2017 Spätburgunder Eichelberg
The AP number was granted in 2021, signaling long aging before release.
Good rich color and a smoky fragrance with a bit of char I am assuming is wood – but we’ll see. (I’ll research only after tasting.) And ’17, remember, has a ferrous aroma overall. At 62º from a Jancis glass, this is seriously delicious, one must admit!
A lot of sweet fruit astride an angularity and twisty twang from the terroir, leading to a deliberate finish in which a concentrated umami is perceived. I suspect this would increase from a rounder red-wine stem; Jancis’ glass tends to force a wine’s spiciness to the front, and the Sarawak pepper note is marked and plays off the sweetness of the fruit. There’s a lot of dialogue in this wine altogether, and while I might want less oak (or the flavor I presume to be oak) I am, let’s say, not immune to the wine’s seductive charm.
Just for shits and giggles I poured it into a MacNeil Creamy & Silky, which smoothes a wine’s angles and makes it more spherical, as it almost does here. For the little bit of added lushness, that fervent pepper is nowhere near subdued.
They consider this their best red wine site, essentially porphyry, the cooling of an ancient lava flow also hardened into flecks of quartzite. And indeed, the wine was aged in tonneaux, which makes me a little bit sad. While neither obnoxious nor unbalanced, it confers an “international” flavor that wraps the terroir in a translucent shroud. This may fade over the days, but I wish it didn’t need to. The casks were half new and half 3rd-year, French oak, medium toasted.
Their own notes refer to rosemary and nutmeg. Tasted a day later from a rounder-shaped stem (the basic Spiegelau red), the wood hasn’t so much retreated as the fruit has advanced. There’s a lot to like here, the sweet fruit and the twang of peppery licoricey terroir, and next time I hope they omit the new wood and let fruit and terroir have center stage.
WHITES OTHER THAN RIESLING:
2021 Grüner Silvaner (Trocken) glug-glug-glug
Back-label shows Qualitätswein feinherb, screw cap.
One of the great Silvaners outside of Franken is (near-neighbor) Daniel Wagner’s superb bottling from Wagner-Stempel, and the aroma here is a dead-ringer for that beauty, not to mention you can smell it two feet from the glass. And in fact this wine is outstanding of its type – a type that’s giving ever-more interesting wines as the variety is treated with the respect it had lost. The variety can Venn-overlap with Grüner Veltiner in certain ways in their common herbal greeny freshness, though Silvaner shows more generalized weeds and gorse while GV is more specific.
The basic question here is how a wine this soft can convey such minerality and such generous length, both if which are presumed to be attached to acidity. If your palate were a pair of eyes, you could alter your view of the wine by shading one eye and then the other; is it an easygoing wine with remarkable interest of flavor, or is it an interesting wine that’s unusually easygoing? Perhaps it’s simply an everyday wine you’d never expect to drink every day….
On repeated tasting the nearest cognate seems to be really excellent Viño Verde. It’s a triumph of deliciousness; you don’t just drink it – you bloody hell drink it!
2021 Stein-Bockenheim Silvaner (Trocken)
Now to the village-wine level. It reminds me of the better vintages (“better” being relative in this context) of Ott’s amphora wines. And Diana Steitz alerted me there is a “shot” of amphora Silvaner herein.
There’s a decent chance that if I live to be 103, I will drink an amphora wine that gives me pleasure, but my experience up to now has made me wary. If I can get past the annoying flavors, I’m finally throttled by the coarse and vulgar textures, so I am perhaps not the right guy to comment on this wine. However, taking my basic antipathy into account – the flavor is subdued by the Jancis glass, which I welcome, but the gritty texture is heightened, which is unwelcome. My little Spiegelau white-wine stem is somewhat more accommodating texturally.
But clearly I am working to find anything agreeable here, and rather than damning this wine with such faint praise as I can muster, let me suggest that you’ll like it if you like this kind of thing.
2020 Stein-Bockenheim Weissburgunder (Trocken) +
A lyric aroma for this variety, truly enticing and inviting. This occurs without obvious (sweet) leesiness, nor does it present with feints of terroir or minerality. It just smells like impeccably fresh langoustines and toasted cornbread.
In the Jancis glass it’s perhaps too serious, almost arch. My faithful little Spiegelau is this wine’s BFF.
Structurally it’s as solid and salty as many Rieslings, while varietally it’s classic Pinot Blanc in all its sweet-corn, summer squash fish-&-chips savor. A hint of poire eau-de-vie remains in the empty glass. Considering its modest ambition, I’m seriously impressed with this.
Not to mention how light-footed it is with a whopping 13.5% alc. Still, I poured some into the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp just to satisfy my perverse curiosity. It worked just fine. The wine – in common with quite a few ‘20s – gives a little up after it’s open a day. But there’s no reason for any drinker to fail to drain the bottle right away.
