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Weingut Willi Schaefer

Tasting Year


It seems quite strange to be tasting these in the depths of winter, when I know them to have been shipped last June. The case took, let us say, a few unplanned detours before it reached me. At last, it has.

This is a beloved estate. That’s partly because the wines are so lovely – lucid, tasty, articulate, gracious and filigree – and partly because the Schaefers themselves are so sweet and kind. For many years the wines were hard to find in the American market, only because the estate is very small, and quantities can be scarce. Recently the reins have been loosened, but it’s not like a motherlode of wine has been unleashed.

I had a customer once who was with me tasting there, and asked if he could see the cellar, so we all went down to have a look. A moment later the customer rounded a corner asking “Where’s the rest of it?” 

“That’s it,” came Willi’s reply, as I stifled a smirk. “That’s all?” Yes, I mean, it’s barely ten acres of vineyards, and this is all the cellar we need.

There is nothing frustrating about a Schaefer wine, but if there were anything frustrating about them, it would be how long they take to acquire tertiary flavors. This is great if you love youthful wines, as these will gurgle away like giddy babies for most of a decade in the bottle (the wines not the babies), but if you prefer a more grown-up style of Mosel Riesling you’ll have to wait 15-20 years to find it. Once found, it is incomparable; the so-called “must-drink-young” vintage 2003 is in a phase of unfathomable beauty right now. 2002 is still a tic too young. 1997 is sublime.

Today it’s Andrea and Christoph Schaefer at the helm, with Willi and Esther enjoying a quasi-retirement  in a house on the hill overlooking the Mosel. The new generation has made very few changes, as few were needed. But one change they made is to produce at least a couple Trocken wines, with which I shall begin.

Dry wines were never the estate’s strong suit, and I am not unwary – but we’ll see.


2020 Graacher Riesling Trocken

AP# 06 is in bold; not sure whether this is significant. It’s a village-wine in the new system. The wine itself is clean and crisp and straightforward, but it has two left feet. Perhaps it will flesh out over the days, but right now it cries out for more fruit and texture. 

Three days later, the aroma has come alive. It is all Himmelreich, and strikingly pure and apple-y. The palate has attained much of the fruit and texture it was missing freshly opened. Yet for me, it’s still not enough. For all I respect its good qualities – and anything that emerges from this cellar is hale and lucid, the wine is like a guy with his pants on backwards, unable to understand why they don’t fit.

Schaefer isn’t known for their dry wines, which are made when certain conditions are met. It’s a miniscule part of their production, which they don’t feel they “must” make but are glad to make “if we have the grapes for it.” Andrea Schaefer continues: “Our hearts are absolutely beating for the off-dry Prädikats. The lightness, transparency and ageing potential… It is just the most special [wine] we can produce in our region. So, if we have grapes, for perfect off-dry Kabinett, Spät- or Auslese, BA - Christoph will always be going for that.”


2019 Himmelreich GL                                                                     ++

“VDP Grosse Lage” appears, almost illegibly, on the side of the front label, and “Graacher Himmelreich Riesling GL” appears on the back. Why not a GG? I suspect because the alcohol is “merely” 12%.

The wine smells cask-y and beeswaxy; I’ve had Boudignon Savennaires that smell similar. There’s also a hint of the mature notes of the aforementioned ‘03s, a chamomile fragrance. It smells nice, and most unusual for Schaefer. Semolina, tapioca, jasmine…is this Willi Schaefer??

I like the wine! But it is quite the departure. Only on the finish is there a discordant sharpness, which feels odd after the savory explosion that leads to it. It says both new-Fuder and malo in its rampant brown butter and Chinese 5-Spice.

But it is neither!  “ It was one Fuder and it was supposed to be 2019 Himmelreich Grosses Gewäch. But fermentation stuck at 12 g residual sugar and we have decided not to bottle it with the 19s in hope that fermentation will proceed a bit. So, it stayed in barrel for one year longer. No [malo], and the style was not on purpose. But we have liked the result, even when it is not Schaefer-like at all -  and, bottled it together with the 2020s.”


