I was sad to see the Wiltinger Kupp wasn’t included among the samples, as it was still fermenting. Helmut Plunien’s estate is in many ways two estates. The one I really like is the steep slope Saar archetypes he makes from the “twin Kupps” of Ayl and Wiltingen. I am less convinced by the other wines, somewhat to his dismay. But I have a firm paradigm for Saar wines in terms of flavors and tensions, and I sometimes feel that too many vineyards were created in the planting frenzy of the 1950s/60s, and they don’t make Saar wines.
Among the higher range of growers in this secretive little valley, there are many ways to render typical Saar wines, and among these I suspect Vols is the most atavistic; that pure, fibrous crunch, a little rumpled but beaming with heart and honesty.
2018 Saar Riesling Trocken
(11.5% alc, and according to Helmut Plunien, “50/50 Wiltingen and Ayl. Long Fermentation till July 2019. Bottling in September 2019”)
Classic Saar aromas, pink grapefruit and quince – henceforth PG&Q, just so I don’t have to keep writing it out. Most interestingly, no sponti disruption….just the good kind, the faint whiff of milk-chocolate. And boys and girls, this is surprisingly good.
Honestly, I expected one of those spiky shrill beasts somehow still beloved among a segment of the domestic German clientele, so when Helmut Plunien insisted on sending the sample to me, I was wary. But the wine works all the way to its slightly clipped, sardonic finish. And even this melted away with retasting. Which gives me a new and odd idea. Insofar as I can’t suppose that actual acidity would diminish in 24 hours, or that fruit or extract would billow to such an extent as to blanket that acidity, I’m starting to wonder whether that sharp finish comes from SO2, which would decline after the bottle was opened, two samples poured from it, after which the half-full bottle returns to the fridge.
Why would this matter? Because the acid-driven finish is a feature of the wine, while the SO2-driven finish is a bug. It’s fleeting. It repairs itself.
In this instance the actual flavors (typical granny smith apple, apple-skin, smoky slate, and atypical mint and pea-shoot) matter less than the textural balance and polish. For a grower whose wines can veer into an (often charming) rusticity, this has quite a bit of sheen. Quite good (and no surprise) from my “control” glass Spiegelau “white wine” and also from MacNeil’s “crisp & fresh” so I subjected it to the rigor of the Jancis, which emphasized the sponti aroma but also underscored the finesse of the fruit and the mineral detail.
I’d love to think this wasn’t a fluke of the gentle 2018 vintage, but regardless, it’s a really happy surprise.
2019 Saar Estate Riesling
(alc 10%, which I only mention since it gives a clue to RS without any identifying terminology on the label)
This is actually a Feinherb entirely from Ayl, from the cadasters Rauberg and Scheidterberg. Yet it misses the twang and verticality of slate, and the tensions of steepness. It recalls a wine from the lower Nahe – which doesn’t mean there’s nothing to like, only that there’s little that’s particularly Saar-like about it.
Again sponti within reasonable limits. The tic of sweetness is that of the mutsu-apple type, and it also introduces a kirsch note that makes me think of Bernkastel. It’s a bit more gravelly than the Trocken, and it’s best from the Jancis, though it’s also the most demanding. Everything is brash now. The whole thing is more callused. Mint is a theme again, and while this is a more pleasing drink than the Trocken, it is actually the lesser wine. Why, then, more pleasing? There’s just more to see here, a wider range of elements, a more intricate collaboration among them, yet the Trocken has more class.
And I think the RS is misaligned. It needed less, or (even better) more, to reach the place of seamlessness where the sweetness melts into the wine, absorbed so completely that the palate doesn’t register it. Still, these are a taster’s cavils; there’s a lot to appreciate here.
2019 Rotschiefer Kabinett
(Riesling appears on the back label, as does 10% alc.)
Now we have a prominent sponti, but not an alarming one. I’ve had some real stinkers in my time, knowing full well the glories that lay beneath, and wishing the wines would “show” better to the customers who were tasting them alongside 200 other wines. Sponti is misunderstood, though it is simple in essence, and it is the least among the off-putting aromas one might find in baby-wines, yet there’s a recoil from tasters who forgive all kinds of pond-scum boggy garbage from a sadly conspicuous minority of the “natural wine” community.
Enough of that. This wine leads with smokiness. It’s from the sites Klosterberg and Rosenberg in Wiltingen, neither of them the classic steep/slatey Saar type. The palate, though, is crunchy Saar rapture, and the finish is firm and peppery. Sweetness is effectively invisible. The wine has big gnarly hands; it isn’t dainty. It is by no means “rustic,” but it is rural. Have you ever eaten a thin slice of Comte with a thin slice of apple? Sure it’s a cliché, but there’s a reason it works, and it’s what you’ll encounter if you drink this wine now. (For the record, I’m currently drinking Vols’ 2014s, and adoring them; these wines need a few years.)
