Weingut Von Winning

The story of the shape-shift of this venerable Pfalz domain (formerly known as Dr. Deinhard) has often been told, including by me, probably too many times. If you happen not to know it, a change in proprietorship in/around 2007 brought along an executive director from the community of wine-freaks, rather than someone German-cellar trained and subject to those (lovely) orthodoxies. “I love Dönnhoff and Egon Müller,” Stefan Attmann would say, “But I don’t want to make that kind of wine here. I also love Coche-Dury…”

There was a certain clutching-of-pearls and tut-tut-ing among the neighbors. Pfalz Riesling in the form of white Burgundy? Why, the nerve!

Fifteen years later the quality of the wines has quieted those critics and reassured the nay-sayers. And yet it might have been  anticipated that others would follow, seeing a persuasive reinterpretation of “Pfalz” that wasn’t so radical after all. Yet as far as I can tell, there haven’t been followers, and so the Von Winning estate is sui generis,  a kind of outlier. And in my experience as a Riesling evangelist, a markedly useful one…..

I wrote in my second book about dinner guests at the house who arrived declaiming their love of “big Cabs,” and who were gob-smacked by the Rieslings we showed them, beginning with a 2015 Von Winning GG. More recently my friend Debbie Zachareas invited me to co-present with her in a “food & wine weekend” at a farm in the Litchfield Hills of CT. The attendees would probably not be “experts” but would be people curious enough about wine to pony up the funds for a weekend on a farm listening to “experts.”

At such times I see a way to get people into Riesling by, in effect, shocking them and smashing their assumptions of what “Riesling” might entail. This was duly accomplished, and among the couple dozen wines I presented the one that blew everyone away was a 2018 Von Winning Grainhübel GG.

 

Fast-forward two months and here I am back home tasting the samples they kindly sent me. In the first flight of wines I encountered an unusual phenomenon. The headline would be: The wines were markedly different according to the attention I paid them. If you’re thinking “Well duh,” actually, no. As a rule you’d “get” more or less from any given wine depending on how much you concentrated on it, but that’s not what I mean. Several of the wines were acutely different, and this was new.

In essence the variation hinged on food and cooking. Two wines were diminished at the table, and two were improved. (The jury’s out on one of them as I haven’t yet taken it to dinner.) I’ll get into this in the tasting texts for each wine.

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2018 Pinot Noir “Royale”

The (new) name denotes the entry-level for an ever-expanding category of PNs which traverses a superior blend and several village-wines before ending with the first-ever “GG” from the variety for the estate. It being Von Winning, even the entry level is ambitious; in this case a demure little thing of 14% alc aged 18 months in barrique, a third of which were new.

It smells good, nice and bloody, the way we like certain PNs to be. It isn’t entirely polite – thank god. The palate has alcoholic heft and “sweetness,” more than I personally like, but what’s good is quite admirable. Oak is present but not obvious until the finish, when the fruit fades in about twenty seconds leaving a deposit of wood behind.

But the mid palate is attractively spicy, floral (violets) and berried (blackberries). We’re learning that it’s possible to make excellent PN in the Pfalz, and I suspect I’d like this wine more in a less hot vintage; the ’19 has just 13% alc. I’d be extremely curious to taste the whole range….

I must emphasize that the wine stubs its toe on some highly subjective proclivities of mine, which many tasters don’t share. There’s a juicy mass of fruit here, by which tasters other than weird little me will be both impressed and seduced.

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2020 Pinot Noir Rosé

Trocken appears on the back label. My abiding search for rosés of character certainly found one of its grails here. This is seriously firm and would seem almost steely if tasted in a flight of the “usual” pink wines. Its unwavering spice and dryness harken toward Provence, though with less (12.5%) alcohol. It is firmly indifferent to how “good-looking” it might be, and while it’s straight-lined and “proper” it is also just a little bit gnarly – which again I approve of.

