The Dry Wines
2021 Spätburgunder Rosé trocken
Other than being an easy sell, I don’t see the purpose of Mosel PN rosés unless they’re slatey. Of the ones I know, Andreas Adam’s is the poster child for that kind of wine.
This one starts with a lovely “cool” fragrance, more fir and conifer than direct slate. The little thread of tartrate on the bottom of the bottle suggests ripe fruit, and the palate supports that suggestion without gushing. This is probably the nicest vintage yet for this wine; it’s smart, it doesn’t pander with spurious enticements, and the vintage gives it an admirable sleekness.
The finish even indicates some astringency; the wine isn’t a glugger, but rather a discreet and tasty little thing that could keep you company if you’re reading outside on the first mild Spring day. Though it is modest it is far from forgettable.
2021 Selbach-Oster Riesling Trocken
In effect the “estate-Riesling-dry.” My whole tasting room was full of the fragrance of young Mosel Riesling as soon as I unscrewed the cap. I didn’t even have to pour the wine.
I’ve repeated the truism that you assess the quality of a winery by its entry-level wines, just as you assess the basic integrity of the proprietor, because of how (s)he cares about the most “humble” customer who only spends a few Euro.
No surprise, then, how yummy this is. It’s not a “pretty” wine, but rather a viscerally fragrant and salty little critter, with the snap of the ’21 vintage, and the twitching energy of some baby animal frisking around. You’ll note a bit of astringency; your teeth will want to have words with you, but I also respect Johannes’ preference to not diddle the texture to make it more flattering.
It’s a vigorous basic stainless-steel wine from an energetic vintage, and it is balanced and snappy. It is best to drink the bottle empty within a couple days, while the (needed) fruit is most tangible.
2021 Zeltinger Riesling Kabinett Trocken
This village wine is usually based on Himmelreich, and smells that way here. The site tends to exaggerate Mosel herbs into mints and even eucalyptus, an effect heightened by stainless steel cellar work. The malic element favors quince over apple.
The wine is about as bracing as it can be and still maintain a balanced gestalt. That said, it is a vibrating and aggressive balance that will thrill some drinkers and bemuse others. Yet the essential texture is more pliant than the previous wine, even as the flavors are higher strung. I had a notion to reach for the MacNeil Crisp & Fresh stem, which tends to reduce sharpness – but this wine isn’t exactly sharp. It is highly penetrating, like eating tarragon leaves.
That effect was heightened from the Jancis glass, which also revealed a ferrous note and suggested a mitigating depth. These screwcapped wines can sometimes be untamed when first poured.
Two days later there was more tangible middle in the aromas, but the wine still strafes the palate and leaves some scratch marks behind. Question of preference, obviously, but this offers memories of an earlier era when German dry Rieslings were often shrill; very much atypical for Selbach.
THE GG SERIES
“GG” is a kind of organizing principle for what used to be a random bunch of Trocken wines that would come and go from year to year. Now there is a conceptual envelope to guide the production, which makes sense and also brings the portfolio in line with the attractive “category” consumers expect and appreciate.
As a rule they receive the “traditional” cellar treatment, ambient fermentations and aging in Fuder without fining and with long lees contact. Many ferment quite slowly; when I was there in May ’22 there were only three wines finished fermenting.
The first time I tasted through them I went downstream from Bernkastel to Zeltingen, but I reversed it the next time. Sequence, though it isn’t decisive, is certainly influential, so I tweaked it.
As a group these were the biggest changelings from day to day. It happened that Johannes was tasting them too, with various visitors, and as we compared impressions we were sometimes in accord and sometimes at odds. Mind you, they are all very, very good, but his favorite was my least favorite.
2021 Graben Riesling GG +
Full name Bernkastel Graben Riesling Trocken. Just 11.5% alc.
There’s some color here, a gleaming yellowish green. Bernkastel flint goes without saying. The fuder notes are prominent (which could account for the color also) but I like them. The casks were 5-6 years old and were also used in the 2020 vintage, though they seem more expressive here.
The wine is brooding, but not dour. It refers to dark essentials, iron and tomato-leaf and peppercorns, and it shows a remarkable (and unlikely) dialogue between the cask-y murmurs and a steely vertebra. The usual inference of kirsch is present but crouches behind the fuder flavor.
