“I expect 2020 to be a great vintage -miraculously- which means despite the extreme draught we experienced from spring to August and my rather low expectations that came with that. But the grapes were very aromatic and such are the wines as far as I can tell now. Acidities are slightly higher than in 2018 also and extracts seem to be significantly higher. Mustweights in my Bopparder Hamm grapes were all very close together between 93 and 96 degrees with very healthy fruit, no botrytis. Never experienced such a homogenous harvest of Spätlese. A challenge, especially in the present circumstances, with literally no real Kabinett. Luckily there is Mittelrhein QbA to have something more basic.”
My TOPIC-SENTENCE is: We need to think about the difference between the harvest and the vintage. The harvest, of course, is the gathering of the grapes, but the vintage is the wines from which they are made, and assessing the vintage is a many-years project.
I’ve lost count of the number of times growers have told me, “During the picking it didn’t look so good (or it was difficult or it required insane amounts of selection, etc.) but the wines really surprised us; they turned out really well.”
The reverse is almost never said. “The grapes were great and we were full of hope, but the wines….well, that’s another story.”
I don’t know whether Florian would agree that his 2020 vintage strongly favored wines-with-sweetness. Actually I doubt it. But before we get into that jazz, we have a couple Pinot Noirs to buddy up to.
2019 Spätburgunder Spay In Der Zech
2018 Spätburgunder Spay In Der Zech
The ’19 has 13.5% alc, the ’18 12.5%. Most important, 2018 is unfiltered. “I have been struggling over the decision whether to filter them, “says Florian. “The ’19 is filtered and I think it’s better especially in terms of long-term evolution – no slowly degrading yeast cells or fruit pulp left in the wine. Unfiltered is less predictable because self-clarification of our red seems insufficient to me even after 18 months. Curious to hear your opinion.”
Right, well, I’m curious to form an opinion, as I have long thought Florian’s Pinot Noir was the most interesting one in my portfolio – at least until I got to know Mr. Ziereisen. Lifting the ’19 to my schnoz, I’m asking myself if I’ve ever actually smelled a PN like this. It has the “sweet-polished” profile of Diel’s, with more berries and less body; it has the iron of Ziereisen’s Tschuppen and even the Talrain, though in a more modest and demure form. Part of it is bloody and rustic and another part is searching and even sophisticated in a landed-gentry, Chianti-Classico sort of way. The Jancis glass subdues what oak is visible at all. It flatters the wine in all its customary ways.
The finish is pleasingly dusty. The wine is a hidden gem, “hidden” only because there’s so little of it, and Florian isn’t one to shout through a bullhorn. Since we do look for cognates, for me the closest might be Pommard in a crisp vintage such as 2016. Even some red Meursault can act this way.
I really like the wine; I have always really liked it. I like quirky originals made in teensy amounts, but I also think the wine is really delicious, even fascinating. It’s like a PN that had a “junior-year-abroad” in Chinon and came back speaking with a Cab Franc brogue. Another thing I appreciate: the wine has energy but it also has sedateness and lucidity. It isn’t eager to please yet it does please.
My colleagues probably saw this as one of “Terry’s little oddities,” but tasting it here, off-site, in my home kitchen in Boston, it’s just a truly engaging and interesting Pinot Noir. It’s distinctive but not really idiosyncratic. It simply has a Self. And its Self understands how to manage ample alcohol.
The 2018 is paler, a pretty ruby that reminded me of Christian Dautel’s PN. The first aroma is somewhat animal and definitely not well behaved. Maybe a fleeting brett; we’ll see. It may take a day or two! My first impression is that it’s decidedly the lesser wine, but that doesn’t necessarily bear on the question of filtration, because the only way to properly study that question is with two versions of the same wine. Here, the vintage variation is too big a caveat.
I’m remembering Prieler’s St. Laurent, whose bretty funk was bothersome to me, and which I was told was sought-after by the naturalistas for precisely that reason. It would also happen here, if given the chance. But I’m finding that words like bretty, funky, horsey, are all too extreme. I’ll stop at “farmy.” And now, with fifteen minutes in the glass, I have a feeling this wine could well have some tricks up its earthy sleeve. Time will tell – but the ’19 is clearly a better wine.