Not as outré as Heidi’s “Biscaya, it could be seen as a young consort to Prieler’s “Vom Stein” and whatever it is, I’m amused by the stamping of its feet and its don’t-give-a-fuck-ness. Mind you, it has a ton of flavor and it not in the least frostily austere; it’s just wonderfully refusing to ingratiate itself. There’s a rhubarb note I recall from some Chartogne rosés and there’s a voice of “sweet” PN fruit that sounds like it’s coming from the next room. And then there’s the glorious adamant jab of this compelling and unusual rosé.

 

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2018 Weisser Burgunder Trocken                                                     ++

This is a ride on the teeter-totter for me. When I’m down the wine feels too clearly oaky and derivative, but when I’m up the fruit is magnificent and I’m thinking of all the white Burgundies I’ve drunk lately, many of which weren’t this good.

I have it in the “basic” Spiegelau and the “round, tall” Spiegelau, and I think that we’ll have to Judge-Judy this guy with a Jancis glass before all’s said and done. So, let’s break it down. First of all, it smells gorgeous; creamy lees and sweet hay and oat bread, anchored to a limestony bite. The “variety” Pinot Blanc hardly comes into play; this is modeled on (executive director) Stefan Attmann’s avowed adoration for Coche-Dury.

On the palate there’s an enjoyable tension between all that sweet cream and the ground-wire of firmness – it recalls the 2014 white Burgundies in many ways – but in that tension is where the oak flavors reside, at times more conspicuously than I might prefer. Yet I could (and do) say the same about many white Burgundies. The Jancis glass answers this asymmetry by uniting the factions under a blanket of truly beautiful fruit, detailing its every nuance.

It is a masterpiece of its idiom. There’s a lovely greenish sort of coniferous edge, an irresistible saltiness, and that silken mass of sweet fruit covering you in an ethereal down-comforter of vinosity. Finally we have a shimmer of twinkly finish that traverses four iterations before arriving finally at what others might call “toastiness.” The wine is seriously savory and absurdly difficult to spit.

I’ve got a jones for a monkfish schnitzel.

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2020 Sauvignon Blanc II                                                                     +

If you’re sometimes confused by the Roman numeral stuff, this one’s got the white label and the screwcap. It’s a stainless-steel wine, higher in both acidity and RS than most SBs (though RS is well within the Trocken range). And unless you happen to loathe Sauvignon Blanc, this has about the most ravishing varietal fragrance you could ever desire.

For readers who haven’t read my catalogues – and what have y’all been doing with your lives? – the models for these SBs are Graves and Styria, not the Loire. Graves especially as we climb the quality ladder. But I have to ask, how many Styrian Klassik bottlings of SB are remotely this good? I mean, it’s no great talent to enact goosey varietal juju from SB; what’s harder is to do it in a matrix of moderation, balance and finesse. To be sure, with this 2020 we do see a wisp of vegetality creeping around the perimeter, but it brings a sexy kind of tingle to the picture.

Let’s pause. The “wisp” of vegetality I cite would be quite a bit more than a wisp if the wine were extremely dry. (Remember, always, there are degrees of dryness just as there are degrees of sweetness.) The invisible few grams of RS in here are massively helpful, not only by reducing the varietal veggies but also in presenting a counterpoint of passion fruit that makes the wine delicious.  

This wine shone consistently, with food, without food, cellar-cold, upstairs warm(er), from every glass, and over a period of 4-5 days.

If I were tasting these for the first time, I’d stop here and have to ask What? It gets better than this?

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2019 Sauvignon Blanc I                                                                   +++

Green label, green capsule. Now made in wood, with a year on its fine lees, it hails from a high density planting in the (1er Cru) site Paradiesgarten, a high-elevation site near the forest – from which a curiously Sauvignon-like Riesling also comes. This was the wine that overcame my insistence that I’d never ship German SB, because it was simply too amazing – that was the 2012 vintage, if memory serves.

I have to say, this is one of the world’s most masterly wines, and this is a splendid vintage of it. It has that rare quality of having been somehow ordained to have just these flavors in just this configuration, and you feel foolish picking away at it to fuss over the joints and sprockets. If a lioness could weep tears of joy, this is what her tears would taste like.