It’s a cunning wine in some ways. It isn’t loud but it’s more than the sum of its quiet parts. But is “quiet” even the right word? After ten minutes in the glass it starts to clamor, and while it isn’t sizeable it grows quite urgent. Its minerality gets chewier as the whole structure unfurls. The ’21 acids show by clipping the finish, but the wine isn’t done with us yet. It is in constant, whirring motion.
This wine gained the most among the GGs, whether because of oxygen or because I tasted it later, I cannot say. It isn’t one of the “alluring” Mosels, but its depth of smoky power is impressive. It has some of the ascetic cragginess of Forster Kirchenstück (another wine that superimposes cherry over stone), but we have a more ductile bone structure here.
2021 Domprobst Riesling GG ++
Full name Graach Domprobst Riesling Trocken. Again just 11.5% alc.
And again that pretty greeny-yellow color. Admittedly, I approach Domprobst with considerable expectations, but in my defense it always seems to meet them.
This smells wonderful! And its entry onto the palate is pretty gorgeous. And then – an observation, not a criticism – the fuder note becomes….let’s say, expressive. Swirling around it are the classic Domprobst notes of pistachio, tropical fruit and (what I call) “dripping-wet forest.” And man, what MOJO this little guy has. I mean, we expect the miracle of big-flavor / low alcohol with the sweet wines, but I haven’t tasted a dry Riesling with this much music played at such a tender volume.
Again we see the counterpoint between the shriek of acidity, the mid-palate pliancy of the casks, and the beautifully stinging minerality. It’s a level more dramatic than the Graben; not better or worse, just amplified. And another really fine thing transpires: the terroir smokiness engages with the cask smokiness to create a multi-leveled smokiness that is complex all by itself.
Next day, tasted after Wehlen, it’s wonderful how chewy this is. Did I ever taste a Domprobst with an ounce of flab? (My own, yes; not the wine’s..)
It’s a fine, compelling wine, even taking into account the abruptness of the ’21 finish, which is typical for ’21 but not for Selbach. Yet like many of these, there’s a kind of pre-finish finish in which a superbly complex terroir note peals – and with air it reverberates long enough to forestall the ’21 tendency to hiss at you as it takes leave.
2021 Bömer ++
A “gewann” (a.k.a. cadaster) within the Zeltinger Schlossberg, always made Trocken, often a v-e-r-y long fermenter, and with (again) 11.5% alc
Since this wine was first made it’s been a sort of x-treme terroir no-quarter creature, almost a kinky and lurid variant of Moselness. And bless its ornery heart, this one begins with a rude sponti aroma which fades in two minutes to reveal a world of mineral behind it.
And not only mineral; there’s a universe of texture and flavor singing its heart out here. What can one possibly call this? “Itself-ness,” maybe? It seems barely concerned with the impression it makes on you. It just moves through the world with its own absurdly fascinating DNA and if you like you can walk alongside it.
Can I even say what these flavors are? We have an esoteric lemon note. We have mints and ginger. We have this endless arboreal leafiness that’s like drone footage of a Canadian forest that stretches past the horizon. And we have all this grasping, squeezing flavor in a wine with the texture of a marshmallow.
Painters and photographers have said they like the colors of things on cloudy days, when the world isn’t napped in sunlight, and things are the colors they are. This is that kind of wine. It doesn’t have a sunny disposition, but it has such candor and such purity as to border on the ethereal – which it might have attained if it weren’t so damned generous. This is where Selbach departs from the matrix of “comparison with other wineries” and resides in a liminal space entirely their own.
While I tasted it among the GGs, it doesn’t belong with them. It has its own DNA, and is a priest in a rare kingdom of mystery and singing.
Finally, the fuder note is implied but not explicit here, and for whatever reason, the finish is lingering, balanced, and not marked by acidity.
2021 Sonnenuhr (Wehlen) Riesling GG +
We have an over-endowed alcoholic brute of 12% so watch out.
Alpha to omega after the Bömer, and back to the gold color again (almost the hue of a young dessert wine) and to the definite cask notes.
This ought to be exquisite, and it is. I’m searching my mind for another Mosel vineyard with these characteristics – the bright yet pliant body, the cool blue-slate fruit, the helium lift, the sleek yet creamy tenderness. There’s really nothing else. It is sui generis.
I mean, you can take certain vineyards and assert some sort of familial accord with other ones: the sassafrass-family (Würzgarten, Maximiner Herrenberg, even parts of Grünhaus Abstberg) or the earthy-rich ones (Laurentiuslay, Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr) but the only site I find comparable to this one is – maybe – the Wolfer Goldgrube.
