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WEINGUT KÜNSTLER

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2020 Spätburgunder Tradition Trocken

A cuvée from Hochheim sites, it’s basically the “estate” PN, and it has a lovely, polished sweet aroma from glass #1 (the larger of two Spiegelau white-wine glasses, “white wine” ostensibly, I should add) and a far more intricate and interesting aroma from the Jancis. Even on the palate they are radically different wines.

The Spiegelau presents a buff, somewhat plausible wine, with gleaming “modern” fruit, not-quite seamless knitting, and plenty of tastiness. The Jancis offers a markedly more mineral creature, with wonderfully structure, mature feeling tannin and a landslide of scree in the mid-palate.

These are not nice distinctions. One wine is a little too emphatic with the leather and sandalwood business, while the other is a blatant overachiever with every facet in crisp focus (including cask), and if I were the kind of commentator who gave “points” they would be five figures apart.

I’ll repeat this exercise soon, because I think there’s also a temperature variation here; the Spiegelau was from the top of the bottle and the Jancis from lower down, with perhaps a 3-4-degree difference in temperature. But I’d describe both wines as smart, which I wouldn’t say about (for example) Dautel’s PNs, which feel more elementally rural.

Very impressive!

Second time through I tasted it warmer and only from the Spiegelau, and the wine is just excellent and a lot better than it has any business being. It’s spiffier and less atavistic than someone like Ziereisen, and the purist palate may “notice” the oak, but I think it’s an achievement almost on par with the estate dry Riesling, which has always been at or near best-in-class status.

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2019 Hochheimer Stein Spätburgunder Trocken

Erste Lage, a riverfront site on limestony marl with sand.

Generous and enveloping fragrances, full of beaming brightness and charm, underpinned with an earthy depth. Here it’s the Jancis glass that works against the wine, obtruding on its seamlessness with an over-articulation of its components. At least at first; this changes as we get deeper into the bottle.

It’s a beefy kind of PN yet also well turned out, as if it’s wearing an ascot but hasn’t changed out of its vineyard boots. There’s more to it than the estate wine – as there should be – but I’m not sure I find it “better.” I like the plump juiciness, and the friendliness of the ’19 vintage, and I like the cremini umami and I wouldn’t mind a bit less cask, but it’s a pleasing PN overall, a little too eager to explain itself but that’s okay.

Two days later it has….not exactly blossomed but grown even meatier and more charred, as if you can taste the grill marks. Materially this is the better wine, but I can’t say it gives me any more pleasure than the above.

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2019 Assmannshäuser Höllenberg GG                                              +

“Spätburgunder Trocken” on the back label.

The first thing I have to do is to compliment Gunter Künstler for avoiding the pretentious heavy bottle for this GG. Observe him, everybody; it isn’t so hard to connect the dots. NO ONE likes these bottles and they aren’t good for the environment, so wise the fuck up and stop using them.

This is the other end of the Rheingau, and here the land is steep. It shows in the wine, which is delicate and ravishing and demure and rapturous. It has a childlike innocence next to the Hochheimers. It also has such a careful, specific cherry flavor I wonder about the clone – the “Mariafelder” Swiss clone gives those characteristics. But for sheer ethereal finesse and silken texture, this beauty is hard to resist.

Can a wine have a weightless depth? This wine seems to indicate such a paradox. If you require a kind of length and intensity as a marker of Significance, you may be bemused by this wine, which seems to shimmer and hover a few feet off the ground. The Jancis glass highlights its careful diction and also the riot of lilac in both fragrance and flavor. There’s more than meets the eye in this sprightly imp.

The Hochheimers seemed determined to make a Statement about PN, but this pixie buzzes around like a dragonfly and has no need for statements. Trilling and melodic, it is a vaporous beauty that tastes as if it spiraled off the fingertips of a conjurer, who isn’t himself quite sure how it happened.

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2021 Alvarinho Trocken                                             glug-glug-glug!

As far as I know, the only Albariño planted in Germany.

The wine is very good and tastes like a Grüner Veltliner from the Weinviertel, if you’re looking for a cognate. It does not resemble any Iberian Albariño that I know of. I liked it when I saw it last May at the estate, and I like it again here.