On day-2 I used the MacNeil Creamy & Silky glass, whose function, remember, is primarily hedonistic. And it was cool enough to taste outside at last. Fresh air (aside from hot muggy air) makes every wine more vivid. As expected, the glass makes the 2019 wine more avuncular and murmury, but this isn’t a distortion: This is a very good wine. Oregon is as much a cognate as Burgundy. I can’t account for the garrigue-y note, but I like it.
It’s a moment of truth for the ’18. And it troubles me to say the wine hasn’t fared well – indeed it has deteriorated. Along with the bretty funk there’s a new metallic note like snarling celery root. Would filtration have repaired this wine? I don’t know, but it couldn’t have hurt. I’ll try it with dinner tonight, but it’s a tough bird to taste.
2020 Riesling Trocken
12% alc presumably by chaptalization, and involving some purchased fruit (typically from down around Bacharach), it has an enticing aroma that feels a bit subdued. Let me remind you that Florian’s local vineyards occur on a mélange of slate, volcanic subsoils and (some) overlying loess, giving them the “wet-cereal” sweetness that suggests the Pfalz or even flavors of Austria.
This is not that. This flavor is gray. It’s sinewy and rocky and herbal and resinous. It feels like it’s pulled very tight. In texture and attack it makes me think of some Kruger-Rumpf wines. Don’t mistake me; it has several attractive attributes and I’m sure it will “drink” better than it “tastes,” but it also has that abrupt and scratchy finish that dry German Riesling has not entirely escaped.
I’m glad to be tasting it, and what I’m about to say I say with respect – but this is a wine “of local interest,” though I am willing to eat these words if I have to.
Day-2 I’ve switched out the glasses completely; now it’s the MacNeil Crisp & Fresh along with the tall long-stemmed Spiegelau “white wine,” because I want to examine whether these “praising” glasses will mitigate my doubts from the first look. And they do, to some extent. The Spiegelau is the best, but I don’t think a drinker should have to audition 4-5 different wine glasses to find one that works for an entry-level wine. For all its positive attributes the wine is just too ascetic.
It has a lot of CO2, and growers have sometimes admonished me that sharpness will fade as CO2 does, but we shouldn’t need a recipe to enjoy a grower’s “simple” wine.
It was a reasonably effective “drink” one evening as I was cooking dinner and wanted a sipping wine.
2020 Bopparder Hamm Ohlenberg Riesling Kabinett Trocken
The first among a trio of surprises, alcohol-wise. This “little” Kabinett is sporting 13%, which amounts to around 95º Oechsle, which is very high for something called “Kabinett.” The color, also, is very rich and the fragrances have the “GG” affect of High Importance. (Notwithstanding the many GGs that really are important…) But I refer you (and myself) to Herr Weingart’s remarks at the top of this report, which provide a reassuring context.
Regardless, this is a strong wine, and if I were tasting blind my first instinct would be the Südpfalz, as it has an aromatic twang that otherwise announces Muschelkalk soils. It’s swashbuckling and muscular and has elements of lightly toasted brioche and sautéed apples. It’s assertive but not especially appealing, and I’d describe my (admittedly) initial impressions as “a lot to respect but not a lot to like.” It’s clean, salty, proud, shoulders-back and stiff-kneed in posture, and over the days I’ll see if I want to appreciate it and not just salute it.
Day-2. Let me tell you about day-2. A front has moved through and we have a fresh easterly breeze. I live nine miles from the Atlantic, and the wafts of seaside are really wonderful after all the heat of the last eight days. It’s two in the afternoon and each time I go outside I want to fall to my knees with happiness. I just took two glasses with me out onto the deck, and again the Spiegelau really rocks this wine. From the MacNeil we have salt-then-dark-bread-then-dark-fruit-then-sourness on the finish. That’s where I hesitated. Yet from Spiegelau it’s just savory all the way through, and the finish is like ricotta and oat-milk.
In all it’s a wine I wouldn’t mind drinking but wouldn’t seek out.
