Weingut Josef Spreitzer

I would taste there – as everywhere in Germany and Champagne – in March. In Spreitzer’s case, most of the wines were still on their lees, sometimes on their gross lees, and though Andi Spreitzer did what I suppose he could to make them “presentable,” this entailed (for me) a lot of squinting through a periscope and making educated guesses.  It is of course easier if the wines are bottle-ready; then they’re lively, frisky cask-samples and the only risk is that you’d overrate them. Here at Spreitzer, well, one did one’s best.

There was probably no other winery where I was wrong as often as I was here, but at least I was wrong in the right way. I was cautious in my praise and I hesitated to make categorical judgments. As was typical, I tasted the wines again in June, and they showed better, as most of the wines did with the benefit of another three months. But I began to notice that few (if any) other grower’s wines lunged ahead as Spreitzer’s did, and I would often emerge abashed, and sad that I’d underpraised them.

And so it is something of an overdue reckoning, to be tasting these in early September, with time to study them immersively, and to see how they really are.

I might describe Spreitzer’s wines as “new-fashioned old-fashioned.’ They showed a lot of sponti as cask samples, but having tasted through Riesling 101 as I write, I found none of it this time. Nor have I ever found the tactile leesiness I often taste(d) in Leitz’s wines. Theresa Breuer’s wines are decidedly tertiary in character, while Goldatzel is determinedly precise. Spreitzer doesn’t suggest direct comparison with anyone else that I know, and part of this is because they’re in Oestrich, and Oestrich is juicy and fruit forward. But for me there is a separate “truth” of Spreitzer, and one I have encouraged to come forward.

Indeed if you view Spreitzer apart from Oestrich, you have the hill village of Hallgarten with its stiffer saltier wines, you have the nuttiness and loess-y sweetness of Hattenheim (Engelmannsberg, which they didn’t send, and which was always a favorite, and the GG Wisselbrunnen) and finally Winkel (the Grand Old Man of Jesuitengarten and its fervid interiority). 

What all of them have in common is gloss. And this is an attractive and desirable thing to have. That said, it can also, in rare instances, be rather pitiless in leaving every element of a wine exposed. Again, we like gloss when it contributes to clarity, but now and again it seems to unmask a certain sharpness of finish, which gets in the way of the glug-factor. I doubt that Andi Spreitzer knows what I’m talking about, and for his sake and yours I need to confess that I am a total pill when it comes to finish. A wine can be perfect company all evening long but if it makes a snide remark as it’s saying its goodbyes I can’t help it – it lingers. It undercuts affection, the satisfaction of really liking a wine.

I won’t make too much of this, and I seem to be alone in remarking on it, so it’s quite plausible that the problem sticks more to me than it does to the wines. 

As always, at least three exposures, different days, glasses, situations, temperatures, and several surprises I didn’t foresee.

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2020 Estate Riesling Trocke

In the best way, this wine is simple and basic. That’s not to say it offers no nuances nor elements to interest the “taster,” but it has a job to do and performs it without undue fuss. And it’s best from the “basic” glass, my old standby, the Spiegelau white wine 1.0. The MacNeil crisp & fresh wants to make it gaudy and that’s not what this wine wants.

In effect it wants to be a sort of tabula rasa for central riverfront Rheingau – Oestrich and Mittelheim – where many of the Rieslings lead with juiciness rather than with the proud mineral rectitude for which these grand and stoic Rieslings are known and admired. Along with the juicy texture we have tomato-leaf and Sencha, and the whole effect is polished and yummy until the angular finish, which may be a basic vintage facet or it might be because the wine is clipped by bottling, but it borders on churlishness to give it even this much attention. Most of you will happily guzzle this lovely forthright apple-y wine, and barely a few will care about the sardonic remark the wine makes as it’s departing.

On day-3, using the glass I knew would most flatter the wine, my impression didn’t alter. The finish isn’t due to acidity, nor does it entail anything bitter or sour. It is a bite, and it contains – weirdly – a jalapeño heat, that doesn’t come from alcohol. Rather, it seems to sting somehow. I repeat, I am probably oversensitive to this element, and I do appreciate the many attractive things about the wine.

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2020 Alte Reben (Old Vines) Riesling Trocken                   +

I don’t know what this wine is; they never showed it to me, and it doesn’t appear on their website. I infer from the screwcap closure that it’s at the “basic” level. There are elements of the Hallgarten type. It has a markedly stronger more concentrated aroma than the estate Tocken, and because it smells like a Pfalz wine I’m inferring this could also be the wine formerly known as Muschelkalk (a common soil in the Pfalz.).

