Weingut Theo Minges
THEO MINGES NEW OFFERINGS
A quick note; though Theo is working alongside his daughter, who will (one assumes) inherit the estate, and who is already making her influence tangible, her name isn’t yet attached to the label. Thus “Theo Minges” is in fact the work of Theo and Regine Minges.
Many of the wines stood with the very best I’d ever tasted from this fascinating grower. But I felt pretty cranky about the dry Rieslings, as you’ll see, and then I felt cranky about feeling cranky. How gnarly could they be? So I babied the samples and tasted them again in different sequences and sipped them in the kitchen while dinner was cooking. And then I wondered, what’s motivating this? Yes I have great regard for this estate, but I was always cool toward the dry Rieslings and offered very few of them. What’s different now?
On reflection I arrived at three possible explanations. One, I had grown relieved that most dry German Riesling was pretty tasty these days, because that meant I didn’t have to struggle and fume about it any more. A guy has to preserve his jocund mood, after all. Two, it was brutal to be reminded that all was actually not okay, and there were still some wines that were nastier than they needed to be. Three, each of the wines smelled inviting only to crash land on the palate. What was the thinking behind them? If it was to “satisfy a clientele who demanded this sort of thing,” then what on earth is the taste behind that demand?
The most judicious way to answer that question is, it is a taste either highly tolerant or actually relishing of a degree of sourness and bitterness that happens to baffle me. That’s because I don’t like those things. I’ll separate out the radicchio leaves from my salad. I’ll pass on the endive. Too much acidity feels caustic to me. I need to believe that other people might really like those kinds of things. But, I can’t quite.
I peeked at some reviews from tasters for a leading wine publication in Germany. We perceived many of the same details, but we were 180 degrees apart on the overall impact of the wines. This means – it has to mean – that either those tasters didn’t perceive sourness/bitterness, or that they liked those things. Really liked them, as the wines were “scored” in the low to mid 90s. Either I have an extra DNA strand making me oversensitive to ugly flavors, or those tasters are snakebitten.
2021 Riesling Gleisweiler Trocken
A “village” wine with a tender 11.5% alc, for which any sensible person should be duly grateful.
Lots of weensy bubbles line the bottom of the glass. The wine smells great; archetypal Pfalz (and very likely muschelkalk, i.e., fossil-bearing limestone). The palate shows the stern and rather adamant dryness typical for Minges Trockens. As I’m a guy who’s repelled by sourness in general, I’m not the “target audience” for wines like this.
What I can do is acknowledge the excellent aroma and the bracing freshness, and I can appreciate the craftsmanship and purity the wine shows. That I don’t like it is maybe beside the point. Remaining objective, I have to point to the typically clipped ’21 finish and also to the interestingly rustic minerality in a second wave of aftertaste that sticks around pleasantly.
The wine would have been perfect with 15-18 g/l of RS, but then its regular customers would have rejected it. But I’d have been happy! As it is, and with repeated exposures to the wine, I find it simply unfriendly.
2020 Riesling Unterer Faulenberg GG
This is a cadaster (“gewann”) in the Gleisweiler Hölle, trocken of course, and it’s guilty of an EVIL HEAVY BOTTLE. This is especially egregious for a CERTIFIED ORGANIC ESTATE, who of all people should know better. I apologize to Minges, who must know they’re not being singled out, but this shit HAS TO STOP!
The aroma is sensational though; reminds me of many Alsace Grand Crus. And then – alas – the palate recapitulates the stern austerity of the previous wine, though here it’s more bitter than sour.
But let’s give the devil his due. The wine has a lot of flavor; it justifies the “GG” designation with authority, focus and generosity. It’s coniferous and rocky and almost comically solemn. It’s a lunging sort of wine, full of salt and torque, and it will satisfy partisans of this “sort of thing.” What I’m about to say is not an insult, though it could be mistaken for one: There is nothing attractive, charming, agreeable or even really pleasant to latch on to here. But that isn’t its purpose.
Every wine can’t trill like a blackbird; some have to squawk like a magpie or screech like a bluejay.
Of course you never know if you’re just having a grumpy-palate day, so I’m tasting it again after 24 hours, on a gorgeous early spring afternoon, so if there’s ever a day when all’s-right-with-the-world it would be this one. It’s also my first sample of the day.
I still find it earthy and charmless, yet neither of those are invariably bad things. Every wine’s not obliged to charm, and earthiness can be desirable at times. Yesterday I felt the wine was scolding me, and today it’s just going about its business, which happens to be humorless. I remain bemused to consider the person who actively seeks out a wine like this, but there is much about peoples’ taste that I will never understand. (This includes the reviewer for a major German commentator who gave it 93 points.)