One could fuss excessively about that clipped finish. It’s there, structurally, and I’m not sure it matters. A tertiary fruit and Turkish bazaar of spices lingers for minutes on end.The larger story here is that no one, would ever EVER taste this and guess it came from Willi Schaefer. I think that’s rather fun! And I’m not in the mood to let a little finishing sharpness spoil my fun. And if only I were still a merchant: I’d have lobbied hard to call this wine “Graacher Barrel.”

Six days after it was opened, we finished the bottle last night with dinner. Every trace of asperity on the finish had vanished. I must say, I found it addictive. 


2020 Graacher Riesling feinherb

The alc is 11% versus 11.5 for the Trocken, so you may infer this isn’t very sweet. In some ways it’s the wine the Trocken wanted to be, though the best I can offer is it’s a step in the right direction. And someone should write a paper on the way fructose interacts with slate to emphasize its mineral details.

Last night we had a glass as an aperitif while diner was cooking, and it worked; lots of fruit, no jagged corners or bony joints. “Tasting” it again today I feel as I did before – it’s closer but not yet there. I don’t know the RS (I didn’t ask) but it is as dry as this kind of wine can bear to be – and for any reasonable palate, it is dry. It might have made an interesting candidate for the atavistic vinification style we often encounter in Loewen, Selbach and others; more lees, longer cask time.


But a stiff glass in a warm kitchen left little to be desired. The pittance of sweetness it does carry is indispensible to enhance the detail and suavity of the minerality.


2020 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett                         +

A moonlit gauzy beauty, and the acme of delicacy.

I recall an instruction given to listeners of a John Taverner recording, that it should be played “at the threshold of audibility.” Here the flavors are enacted at a kind of brink, an inception of discernibility. And while they hover spectrally in the air, and you reach your palate through them as though they were immaterial glimmers of flavor, they live a vivid life, more so than (so) many wines with more overt attributes.

For one thing there is a whomp of slate, and a lot of vanilla bean (and associated nuances of jasmine and basmati), and a little conifer perfume and a decided expression of acidity for those who vibrate to such things. Lemon balm’s in there too, somewhere. These are usually Schaefer’s lightest wines, and this combines with the silvery gleam of 2020 to create a vaporous and loving ghost.


2020 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett

A quick note on the site. The Himmelreich hill is unstable, sinking a few cm into the Mosel each year, and because of this it wasn’t possible to do Flurbereinigung, and because of that we still have an unruly hillside with zillions of teensy parcels. Nor is the site as uniformly steep as its neighbor Domprobst; it has almost flat sites at its bottom (with fine weathered soil from which elegant wines can come) and as a rule the Himmelreich undulates. And many of the wines have a more yielding texture.

This one doesn’t. It’s another acid-driven ’20, and balanced on the head of a pin. Indeed it’s balanced on a pretty stern pivot, and to me it’s a misfire. 

Or is it? If you taste it after the more overtly sweet Sonnenuhr, it seems a little stingy. I’ve sipped it a couple times and liked it, forgetting any “questions” I may have had.

There’s a cartoon of me as the guy who’s always kvetching about sweetness, but if RS is in play then we’d better consider how it’s interacting with the rest of the wine, and here it’s in a rather risky zone.. This is uncommon at Schaefer, but this was bottled early and may have been hard to judge when it had all its baby fat.


2020 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett

There is more than one: this is AP# 03.

(Provisional note, as there is a subtle cork. It shows Domprobst’s exotic fruit and crunchy texture; it is thrillingly poised in sugar-acid balance and shows dramatic slate expression. A correct bottle would be in the one-plus range.)


2020 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett                              +++

AP# 01 was sent to the VDP auction, which I think is charming. A lot of big overt wines can be paraded around at such things, but leave it to Schaefers to send a “mere” Kabinett as a true emblem of the vintage. Indeed the Zeitgeist seems to be evolving, as more and more Kabinetts are being presented at auction, which I’m sure contributes to the recent buzz around the category.