Turns out I was totally wrong! This wine, new to me, hails from an Ostrich site called Klosterberg. I’ve never seen it on a label. Andi says “[t’s the] one and only real Oestrich Mountain with steep slopes and colored slate terroir, about 250 meters over sea level. Very mystic out there. Old chapels and dark forests reminding me always - especially in November of the movie The Name Of The Rose.”  At least I got slate and steep correct, and Hallgarten was a reasonable inference.

Whatever it is, it’s twice the wine the estate Riesling is, and I doubt it’s twice the price.  It has the same 12% alc. We now have dialectic, solidity, spine, a conversation between fruit, earthiness, herbs and pepper and mineraI.

Both glasses work; MacNeil is more hedonic and Spiegelau is more interesting, but regardless, this wine is determinedly Rheingau in its firm profile and structural logic. There are even echoes of the assertive clamors of the GGs, and if you’re in the process of sussing Rheingau Riesling – which  hardly anyone, myself included, has ever easily described – drink this and consider how much this wine gives you without seeming to ingratiate itself in the least.

Applause for this beauty!

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2020 Doosberg Alte Reben Riesling Trocken                       +

Average age of the vines, 40 years, and fossil-bearing limestone mixed with veins of Taunus-quartzite. And it is a fine dry German Riesling, a little minty and gingery, gloriously stony but not what I’d call a doctoral thesis in mineralty. Still, with all its surface brilliance what is really enticing here is a sense of something the wine wants to melt down into, something savory like homemade bone broth.

It has the firmness and articulation of many GGs without the solemn declaiming of significance with which that genre is sometimes afflicted. (Sometimes! As a rule the Riesling GGs are a pretty stirring bunch. Now and again you taste one with…how to say this…an unseemly assertion of its own importance.)

I love the precision and juiciness here; it’s a smart wine that can crack a good joke, and for all its ostensible “modesty,” I find this to be a truly lovely achievement, not to mention all that clarity, complexity and expressiveness with 12.5% alc

On day-3 I found I’d activated the brain-chip that says “Wachau” to me. This has no objective basis. A little thought-flash said “This is smoky like an Alzinger Mühlpoint,” albeit that wine is a GV. There is a certain chew and ruggedness in common.

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2019 Rosengarten Riesling GG                                              ++

Ah….the heavy bottle. I hate the heavy bottle. There are so many other ways to gussy up your packaging to convey the stature of the contents without wasting fossil fuels, and really, this must stop.

The site is a monopole of Spreitzers, lying along the Rhine and making wines more vivid in fruit than in structure, so the question is, how far along the vein of fruit can one go? Far enough to claim Grand Cru status?

This wine answers yes.

It is a particular and qualified yes, but it’s definitely yes. The fruit should haunt in some way, it should offer a sense of unfolding, it should imply a richness of nuance – all of which we see here. Some GGs are what I’d call “Superb-Closed-Fists” but this one is an open hand, poised to caress. It is lavishly delicious but it isn’t easilydelicious. Its density of elements obliges you to pause and consider. As gorgeous as it is, it’d be a waste to sock it down. 

Because then you’d miss the amazing fugue of herbs and teas and spices and conifers and tisanes that wriggle within all this lusciousness. You start by thinking of fruit, but forget about fruit! This wine is a sonnet of esoteric flavors, a whole pantry of delicious secrets. One day my wife and I were walking in the Maine woods, and she plucked a leaf and fed it to me, and I shouted out “PEPSODENT TOOTHPASTE!” and of course it was just wild wintergreen, which I had never tasted, and which I’m remembering now.

I also want to delineate the distinction between “herbal” (which I cherish, and which means redolent of herbs)  and “herbaceous” (which means crudely vegetal and grassy, and which I am wary of). This wine is brilliantly herbal, verdant and shady. Only its earthiness keeps it out of the realm of the hors classe.

I was never a Rosengarten “skeptic” but I sometimes thought it was…maybe…a little simple to be a Grand Cru…but now I realize I was wary of its seductiveness and obtuse to what lay below. Is there any reason a “GG” can’t be this crazily delicious? Nah!

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2019 Wisselbrunnen Riesling GG                                             ++

I have a history with this site. I always searched it out. In the earliest days I bought it from Schloss Reinhartshausen and then later from Sigfried Gerhard, a small grower in Hattenheim whom I was fortunate enough to discover – man did they make good wines, all forgotten now, as there were no willing heirs and the stunning collection of vineyards were sold to August Eser.