I mean, who knew? Who could have known? Granted it’s not like I go around drinking Haut Brion Blanc all the time, but did anyone suspect Sauvignon Blanc could attain this serene yet gigantically expressive grace? No element has a molecule out of place; fruit, spice, lees, wood, smoke…they have not only made peace, they have melded into some completely new thing.

I do, reluctantly, understand that there could be drinkers who find the out-thrust of fragrance rather blatant. I’m sad for them! But of course, I happen to love it and I want everyone’s knees to grow weak with surrender. But I will say, this wine is overstuffed with yang, elegantly so but still, it’s not what you’d call interior. Those tend to be my favorite wines, and so I come to you here as someone whose defenses have been overcome, and who is happy about it. It’s Terry’s batshit bender wine, if you will. But even in the thrall, I know great wine when I taste it.

We had a glass with dinner the evening I first tasted it. The “pairing” was fine, it worked, it was “correct.” But consider, the smell of the kitchen after the meal was cooked, the smell rising from the plates, the conversation…and the wine had a task to perform now. It wasn’t the center of attention. And while I am completely confident it is great wine, when I wasn’t focused on it I felt it starting to shrink, to lose the finesse points that make it great, and to smell just a little crass, like cigar smoke. I’m tasting it again now, as I write, and it is again masterly and superb. The takeaway is, superficial attention won’t let you penetrate below the most overt elements, becausethey are overt. It isn’t a subtle wine, but it has more layers than may first be evident, if you focus. And focus you should!

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2019 Sauvignon Blanc “500”                                                           +++

A selection of the best hogsheads, but not made differently – just the best casks. Riper than the “II” by a half-percent.

It is extremely exotic and seems to leave the variety behind. The question will pivot on “seems.”

There’s no denying the wine is more concentrated and smoky and grand. For those attributes, marvelous as they are, we pay with a certain sacrifice of freshness and clarity. That’s probably a price worth paying to get what this astonishing wine has to give, but we have to think about it, at least. Perhaps the concentration of those smoky exotic and esoteric elements is indeed rapturous, but it’s also possible that it’s much of a muchness, too expressive of one single channel,  lacking the dialogue the lighter wine offers.

It’s also possible – and I expect closest to the truth – that such a dialogue will emerge as the wine itself emerges from its feverish concentration, and if that happens you may be sure your faithful scribe will duly record it. Do note, this isn’t a question of “quality” but rather me displaying my preference for articulation such as can only (or usually) be offered in wines of less density. There is no question that this “500” critter is king of the fricking jungle.

I’ve had it with food – with much the same effect as the previous SB – and I’m “tasting” it again now. What’s clear is, for all its density and concentration it’s a more interior wine, and it really asks for an envelope of quiet around it. I mean, if you had a bottle of Le Montrachet would you want to take it to the table to drink with your turbot in cream sauce??? Sure it will taste fine with the food, but don’t you really want to have a shrine around the Great One and drink the village Puligny with the fish and cream?

I prefer to take this wine and immerse myself in its fathoms because, yes, it is another of those wines that are too good for the “task” at hand. It’s like having great music tinkling away uselessly in the background while you eat and converse. Great music should be listened to! (Oh I’m such a scold…) There’s plenty of innocuous music perfectly suited for “ambience” and there are plenty of equivalent wines. No one respects them more than I do. 

Let this wine be the center of attention, please. It deserves to be.

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Riesling Extra Brut SEKT

Eighteen months en tirage, it has a reasonably refined aroma alighting on both “white-fizz” and Pfalz Riesling. The (Diam) cork suggests a fresh disgorgement but the palate is sedate and communicative. Texture is someplace between frisky and aggressive, and it takes a few minutes for the fruit to emerge.

Perhaps this is the final frontier for this winery, to elevate the sparkling wines to the exalted levels we see elsewhere in the range. While this wine is effective for its purpose, that purpose is less ambitious than the norm at this splendidly original estate. Yet that opinion is perhaps not reasonable. 