2020 Riesling Schäwer GG
Full name Burrweiler Schäwer Riesling Trocken. Another GG abomination heavy bottle.
The only “slate” vineyard between the Nahe and Alsace and thus a geological oddity best known for the wines of Herbert Meßmer when Gregor Meßmer was still there. (And where the best wines were seldom the trockens, but that’s another story….)
This I must say has a beautiful aroma. It also has a radically different structure on the palate, more refined, even silky, less obdurate and clunky than the above.
What that does is to mitigate the determined dryness and place such “fruit” as it has in a more accommodating setting. There’s still some sourness to contend with, but also a compelling saltiness that’s fascinating in such a creamy palate. There’s also a ferrous note that recalls one of Nigl’s Piri Rieslings, along with plenty of wild bay-leafy resinous overtones.
I respect this and would choose to drink it, not for fun but for study. As a merchant I might have offered it, especially if there were no other dry Rieslings in the lineup. Is it the best use of the (outstanding) raw material? To me, clearly not. But lest you think “This asshole just doesn’t like dry Rieslings,” allow me to refer you to a very recent report on Von Winning, not to mention basically every report in the last six months, which will amply establish my thirst for dry Rieslings.
But what I don’t like, and shall never like, are bitter or sour Rieslings – which this curiously lovely GG is not.
The finish is basically harmonious. The wine is strict, but at least it doesn’t land a kick on your shins.
2021 Scheurebe Trocken, Gleisweiler ++
As an apprentice to Hans Günter Schwarz (in his reign at Müller-Catoir) Theo Minges made an impression, such that the two men have become close friends. Schwarz seemed to have imparted the wizardly formulas for growing Scheurebe, and these days Minges must be counted among that grape’s foremost producers.
I love Scheurebe, as you must know, and it seems that ’21 was a great vintage for it (just as it seems to have been execrable for Sauvignon Blanc; make of that what you will.) because this wine is an ass-kicker.
Let it be said, this is as dry as the Rieslings, and it’s the farthest thing from “everybody’s darling,” but it’s also beautifully balanced and as expressive as it can be without yielding to gaudiness. Of the three basic veins of signature flavors (grapefruit, cassis and sage) this shows the latter two to near-perfection; it has the verve and springiness of the vintage, it dances like someone whose feet are on fire, and it is longer and more complex than the village Riesling.
I hope you get to taste it, really I do. And if you do, I draw your attention to the wines fundamental dryness, by which I mean the absence of fruit as-such or of any other simulacra of “sweetness,” and yet, while the wine is resinously herbal, it is neither bitter nor sour. In fact it could hardly be more perfect.
THE FAIRYTALE SERIES
It started with the “frog king” and has now added something called Wurzelfieber(which translates literally to “root-fever”) and brings two other varieties into the mix. The basics are these: the wines ferment on their gross lees without “handling” – without even attention paid to them – until they’re finished, whenever that is, however far it went. Then they’re tasted and when they seem to be ready, they’re bottled off the primary lees. This new series seems to have to do with cask (as opposed to steel).
In fact “root-fever” has a story behind it. Regine Minges tells me “You are of course correct in your assumption that it basically means back to the roots. A long time ago, my parents visited an artists' house at a reading that was about the search for roots and origins and the book was called Root Fever. Ever since then, my father couldn't get it out of his head.”
I have the impression this is also a feint in the natural wine direction. Is this accurate? “We have been toying with the idea of natural wine for a long time,” Regine says, “ and considering fermenting wines on the mash, but the already extensive size of our range always prevented us from doing so... until 2020 came. A dream vintage but during the harvest it was so hot that the oechsle shot up within a few days. The best Pinot Gris suddenly came in (healthy!) with a potential alcohol of over 15.5%. It was clear to us that it made no sense to ferment cool and the idea of mash fermentation came up.”
Because that makes for less alcohol,” I asked?
“Exactly. Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris were spontaneously fermented with open mash fermentation (mash mashed twice a day) and then aged in 500l barrels. The wine got a lot of time and was bottled after a year - after the 2021 harvest. Both wines are very unique. While the Scheurebe is a bit more delicate and convinces with notes of vanilla and gooseberries, the Pinot Gris is much louder with its bright color and also reminds of kumquarts, rosehip and rhubarb in terms of taste. Both wines are absolute food companions!”