This is from an old, old parcel in the cadaster Nikolauslay, ungrafted, traditional training. It was picked early.

The slate is pungent, which is no surprise, and the sponti is apparent, which is a surprise from this winery. The wine itself is masterly and profoundly frivolous, like The Magic Flute in your glass. It sends me back to another miraculous Kabinett, the 2008 Kanzemer Altenberg from Von Othegraven, that offered, as this does, every single thing that makes German Riesling great and incomparable, not in spite of its gossamer form – but because of it.

Sweetness? What sweetness??? It’s as good as invisible, but boy is it doing its unseeable job. It has all the nuttiness of your favorite Jura wine without the oxidation riding up top. It has a gorgeous stubborn length in its intricate finish. It’s as euphoric as a field of daisies. It’s a little butterfly who perches on your shoulder so lightly you cannot even feel her, yet she rides there with you for a thousand miles.

I find I am quite moved. I want to say thank you, wine. I’m thinking of Christoph and Andrea, tasting this infant and recognizing right away, this is the ur. 

Imagine a composer who has written great works. Imagine her at the twilight of her life, sitting with a friend who asks, what do you think was your greatest music? Roused by the wine she’s sharing with her friend – this wine – she replies, “You know, it was the music I made up on the spot, when the baby was awoken by a nightmare and needed to be soothed, and I’d improvise a lullabye and sing it until he was asleep again. I often wonder if there’s anything more we can ask music to do.”


2020 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese

Dynamically angular after the seamlessness of that amazing Kabinett. Not a bad thing! It has the deep-woods balsam and oolong thing I see in Zeltinger Schlossberg, which could well have been a plausible blind guess.

I’m finding that all the words that spring to mind are things I’ve said hundreds of times before. What this is, is textbook Mosel Riesling, evidently “Spätlese” but acting like a dry-ish goes-down-easy wine rather than an object of worship. It’s apple, of course, but a spicy variety (such as the Empire). I wonder if this was 100% Fuder; it tastes like there’s some steel in the mix, which would account for its high-toned edges and angles. It’s more kinetic than the Kabinett, which had a numinous repose.


2020 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #10                   +

“#10,” which I thought was parcel-specific, is actually stylistically particular; you could call it the “rocky/mineral” one. In fact it’s often from certain parcels, but not invariably. I’ve often liked it best in fruit-forward vintages. It’s the wine with which to show the pistachio crunch of many Domprobsts.

This is quite the aromatic riot. Ginger, verbena, spearmint, leading to a forcefully spicy palate that recalls certain Nahe wines – as Domprobst often does. Slate is beautifully stark; the whole thing is urgently expressive and youthfully jittery. Acidity is important to the picture. Sweetness is barely discernible.

I’m hoping to publish a piece soon (in TRINK) about the near-demise of Spätlesen just like this one – not sweet, not gussied up with whatever manner of ingratiating juju encourages the “high score.” Rather, a flexible table wine with a certain depth and density. They used to be ubiquitous, and now they’re almost gone. Taste this and see why they should be cherished, and why we should guard against their extinction.


2020 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #5                          ++

This is the one with the noblest pure fruit. Two additional things distinguish it from #10, a longer cork and a more golden hue. Make that three things – we have botrytis now, in an especially fine expression. Unusually it doesn’t nap itself over the fruit with its malt and its spices; it’s entirely integrated in the picture, and it makes me wonder at how rare this is, and how today’s generation of Riesling drinkers almost never taste anything like it.

All you can do is chuckle in wonder and bliss. The wine is para-sensual; it has its flavors and then it has a kind of gleaming ether that seems to rise from it and pulls you along off the ground. I also had a flash of Dönnhoff’s Brücke, if that wine showed it fruit earlier. No, this wine is mystic but it isn’t inscrutable. Decades from now, maybe, but now it is clearly a masterpiece that rends the heart. The finish alone sprinkles your senses with miracles.

Concretely, we have more “yellow” flavors now; pears and white peaches and Cox’s Orange Pippins and even sweet white corn. Yet in fact there is little new to say. Schaefer’s track record with this wine is steady and profound. I don’t recall if it has ever failed me.