Meanwhile, apart from the little burr of wood, we have all the glow and coolness of Wehlener Sonnenuhr in a wine that seems to melt its fruit over your palate, and then to ambush you with herbs and slate in the middle, and then to nap you with the most scintillating acidity at the end.
And what of that end, in light of the ’21 tendency to stutter and stall as it departs? There are in effect two finishes; one is a really discursive, probing glimpse into the heart of the fruit-cask tandem, and the other, the more tactile and direct one, is the quick dissolve you feel on the tongue. In the end you contemplate how a wine can feel like 600 pounds of silk and yet be weightless.
The second encounter shows an even more emphatic cask signature. It fits with a certain Mosel “dialect” (and it’s far from the pancake-makeup plaster of new oak that’s so noxious in so many “popular” wines) yet for me it’s excessive. Wehlen’s fruit is maybe too fragile to support it, though about two-thirds of the way through the palate, fruit comes clamoring back to assert itself.
They’re quicksilver, these ’21 GGs…..shape-shifters. I start to feel that whatever I write one day I’d disavow the next day. Now I’m sensing a teeny bit more RS than in the brother-GGs, and that it’s responsible for both the layered finish and the strong gesture of fruit that precedes it. Even more bamboozling, the deeper into the glass I get, the less cask-y the wine becomes. (Self-to-wine: hold still, dude!)
2021 Schlossberg Riesling GG +
Full name Zeltingen Schlossberg Riesling Trocken, and another steroidal body-builder with 12% alc.
I’m helpless before this vineyard, you need to know. I adore it, and am in thrall to it. The wines are forest-bathing in a glass. I swear they must lower your blood pressure.
It’s the least cask-y of the GGs so far, but it’s also lighter than all of them. On the palate, that is; aromatically it is a riot of drippy-foresty herbs and esoteric teas. (You must know, I am straining not to make the blatant association between this and Alishan oolongs from Taiwan. It’s accurate, but do you know it?) The palate is gentle, deliberate, mild-mannered. Yet the actual scents and flavors are lovely, expressive and complex. There’s just less muscle behind its punch.
Or maybe it’s just another kind of body, more tensile and vertical. This will be worth tracking over the next many days.
We sipped some before dinner last night, and I’m tasting it first in the sequence today. Fragrances are vivid almost to a point of brashness. There’s still very little cask to be discerned. The palate also seems to have expanded, fleshed out, seeming less demure and pliant than it did at first. There’s even a phenolic kick on the finish. I respect the precision and focus, especially as they contrast with its rippling lines. It’s not a wine of Great Statement, but its inner reserves are sneaky.
2021 Zeltingen Sonnenuhr Riesling GG
You can only describe this aroma as “shining.’
In body it shares a certain mildness with its neighbor Schlossberg, and my sense is this will have had something to do with rainfall, whether it came when it was needed or whether there was too much at an inopportune moment. Because these are simply less concentrated than the downstream GGs – not that I mind. I simply observe.
The wine is silky and mineral. It’s the fraternal twin of its sibling in Wehlen – this one the boy, that one the girl. (And the language police are invited to keep their distance, because this metaphor just works.) When I taste the range again I’ll reverse the sequence, and place these soft-spoken yet feverishly articulate wines at the beginning.
As in fact I did. This is a truly smiling wine, especially alongside the pensive silvery Schlossberg. It isn’t even “fruity” as such; it’s actually rather buttery, like the moment your Chanterelle sauté releases its first fragrance into the kitchen. Yet it can’t efface its origin in the shale, and the tertiary aromas lead back to ur-Mosel once again. This runs wild in the finish, which emphasizes something that was only implied in the umami-rich palate.
Actually it’s a hard wine to figure out, with a complicated algebra of interplay and a logic that’s far from self-evident or predictable. I mean it’s obviously very good; it’s just a fiend to “explain.” I do find it unusually lissome compared with its siblings. The ’21 phenolics are thus more palpable. The Schlossberg is more a flavor, while this one is largely a matter of texture and inference. It was also the first in the GG group to fade with air.
It’s only fair to report, again, that mine appears to be a contrarian view. Johannes reports “The preferences seem to oscillate, though by now, Zeltingen Sonnenuhr seems to evolve as the most profound and it is also the one that customers and tasters have liked the best so far.”