2020 Bopparder Hamm Engelstein Am Weißen Wacke Riesling Spätlese Trocken
I do love the cadaster names, really I do, but this one is comical, attached as it is to an already verbose site-name. But, okay – 13.5% alc now and yet a really pretty aroma (as Engelstein always shows) of mirabelles and not so much ginger as something into which ginger has been deftly included. Certain riverfront Rheingau wines smell this way – Erbacher Siegelsberg, perhaps - and all those comely fragrances enter the wine as a fine interior perfume, and you think okay, yes, right, this is something Riesling can do, this regal beauty without compromise of structure and firmness, and for a moment you’re happy….if not quite delighted.
Can a wine have a “stern juiciness?” I’m trying to locate the door that’s blocking me from the yes! feeling. Because I am pounding on it, hard, charged with admiration for the many lovely things to be found here, yet ultimately thwarted. I think this was a rapture in cask, and bottling somehow intimidated it. I also worry that I could be wrong.
I also find a spirit-kinship with Alzinger’s Hollerin Smaragd, yet that wine carries its weight in a way that broadens the “narrative” and deepens the mid-palate, and somehow here today, there is a void in this otherwise beautiful wine. I’d be so happy to see it recover in the next few days.
Day-2 out in the cool watery wind, I used only the Spiegelau (the wine is hardly “crisp and fresh”) and found a GG-type that succeeds almost completely, and that “almost” will concern the taster but probably not the drinker. The promise of the fleshy texture on the mid-palate is clipped by the suddenly stern finish, but to fixate on that is an injustice to the really good things that came before. Still, this laudable wine could have been even better.
It was a rare wine that “tasted” better than it “drank.” Perhaps it simply rewards a degree of study. In any case, I was surprised.
2020 Bopparder Hamm Feuerlay Riesling Spätlese Trocken
…and 14% alc comes to Mittelrhein Riesling. You know what, climate change? Fuck you.
You really ought to ignore me now, because as you may know I detest nearly every white (and most red) wine(s) at or above 14%. So I am not a reliable guide, unless you happen to agree with me. But that said, it is shocking even to me, the gulf between the last wine (13.5%) and this one. I can’t fathom it. It’s half a percent of alcohol, maybe not even! Yet something crude happens at 14% that repels me. It is a distorted ripeness, it’s the ripeness amp turned up to 11, it’s the one-pepper-too-many in the curry, it’s the charm you thought you possessed when in fact you were a little too drunk.
Florian Weingart is a vintner (and a man) whom I hold in the highest regard, and I hate to write this way about his dry wines, but let’s say the Trocken flight was rather more turbulent than I found comfortable.
2020 Riesling Feinherb
Again including purchased fruit. And this wine, immediately, has a fragrace with greater charm, greater intrigue, greater magnetism than any of the dry wines. And I LOVE dry Riesling. Yet everything that was unfulfilled and incomplete in the Trocken rendition of this wine is completed here.
It is still angular and sinewy, in the manner of wines from around here, but it is also in some fundamental way pleasing, and while it leans very much toward dryness it doesn’t scream its dryness. Because of that, it earns its place in a way that the dry wine can’t. Sure it’s a little rustic as chaptalized wines often are. Nor does this terroir seem to conduce to wines of elegance. But sometimes a wine with edges and corners is just the wine the moment asks for, and while it would be silly to make grand claims for this little fellow, I have to assert: This wine is VALID.
Day-2…..again, the Spiegelau just adores this wine. It’s “good” from the MacNeil but it’s marvelous from Spiegelau, which seems to have coddled each of this wine’s virtues and brought it forth happy. Well-adjusted! Cheerful, optimistic, witty, you name it. I’ve seldom seen such a dramatic demonstration of the idea of the “right glass,” and to be honest it kind of unnerves me. But the sip I took directly from the bottle is closest to the Spiegelau’s impression.
The headline is: It’s better today than yesterday, but the wrong glass can maybe not total the wine but can certainly fill it with dents and scratches. Anyway, yesterday I admired it, but today I like it. I also liked it washing down a meal.
2020 Spay In Der Zech Riesling Spätlese Feinherb
The 2011 vintage of this wine remains among the most seamless and perfect German Rieslings I have ever had. I wish I hadn’t drunk it all!
This one is more pointed and angular. It has a green force, not “unripe” but asserting green things, herbs, kiwi, fern and woodruff.
The aromas are fascinating; you’re half in love before you take the sip.