Sweetness, now, is an inference, but by no means intrusive. Thank you family Schaefer – you did it again.


2020 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #13                +++

This is the auction wine. One sees why. In contrast to the early picked Kabinett, this was the last parcel to be harvested (from cadasters Gertzgrub and again Nikolauslay).

It is very different than #5; it rather repeats the virtues of the auction Kabinett in an even richer form. It’s a kind of consommé of slate and of the pith of the apple. It has an older soul. In a certain way it’s about what you sense rather than what you “taste.” It feels drier than its siblings. It has a density both palpable and weightless. It’s like a demi-glace of itself; it has vast interiority yet it’s easy to grok. It’s a kind of genial pulsing of the mountain.

Domprobst is decidedly one of the Mosel’s “mountains,” as can be seen from most anywhere in Graach, where its imposing steep walls can seem to crowd down upon you. Whatever melodies live in the depths of the mountainside rarely reach the surface untrammeled, either by fruit or by explicit slate. Compared to what we see here, those are relatively superficial things. Lots of wines have lovely fruit, and classical slatey wines taste of slate. Something else is happening here, something brought to consciousness that doesn’t have a language.

Many years from now this wine will go even further than its brother Kabinett, but at this moment its very richness obscures the articulation that made the Kabinett so astounding. But they are a pair of richly quiet wines, of a silence that’s like an unseen love…she kicked the covers off for some reason, and you get up into the cold bedroom and rearrange them in the dark so that she doesn’t have to wake up to do it herself. You cover her shoulders as softly as you possibly can. She will never know you did it, and you yourself may forget in the morning. It’s an elemental love; it won’t fit on a Valentine. It lives in the core of things. As does this remarkable wine.


2018 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #10                  ++

I wondered why they sent this! Maybe to fill the case? Because I know this wine, tasted it in March 2019, the last time I was there. And loved it. Maybe they still have some? Or maybe the importer still does. Turns out it was all of the above; the final tranche is about to be shipped.

Hello again; I still love you! What an absurdly perfect wine. It has the lilac-y flower and the gingery spice and the quince-y fruit of the best ’18 Mosels, and it’s quite winsome and chipper after the ‘20s. If you have some, be glad you do! No hurry to drink it, but if you can’t wait you’ll fine a delightful young Riesling with surprising length, a sleek wine that’s not without flesh.

Most of you know my wife’s a chef, and every now and again Ms. (Karen) Odessa Piper is, as she puts it, “long on veggies.” This is because we both tend to buy – not to put too fine a point on it – too much damn food. So last night she made a curry, with which the miasma of vegetables could be used up, as it were. The ingredient list looks like this:

Winter orange squash

Coconut cream


Wild crabapples (sweet sour pickled)

Brussels Sprouts



Home Made poultry stock

Curry spices 

Basmati rice

(cooking wine)


Well, we drank this very wine with that very curry, and the gorgeous slop not only met its match in the wine, they fell in love instantly and retreated to a dark corner of the kitchen to canoodle and giggle. Seriously, it was as seamless a “pairing” as one could ask for, and most important, it wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t the chef tasting the wine and thinking, “Ah, I’ll add some more quince…”  What it was, was; a flexible wine showing up eager to be of use. USE!


So we’re here to tell you – well, she’s here to tell you, as I’m in a curry stupor – that if you cook with a disciplined abandon, even if your dish is all over the place it is this exact kind of wine that will be fabulous with it.



2021 Graacher Riesling Trocken                                                    +

As with all Schaefer wines, this has the finest and most candid Mosel aroma imaginable, showing he smoky face of slate in this instance. While “Trocken” is out of the mainstream for this estate, they believe in it and make it most years.

Considering the well-covered issues with ’21 (sometimes sleek to a fault and not always in control of its acids), this wine is remarkably well balanced and almost drinky. It even works in the Jancis glass, which can be overly cerebral for these types of wine. 