This was also my impression. Do read on.
2020 “Wurzelfieber” Grauburgunder Trocken +
14% alc. The wine is PINK (as the skins of Pinot Gris are pink) and looks like many Jura reds. Smells like ‘em too.
The aromas are rose-hips, earth and redcurrant. Full-on idiosyncrasy, and yet no funkiness. It’s actually a pretty amazing fragrance. I could see it coming from (Vermont’s) la Garagista, in fact.
I did not expect to like this wine.
I like this wine! I’m also kind of blown away by it, as I’ve never tasted anything like it – or more accurately, I’ve never tasted anything clean like it. It’s also a rare wine where very high alcohol is included in the overall vinosity. It’s massive and muscular yet not flabby. It has a bellowing finish like a banshee yelp of strength and collagen-richness, and yet it also has the most delicate floweriness you could conjure, like if pink peppercorns had blossoms.
It’s amazing. I can’t wait to taste it again. I FERVENTLY hope the importer made it available. All that plus it gets better with air, and I’m greedily guarding the final glass to slug down with dinner.
2020 “Wurzelfieber” Scheurebe Trocken ++
Thoroughly compelling Scheu aromas – both like and unlike the “typical” varietal note. Ultra-lees, almost cheesy, enticingly lactic, casky the way many Sauternes are casky.
Leaving the oak influence aside, what this resembles is, curiously, a Steiner Hund Riesling from Nikolaihof. I am entirely undone; this wine is magnificent. To be sure, it is largely the aromas of cellar and barrel and lees and fermentation and yet when it hits the palate it has the angular spice of Scheurebe along with quince and ghee and Reggiano – and along with an immensely helpful piddling bit of residual sugar – that creates a mélange that washes exquisitely over you. And all this with 12.5% alc.
The palate-motion is irresistibly seductive, starting off with those floral/lactic “sweet” cheesy high notes before seeming to purr into a haunting nap of butterscotch; I wouldn’t be shocked to hear the wine releases dopamine.
It’s certainly the best wine I’ve ever tasted from Minges in the quarter century I represented them. It’s a stunning achievement for vintage ’20. It has an ethereal and evanescent length that’s as much an afterglow as any “finish” we might discuss. And I’m sorry, I’m just laid to waste here; maybe when I taste it again I can try to identify the nuances and associations. For now I am laughing my ass off in bliss.
With a second sampling, I think I may have attained whatever scrap of wisdom needed to not write a description of my awesome palate deconstructing the wine. It’s enough to say, if this wine doesn’t melt you, do consider whether you have ever actually felt love in your life.
2018 Froschkönig Riesling ++
Bottled in 2022, the current release of this often scintillating wine smells entirely wonderful. At times this untamed wine has spilled over its banks alcoholically, but the last few renditions have been celestial, singular and encouraging.
The palate is racy and dry-ish after that stunning Scheurebe. I use the word encouraging because it’s….what is it? Reassuring to say the least, a relief, a shot across the bow for anyone who still defends the worst excesses of the natural wine community, because this wine joins the many wines – including of course manywines in that community – that prove you don’t have to sacrifice cleanliness and competence in order to get soul and wholesomeness.
This one is salty, pleasantly cheesy, and it really reeks of the ’18 vintage, that moment when your peonies smell their best, right before they fade and start to stink. I like the vigor here, especially from such a warm vintage and especially from such a protracted fermentation, and it’s more streamlined and less leesy than the Scheu. It also has the lanolin note, such that the wines are part-way to Semillon in all that creamy figginess.
This is less atavistic than the Wurzelfiebers; it rather behaves like a near-classic Riesling in the feinherb vein, redolent of the direct personality of 2018, napped with a fine mix of spices (ginger and lavender above all) and just full of class. And better by far from my little Spiegelau, which remains the most useful wine glass I’ve ever owned.
Though the “accent” is different, the language is the same as that which was spoken by the 2018 Bürklins I tasted and flipped out over. A very very rare fruit/flower tandem was coaxed out of the soil in this improbable vintage, and Minges hasn’t made a greater Riesling than this one – yet.
2021 Scheurebe feinherb + and glug-glug-glug
One of my very favorite wines period – our “house-white” if we had one – is let’s say unusually seductive in this great Scheu vintage. A palate that fails to respond with delight to this wine should probably summon the EMTs with their paddles to bring it back from the dead.