THE FEINHERB/HALBTROCKEN WINES
2021 Riesling Feinherb
The estate Riesling in the not-bone-dry style. The aromas are bright and prototypical. Amazing what even a little fructose adds to the fragrances.
Nothing sedate about this; these ‘21s are bundles of energy. And another interesting thing happens; the finish, so often clipped in the dry format, is long and harmonious here. The fruit goes on and on, and where the dry wine was steely at the end, the feinherb is salty and herbal.
I don’t mean to diss the Trocken estate wine. It’s very good, as you’ll have read. The drinker who needs to have that type will find his needs amply satisfied by that honorable wine. But. It would be a far better world if this were the estate Riesling – if it were most growers’ estate Riesling – because it is simply superior, and more than dry enough. If I had some equivalent to Michelin’s Bib Gourmand, this wine would earn it.
And for all the vim this carries, all the classic Mosel snap, it also has Selbach’s typical plushness of texture. When you drink this, as I hope you do, pause a moment to consider this textural paradox, that a wine with this much vivacity is delivered in a cashmere-like mouthfeel. You may not appreciate how rare this is.
2021 Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken
Hello again, thou loyal soldier of the Selbach wine family. I can’t remember the last time they didn’t make this wine. Though it has shape-shifted in several recent vintages into a slightly more lapidary fuder-influenced umami, its essential nature is balls-to-the-wall spice, ginger and lemon grass. Might it be too much for the already hyperactive ’21 vintage? Let’s see.
I like it, but it’s not an easy drink. It’s maybe much of a muchness, a soliloquy of steel. The brisk spine that’s welcome in a warm fruit-driven vintage is laying it on a bit thick now. This is underscored by the screw cap, but that also suggests the wine could act differently when it’s stretched its limbs. I’ll watch what the days bring, but for now it wants less treble and more mid-range. The final sip, from the Spiegelau glass, encourages my reluctance to snap-judge – though from both glasses it’s a tooth-scraper.
Curiously, when it wasn’t being studied, it was a lovely few sips of wine while dinner was cooking. Both impressions can easily be valid. “Tasting” it again reinforces the impression I formed the first time.
2021 Graacher Domprobst Riesling feinherb “Alte Reben” ++
The back label adds “Spätlese” to the title.
I thought this would be masterly, and it is. Both delicious, complex, savory and suggestive, it’s also a master class in logical winemaking. By which I mean, these proportions don’t just happen. They begin as an idea or a vision, which is then enacted by a dozen small choices and little shifts of weight like a surfer might make to stay upright on the board.
So that when you taste you have what feels like a pre-ordained arrangement of virtues; exactly this much slate, precisely this much fruit, specifically this degree of weight and grip, and deftest of all, perfectly this extent of cask flavor, along with the chocolate note that so often follows ambient ferments. It is seamless, until you look at the seams, and then you see the mind behind it.
The minds, one might say, because the guiding mind is of course the particular terroir of Domprobst, and the very old ungrafted vines that are quite at home there. In that sense the fuder regime is less a stylistic choice than a speaking of a common language, which one could call “old-school” Mosel. I’ve taken more classes than I can count in that school, yet each time, every true wine feels like the first one ever. How does wine do that little trick? How does it erase you but not obliterate you?
Here it is again, it seems to say, but you protest “What do you mean, again?! I never tasted anything like this!” It’s oddly karmic, as if you knew this thing in another life, so that it is both new and remembered.
The wine itself is crunchy, on the dry side, very much an earth wine rather than a fruit one. Domprobst has a sinewy side, and this little featherweight with its 11% alcohol is about as profound as wine can be. You have my permission to trot it out next time someone insists Riesling is frivolous. You can also demonstrate that wines don’t need some gargantuan ripeness and mass in order to convey “significance.”
Maybe when you stand on the threshold of truth, you are always mute. Truth is simple and it is also stunning. “The moment of truth.” A wine like this is its own moment of truth, the relief of knowing there’s somewhere we can be free of artifice, and partake of the pleasures of intelligence and deliciousness.
2021 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling feinherb “Ur” alte Reben +
Primordial vines! Indeed we don’t know how old they are, only that some were planted before records were kept. “Spätlese” appears on the back label.
Not only a Mosel-monument, a Riesling monument, and one of that grape’s most consequential wines, and an agent of mystery and profundity.