For me this is a W-O-W moment, because I didn’t expect it and am amazed how well it works – and how good it tastes, lest we forget. It’s a wine of surpassing delicacy, replete with the tenderest articulation of terroir. 

Tasting for a second time – after sipping it last night while dinner was cooking – I keep being surprised and impressed. The aromas are “naked,” this is, they don’t offer fruits or flowers – only raw slate, and yet on the palate the wine is balanced, albeit on the salty side. I wouldn’t be shocked (nor would I disapprove) if they deacidified this wine, simply as a pragmatic matter, but there’s plenty of spine remaining. For all the legitimate romance about “non-interventionism,” if there was a moment to intervene, it was this one. Either way, the gesture to the drinker is considerate.

And we can be grateful for the pure while also being wary of the purist.


2021 Graacher Riesling feinherb

The apple aroma arrives with the smidge of RS.


My tendency is to prefer a feinherb to its Trocken counterpart. This time, for my second surprise of the afternoon, I don’t. The dry wine is entirely of-a-piece whereas this one is the tale of pieces that don’t congrue. It’s in a sort of purgatory where it wants to be drier or sweeter and is therefore ill at ease.


This is a “sophisticated” judgment, obviously, and if I simply experience the wine as any drinker would, there’s plenty to appreciate, especially the more vivid minerality that’s carried along with the fructose.  My affection and admiration of these people and their domain can cause me to grasp at flattery – which they would try to talk me out of.


We’ll see how this is with food, but compared to the serenity of the Trocken wine, this is a little misshapen.


I suspected I might feel differently on second exposure, but I don’t quite. Here it seems evident that acidity was left alone, which is why it feels like a spike was driven through the (small) sweetness. Of course there are “ good flavors;” this is a superb winery, but the gestalt is more than a little bit peevish.


2021 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett

You’ll note there are fewer wines in ’21 here. That was a form of quality control, which I’ve seen before in Schaefer vintages when they only bottled that which satisfied them. The first cork-finished wine in the sequence, it has – paradoxically – the most vivid sponti “stink” when first poured. This is fleeting, as you know.

It’s a light wine, nothing wrong with that, and it may have seemed a good idea to be sparing with the RS. In principle it is a good idea, and in practice this wine feels something short of culminated. It’s pungent and angular, which I don’t mind, but the pointedness is too overt, and would have been mitigated by another 5-10 g/l of sweetness. Of course the problem with this POV is, you’d end up with a “slight” sort of Kabi with 7% alcohol and more sweetness than it “ought” to contain.

And that returns me to the “problem” side of ’21. In some cases it must have simply been hard to work with. I agree with what Schaefers sought to do here, and the wine has the essential virtues of all their wines, and you should kick me in the shins if I ever take those for granted. But this wine pulls toward tartness, atypically for the estate, and while it juices up in my Spiegelau, and while I expect it to be quite nice at the table, it doesn’t stand alongside the great Schaefer Kabinetts.

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2021 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett                                   +

This is AP 03, to distinguish it from the Kab they sent to the VDP auction. It smells beautiful in a piquant way, showing more terroir than fruit – at least in the first moments. And while it doesn’t feel “sweeter” than the Himmelreich, it seems more integrated and focused.

When they told you that ’21 would be “light and pronounced in acidity” I imagine this is what they meant. It is by no means universally true, but here it’s on display. The wine is for all intents and purposes feinherb, such are its acids, and it is also a portrait of Domprobst you’d suppose was only visible in ultraviolet light.

In its way it is definitely a Schaefer masterpiece – I mean, the clarity and detail of mineral is ridiculous – yet the questions of how it is to be drunk, and by whom, should be considered. Because one of the signal virtues of Schaefer’s wines are their sheer drinkability, notwithstanding all the high-flown rhetoric we lob at them. We admire them for their persuasive virtues, but we adore drinking them because they are delicious.

This Kabinett is superb wine, but is it delicious? This will depend on your tolerance for emphatic acidity. It pivots on precisely that.

