glass, where SB can be pretty uncouth, is perfect and evanescent here.
A few furtive sips were taken one evening or another, but I was loath to see this bottle empty. Still am. Now, tasting it again on the 4th day, I approach it asking “Can it possibly be that good?” It is the tiniest bit more overt, but that only underscores the unfathomable finesse with which it began. Now it recalls the very best of the “Klassik” genre of the Styrian SBs, still among the world’s best. I don’t know how Harald did it, and I suspect he’s not entirely sure himself, but whatever it was, it resulted in the most subtle, gleaming and enticing SB I think I have ever tasted.
2020 Grauburgunder Vom Porphyr Trocken
You know the story, right? Harald obtained some parcels in the volcanic sites of the central Nahe, and one of them was planted with Pinot Gris, and of course this would be removed after the harvest – and then the wine was tasted.
Some vintages have been maybe a little clunky. Some have been too woody. A few have been amazing. When it works it is a gesture of possibility for a variety that can be mundane or loutish or top-heavy, and which rarely (except maybe for Zind-Humbrecht) is grown on volcanic soil.
This wine isn’t “great,” and I’m still reeling from the celestial loveliness of the Sauvignon Blanc, but it did make me grin from ear to ear. Well hi there Mr. Original!
The usual volcanic twang is subdued in ’20, but there’s a kind of insistence of structure we hardly ever witness from PG – you will fit into a shape, damn you! – yet there’s plenty of PG varietality, such as it is! I mean, who can actually say what Pinot Gris tastes like? It’s usually a matter of body and texture and umami, yet if there actually is an inherence of flavor, you might almost glimpse it here. Almost! Because there’s wood to contend with – not obtrusive but present – and also an expressive soil.
Still, the highest octave of Pinot Gris is at least WTF interesting, right? Even if it doesn’t stand among his best vintages?
2020 Riesling Porphyr ++
This is the “other” estate Riesling, from the great terroir of the middle-Nahe, which is usually feinherb though not labeled as such. I’ve been known to say that porphyry is the great soil for Riesling, though I’d thank you for not blabbing this to my friends along the Mosel.
What do we have here? My successors have tended to prefer dry bottlings to the feinherbs on which I doted. This seems pretty dry. It’s also fabulously good. Alc is 12.5. Yet the label doesn’t say “Trocken.” Make of it what you will. (As it turns out, the 16.8 g/l of RS is swallowed entirely by the ’20 structure, and the wine is one of those might-as-well-be-dry Rieslings.
It’s everything I ever wanted, you know; a wine that does not tell you whether it’s “sweet” or “dry” but that simply tastes like it was ordained to be exactly this very way. It whiffs magnificently of that smoky Chinese 5-spice juju of porphyry, and it’s also mineral, and it’s also wonderfully stinky-flowery and lifted along wafts of smoky peaches.
It’s Riesling below the lofty perquisites of Grand Cru, that nonetheless has everything we most deeply cherish about Riesling. Everything, perhaps, except explicit profundity, because what is profound here is woven into the wine’s innate delicacy. If I wanted a “house-Riesling” it would certainly be this.
Let me pause at this point to say that these are the most impressive dry wines, as a group, I have tasted to date from Hexamer. As I write I have sipped them while dinner was cooking, and with the meal, and all the wines drank well. I’m guarding every little drip of that Sauvignon Blanc, so don’t stop by because I won’t give you any. <cue fiendish laugh…>
2021 Riesling Quarzit
It hails from a parcel in a small side valley that belongs with the single-site Rheingrafenberg (legally) but which has a different soil (actually), that being the eponymous quartzite. As a Qualitätswein it can be chaptalized, and usually is and probably is in a year like ’21, but most often this is minimal. It is also one of the wines that’s gotten drier over the years – so many wines grew over-sugary in the aughts – and which is a super-drinky Riesling for anyone who’s avoided the anti-sugar pathology.
Texture is salient here, and registers as snappy, zingy, beyond-“crisp,” and what the Germans call nervig, which sort of translates as high-strung. Sweetness is no more overt than in an old-school Mosel Kabinett – which is to say tart-apple. The wine itself is more mirabelle than apple, and the fruit is concentrated enough to run into the finish, which also is free from excessive sharpness – from any sharpness at all, in fact.