It’s always been rather a purring wine. It plays in the octaves immediately on either side of middle-C. It reverberates. It doesn’t address the grape in any discernible way. It’s a kind of ur-wine, if you like.
Thus it might appear at odds with the brashness of ’21 – and yet here, in the glass, it rumbles and hums. And yet – it is more specifically articulate than usual. It is text as much as music. It is also definite texture, especially near the end, where it offers up its acidity. It seems to combine the charcuterie smokiness of the en-bloc ROTLAY along with the glowy fruit of the GG, and this degree of explication is unusual, though by no means unwelcome.
It has wonderful length yet isn’t as seamless as the Domprobst. It is more turbulent, it has troubled dreams. I wonder how Johannes decided it was ready to be bottled. I feel like I see the skeins before they’ve been knitted together. Mind you, it is a privilege to traipse among the flora and fauna of such a wine, and it certainly is such a wine. But it has another gestalt in this vintage, and you can expect a brilliance that hasn’t quite found where it fits in the world.
THE SO-CALLED SWEET WINES
2021 Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett +
I mean, it’s kind of a perfect fragrance, you know? It’s Mosel, it’s Schlossberg (in its cool herbal nature), it feels like it’s stainless steel (or has just a smidge of fuder); it’s zippy, pleasingly angular, very salty, not all that sweet (thanks Johannes, we depend on you to know the correct role of sweetness! As little as possible, as much as needed….)
A concentrated mid-palate mitigates the tendency of ’21 to shriek. I’ll bet there’s a little Spätlese in this mix, (not to give sweetness but to give pith.) As a rule, Kabinetts aren’t wines to study or preen over. They have a job to do. It’s tempting to make such a claim for this wine, except that it’s actually too complex. Will you forgive the little jab of sharpness on the finish? Sure you will!
The second time I pour it we have a little sponti inconvenience that wasn’t there before. Curious. The palate remains deft and minerally detailed. If you wonder what that could possibly mean, you have “minerality” that’s like wet boulders and also minerality that’s like pebbles or scree and finally minerality that’s like rock-dust and petrichor. Here it’s like a high-resolution photo of a pile of tiny pebbles.
2021 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett +
A bright, lemony fragrance, sorrel and meyer lemons. Quite “present,” and sweeter-smelling than Schlossberg.
You know, I remember vintages when this was an unsung hero, and this is another such wine. There are several more RS-wines en route from the vineyard, yet I wonder whether any will attain the delicate perfection of this. If you need to make the case that it’s a great vineyard, you would need nothing more than this wine to do it.
There’s both a lot to say about the wine, and also nothing to say, and for once I’ll select item B) nothing. It’s a contained, complex and perfect miniature portrait of the site. I kept waffling over the relative quality of the two Kabinetts, and can only say I really don’t know which is the better one.
AN UNUSUAL GROUP OF SPATLESEN
The first of these is a classic Selbach Spätlese, i.e., no perceptible sweetness, entirely of-a-piece, fantastic at the table, and thoroughly delicious. The other ones are wines where one has to think about “sweetness,” and this is uncommon with Selbach. It isn’t that the wines are all “too sweet;” one of them is clearly not sweet enough for its internal harmony. It’s rather that the seamlessness that marks the typical Selbach Spätlese is replaced by a cacophony of pieces all, let us say, asserting themselves.
So if I say sweetness was “prominent” it doesn’t mean it was excessive; it means it was unintegrated. The strangest clue to this phenomenon was to taste the en-blocs afterwards, and find them tasting much drier than the flight of Spätlesen. Are they? I doubt it! They simply display an untroubled kingdom of vinosity.
2021 Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese ++
This is one of those wines that’s so ridiculously perfect you just want to go away and yell.
We come back to the perfection of parts and whole that we tasted in the Domprobst feinherb. We stand before some calm announcement: This is why there is Mosel wine. We can also appreciate the explicit delineation of herbs that make Schlossberg unique, even as we’re sure that it embodies a noble genre just as it reminds you why it is a genre.
2021 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese
If Schlossberg was a calmly unified portrait of Mosel Riesling, this wine is a clamorous urgent and dynamic insistence of significance. But that is Domprobst; it asserts, almost willfully; it has something it urgently wants you to hear. For some drinkers it will be the more exciting wine. It’s virtuosic, and puts on quite a performance.