2021 Sauvignon Blanc (Trocken)
If you’ve forgotten, (oh, shame on you!) I objected to German Sauvignon Blanc on principle, as it began being trendy. They already had Scheurebe, which was (and remains) superior, and I found it unseemly for the Germans to import a variety they didn’t need. I would defend this idea even now.
Except some of the loveliest and most impressive SBs I know come from the likes of Hexamer, Künstler and Von Winning, and so I challenge and modify my hypothesis in the face of evidence that perturbs it.
Thus I asked Steitz to send me their Sauvignon. And like many ’21 SBs, this one is mono-focused on the red-pepper element, along with an excess of gooseberry – unless you like gooseberry. Please do not construe this as a judgment on Steitz Sauvignon Blanc in general. 2021 seems to be a singularly irascible vintage for the variety. That said, I’ll be able to taste this over several days and will see how (or if) it obtains some civility.
Well a day later it’s still kind of obstreperous, though the MacNeil glass brings forth a pleasant toastiness, and the wine is saltier and less ornery now. If you like the Sauvignon-ness of SB, you’ll be pleased here. It’s a bit like a light vintage from Nigl.
These are, of course, the point. Volcanic soil Rieslings can be the most enthrallingly exotic versions we can ever drink. It was these that made me curious; anything else was a bonus.
2020 Neu-Bamberg Riesling
(Trocken of course, and with just 11% alc.)
You will observe my perplexity with this wine. I haven’t researched it, but this shows aromas other than volcanic, reminding me of the clay-grown Rieslings I remember from my days importing wines from neighboring Frei-Laubersheim. This is more light-footed but still curiously atypical. The Jancis glass – in which all riddles are answered (or at least made more explicit) only emphasized the phenolic texture without solving the flavor puzzle.
Yet they say it comes from porphyry, and they refer to a “silky” texture I am not experiencing. Usually porphyry grown Rieslings need a lot of oxygen, so I’ll delay judgment until I’ve tasted it again (and again) over the days. I doubt it’s as rustic as it seems, yet the bready aromas (“A youthful imprint from the barrel,” I’m told) crowd out the peachy fruit I might have expected.
It starts to be discernible the second day. Indeed it tastes more like melaphyr than porphyry, but in either case it tastes volcanic. (And like toasted weeds, if that makes any sense.) The texture is still scratchy – perhaps a misjudgment in vinification.
THE GRAND CRUS
Heerkretz is the name. Planted in 2006 (thus rather young still) and with a mix of clones (Geisenheim, Bernkastel, Niederhausen)* and it is only not a “GG” because Steitz have observed the ambiguous rule that only VDP estates can use that term. As you know, plenty of non-VDP estates are quite willing to use it. But even if this family did use it, the wines from the western side of the vineyard tend to run light in alcohol, and I wonder whether the powers-that-be (or you yourself, for that matter) would accept a “GG” with 12% alc. I would, emphatically, but we know how batty I am.
2021 Heerkretz Riesling (Neu-Bamberg, Trocken, 12% alc) +
Alas, we have pretentious-heavy-bottle-syndrome. And the estate is in the process of organic certification….
This is the site made famous by Wagner-Stempel (and which I always thought was a Siefersheim vineyard), and what a joy to see another interpretation.
The aroma is compelling, diffident at first, then yuzu and lemon grass and anis. The palate is fervidly green – there’s a Chinese tea called Anji Bai Cha that resembles this if you’re willing to take my word. In some way this doesn’t taste like “Riesling” at all. Heerkretz has always been cool and silvery, and these facets are exaggerated in 2021 – at least here. This is a wine of a highly particular type, high-register, overtones like a piano played through an icicle.
The wine, for me, is entirely fascinating, ultraviolet, interior, definitely green yet sweetly so. The suggestion of physiological unripeness is actually attractive in such an ethereal context. But I do like solitary wines, and it’s hard to imagine drinking such a thing “socially.” Cat lovers will relish its feline diffidence. I’m moved by its numinous repose. It’s a borealis of wine, flashing silently in a buzzing and icy sky.
A day gone by, and it’s indicating a gooseberry note, yet it remains such a particular wine I can’t help loving it, little lonely creature that it is.
On day-3 the fragrance is blazing clear and, in its fire-&-ice way, gorgeous. I have a Jancis glass, and today this is the first wine I’m tasting. It is excellent and nearly superb. Only a slightly shrill clipping of the finish keeps it from that accolade. But wow, it’s like a lavish picnic held atop a glacier.
The question of what it means for a wine to need 48 hours to shed whatever pique it indicates upon opening….is an interesting one. It suggests the wine will age well, but this is serious Riesling and we already knew that. But a lot of us will open and drink this in its first couple years, even those of us who “know better.” What do we do then, decant? These are risks inherent to reductively made wine under screwcap, and they’re not flaws so much as inconveniences. If I were the producer I’d certainly feel bemused that my top wine was so much less good than it would be after a day or two. Will it be judged (or heaven help me, “scored”) on first glance in a 30-second exposure?