Tasting sequence matters, and on day-2, when I’m tasting the Spätleses and the (single) Auslese, I started with this wine to “prep” my palate. It seemed less dry though by no means sweet, and it had a slightly more yielding personality, thanks in part to a floweriness that was only incipient yesterday. Still, it’ll help to cultivate a tolerance for the bracing, and to appreciate the rarified beauty the wine presents, more a “study-in-Domprobst” than a joyful tippler.


2021 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett                                    +

This is AP01, the wine they sent to auction. With the same 7.5% alc, this (probably) parcel-specific wine is immediately more expressive, though probably not riper. It’s a lama of terroir, adding all sorts of esoteric salts and spices to the omnipresent slate and (in this case) green-apple skin.

When Domprobst is this expressive it lives in a liminal zone wherein it overlaps with the Nahe. It has a similar mineral complexity, though the Mosel wine has different facets and fewer parameters than the top Nahe wines. Amazing, then, how intricate this wine is, with its gorgeous gnarl of pepper, its galvanic clarity and a tight-fitting balance that would appear serene in a vintage with less spectacular acidity.

The finish is like standing beneath a shower of bolts of fabric, one after the other, spilling over your body in great waves of raw silk. It seems to entail every possible flavor of slate-grown Riesling except fruit. The earth isn’t “murmuring” here; it is carving its initials in a rock, it is scraping an edge of steel to sharpen the blade of the sword.

Leaving aside the question of how one drinks it, the wine is clearly miraculous especially for us rock-heads and for any person who prizes the pleasures that don’t have to be hedonic.

If you obtained any, and decide to open a bottle, you’ll be glad to finish it on that occasion, as it seems to constrict with oxygen.

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2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

I cherish this wine. There’s never much of it, as their holdings are small here, and it always presents a lilting counterpoint to the more fuller-bodied Graachers, with their mineral probity.

A scintilla of funk upon opening – I only mention this because it’s rare for Schaefer – quickly gives way to a fragrance so ethereal it seems never to have touched the ground. The palate, too, is like some keen white dream of a wine, almost as though you are recalling it as much as drinking it.

It feels like it lives in the space between the sensual and the oneiric, elusive and spectral, it tricks both the senses (which can’t quite apprehend it) and the memory (because it darts and slips, so that you can’t sure you actually are remembering, or whether it’s a story you tell yourself, as from an especially vivid dream).

It would be lithe except that it rides a steely beam of acidity. It feels like a wine that is constantly unfurling but never unfurled. Fruit and slate are ambiences, sometimes louder and other times softer. It is a remarkable experience for a dreamer, but for a taster one has to ask, is this really a tone-poem of the atmospheres, or is it merely constricted by its acidity? Perhaps this question will be answered over the days.

I approach it hopefully the second time. Will it part the curtain behind which it’s been standing, and reveal itself? Because I fear I’m missing something, when I consult the reviews; I mean, 94, 95, 98 from one taster. It’s perplexing, honestly. I simply do not see it.

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2021 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese                                 ++

This is AP05, to distinguish it from the auction cuvée. This AP is used for the ripest and most fruit-driven among the (usually) various lots of Domprobst Spät - #10 is the mineral one – and this smells really quite gorgeous.

Everything is elevated here. Acidity of course, and my previous caveats apply. Minerality is almost a caricature, it is so graphic, and the tree-fruit flavors are such as to suggest the quartzite twang of some Nahe wines. From the Jancis it’s all a high-register trill, the overtones of the note as much as the note itself.

It tilts toward dryness. It is utter Domprobst, with the highest of high definition, sufficient to amaze you and to make you wonder whether you ever tasted the pure Mosel-ness of Mosel Riesling before. It is a wine with all kinds of great facets, and it clarifies a host of beauties of terroir that often are merely implied.

Its acid statement is similarly…clear. As are its phenolics. These are (to my palate) compensated for by the magnificent etching of terroir nuances, but you’ll want to know what you’re going to find.

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2021 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese                                  ++

This is AP13, the auction wine.

What I love about these auction wines (and which was especially vivid among the 2020s) is that they are not always the ripest examples, but rather the most serious ones. They seem to be chosen for profundity and depth.