A few years ago a local restaurant whose then-somm was a hero of mine, poured this wine by the glass, which I thought was a courageous choice. The wine isn’t seductive; it’s pointed and while it’s flavory and characterful, it isn’t “generous.” Good for them!

This is a wine that improved when it wasn’t being studied. We drank a glass while we cooked dinner and agreed, there was plenty of fruit and good texture and it went down most agreeably. This doesn’t mean “It’s good if you don’t pay close attention.” It means it performs the task at hand in an honorable way.

The Rieslings

There are a lot of Rieslings. I’m reporting on 11, but there are many more. As a merchant/selector I sought to assemble as ecumenical an assortment as I could, so I could show the widest possible variety. This, to all appearances, has continued. There are other wines at the “low” end, as well as a few super-cuvées basically consisting of best-casks of several of the GGs. And apropos the GGs, there’s also a plenitude of them, eight in all. The (Forst) Jesuitengarten is a tiny production, and the (Deidesheim) Kieselberg tends to be the lightest in the range. Neither is among these samples.

I wondered how to line them up. At the estate you go good-better-best, which I kept in mind. But I wondered whether separate flights with each going good-better-best might avoid bunching all the best ones together. Ultimately I decided not to diddle it, and so on day-1 I’ll taste six wines, including one of the GGs, and day-2 I’ll taste the rest of the GGs plus the “Winnings” feinherb wine the estate made for me. Being someone for whom deferred gratification does not come naturally, do feel free to applaud my iron discipline in waiting to taste the GGs till tomorrow.

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2020 (estate) Riesling                                                                     +

This was always my “other” favorite basic Riesling (along with Kütnsler’s) and it hasn’t missed a trick. It’s a Pfalz paradigm, chewy and savory and pineappley and gingery, and hearty without being rustic.

At the estate they refer to it as “Dragon” – it has a little guy on the label, which I trust is copacetic with Mr. Leitz – and more interesting, it is a rare Von Winning Riesling fermented and made in steel. It ends with a salty snap and even a nuance of white pepper. We’re so accustomed to wood being an accent for these Rieslings, it’s striking to find another kind of clarity when it’s absent.

A friend has asked whether I could design a Riesling syllabus, and in thinking about it wanted to start with a horizontal flight of benchmark dry Rieslings from all the significant regions, and I recall that now, because this would make a perfectexample of “Pfalz.”

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2020 Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten Riesling                       +

Back-label indicates Trocken as well as “Erste Lage” (or 1er Cru) We’re still in screw-cap but we have ascended to the STUPID HEAVY BOTTLES.

Von Winning taught me that this vineyard warranted a second appraisal in the climate-change era. A sandstone site, it has shown a cool angularity, fragrances of caraway seed (among various forms of anise and hyssop) and even a waft of Sauv-Blanc. And because we’re now into the barrel-made Rieslings, a brief interlude is in order.

Director Stefan Attmann’s intent was never to make “oaky” Rieslings, but rather to place important Rieslings in a pan-European community of wines that were vinified in wood. At first he had old-school white Burgundy as a paradigm, but starting with vintage 2012 I sensed the wines had other destinations in view.

Over the years the GGs have grown less overtly woody and more ethereal and delicate. To be sure, if you’re tasting a flight of the same GGs from Bassermann, Buhl, Bürklin et.al. and you come to Von Winning, you’re going to notice wood as-such. But this is no more blatant than, say, Raveneau – and it’s with the master of Chablis to which these Rieslings are more properly likened, as I’ll discuss presently.  

Back to Paradiesgarten, of which this is the best vintage I’ve ever tasted, and which is both insanely pretty and an absurd bargain. Its witty angles and arch corners are on full display; it’s coniferous and herbal, and it stands alone in the fraternity of the great sites of Deidesheim/ Forst/ Wachenheim/ Ruppertsberg, with its feline grace and structural cunning.