2020 Heerkretz Riesling (full description as above)
More of the sweet jade-oolong profile now. It is, at first, more reticent than the ’21, which isn’t surprising as it enters its surly adolescence. It’s gentler though, and is basically more present and accommodating, these things being relative.
I struggle to find anything to compare it to. Nothing jumps out, not even from the Nahe, to which it is related by terroir. Daniel Wagner once told me he enjoyed being in this vineyard, as it was a verdant, quiet side-valley that gave him an away-from-it-all feeling. You know, most great vineyards convey a kind of thrust-at-the-sun profile, but maybe this one is tilted toward the moon.
It remains essentially green, but now we speak of anise-hyssop rather than tarragon or yuzu. Something tells me that we’ll be speaking of a half-dozen more elements in another day or two. There’s still something of the hoar-frost morning about this, but with the ’21 the sun is just up whereas with this one the frost is beginning to melt. A smokiness slowly enters. The wine is not finished with us….
Though it is no more transparent a day later. Even the cold breeze when I taste it outside doesn’t do its usual awakening-nuance thing. But, there is a curious suggestion of TCA, not from “cork” (as this is screwcapped) but from…who knows? Nor can I be certain it is actually there. Another day, and the Jancis glass, will maybe shed some light.
A day later, and c’mon light, start shedding or something. I have the Jancis and it’s a perfect day for tasting outside (where wines are always more vivid), but this wine seems to have retreated. (Incidentally, that maybe-cork thing has vanished.) It feels more constricted than the ’21, which may be a function of it losing its baby-fruit; it still smells good, but the texture is tight and the finish is gritty. It’s sad, actually, because the flavor components are attractive – aloe vera and Cox’s Orange Pippin have arrived today - and yet it hisses like an irritated cat. Does it need even more time? Is it simply in a surly adolescence? I wish I knew.
2017 Heerkretz Riesling +
(Trocken again of course, cork-finished, with 12.5% alc now)
I asked for something out of diapers. This smells pretty foxy.
Another kind of year. The wine is way smoky! It could almost be mistaken for Hermannshöhle, the mid-palate smoke and the sprigs-of-herbs on top. I needed to see this to begin to grok the site, and the warmer vintage both suits it and suggests that the cool vintages let only part of it show.
We have a bit of color now, but ’17 started out with color (thanks to botrytis) and this isn’t surprising. At the moment the vintage aroma rides atop the site aroma, and this is also unsurprising. (My jury’s out on ’17, which often feels dour to me.) As the glasses empty, a complexity arrives. This also seems less insistently dry than ’20 or ’21.
A day later you could almost wonder whether this was a Muschelkalk wine from the Pfalz or even Alsace. (Almost! It’s the vintage pulling it that way.) I have had Rangen de Thann Rieslings similar to this. I am really glad they sent it. There wasn’t even a surmise of these smoky musk-melon flavors in the lighter vintages. And here’s a final cognate, the most curious of all – Alzinger’s Höhereck Riesling.
I wish we could obtain it! But it’s useful, albeit academically, as a guide to what’s possible from this site and from the family who tend it.
On my third sampling, the wine is quite sedate and stable. It’s full of salty smoky energy and it’s got a lovely warm sex appeal. It’s the first sample I’ve swallowed, because I want to see the entire finish, which is relatively slight considering all the juju that preceded it. It doesn’t taste “bottle-aged” (nor should it) but it does offer the possibilities of a warm vintage, and shows a magnetic sensuality to go with its essential complexity.
2021 Riesling Feinherb
Back to estate-level, and the only Riesling with any RS. And it has the RS it was left with when it stopped fermenting all by itself.
An immediately appealing aroma – and if you’re tired of reading this, believe me I’m tired of writing it. Feinherb is THE spot where Riesling surges forward in complexity, flexibility, charm and ageability. Or you can stay stuck in your trocken rut.
Where this particular wine is concerned, the palate is a little betwixt. Maybe more than a little. I’d rather an honestly dry wine than an inadequately sweet one, and those wines with not-enough sweetness are always – always – the ones that taste sweet-sour.
But I couldn’t get the temperature ideal – it’s too cold – and there’s a length here and also that lovely fragrance, so maybe I’ll cool my jets until I can offer the wine a decent chance to shine. One must also allow for the special nature of 2021. Still, I happen to know the RS of the wine, and it would have tasted drier with five grams more.
*About this clone thing: One can make too much of it, and one will do that if one wishes to appear “expert” by addressing an otiose topic with little bearing on the matter at hand. Steitz has a mix of Geisenheim, Niederhausen and Bernkastel clones in the Heerkretz. The clones were propagated from the vines in the neighborhoods around their respective viticultural stations, and they were created in order to thrive in those particular conditions. And that is all. If someone claims to be able to “taste the clone” that person is, to quote one wise man of German wine, “full of himself beyond reason.” (The Pfalz clone-90 may be an exception though even this clone has diminished in impact as the vines aged.)