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Tasting Year


I was delighted to learn that the estate now belongs to Fair and Green, which is the “sustainable” certification I respect most. If you don’t know it, please google it. I’m touched that proprietor Stefan Justen wanted to become a member; he and I never discussed environmental matters.

The wines are mostly spontis (wild-yeast fermented) except for most of the dry wines, where they need to go all the way, and cultured yeast is used. Fermentations are temperature controlled, and all the wines are done in stainless steel. Stefan would prefer to bottle later, but often has to do so in February or March “based on demand.” In principle he prefers and encourages a deliberate fermentation. He doesn’t do whole-cluster pressings.

Yet the wines don’t really “enact” the formula. That is, you read the information and a mental picture forms of how the wines are likely to be – yet they’re not. Indeed they don’t really speak any of the prevailing Mosel (wine!) dialects, neither as atavistic as the sponti/Fuder crowd nor as crystalline as the lacy/filigreed  group. If they were a person, they’d dress in earth tones. They don’t draw attention to themselves stylistically; they occupy a middle ground neither old-fashioned nor modern. Perhaps “traditional,” but I’m not really happy with that term either.


2020 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese Trocken

Fragrance a foot from the glass! It shows the “urgestein” element we see in some Mosel wines, slate but more than slate. There’s much to wonder over with this wine. The color is already leaning into straw – atypical for Mosel Riesling in its baby-stage. The palate attack is salty and taut. It could almost be Austrian, and if it were Austrian it’d be one where the blind taster would struggle to decide if it was GV or Riesling. The vetiver and mimosa blossom notes are lovely, and confusing!

I like everything about the first 85% of this wine, and if you drink it promptly and with food you’ll be quite happy. It’s only about 1-2 minutes into the finish that we have to contend with phenolic bitterness, so it becomes another example of the difference between drinking and “tasting.” What’s impressive here is truly impressive, and one is both fascinated and pleased, until the wine makes a cutting remark as it takes leave. A clever cutting remark, mind you; the wine isn’t rustic or ungainly.

On day-2 I used the MacNeil “Fresh & Crisp” to see whether its singular structure would alter the structure of the wine. It underscores, but doesn’t really change. I can’t say I understand where that little finishing shrillness is coming from. Because this time I’m not convinced that higher residual sugar would have rescued it. All I can say is, if you want to enjoy the many pleasures this wine offers, swallow it and take a bite of food right away.

Do some people have blind spots for bitterness? Clearly we all have areas of sensitivity and insensitivity, but with this wine I think tasters would agree it finishes much differently than it begins, and that the finish is sharp. Maybe someone enjoys sharpness. I don’t. And I’m nonplussed that this wine fails in service to its own beauty.

On a whim, I tasted the Setzer Riesling I’d had open for my (eventual) report on that domain. It was quite a bit lighter feeling (but also with 12.5% alc) than the forceful Mosel wine, but the crucial difference was the Setzer finished with a charming, engaging warmth, like the first hug from a new friend you’re starting to really like. The final impression of any wine is as important as the first one.


2020 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Großes Gewächs                      +

(cask sample)The aromas are marked by input from the old ungrafted vines among the cliffs, and the orange-tinged flavors they bestow. It’s all very bright and vivid, bearing in mind that it’s yet to be bottled.

This is so exotic and redolent of charcuterie it could almost be a Niersteiner Pettental. There’s a swell and a fullness here and a gorgeous physiological “sweetness” that stands in for sugar. It also has an authority that stands in for strength – if you have authority you don’t need strength, you know – and I think this is the best dry wine I’ve had from here. It culminates in a wonderfully spicy finish linking cinnamon and prosciutto.

It’s worth asking whether this succulent dry Riesling is preferable to what would have been either an Auslese or a “best-cask, one-star, gold-capsule” Spätlese. I’m about to surprise myself by saying, I think it is. The wine is (at least potentially) superb in this form, and more people will approach it, and I too will find more uses for it. Nothing has been sacrificed. If it maintains its generosity after bottling, my one plus will have been conservative. It seems to have everything we want GGs to be, without the sometimes ponderous affect of solemnity they sometimes can show.