So I have long-cherished Wisselbrunnen, its walnut savor, its mineral articulacy. And it is being done full justice by Spreitzers today, and for the last several years. I mean, THIS is what a Grand Cru should smell like! The Rosengarten will meet you in the stream of your life, but this wine wants you to pause, shut off all devices, and give it the white-space it needs to show you its spells and beseechings. Oh it is salty! It is warmed walnut, it is cold pressed walnut oil you warmed in your palms, it is dark bread toasted and yet it is also the curious twang that recalls Chablis. If you told me “This is a 1er Cru Chablis secretly planted with Riesling, but for god’s sake don’t tell anyone…” I’d believe you.

I also have a brain-flash of the Alsace GC Schoenenbourg in Riquewihr, which makes no sense. That vineyard is gypsum, marl and  dolomite, though with a surface soil of muschelkalk, which we do see in the Rheingau. But still, my idea is dotty, though the instinct was suggestive.

If 2019 earns its lofty reputation it will be with wines like this one: the Nth-degree of expressiveness and complexity with just 13% alc, and with Spreitzer’s customary degree of finesse and juiciness and polish…and this wine has some of the breathy, echoey feel of those masters of inference, Dönnhoff, Alzinger, Von Winning, Raveneau…the list goes on, but not very far; these are rare gifts.

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2020 Jesuitengarten Riesling Alte Reben Halbtrocken    +

Another site with which I have a long history, going back to the Brentano estate (now vanished) and the H.H. Eser estate (thankfully still extant), but if memory serves I had to cajole the Spreitzers to do separate bottlings from here. This would be decades ago. 

(Please note, this is different from the Pfalz vineyard of the same name, obviously. Here in the Rheingau this heavy-soiled riverfront vineyard makes wines of dignified, obdurate weight. Yet they are not heavy.)

They are violets pounded into cement, but then they are cement dissolved into meringue. The texture is that of some weird divine mud. The flavors are everything purple. If you taste this and don’t think of twenty purple things, check that your synesthesia subscription is paid up.

There’s a certain baritone rumble of opacity here, which isn’t unusual for Jesuitengarten. It is a highly interior wine. It isn’t playful though it is expressive. It’s Riesling as serious-business but it’s not like it’s come to repossess your car. It’s more like, is your advance medical directive up to date.

Halbtrocken is the perfect place for this wine to be. Honestly, as an introvert I think the other perfect place for this wine to be is, by your side when you’re alone reading a book. It isn’t really a “company” wine. It might work for a couple in a consonant mind space. And one of you looks up at the other and says “Wow, there’s a smokiness I never smelled before, like I don’t know what’s burning,” and all the other has to do is smile and nod.

A high-altitude Taiwanese oolong called Lishan has a similar smokiness, and a similar sense of something solid yet not quite knowable.

I’ll take a deep dive into the finish here, because it’s instructive, and because a wine’s final impression is no less important than it’s first one. Two things to note: one, the wine is Halbtrocken (though it was usually on the dry side of that category), and two, it’s old vines, which impart a density and solidity that tend to make for a “weighty” aftertaste. Some say that sugar can mitigate sharpness on a finish, but I don’t necessarily agree.

Yet here, the finish starts off being curiously sweet, sweeter than the wine on the palate, and I think the small bit of RS is being carried by that old-vines thickness. Regardless, it’s only the first few seconds. It’s followed by a magnificent chorus of mineral, funky flowers and minty herbs. This is compellingly strong, and was only implied by the wine on the palate. Now I’m going to swallow the next sip, because spitting clips away about 30% of a wine’s finish. And what have we got now? A gliding unfurling of complex length that clings in a salt-bath for a good forty seconds before it dissolves into a wafting surmise of herbs. The finish is fascinating and entirely of-a-piece, like a perfectly tuned piano. The finish itself describes an arc of narrative, with a beginning, middle and end, as if the wine had a hidden chapter you only unearthed at the end of the book.

Finish is also a harbinger of development. It is also, for me, the most truthful part of a wine.

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2020 Riesling “101”

I’ll give you the history. We wanted an estate Riesling that wasn’t dry. My erstwhile colleague Leif Sunström – he of the hip ciders – came up with the name, playing off Spretizer’s famous Riesling “303” and indicating this was the intro-to class we all knew from our college years. Even I knew that. Little dropout me.