But when you take that sip, you may feel the wine is struggling for balance. There’s a phenomenon I call “not-quite-enough-sweetness” which is announced by a strangely blatant sweetness. But there’s the damn label to consider. Imagine this dialogue between “me” and “him.”
ME: A few more grams of RS would catapult this wine into bliss.
HIM: But then it would really go too far to be called Feinherb.
ME: So call it Spätlese.
HIM: But it would be too dry for anyone’s expectations of Spätlese.
ME: I guess that’s true. But what are we drinking, the wine or the label language?
HIM: Unfortunately, both.
ME: Well the world is a bloody mess.
HIM: There we agree.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this wine and will taste (and sip) it happily, even as I am aware that it hasn’t quite enough sweetness for its body and ripeness. I love the smell of heirloom roses here, but the thorns are also present.
This impression was confirmed the next day, though (again) the Spiegelau did what it could to bring the wine into balance. And I purposely set about drinking it on the deck on a pleasant late afternoon, when my attention was occupied with leaves and birds. It was perfectly fine in a snappy sort of way.
2020 Bopparder Hamm Engelstein Am Weißem Wacke Riesling Spätlese Feinherb ++
This ought to smell good, and it does. It ought to taste great, and <woo-hoo!> it does. This is a superb Weingart wine, showing my thoughtful and passionate friend’s wine at its very best. The stars have aligned in this glass.
There’s a creaminess that’s mitigated by dryness. There’s a melting, swooning loveliness that’s anchored to a wonderful firmness, and – the first time this has come to mind – an expressive minerality. There’s a finish that goes on enchanting, and that simply goes on. (Why doesn’t anyone talk about the contribution of sweetness to length or flavor and finish? Come on Tom Stevenson, we need you!) There’s an enactment of a beautiful intersection we don’t discuss enough: The crystal-crunch in the aged mountain cheese with its mirror-image in the interior of an apple or a pear. That is the crux of what’s happening here in this bewitching wine.
Is it “too sweet for Feinherb?” Who cares?!! It is German Riesling, swollen with gorgeousness.
No surprises the next day, but I didn’t think there would be. It’s as perfect a wine as Weingart has ever made, and for me, a loving monument to the highest raptures of German Riesling.
2020 Bopparder Hamm Engelstein Am Weißem Wacke Riesling Spätlese “anarchie” ++
The latest in a series in which Florian lets a wine decide how it wants to go, and if it doesn’t fit the square holes of the legal nomenclature, he bottles it as “anarchy” and the wine is what it is. I am in fact tasting it right after the arrestingly lovely Feinherb from the same vineyard.
Like many intellectuals, Florian strolls seamlessly into capitol-C Concept as a sort of GPS for his thoughts to follow. The concept here is the presumed expectation of the buyer who thinks “Spätlese” jumps through predictable hoops in terms of sweetness and richness. The anarchic wine confounds such expectations, and this is justified by granting the wine its liberty rather than “shaping” it to meet this-or-that expectation.
Okay, I’m fascinated. I wonder whether he reversed the labels on the two Engelsteins, because this one tastes drier than the Feinherb. It is excellent in either case – but we’re gonna need to discuss it! Or was this his intent, to perturb the assumption that this wine would be (or taste) sweeter? Regardless, we have two remarkable wines. This one is, let’s say, 75% texture and 25% fruit; it’s more overtly silky (with “silk” in its raw form) and because of that, its flavors are more grainy and savory, and the structure is tighter.
The balance here is more thrilling, tensile, more kinetic and detailed. Mineral and salt are (even) more vivid, and the finish whips itself into an adamant but balanced dryness. This also seems to be the vineyard where the slate/loess interaction seems to be most tangible. The wine’s a knockout, though I’m increasingly sure it’s actually (and delightfully) the Feinherb.
On day-2 I tasted it first, loved it happily, and find it to be a “legacy” wine for this singular vintner. And now, having tasted the (ostensible!) Feinherb, I see the labels are correct; the Feinherb is a little less fleshy – though it’s easy to be bamboozled when only a half-percent of alcohol separates them. That, plus a mere 7 grams of RS (in favor of this wine).