It also seems to show every appealing facet of the ‘21s, the sapid green flow of the best wines, the spring-water purity and the fine cool energy. Nor do these virtues require high acidity, though that’s becoming an identifier for the vintage – not always accurately.

It’s as open-fields and fresh-air as the best Gemischte Satz you ever drank, and it shows, yet again, how simple pleasures mustn’t be simplistic. I’m lucky, I get to drink a few great wines now and again, but believe me that it is every bit as much a privilege to spend time with this utterly delicious and endlessly friendly guy.

Two days later an interesting thing happens; my cellar is about four degrees colder (as it’s chilled by an open window in Winter, and we’re in a cold snap right now) and the wine is different at 50º than it was at 54º. Firmer, more peppery, more mineral even. Certainly more of the cucumber and woodruff thing of many Albariños. 

If ours was the kind of household that had a “house-white,” this would be on the short list of candidates.

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2021 Inspiration Pinot Noir Rosé

From vineyards in Assmannshausen.

As you read this, they’re probably getting ready to bottle the 2022 vintage, but the wines crept to me through the sclerotic supply chain in 2022, and well, here it is.

It’s quite good, as one would expect. What do I mean by that? I mean, it has the attractive qualities of ’21 and the excellent fruit of the land and the perfect combining of freshness and charm without pandering with specious come-hither sentimentality. In short, it is the wine of a calmly intelligent vintner who consistently walks a deft line among extremes he manages to avoid. (He can’t be blamed for the rogue Sauvignon!)

If we must have swollen oceans of Rosé in the world, this is one of the nice ones. Two days later it was pithier and more interesting, with honest fruit and no need to exert itself to win you over.

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2021 Hochheimer Kirchenstück Im Stein                                         +

Erste Lage; back label indicates Riesling Trocken.

Of the two great Hochheim sites, this one and Domdechaney – both of which Gunter was able to enlarge with the leases from Schloss Schönborn (for which we should be enormously grateful) – while I admire Domdechaney the best, I love Kirchenstück the most. A single sniff of this would tell you why.

There’s the yuzu note of ’21 and the angular minerality of Kirchenstück, along with a precise articulation that stands in for the muscular force of the 2020. This one’s equally and differently adamant; it’s almost eerie, wagging a neon tail of mintiness, the way some mints don’t fully express until you’ve swallowed them.

You wouldn’t call this elegant. Considering how trilling and cirrus-y the flavors are, the length is striking and the tertiary finish is deep and clinging. It seems to relish the juiciness given by the basic Spiegelau, but we’ll see over the days. There’s no discernible “fruit” to speak of, but instead a panoply of every hyssopy thing you can conjure; chervil, fennel frond, anise seed, even garden thyme (when it’s sweetest and least resinous), true vetiver-root, those things. On second look the “root” thing is more pronounced, in the form of parsley root or celeriac or burdock.

It’s fervently expressive but not hedonic, the kind of Riesling you might call cerebral. You might be tempted to find it rather admonishing, until the earth-heavy finish that’s like plunging your face into the terroir. I wonder if the wine I tasted last May was a cask-sample – it would make sense, and time could restore some of the yang that was clipped away by bottling.

Tasting a day later from a colder sample reveals a phenolic jab on the finish, but also shows the fruit I recall from May but missed here in January. For Gunter, this wine has quite a kick.

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2021 Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Trocken                          +

Erste Lage.

At the moment this is the more pleasing wine; juicier, less strict, equally dry and precise but less ascetic. It’s also the smallest bit lighter, but what it yields in profundity it restores in fun

The forward notes are the part-apple part-peach thing of the Cox’s Orange Pippin, but this is deeply embedded in a linear minerality that makes me think of (Deidesheimer) Langenmorgen, the most “intellectual” among that family of GGs. This is similarly chiseled, sinewy and tensile, making the juiciness irresistible.

These sites are neighbors yet this wine, this year, is temperamentally different. This isn’t always the case; in fact it’s usually the other way around. My guess is we have perhaps a bit less acidity and/or a bit more RS, but whatever we have, this is beautiful Rheingau Riesling. Given their ecclesiastical names, it’s not surprising to find both wines displaying a certain rectitude, but that’s sometimes true of Rheingau in general and certainly true of ’21 in particular.