Sometimes I have to forget what I “know” to simply receive the wine, but it’s hard, because I can imagine the thinking and the choices that produced this result. If Harald were sitting here I’d tell him “You did good.” That said, the wine is actually two wines. There’s the mid-palate which is the taste of the fruit, and there’s the exoskeleton around it, which is the rather dramatic enactment of acidity and sweetness. As usual I have two different stems and I’m also tasting indoors and out, and this is a case where texture is one thing and “flavor” is another. In effect the wine is barely coherent, but this will please many tasters, who’ll appreciate what feels “dynamic” and really won’t displease anyone, except for piss-pots like me, who sometimes need to flip the off switch on the deconstruction motor.
2020 Riesling Kabinett, Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg
I know, as I write my erstwhile partners are staging tastings where they’re probably showing the ’22 from here. The samples I’m now tasting, packed early summer 2022, consisted of what was bottled at the time, and took many months to reach me. I could have power-tasted through them but opted not to. For the first time in my life I can honor these wines by not power-tasting them, and that is what drives this work. If I’m not “current,” so be it. Nor do I presume to be the “reviewer-of-record.” The wine exists, it’s sitting here in my glass(es), and here’s what happened.
What happens first here is a bunch of sponti aromas. When these dissipate we’re left with something I’ll call “sultry bruised plums.” This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just the way it is. The palate will tell.
It tastes “late,” like it was picked closer to the end than to the start of harvest. It has the ’20 phenolics. It has the vintage’s “green” elements (Taiwan oolongs, balsam fir, wintergreen, lime blossom); it’s pungent and ripe but the palate is snappier than the fragrances. It has some of the attitude of farm ciders.
A curious and interesting wine in every sense. But also anomalous. The phenolic bite at the end is conspicuous, and following on the heels of the difficult initial aromas and the highly unusual fruit-expression, it feels like a wine that escaped from its cage. Could a different impression be had? I wonder.
2020 Riesling Spätlese, Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg +
Sniff this to glean the vintage-aroma of ’20 Rieslings. Describe it as comes naturally to you. It is quite definite, not subtle at all. To the descriptors I used above, I’d add osmanthus, lemon balm, and applesauce, but the leading edge is green.
The palate here is quite beautiful. Unlike the Kabinett, here the seams do not show. It’s just a lovely portrait of fruit in a highly refined form. 2020, though, is not crystalline, which works to this wine’s advantage. There’s a thickness here, and I’d be shocked if the extract wasn’t unusually high.
The usual Hexamer wine is a thing that soars and glides and you can watch the radiance bounce off it. Not this! This is earthbound and with a heavy tread. Not that the wine is heavy, but it’s a gripping, solid thing, like pasta with a lot of chew. It also does a wonderful thing a few rare Spätlesen can do; it pulls toward dryness as it moves through the palate, and it finishes effectively dry. It does this without overt acidity, just with ideal acidity, the kind that only manifests on the tertiary finish and even then if you happen to be looking for it.
The first finish is meyer-lemon and white pepper and then it yields to the shady green things, and then the phenols arrive and the whole thing clings and….”lingers?” Not really. It parks itself in your sensorium and leaves when it’s good and ready.
It isn’t excessively sweet, but this whole matter of sweetness is distorted today. The palate habituates to repeated input, and back when most German Rieslings were sweet you’d taste a slew of them and not notice the sweetness any more. Now that most of them are dry, and most of the dry ones are good, the sweet wine is awfully conspicuous, and I think that we can respond improperly to a wine like this because it’s such a shock after 10-12 dry wines. In any event, this is the class among the sweet wines in this particular carton, and when my palate insists there is “an awful lot of sugar here,” I believe my palate is incorrect.
2020 Riesling Auslese, Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg
Already a lot of gold in the color. And the alc, at 8%, is a half percent above the Spätlese. The wine has a BA-fragrance and loads of botrytis, not all of it clement.
This follows into the wine, which isn’t my “type” of wine and also is atypical for Hexamer, whose “sweet” wines are usually streamlined and sleek.
I should recuse myself, really, because I don’t enjoy this type of wine any more. Others do, and I respect that. The wine is not without virtues. It improves as the medicinal scrim of botrytis gives way. There’s a sense in which it’s an intensification of the extract-driven Spätlese; as this genre goes, this one’s a muscular example.
I’ll give it some time and see what happens.
What happens is, it turns into one of those botrytis-driven wines wherein a simulacrum of minerality is enacted, and which is so salty you don’t really register the sweetness. If you like botrytis you’ll go nuts over this wine. It isn’t the form of botrytis I happen to prefer – I like it clean and malty – but there’s plenty of acid-steel and a dried-fruit component some may find exotic. Meanwhile I’ll pour myself another glass of Spätlese, if I may…..