And this is both deeper and also more overt and “present” than its brother Spät; it’s consistent with the contrast between the two Kabinetts. What’s concentrating this isn’t (only) greater ripeness, but rather the sense that it’s sunk its root-talons a thousand more miles into the earth. It has, one might say, a heavier anchor. And its length is both urged by the ludicrous depth and also zipped along by the vintage acids. These are not the same – they are actually opposites. Acidity gives height, not depth; brilliance, not richness. In this case the wine indicates the leaf-smoky char of certain other Mosel wines, like the primordial underside of slate.

It’s a Mosel quantum, the encapsulation of a tiny bit of slate into a roaring concentration of energy.


2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese

(Tasted but not noted as I seem to have a dud bottle that’s part Auslese and part PetNat.)


2022 Graacher Riesling Trocken                                                    +

While the last vintage (’21) was difficult for dry Mosel Rieslings, I thought I’d like this one more. I suspect it’s suffering from screwcap-malaise, which in certain instances can suppress fruit and increase bite, as is happening now. We’ll see what the days bring. In ten minutes it started to smell like a Schaefer wine, and this was encouraging.

SECOND LOOK, after two days, and my instincts were correct – both of them. First, that the wine would open aromatically and on the palate, and second, that it wouldn’t be enough to mitigate a fatal lack of balance or charm. It’s better from the Jancis glass, which I wouldn’t have expected.

BUT WTF?? I tried it from the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp, which is designed to flatter precisely this type of wine – and it does. To an almost shocking degree. Every good thing is heightened and every dubious thing is suppressed. If this were the only glass I’d used, I’d have written “Carefully nutty fragrance, finely etched; leads into a palate that’s both juicy and a little strict, yet refined and flavorful enough to forgive a certain asperity.”

I don’t remember, ever, when the choice of glass was so decisive to the impression of a wine. Grumpy in my beloved Spiegelau, it’s hale and chipper in the MacNeil, as if it had gotten the sleep it needed and woke up happy.


2021 Graacher Riesling feinherb

(Screwcap again) This smells lovely right out of the gate. My theory is fructose has both its own aroma and also adds to the total fragrances in a positive way – in my experience. 

The wine is bifurcated; its fruit is more expressive now, yet there’s also an underlying sharpness which, again, may be a distortion of a freshly opened screwcap. The mid palate is more pliant than the 2021 yet the finish is stridently aggressive. I expect the wine to improve, yet even so it bears speculating that the sugar-acid balance is wont to be melodramatic when one of the players is miscast.

SECOND LOOK, also after two days, using all three glasses now; it remains coarsely structured from the Spiegelau, better again from the Jancis (which still surprises me) and while it shows best from the MacNeil, the essential disconnect can’t be surmounted. Jancis wins this round, as it comes closest to uniting the factions into an attractive whole.

I’ve written that we don’t actually know what a wine tastes like – only how it tasted from the glass we happened to have used. If you ever entertained the notion that this was excessive geekiness, well, I wish you were here right now. There’s a suave length from the Jancis that inches ever closer to harmony, and while I still harbor doubts about the basic design, the Jancis nearly allays them.

We live and learn, even if we thought we already knew.


2022 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett ++

VDP Grosse Lage” shows on the side of the label. Here is a dramatic argument for using the cadaster (or “Gewann”) names, because in totality I don’t think this site is elite. Only the best segments, and even then it doesn’t quite obtain the supernal brilliance of Domprobst. But if one had a bottling from the best parcels in the steep section, I’d drop my cavil. Sorry, just a geeky aside….

Aromas are serene, harmonious, and beautiful. Schaefer’s wines can show an improbable dissolve of apple and mineral and nut in a kind of zen calm, and then you notice their energy and have that wonderful confusion, the one that tells you the wine is special.

Sweetness is so finely poised – and I’m tasting at 53º, not out of the 38º fridge where the sweetness would be deterred. It’s lovely from all three glasses, differently but equally. It’s a classy, considerate Mosel Kab, crystalline and lucid, flowing and fluid, serene yet springy. The minerality is like sun-dapples on a still pond.