I wanted something Feinherb. They made it for me. It did okay. Then they made a dry estate Riesling, and that one (to my chagrin) did better. But to the wine at hand….

It has always been racy and crisp, even bracing, and certainly tart-appley, because the point is it should be tremblingly lively without tasting “sweet.”  In my view this wine does precisely that; it’s tensile, energetic, racy and snappy and wonderfully tense with only a scintilla of sweetness, and this ’20 is a perfect vintage.

I saw this – see it still – as Rieslings most attractive invitation, certainly to the skeptics, who quake before the very idea of sweetness. “This I can drink,” I imagined them saying. I still do. Yet the wine that made even more friends was the dry estate Riesling, because as far as I can see, too many wine drinkers are pathologically averse to the idea of sugar – though to my palate, the estate-dry wine tastes about as “sweet” as this one does, because the structures are radically different. Here we have the energy of the slatey hill-vineyards back near the forest, and with the basic estate Riesling we have the more gentle juiciness of the riverfront.

Bottom line: this is a superb and perfect entry-level Riesling for those for whom a certain vigor is desired, and who aren’t anti-sugar zombies.

Day-2 it burped a bit of reduction as I was opening the bottle. After being so frisky yesterday it’s like it went back to bed and had a shitty dream. It only lasted a few seconds, and then reverted to form, feeling drier than it did yesterday. Even in an era of climate change, this wine feels like every bit of 50º north latitude in its manic crispness.

 

BEFORE PROCEEDING, A NOTE: THERE ARE TWO KABINETTS AND THREE SPATLESES STILL TO TASTE, BUT I’M GOING TO WAIT A DAY TO TASTE THEM, BECAUSE THE FOREGOING HAVE BEEN SO COMPELLING THAT I WANT TO APPROACH THE “SWEET” WINES WITH A CLEAR SENSIBILITY. SO, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT ALL THE NOTES THAT FOLLOW ARE FROM DAY-2.

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2020 (Oestricher) Lenchen (Riesling) Kabinett   glug-glug-glug

The words in parentheses only appear on the back label; officially the wine is called “Lenchen Kabinett.”

You can use this wine as a bellwether of the development of German Riesling-with-sweetness in the aughts to the present. In brief, it had climbed up to somewhere north of 70 g/l at its apogee (as was typical then) until we agreed to push it down, and thus began a fascinating exercise of where the ideal balance might lie. “Kabinett” ought to be crisp and light and not very sweet, but this grew difficult when must-weights shot through the roof.

(A footnote: I remember a Mosel wine labeled “Kabinett” that had 112º Oechsle – border-to-Beerenauslese! – and which was bottled with 65 g/l of residual sugar, and this entirely twisted and bizarre creature was less a “Kabinett” than a “Beerenauslese Feinherb,” and it was clear the madness had gone too far.)

None of that nonsense here! This is super fresh and pretty, and the balance is so graceful it feels almost witty. Seamless, gorgeous in its forthright yum-factor, finishing crisp and dry, a perfectly simple and simply perfect Riesling Kabinett, as good as good can be.

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2019 (Oestricher) Lenchen (Riesling) Kabinett    glug-glug-glug

I’m sure they sent this because it was still in circulation, and I’m glad to contrast the two vintages. This ’19 shows a world more yellow-fruits, Cox’s Orange Pippins and white nectarines, and the palate shows more geléed fruit, more marmalade than the tauter 2020 – without really tasting “sweeter.”

Again the balance is impeccable, excitingly so, and the wine pivots elegantly between friendliness and class. Think of the ’20 as quince, and this ’19 as peach.

It has a whiff of the eternal, this little guy; you can imagine a German Riesling drinker of the 1970s, who’d somehow been in a coma until waking up in 2020, and when he tasted this wine he’s have felt “Other than being technically sounder and more polished and spiffy, this is exactly the way I remember these wines. What” You say it’s a Kabinett? Oh dear….well in my day this was a Spätlese, and a bloody good one.”

I will say this, and I mean it sincerely: I find this modest wine to entail no less skill and wise guidance that that which attends to the GGs, or to put it another way, this achievement is no less lofty than that one. I join the crowd who rise to applaud your grand dry monuments, but when the show’s over and it’s just the three of us – well Bernd and Andi, you can be proud of what you did here!

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2019 (Winkeler) Jesuitengarten (Riesling) Spätlese               +

This is a superb sweet Spätlese, whose RS is constantly yanked around by a profound earthiness, such that the wine doesn’t feel like the Alte Reben with syrup napped over it, but rather a differently valid being with its own destiny and its own story.