2020 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett

A cool, charming wine. It might have a bit more fructose than it needs, though the few who drink it at age-fifteen will benefit.

Does the “contemporary young wine drinker” inhabit a world where a little wine that will improve for a couple decades really register that fact herself, or find it relevant to the way she drinks wine? I am assuming (or hoping) she has rejected the “sweaty-bog-shrimp” mentality of (far) too many so-called natural wines, and does not equate cleanliness and competence with vinous fascism. In my day – and did I ever think I’d hear myself utter “in my day?” – we understood that certain wines would repay long aging. We chased the paradigm. I wanted to know what those wines might taste like. It sounded amazing.

I like this wine – there’s nothing not to like about it – but the finish is oddly sweet, and I want a Kabinett to finish crisp and dry. There’s also discernible botrytis, or its facsimile, which is also not apropos. So I have to say, the wine tastes good but isn’t what it should be. 

On day-2 (and from the other glass) I’m not sensing botrytis any more, but I’m picking up a phenolic “chew” and I’m still finding the wine quite generous and sweet for its category.


2020 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett “Alte Reben”

There’s that Nierstein aroma again, just like the GG. For a vintage reportedly “cool” in nature, this is markedly ripe, though its fruit is encased in a silvery limpidity you wouldn’t find in a warmer year. 2016 is a recent cognate, though that vintage had more prominent acidity and at least among these wines, less completed fruit.

It’s facile to go on saying the wines are too ripe for the quality level they indicate; this has been a problem for twenty years in Germany. The solution is to redefine “Kabinett” and/or to find a new term for the occasional wine that really is crisp and only just ripe. A related problem continues to be the tendency to make the sweet wines too sweet (just as some of the dry wines are too dry).

This wine is certainly very good. It has an old-vines density, compelling aromas, and a strong slatey finish that’s balanced on the head of a pin. It is interesting and inviting, and if it’s dealing with an identity crisis as an “item” known as “Kabinett,” that crisis was forced upon it externally.

It will help if you like bergamot, and a kiss of botrytis. But this one is more of-a-piece than the Wehlener. 


2020 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

The fragrance is classic, as this wine often is. The wine is a breezy lucid rendition of the vineyard, fleshier than some others (in the estate’s somewhat baroque idiom), definitely not in the crisp/taut matrix but more pliant. Again botrytis (or something closely resembling it) appears as the wine warms.

I find I am groping for more things to say about it. But at this point, I can’t. It’s a tasty, somewhat obvious Riesling, honest in its overt way, and structurally uni-directional, going from A to Z in a straight line without the thrilling feints and detours the greater wines take.

It’s a baby-wine, just bottled, so I’ll see if a few days’ open will bring forth more facets.


2015 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese 1-star                      ++

The estate sent me six bottles, so I have to wonder why this was one of them. Did I not like it before? (I’m deliberately not looking at earlier notes for any of these reports.) Maybe Stefan’s just proud of it.

It smells amazing. Asian pear, papaya, plantain, quince, osmanthus. And <whew!> it tastes amazing too. It has the acid-driven solidity of 2015 with a feverishly concentrated fruit, sublimely balanced with a pure, malty botrytis, and a dignity and density that indicate the Important Vintage. It’s stupendous wine, less sweet-feeling than (even!) the ’20 Kabinett. It’s as great a wine as this estate has ever made.

I’m starting to see why he sent it.

This is a deeply convincing justification of the genre “Auslese,” because it has nothing overtly sugary or confected about it. It recalls the very best vendage tardives  in Alsace, as it leads with savory and remains savory into the mid palate, with the caramel saltiness of aged hard cheeses, and while the finish has a sort of second-generation sweetness it’s wiped away by the robust acids of 2015.

I’m asking myself, with no small urgency, whether I bought enough ‘15s for the cellar.

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