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2020 Deidesheimer Leinhöhle Riesling                                     +Trocken appears on the back label, as does Erste Lage (1er Cru)

I was taught that Leinhöhle was among the top sites in Deidesheim. Andreas Hutwohl, who spent much of his life there, sees it differently. One of these days we’ll fight a duel about it; twenty five paces, with bubble-blowers.

In contrast to the Timothée Chalamet good looks of the Paradiesgarten, this one has a pleasing edge of sourness. It’s “yellower,” more savory. Sweet corn enters the picture. It’s not a stronger wine, but it’s more serious. I don’t like to use “sour,” just as I hesitated to use “pretty” above, but maybe the word-police are taking the holidays off. In this case – and especially from my basic little Spiegelau stem – the sourness is overwhelmed by a juiciness of texture that renders it pleasing. It’s also mitigated by a raft of Pfalz spices, especially cardamom and ginger.

Taste it and see a wine that ingratiates by means other than charm, that is serious without being dour, and that is half way to food itself.

 

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2020 Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Riesling                                     ++

Trocken on the back label, as is Erste Lage (1er Cru)

The site seems to straddle some line between 1er and Grand Cru, and the estate appears to produce a micro-parcel wine called “An Den Achtmorgen” that I surmise would take a place among the GGs. That notwithstanding, there’s always been a loessy charm to Reiterpfad, and the wines have shown Von Winning at their most delicious.

And believe me, this is ridiculously tasty Riesling! But even more wonderful, it isn’t merely tasty or even really all that flattering. Let’s assume we start with a peachy happiness. Then what happens?

A quick influx of sweet-hay and straw, and then a jasmine rice element and then something like oat-bread dough and after that another aromatic layer, a mind-melt of quince and lime and even ylang ylang and so what started out feeling like a really good standup comedian ends up doing a Hannah Gadsby on you.

By the time you reach the finish you’re wondering who did the 180º, you or the wine? You’re drinking an envelopingly savory wine that’s left its peachy giggles way back at the start. I don’t know if it’s the vintage, but this is a Reiterpfad with much of the affects of the GG-class, and an impressive detail and narrative arc. 

It’s a remarkable group of 1er Crus. The ‘20 GGs ought to be supernal.

The 2019 Riesling GGS

Since the 2013 vintage, this family of wines has accumulated a character so atmospheric, gauzy and inferential as to invite comparisons to the Chablis of Raveneau. The Great One of the Yonne is one of those miracle vintners who elevates the value of paradox to a kind of divinity. You wonder, as you try helplessly to fathom how a wine can be so ethereal yet so articulately flavored, so structured yet so invertebrate, whether you’re still standing on this earth. And most of the Von Winning GGs have been similar, even in ripe years like 2015, and so I began to wonder if they’d found the seam and slipped through, into that evanescence where the most heart-rending wines live.

And then there was 2019. This will be the story of my engagement with a family of wines I have come to revere, in a vintage that doesn’t suit me. Based on the superb quality among the 2020 1er Crus, I sense these ’19 GGs will be outliers. Nor am I surprised that my friends at Von Winning find me mistaken about these ‘19s.

As a rule it seems better in Forst than Deidesheim. And there are certainly highlights to be found. Please forgive me if it seems like the following text is about “me,” because I wish it to be about my navigating a plethora of conflicting feelings about a few of the wines, and about the group as a whole. And I hope you know by now that I was careful beyond diligence to really listen to these wines.

The second time I tasted them I did flights consisting of: Kalkofen/Grainhübel/Kirchenstück (in effect the ones I had concerns about) and then Langenmorgen/Ungeheuer/Pechstein (the ones I liked best), and I tasted them all from my Spiegelau because I felt they needed to be encased in such a way as to make them juicier and more compact. For Kalkofen I also wanted to subdue the oak.

By the way, the wines reached me in late October and I’m tasting them over the two Xmas/New Year weeks. So they’ve rested for 8-9 weeks and the cellar is perfect this time of year, steadily in the low 50s.

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2019 Kalkofen GG

The back label says “Riesling Trocken,” and unusually for this domain, 13.5% alc.