I love it! How do you not love it? It’s fun to be thrilled. The vintage has made it a little brash; it’s the kind of wine where you can talk about the “sugar-acid balance” because it’s playing out explicitly, whereas the Schlossberg was all-of-a-piece. So, I adore Domprobst, and this is sizzling wine, exotic and Alpha, but I find its entertainment value just a bit plausible and ungainly.
It found a fitful sort of way to a reasonable harmony, but man this wine has strong jaws. I remember a time when I relished this sort of acidity, finding it electrifying, and I was awed by the caustic intensity. All these recent clement vintages have habituated me (and maybe all of us) away from such a preference, not to mention I find it tedious to hear Riesling ghettoized as some drink for “acid freaks.” And yet, I mean – look at this!
2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese *
It’s one of the few wines that was ready to taste last May. It was quite impressive, as it is again now. If you don’t know, this “1-star” business designates either a top cask in a pecking order of casks, or a winery-internal designation of “extra” quality within a category, so that a wine like this sits in a liminal space between Spätlese and Auslese.
The wine is acid-driven, as are so many ‘21s, and the sweetness rides on the opposite pole, seeking to balance. At this moment the wine is a perfect example of what I call a symmetry of extremes, whereby the two elements are balanced but not joined. This can happen, counter-intuitively, when a wine isn’t sweet enough, and you might taste this and think “This crazy guy thinks it should be sweeter?” but yes, I do, because the right sweetness melts into the wine and no longer stands out like a stubbed toe.
On the other hand you could describe the wine as racy and energetic and I wouldn’t disagree. Impressions can be fleeting in a vintage with jumpy acidity, which makes demands not only on the drinker but also on all the constituents of each wine. A lot of these impressions depend on one’s “angle of repose” because as I took the final sip, all I registered was a gorgeous fragrance and a richly harmonious palate with just a touch of clean botrytis. Subsequent tastings will help me know which impression is nearest to the truth.
As it happens, I could defend both impressions, but honestly that’s because the fragrance is so lovely it makes me eager to love the wine. As it is I love each of the pieces but am unmoved by the whole. Then I consider the finish, and its finely poised progression of Wehlen vanilla into good-botrytis butterscotch fading into key-lime, and I worry I’m being too fussy. I’m not, though.
2021 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese *
This is a “traditional” sweet Spätlese. For now it feels like a reduction that was napped over the fruit. The prominent acidity doesn’t really speak to it, but stands off to the side.
It “feels” less like a logical consequence of the vintage than like a wine gathered in an indian-summer apart from the main harvest.
I’m on guard against being spoiled, in part because the wine smells beautiful. Whether the bottle is correct is an open question, because a below-threshold cork would perturb the fruit and thus heighten the sense of acidity. Judgment deferred, as I think the bottle’s corked, and we’ll prove or disprove it tomorrow.
Alas, yes: corked.
2021 ANRECHT +
Proper name Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Auslese.
The last of the trio of bloc-picked cadasters that started in 2003. At the close of harvest these three parcels are gathered en-bloc without removing any but improper berries, so that the entirety of the vineyard, from green to yellow to golden to clean to botrytis are all expressed. “Auslese” is thus a misnomer, but it has to “fit” somehow in the regulatory Prädikat system.
This is a privileged steep south-facing parcel, and is thus an essence of a type of Himmelreich, which has too many exposures and too variable contours to be homogenous.
It’s a compelling wine, and a curious one. The wild-weediness is here as usual, the mints and herbs and quince and smoke. The stitching is orderly, no overweening sweetness nor obtrusive richness. Rather the opposite; the wine is seriously phenolic, or if you prefer, intensely chewy and salty. This doesn’t feel like acidity per se – though there’s acidity to spare – but rather like a tactile tannic attack.
Those are the “facts,” at least as they behave on my particular palate. Then come the judgments, and these of course can vary. The friendliest might say “sensational solidity and crunch!” and that is defensible. The least friendly could say “borders on rustic,” and while uncharitable, it isn’t unreasonable.
On first encounter I’m oscillating between the two. An arbitrator could well observe that both things can be true. I know that these wines are deliberately not “formed” nor subject to the diddlings whereby wines are made attractive. So for now I’ll say there is something stupendous about the wine, along with something difficult. Time will tell which faction will prevail.
(Just for the record, the sample is 54º and I’m tasting outdoors on a mild Spring afternoon – perfect conditions, in other words.)