It seems drier than usual with those ’21 acids. More angular, less exotic, more cassis and less tropical fruit. More “correct,” to the extent Scheurebe is ever really correct. Is it far enough removed stylistically from the trocken village wine? (Does it matter?) It’s a bit lighter (just 11% alc) and even the barely visible sweetness will make it more flexible with food. Not to mention the insanely attractive salty-spicy finish.
It is, and shall ever be, one of my top-5 “wines you should slop from a bucket.”
2020 Riesling Kabinett
Minges has always made a classic Kabinett, long before the category was “rediscovered” (and properly so) by today’s growers.
When you talk about signature aromas for Pfalz Riesling, you start with ginger and pineapple, which are in ample evidence here. An earthy note suggests a mix of sandstone and Muschelkalk, and while the sweetness arrives with a flourish, it retires discreetly, leaving the wine racy, vigorous and spicy. The tertiary finish is dry, and the wine would behave like a dryer example of the category if it were placed on a table with a group of modern Kabinetts.
The wine tended to be overlooked in the market, perhaps because it lacked the swagger of so many other Kabinetts. Though it’s richer than usual in ’20, I’m tasting it a few degrees warmer than its ideal temp. (If you pulled it from a 38º fridge you’d say “Wow, this is really dry.”) It’s best feature is that refined, complex and beautiful finish. Three cheers for the wine that is precisely what it ought to be.
2019 Riesling Spätlese +
Hmmm….a 2019? These bottles were assembled for me about 10 months ago, and it’d worrisome to suppose they still had it available – do so few people in Germany realize how lovely these things are?
Regardless – it has the classic vintage aromas (vetiver, hawthorn, meadow-flowers, mango, osmanthus) and is just what a Spätlese should be; rich but not honeyed, oscillating between sweetness and a dry density, and fundamentally savory. It’s like puff-pastry filled with a bit of pear compote. A pleasing jolt of ripe acidity appears on the mid palate and animates this elegant and ample wine.
It even echoes the Semillon figgyness of the Froschkönig. I’m struck by how rarely I myself reach for Spätlese these days (except with many years of bottle age) but given the dearth of Rieslings in the zone where they’re at their best – um, that would be feinherb – if I had to select an “extreme” then a thousand times this wine over the crabby don’t-fuck-with-me dry wines one still sees, much less often then before, but any encounter feels like one too many.
2021 Rieslaner Spätlese ++
Uncommon to see this variety below the dessert-wine level, and too bad! And yay that anyone still does it.
So, okay…a high-acid variety in a high-acid vintage, and the result is (drum-roll) a sensational, fantastic wine. But then I do love Rieslaner.
I’m shocked that anyone doesn’t. I can sort of understand why a Riesling lover might find Rieslaner too blatant, whereas I find it offers a ludicrously galvanic complexity. It keeps, but doesn’t really “age” but if you drink it up to ten years old it will show what it showed out of the gate.
Minges’ Rieslaner has always been as tactful as the variety ever gets (which isn’t very tactful) and while others (e.g. Müller-Catoir) will pin your shoulders to the mat (in the best way!) this one gives your poor palate a fighting chance.
Think of Riesling lashed with an ultra-violet overtone of mints and weeds. (I’ve heard “banana” and while that’s plausible it’s also beside the point. Rieslaner’s not about fruit.) And while I don’t know whether Theo ever consciously decided to make a Rieslaner that people could drink, that in fact is what he accomplishes. This ’21 is decidedly more useful at table than either of the RS-Rieslings, because the entire last third of the palate tastes dry, and anchors the wine and gives it a narrative arc.
It stands among the noblest citizens of the Pfalz, is criminally overlooked, and we should be grateful; if this wine received its due demand it would sell out in 36 hours.
2018 Scheurebe Auslese +
It has an “Auslese” aroma at least as much as a varietal one. I recall the ’18 Scheus as being demure, but botrytis can also obscure the feral gorgeousness of this bewitching variety. This does struggle to make itself heard, with some success as the wine sits in the glass.
Sweet Scheu is intensely passion-fruit-like, and can also offer elements of aged sheep’s-milk Gouda. This wine is entirely Auslese in its honeyed richness and yet, beautifully, it is none too sugary and actually acts as savory as it does “sweet.” The finish shows the intense saltiness of healthy botrytis.
Intriguingly this is clearly in the flavor chain of the everyday feinherb – a much later link, of course – and I’m thinking it is many of the ways for Auslese to be attractive, useful, and delicious. It’s like scallops sautéed in ghee with grated orange rind sprinkled over them and a shaving of parmesan. Add an orange-flavored buerre blanc and you could so drink this with them.