This is the GG that changed the most over six days, so it’s worth reading this note to the end.

It’s the color of a white Burgundy, at any rate. If I lifted it blind to my nose, I honestly wouldn’t know what it was. To back up briefly, Kalkofen is the powerhouse among the GGs, trading nuance and articulation for sheer torque and command. And clearly 2019 is ripe and strong already. The result is a swashbuckling wine, one that will slay the monster and restore peace to the traumatized kingdom.

I might ask for a little more Riesling-ness, and I wonder whether this will emerge in the 4-5 days I plan to give it. I hope so. Otherwise it’s just a thing with outsized physical charisma, an “impressive” wine as far as that goes, but really quite woody at least out of the gate.

It’s four days later, though I had a half-glass with dinner one night. It doesn’t smell especially woody this time, but I’ll confess I’m not sure what it smells like. My first blind guess might have been northern Rhône. But on the palate there’s a Riesling contour that’s more persuasive. It’s a powerhouse, as always, but this time in a powerhouse vintage, and this wine will need a lot of time (or a lot of air). There’s more than a hint of a Pichler “Monumental” about it also. A mixed blessing, in my frame of reference.

There’s a lot of scorch and then a lot of saltiness on the finish, and then, somewhere, something definitely (if not ineluctably) “Riesling,” but it’s a pretty grizzly creature overall. “Grilled pineapple” might best depict it. And lovers of powerful wines will think I have a screw loose.

Another two days have passed. This wine had a lot of stuff to shed, but now (from a Jancis glass) it tastes like itself, like Riesling, rather in the form of Brutalist architecture. This suggests the wine is basically sound, but may need many years to resemble itself, or at least the “self” we have come to expect.

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2019 Grainhübel GG

Back label shows Deidesheimer Grainhübel Riesling Trocken, as well as 13% alc – it appears to have been difficult to stay below 13%, as they almost always have, and have been (rightly) proud of.

There’s a stern force behind the usual rapture of fruit. Thus far the ’19 GGs appear atypical here. But I’d always thought this site gave stern wines, and it was only the Von Winning GGs that showed me another profile, one driven by charm and lemon-balm and greengage and cherries.

It’s all here, but encased in muscle and a peppery sort of intensity. It’s like a Cossak pulling around a tractor they’ve yoked him to. Singing melodically as he works the field!

The sternness I enjoy in the Leinhöhle is almost caricatured here. (The menu description could read “Iron-crusted Pineapple from the grill.”) But let’s remember two things. One, I’ve established the hypothesis that 2020 is unkind to ’19 when you taste them côte-a-côte, and two, that ’19 could well have sunk into its trough. In the language of the meteorologists, I have only “medium confidence” in these judgments. 

The sinewy power of this critter has all but buried its wood flavors, but they return in the finish, as do many of the fruit and savory elements we seek, and which are suppressed by the sheer intensity of vinosity. It’s like Grainhübel with a Cajun blackened crust. But if a wine’s finish truly is a harbinger of developments to come, I’m optimistic that fruit will prevail here.

On second visit, it’s rather more lissome than Kalkofen (but that could be said of a Komodo Dragon after the brute power of that wine) but in contrast to Kalkofen’s sense of organizing itself, this wine seems less coherent now. Yet I like it more. It has an endearing quality of fruit , expressed with a certain militancy, but still basically refined. I could, though, easily see another taster feeling that Kalkofen, at least, was power-power-power whereas this wine offers an uneasy asymmetry of power and fruit-delicacy. My own preference is based solely on the way it tastes. I like the fruit of Grainhübel. I also sense this fruit will prevail over time, based on the tertiary finish and the smell in the empty glass.

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2019 Langenmorgen GG                                                                 ++

Back label says Deidesheimer Langenmorgen Riesling Trocken.

It also shows 13.5% alc, yet the wine has markedly high acidity – the slope is encased within the Paradiesgarten, so it’s up near the forested hills and would have cooler nights. This also suggests the need to wait to pick, if one looked for acids to reduce to a certain point.