These days – and every grower I know will read these words in shock – my drinking simpatico tends to the dry wines. That’s because my taste is changing with age, because the wines themselves have improved, and because we don’t cook “sweet” as we used to. Karen Odessa brought home some ripe local plums, and we have pork chops, and we’re thinking of protein/sweet like in the old days, and it strikes me how we barely ever do this any more.

That said, the “sweet” wines have also become excessively sweet, both due to galloping ripeness and also to a quirk in the German mentality, and while I remember so many wines with sweetness that lifted me, these days it more often sticks to me. I tell you this so that you will know what I need to surmount to approach an “important” sweet wine these days. And I find this to be a masterly Spätlese that does full justice to the Rheingau and to the culture of sweet German Riesling  -  and which is maybe 5-10 g/l too sweet.

You’ll notice I’m not shying away from saying SWEET. But what I must also insist upon is, this wine is a fully realized being, in its own sublime balance, entailing sweetness but not ruled by it, and one that will reward decades of patience if you can bear to wait. The second-life of a wine like this will display tertiary elements that are the stuff of dreams. The price is a surfeit of sugar out of the gate.

Do note how quickly the sweetness melts off of the finish, and how complex are the savory and wildflowery notes than remain. 

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2020 Lenchen Eiserberg “303”  (Riesling Spätlese)                   +

At last the cadaster name Eiserberg can be used. This sub-parcel of the Lenchen is unique enough to warrant its own identity. The soil retains iron, and is veined with loam, loess, red slate and quartzite. “303” refers to a then-record must-weight from this site in 1920. One hundred years ago.

I have sometimes remarked on this wine being betwixt and between, fitting uneasily (if at all) into the expected categories.

I have no such issues with this stunningly good ’20. First of all, it positively reeks of iron, juniper and coconut, and second it has little overt sweetness at all. Oh yes, there’s RS in play, but it tastes drier than the Jesuitengarten and not much sweeter than either of the Kabinetts. In a totally twisted way it tastes like a Wachau wine, from one of those sites like Liebenberg or Zwerithaler, where you get mint and radish and spring onion flavors atop a dazzling severity of stone.

I find I am rendered somewhat mute. This is among the best vintages since 2004, and the nature of the achievement is better described in poetry than in prose. I do sense a florality emerging that might permit description, but right now this wine is a being of light waves and not of things. It’s all an ether of neon vibration, but “neon” suggests the gaudy cheap buzzing, and this is more the crepuscule and the sun-pillar.

After two additional “visits,” one of them after dinner last night, I don’t disavow anything I wrote yet I find the wine has grown in sense-of-sweetness, and I’m a little shocked. Normally a sweet wine tastes drier after one’s meal, but this tasted overtly sweeter, confounding some three decades of expectation. I don’t mind its sweetness, and it’s still less “sugary” than the Jesuitengarten, but I’ve never had a wine shape-shift in quite this way.

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2019 (Oestricher) Lenchen (Riesling) Spätlese “303”           ++

This fragrance is the one I’d come to know. It’s angular, peppery (Tasmanian, even Timut), tart apple and lemongrass, and let’s say not without botrytis. The wine is exceedingly good, the sweetness is more stubborn and lingering than in the ’20, the fennel and hyssop are more vivid – the wine is more earthbound, but to be fair mostwines would seem earthbound next to that otherworldly ’20. Still, wild white flowers, dried and then crushed and then concentrated, like the osmanthus tisanes I so adore….these earthly things are not to be despised.

And for a candidly sweet wine, this has a sinuousness, a sort of serpentine wriggly sense of motion that steers it away from the routines of sweetness and into a wiser and more allusive place. The finishing salts and mints and flowers are captivating. It unfurls deliberately into an intricate patisserie of nuances, and while it is superficially more overt than the more sublime ’20, it has a depth that indicates a great vintage.

The question of utility always comes to mind with such “super-Spätleses.” I don’t need a wine to have a “use” beyond being an object of beauty, but it’s worth asking how many such objects can the wine community absorb? A wine like this used to come along 2-3 times a decade, and now it’s every single year. That brings me to a deep, deep sacrilege  I can’t believe I’m actually entertaining…. But what if – what if……some of this juice went into a GG? Not all of it; just a little. I’m thinking of Cornelius Dönnhoff’s Brücke GG, which was unthinkable ten years ago. Or might this create a seismic “event” in Oestrich as all the forbears squirmed in their graves? Don’t ask me – I’m clearly crazy.