Florian wrote me: “it is a quite regular impression now that the anarchie seems drier to the taster than its brother-wine! The wines developments are still in flux - the feinherb has turned out sweeter than initially perceived. While I had already in this early stage pointed out that the anarchy did not taste sweeter, despite the difference in residual sugar. [My wife] Ulrike thinks the feinherb is more fat/fatty, which she doesn't like (a traditional term might be Vollmundigkeit though in her description the focus is on mouthfeel, glycerol, polysacharides) in contrast to the "Filigranität" present in the anarchie. I always think the role of slight differences in alcohol and its by-products should not be underestimated in this perception. We know how a sweet Kabinett can change character somewhere between 8 and 9% Alcohol. [So] the overall difference in sugar is not big, not as big as you expected? Well, that`s anarchy. It's not a brand.”
2020 Bacharacher Posten Riesling Spätlese
Purchased fruit from a vineyard formerly leased to Ratzenberger; Florian says it will just be this once. Again, it is always telling to see what a vintner does with fruit away from his “home” vineyards, because of course we conflate his wines with the personalities of those vineyards. This may seem a little inside-baseball for the “average” reader, but this wine is closer to Ratzenberger than, say, to Jost in style. The same tension that can irritate in the dry wine can be a delicious balancing element in the sweet wine, as we clearly see here.
It’s a thoroughly good Spätlese, none too sweet, recalling some of Kruger-Rumpf’s Pittersberg bottlings in its nubby/slatey sub-flavors and mutsu-apple fruit. In many ways it’s what I want “Spätlese” to be in our often incoherent moment – not over-endowed, not pimped up, not the “smallest” Auslese, but something with a still-drinkable vinosity, and with a flavor I (ludicrously) call “bruised herbs” and which I find in Spretizer’s Doosberg wines. It’s a little super-white and shrieky the way too much ginger can taste, but as a nuance it’s really cool.
I wouldn’t mind if the first finish were drier, but on the other hand the tertiary finish wouldn’t be so beautiful otherwise. But what I love most is the question this wine asks: Who is Florian Weingart? Is he the man who makes this wine or the man who makes those wines? We don’t require an answer; it is the question that reveals.
One registers the sweetness here but only for a second, until it is absorbed into the rocky/herbal skeleton. Toward the end of the flavors you could sense blueberries or ripe purple plums with an acid bite. You may also wonder whether this terroir tends toward the rustic, as elegant as this wine is. I’d wonder along with you.
2020 Bopparder Hamm Engelstein Riesling Spätlese*
The “*” is his designation of a “superior” Spätlese.
There’s a wonderful flavor from berries without botrytis and which have barely begun to shrivel, a kind of concentrated gold-ness that’s napped over a still-savory basis. It’s elusive. Very few vintages enable it. But we certainly see it here.
As a rule, with this much richness we have to “forgive” a ration of botrytis that may or may not be clean or agreeable, or we have to tolerate a syrup that can very well cloy. This wine is certainly rich (but gauzy and light-footed) and it has its concentration (but remains cooly transparent), and sometimes the richness can spill over and you’ve had enough by the second sip.
But not here. This very rich wine shows an intricacy of fruit and a solidity of saltiness that permit actual drinking, all because of a sinuous sourness that arrives on the finale and allows the wine to refresh. I have often recoiled from Florian’s “big-sweet” wines, but there is an elegance here. Small wonder he is pleased with the vintage. Though it does seem to favor the wines with sweetness….
The next day I find myself thinking yes, this is a Spätlese because too often such wines are actually sort of diluted-syrups of Auslese, but there’s a larger question also. Does any drinker of German (sweet) wines under the age of 40 actually know what “Spätlese” and “Auslese” used to be like, and how one told them apart? I think that 2001 was the last “important” vintage when that distinction was vivid. Twenty years ago!
Florian will read this report (and I hope he still likes me afterwards) and I invite him to consider these questions, and reply to me if he wishes. What qualities should a wine called “Spätlese possess? What qualities should it not possess? What is the crux of the distinction between Spätlese and Auslese?
Considering this one-star Spätlese, in what way was this wine not an Auslese? And finally, the larger and most essential question: might we prefer the world as it used to be, when many vintages were deficient in ripeness but when the ripe years gave sweet wines much lighter than those we know today, but for which we were grateful because they were not routine?
If he writes I will of course publish his replies.