With another look, it seems to be a wine of Truth, and its particular truth isn’t “pretty.” My palate reads it as “decidedly dry” regardless of what the actual RS may be. It’s a hard-shelled sort of wine; it has a heaving ton of fabulous flavor but it’s also like boots you need to break in.
Yet once you have broken them in, they’re an outstanding pair of boots. We drank the final few inches of wine from a bottle that was open for two weeks, and it was excellent.
2021 SCHMITT ++
Full name Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Auslese.
This lozenge-shaped cadaster just above the village gives a great wine in many vintages, a kind of zenith of terroir expressed in a numinous complexity that can make a person ask a lot of silly questions.
A grandiose aroma waits for you, the deepest slate that ever was.
The palate is inscrutable at first. It is mute because it has too much to say. The obvious flavors/scents are cherry blossom and stone and hibiscus and herbs. But we shouldn’t linger there. We could pause before the amazingly detailed lingering of mineral and blossom on the finish. That’s just proper.
I think we should play a game of pretend. Like most games of pretend, we start with a fact, and this is the one we’ll use now. The cemetery in Zeltingen is steep and terraced and just above the church. It would be a vineyard if it weren’t a burial ground. I do not know if there’s a cherry tree (or almond tree) in it but I wouldn’t be surprised; there are both nearby.
So I’m imagining a day like this one, early spring, early blossoms, shrug off the jacket weather. You’ve taken a folding chair and found a place near a flowering tree and you’re going to sit awhile and think of the people you’ve loved. The river flows below you, the sun is out, there are birds, and you’re by yourself. The sun is nice – the world is incredibly beautiful right then and there…trees, birds, river, sunlight, and the smell of the warming ground, and the slate and the headstones.
You sit there, wondering what it was you sought, when you decided to have this little sojourn. It felt right and it’s good that you did it, because those impulses often flit away before we act on them. But now that you’re here you sit in the same old perplexity. What sense can you make of all this?
Maybe it’s enough to just sit and be pensive and take it all in. We don’t get a little message about “the meaning of life.” We get the loss of the people we loved, we get the pain of missing them, and we get the blossoms and the birds.
And this minute, in my glass, I get a wine that sends me inside myself, and what I find there is loss, and loveliness, and gratitude.
2021 ROTLAY ++
Full name Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese.
This wine seems to excel in cooler years. I can’t forget 2004, 2008, 2016….
Amazingly, this seems to have no discrete or “effective” sweetness, though of course it isn’t dry. What on earth is it, because it’s such a fully-formed object it doesn’t seem to have been worked by mortal beings.
It begins as a wine of umami, the analogue to the Schmitt, which is so explicit. Rotlay often makes me think of the sweet side of charcuterie, not the garlic/salami side but the Prosciutto di Parma side. There’s even notes of maple, candy-cap mushrooms, apple cellar; it’s a redolent wine. It’s closer to the Ur-alte Reben (feinherb) than to its brother-Ausleses. It is amazingly savory. It is amazing, full stop.
(By the way, I’ve tasted everything from both my basic Spiegelau and from the Jancis, and this is the only time that glass has done harm; it’s torn the wine, pulled it apart, and rather pitilessly exposed the acid component.)
In the end there’s an earthiness I happen to love; it makes me feel awash in honesty and lack of affectation. I can surmise a person who’d feel otherwise, but I’d regret the opportunity (s)he was missing.
I wondered about the sense of “not-sweetness,” and tasted this in isolation one day. Its sweetness was apparent, though fully embedded in the wine’s totality. Now I’m tasting it again after the Späts, and again it registers as effectively dry. It’s got to be a function of acidity – with which the wine is pretty swollen.
2021 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese ** ++
This seems more of-a-piece than the 1-star Spätlese, and I’m pleasantly surprised at its cogency and elegance after the celestial glories of the Rotlay. Put it like this; here the sweetness is embedded in the cake instead of riding atop as a kind of icing.
There’s an elegant botrytis and a fine harmony, lots of mid-palate, no obtrusions of acidity, a poised and logical sweetness, and the caramelly richness of old mountain cheeses. A rare example of a wine in this genre that doesn’t feel pimped up, that isn’t cloyingly sweet, that won’t get a zillion “points” but which calmly and persuasively asserts itself as – a classic.
It is also remarkably hale and “drinky” in a category where such things are seldom found. It’s the most smartly crafted Auslese I have tasted in a long time, and I can scarcely imagine anyone but Selbach producing something so companionable.