The three glasses do their things. MacNeil is most hedonic for fruit as-such but it also highlights the muscularity. Jancis is most vivid and most revealing of a future harmony and an elegant minerality. My “control” glass is thoroughly acceptable. So far this wine has the most to gain from re-tasting over the coming days.
And indeed, on day-2 it showed a woodruffy note and a hyssopy juiciness.
2019 Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett glug-glug-glug, and +
(Again 10% alc.)
We’ve jumped into another league here. Fine terroirs actually do announce themselves....
This is classic, from a very steep section of the Kupp astride the famous cadaster Stirn, where Plunien has several small parcels.
The fragrance is characterized by elegance, restraint, pitch and timbre. Plainly put, this is what we want Saar Kabinett to smell like (notwithstanding variations based on soil). The “waxy” sort of apple (such as the often-seen Mutsu), and a pure nobility of slate in a form so seamless the taster struggles to isolate those little flavor smithereens whereby we earn our livings. I could fuss away at it, but it’s pointless. It is, in its gorgeously unpolished way, the perfect German Riesling.
My readers know I am alert to the sublime, but the sublime isn’t just one thing. The elevation of the “everyday” to a simple perfection feels so humane and so pure, it doesn’t recognize the difference between gazing on the face of God and looking at your dog’s loopy grin as she places the stick on the ground for you to throw again. The commonplace divine may be the sweetest of all, and that is what this honest perfect wine delivers.
2018 Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett
2018 has altered the dialect for this wine – as I remarked when I first tasted it at the estate in March 2019. It tastes more like Brauneberg than like Ayl – not that I mind. It’s all pears and pear-blossoms and many other blossoms and a feint in the direction of white nectarine, and it has ‘18s juiciness but also its phenolic kick on the finish. If it seems sweeter, that is less an impression of sugar than of the exotic florality – and here comes the dreaded “osmanthus” again, because I have some here and this is how the wine smells.
It’s a wonderful smell. Write to the Red Blossom Tea company in San Francisco and they’ll send you some.
There’s a lot of slatiness embedded in the wines creamy texture. Certain tasters will prefer this to the crunch of the Vols wines I happen to cherish. And it’s lovely wine, and yet it could be another grower’s wine, and I like it when Vols is wonderfully stubbornly itself. I do expect that with time – a lot of time – we will join hands around a table of gratitude that this charming wine revealed itself after all. For now it is pleasing, if anonymous.
2019 Ayler Kupp Riesling Spätlese +
The vintage has strength, this is clear. It reminds me of 1990 though with less assertive acidity. Its structure also tends toward the middle of the body; it may not have 6-pack abs but it’s all muscle. I can see why everyone freaked over it.
MacNeil’s glass displays a riot of slate, which is what you want to see! The wine is more stark in the Jancis. I think it is this sense of torque that makes ’19 so impressive, and yet there are wines where torque isn’t required; not annoying, but also not desirable. I admire the adamance of the wine and I really admire the restrained sweetness – typical for Plunien’s wines - and I’m intrigued by all the “yellow” tones here, as though the wine were pressed outdoors in a field of goldenrod and sunflowers, and I register its importance with my “plus,” but do I love it? From the MacNeil yes, and from that glass there is a truly arcane link to a Gobelsburg Renner, and yes, GV versus Riesling, but it’s like a 23-and-me search that reveals you have a second cousin in another country.
2019 Vols II Riesling Spätlese
From an old (“at least 50 years!”) parcel in the Wiltinger Braunfels, this has often been a wine obscure to me, but clearly crucial to the domain.
Sponti is more obtrusive here. After the briskness of the Aylers, this wine is turbulent, complicated. It has some of the brassiness of Nahe wines, smelling as much of quartzite as slate. If you told me it was from Kruger-Rumpf I wouldn’t be shocked.
The wine is in disequilibrium, but not fatally or essentially. It’s just a knotty kind of creature in its toddler phase. But what do we have here? Allspice, wild lavender, elderflower, ginger – not your typical Saar aromas. It’s best from the Jancis glass, but I still don’t really grok it. Improved on the second day, I’ll keep at it and see if it clarifies itself.
2019 Vols I Riesling Spätlese
The best one. But a bad bottle, refermenting. “The first ever in our history,” Helmut says.