A day later the fragrance jumps out of the glass, crazily. The palate is a bit less eager but not by a lot. This underrated vineyard offers a generous, almost lusty expression of the side of Riesling that isn’t lusty, that seems to embody half the geology of the world along with the nerdy herbs like tansy and savory. I mean, bloody hell – Riesling! Notwithstanding the monumental Marcobrunn Auslese you’ll read about in a moment, for me it is precisely this kind of wine that’s the true Riesling monument.

A DUO OF SWEET WINES

Gunter sent me these, probably assuming I hadn’t tasted them back last May, and would want to. I am sometimes wary of the sporadic sweet wines produced by essentially dry-wine domains. So, let us see.

I think it also has to do with their abrupt shift of type, after tasting only very dry wines to precede them. If you’re at Selbach or Dönnhoff, you’re led deliberately to the sweet wines through a range of Feinherbs, Kabinetts and Spätlese, and when you reach the sweetest wines they feel like the logical consequence of everything that led to them. 

I also confess to a certain unease with young, very sweet and intensely concentrated wines. (Many years ago, Pierre Rovani said the same thing to me, when confronting young dessert wines at one of the tastings we did together.) I can judge for gestalt, clarity and contour, and I can notice freedom from VA or excessive botrytis, but there was one wine that just demolished me (and which received “100 points” from a taster more intrepid than I), so I’m going to pull that punch because I’m not sure my opinion’s is worth all that much for that wine.

Otherwise, into the breach….

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2021 Hattenheim Pfaffenberg Spätlese

Grosse Lage. Only the back label says Riesling.

Curiously, the typeface on this is entirely different from the more “noble” dry wines. Maybe it’s a prototype label, and not the actual one? Sorry to go all meta on you. Gunter tells me there’s a new label design in the works.

Then there’s the site. It’s a small riverfront site sitting alongside the Schloss Schönborn, for whom it was a monopoly holding, and for whom it often provided their best wine, but whether that was because of some inherent property of the vineyard or because they babied their monopoly, time will tell. Gunter says it’s deep loess with limestone, and for those of us ancient enough to remember Schönborn’s glory days in the 60s and 70s Pfaffenberg was a name to conjure with. I imagine Gunter will make a GG from it also; I hope so.

I must admit it smells astonishing. It also tastes rapturous. My question, my eternal question with such wines: Is it too sweet? And in this case my answer is, yes and no.

The botrytis is clean and tasty. The acidity is “present” but not spiky. At first the balance is thrilling, but it takes just a second or two to feel the sweetness like a sauce poured excessively over the wine. In that case you’d wait for the finish, hoping it would be fresh and drier. In this case it isn’t. But for all that I question the wine’s basic balance, I can’t assume a better balanced wine with less sweetness. It would lose its peachiness and be too green.

The classic reaction to a challenge like mine is, give it time. That would probably work. But, I’m tasting this at fridge temp (about 40º) to suppress the RS, and maybe this is just my perverse taste and y’all will groove on the peach and passion fruit mambo and appreciate that brisk acid snap and think I’m crazy. A case can be made that it harkens back to a “classic” style of sweet Riesling such as we recall from the big years of the 70s – 71, 75, 76 – but as best I recall, those wines were less sweet than these. (They were also less ripe, in fairness.)

I happily accept the magnificence of a wine like this. You really can’t imagine how gorgeous it smells. But I get antsy when I feel too close to the mentality that says If sweet, then really sweet (and if dry, then really dry). My own belief is Perfectly balanced wherever it happens to land. But that’s just crazy ass me.

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2021 Rüdesheim Berg Rottland Auslese                                           +

Grosse Lage, with “Riesling” appearing on the back label.

It has a transparent fragrance of Rottland-plus-botrytis. Rottland is a bit like the Wachau’s Achleiten in its reference to bread and grains, especially unusually grans like teff or spelt or einkorn, and to baking spices like cardamom and allspice and coriander. 

This wine is very rich, more a BA than an Auslese, with a fine botrytis and the clump of honeyed sweetness to go with it. Yet it isn’t ponderous; there’s a breeze blowing through it, and curiously (at least for me) I find it makes more “sense” than the Spätlese, as long as you’re prepared for quite a mass of richness. But what’s wholly admirable here is, it expresses Rottland, and that isn’t easy to do with god-knows what Oechsle and easily 150g/l of RS.

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