It does suggest that, doesn’t it! A plausible theory. Alas, wrong. Andreas Hutwohl wrote me, “Acidity was not the driving factor in 2019. We picked quite early in fact at a point where the grapes were aromatically ripe. The GGs were among the first Rieslings we picked in that year. The yields were very very low in 2019, which lead to this crazy concentration and early picking time with elevated acidity and sugar ripeness at the same time.”

 

So, a little along lines of years like 2010 and to a lesser degree, 2015. That would explain much, along with the corollary benefit of putting my ass in its place.

 

But back to Langenmorgen and its many delights.

 

I love these wines. They are the wire-rimmed spectacles and chiseled cheekbones of the GGs. They’re also the most blatantly mineral of them all. So, hmmm….2019?

The wine “suffers” (if “suffers” is the right word) from the pepperiness we’ve observed throughout, and which is more than merely assertive, but as clamorous as a bored toddler. That said, this wine overcomes it. There is just too much flavor for all that buzzing ripeness to subdue.

(Can ripeness subdue flavor? Of course it can. It can insist upon alcoholic intensity and jalapeño heat; it can come off medicinal, it can easily steal the fruit’s lunch money. But this wine stands up for itself.)

This excellent wine behaves more like the current paradigm of an Alsace Riesling; strong, volume turned up…but of course this is dry. (No letters please; I know they’re sussing the situation in Alsace and have taken steps to rectify it.) But here we find a massive yet contained power of fruit – it doesn’t sprawl – and all the 1001-Nights panoply of esoteric seeds and spices and plants, including but not confined to hyssop, anise seed, star-fruit, fennel frond, chervil, lemon balm, sorrel – Langenmorgen is original! Pity it’s so small, and there can’t be more of it.

I’m also finding that Langenmorgen repeats an element of Kirchenstück in a way that helps to understand that supernal Grand Cru. What Kirchenstück adds to this are its black-cherry and basalt twang, both both wines are based on a similar system of mineral capillaries. Deidesheim is more Apollonian and Forst more Dionysian, but ’19 has brought out this wine’s extravagant side.

On second exposure everything holds up. The minerality is really vivid, the balance is poised on a beam of intensity – hard to do – and the wine shows a sinewy elegance all the way to its finely etched mineral finish. It’s the most “perfect” wine in the group.

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2020 Ungeheuer GG                                                                           +

Back label shows Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Trocken, and 13.5% alc.

Again marked acidity – not Mosel acidity, but notable for a Pfalz GG.

As you know the site is (relatively) large at 29 hectares, and parcels vary. In general we find a kind of Pfalz template, generosity, contained power, a sort of rustic elegance, and a savor that can feel meaty (or mushroomy for y’all vegetarians and vegans out there). Ungeheuer is like Riesling in the form of eggplant.

I worried about this already-strong wine in the militant vintage, but I needn’t have. It smells wonderful. Essence of Ungeheuer! And for the first time, the structure of the wine assimilates its alcoholic power and pushes ripeness into the framework of the explosively juicy texture.

If you’re lucky enough to own this and also the Grainhübel, taste them together. Even if you have a different opinion than mine, you’ll agree that alcohol behavesdifferently in the two wines.

Here’s another clue. This is the first GG to be markedly better from the smaller glass. It’s as though the wine prefers its rampant juiciness to be well encased. The Jancis exposes it starkly. Use the cheap glass!

Tasted again four days later, this is the “cooperative friend” among the GGs. It’s a “presence” for sure, but an easygoing one. The wine geek might say it’s “simpler” than its GG siblings. I would say, it’s a better chum. Plus it’s not just yummy; it’s fucking yummy.

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2019 Pechstein GG                                                                         ++

Back label says Forster Pechstein Riesling Trocken.

Alc is let’s say “13%-plus,” as the label says 13 but the winery tech sheet says 13.5. Acidity the highest thus far.

I know it’s unseemly to quote oneself, but I once wrote that someone who didn’t love Kirchenstück didn’t have a soul, and someone who didn’t love Pechstein didn’t have a heart. If this wine leaves you indifferent, your love subscription may have lapsed, pal.

A rope stretches between this and the 2012 – it’s a long rope – but no vintage since ’12 has shown such intensity, yet the precision and tenderness of the wines at their best have not been obliterated. Perhaps ’19 was simply a year for Forst. Bear in mind that the more delicate vintages are those that send me into the mystic shivers, it’s hard not to be stunned by a wine like this. What articulation, what intensity – it makes me think of FX Pichler at his best. Like an army marching in superb formation, reciting Rilke poems with perfect precision.

 

You’ll notice I haven’t written about wood for a while. It’s stopped being relevant. This is a wine of the giggling stones and the profuse and horny flowers. The loveliest lyric of lilac and scree, one of the most satisfying wines in the whole world. And no reason to change my mind with repeated samplings.

 

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2019 Kirchenstück GG

Back label says Forster Kirchenstück Riesling Trocken.

Alcohol is… <ulp>…. 14%.

First fragrance, while blatant, is compelling. On closer examination there’s something lurid about it. But look, I freely admit I respond deeply to the inscrutable nature of the “normal” vintages of this wine. I tend toward their Gregorian stillness and toward the beautiful austerities toward which I feel invited. You feel like you’ve lived for a while in a monastery where the world has grown so silent that now you hear everything, and you understand – “This is why they’re all so quiet, because everything is constantly whispering and how will they hear it otherwise?”

So it is curious, at the very least, to see the Kirchenstück flavors preen for you so blatantly. On one hand you get to peer into the flavors without having to cultivate Zen stillness, but there is also something…I don’t know, sad about it. But I’ve had four sips now, from two glasses, inside and outside, and part of me feels churlish and ungrateful because it’s so easy to taste a wine whose remoteness I have always revered.

So I find myself a little lost. But there is one marker of which I am sure: Drink this early. That 14% will not behave itself, and you want to catch the wine with as much primary juju as possible. I will test this theory over the next 4-5 days. Meanwhile I will consider how I’d reply to someone’s question “What does it say about you that you seem to resent this wine for being available to the palate without having to swim through your beloved ethers?”

Okay, a few days have gone by, and here we are again.

The wine is extravagantly, explosively expressive. I’ll answer my own question by saying that I don’t mind that the flavors are explicit; there is no intrinsic value in having to eke them out in the more inscrutable vintages. But I wish I didn’t have all that bloody alcohol as a fellow traveller, because it’s in the way. It is aromatically blatant, and it makes the wine fatiguing, for all that the wine is “impressive.” It reminds me of what people used to say about Zind-Humbrecht’s wines in the 90s –“overstated” was the most civil word used.

To be transparent, I’ve taken five sips, and the last of them showed a really fabulous fruit and terroir with less obtrusive burn from the alc. And the empty glass smells compelling. The final sampling was another two days later, and like all these wines it has righted itself after some early stumbles. Forgive the repetition, but I need to emphasize; some tasters will be thrilled to be overwhelmed by this wine, and others, like me, will find it excessively blatant. It’s a Rorschach  test for what kind of taster you are.

I really, really wonder what the wine might have been like with 15 grams of RS and 13.5% alc. I suspect it would have been GREAT Riesling – just not a “GG.”

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2020 Riesling Winnings

They “adapted” the label to fall more in line with their “c.i.,” and well, I was fond of the first one. On the other hand, this smells like bloody gangbusters. (I suppose if you did bust the gang, there’d be blood, right?) The palate has some phenolics and the (pleasing) greenness of 2020. I don’t know the RS, but the alc is 12% so I suppose it’s on the dry side. The formative idea was a Goldilocks Riesling. But y’all know that.

You may wonder whether white wine can smell any more appealing than this. It’s like meyer lemons that were just released from prison. On the palate, I’m maybe a tic too aware of the gears and sprockets, but other drinkers may receive it as expressive spiciness. I respect its firmness.