I have two Domprobst Kabinetts to taste, including the one they send to auction, and I expect they’ll be “better” than this, but what’s in my glass(es) right now is the very reason  this estate is so loved by Mosel Riesling drinkers. It’s the tender wee essence of Weingut Willi Schaefer, and I have been grateful to live in its world for forty five years now. When beauty is this candid, this lapidary, we see the world made apparent, laid out tranquilly before us. The loving sigh that escapes us is more precious than we can ever know.

Tasting again after a few days, and the sample is colder this time – 65º in Boston in mid-November wreaked some havoc in the cellar and I had to put the bottles in the fridge -  and now the aroma is really blasting forth. Not as lapidary, more assertive, and no less beautiful. The balance remains pinpoint-accurate, the slate expression is tenderly dramatic, the fruit seems more exotic, the length is absurd for a featherweight with 7.5% alc, and in essence this is perfect Mosel wine in a form both gossamer and not at all ethereal.

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2022 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett                                   +

AP03, the non-auction wine.

The wine is brilliant. It has the angular crunch of Domprobst, along with the quince and heirloom-apple, along in turn with the pistachio – look, it has everything that makes Domprobst what it is. Those things needn’t be delineated yet again.

What’s heart-rending here is the seamless lucidity, the balance so perfect we don’t even perceive it as “balance,” the many-layered activity on the palate (passionately calm, serenely energetic); front-back, top-bottom, everything is happening everywhere. The sharp peak of Domprobst seems to emerge from a cloud napped in delicate new snow, sitting melting in the arriving sunlight.

A conifer note emerges now – as if we needed any more complexity – and the empty glasses are symphonies of intricacy and expressiveness.

With the second visit the wine – again – grows more overtly angular and more “dramatic;” highly explicit, almost brash. Its acidity is more apparent and the wine is more peppy than the Himmelreich.


2022 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett                                    ++

AP01, the auction wine. This single-parcel wine is more vivid and deeper than its brother Kabinett. Usually it mines another kind of depth, without being overtly riper or sweeter. 

At first glance here, it is quite explicitly coniferous (someone will use “Christmas tree” in her tasting note) and every jazz musician will understand when I say it has more chops. But what of the music?

The MacNeil is the knit-the-factions glass. The minerality on display is almost preposterous. We enter the green world now, linden and aloe vera and (especially) verbena, just as we encounter another kind of minerality, more brazen – in fact the whole gestalt of this wine is more insistent. Clearly it is at least the equal of the “regular” Kabinett; it has more affect and drama and a beauty both deeper and more thrusting – yet even as I’m thrilled by it, I love the basic wine more.

This one is a dance, that one is a lullaby. It’s that simple.

The next time I tasted it I began to delineate a few ideas. The wine is superb in its way. It makes an impression of a type of obscure depth I might liken to Bründlmayer’s Alte Rebens. It is an enthralling study-in-Riesling. But I wonder how it will actually be used, because it’s much less drinky than the other Domprobst Kab (which in turn is less drinky than the Himmelreich). That one wears comfy broken-in hiking boots while this one wears crampons. And yet!

And yet indeed. Plenty of tasters (not excluding one who’s writing these words) can get a huge kick out of Rieslings so emphatically mineral. Where any of this might land, I don’t know; it seems to crunch into a liminal zone between the cerebral and the sensual, and I find myself doing more examining than loving.

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2022 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese                                 ++

AP05, to distinguish it from the auction wine. Historically AP5 was the ripest and most fruit-driven among a range of Domprobst Spätlesen. In a narrow-sized crop like ’22, I don’t know if that still prevails.

It’s a sizzling beauty that seduces without intending to, without being “fetching” or enchanting. It’s a poem from slate, but a cool one, no “pretty” language or florid imagery. At first glance it shows a numinous beam of gray and green; it is exactly this expression of slate that makes the Mosel incomparable.

As it stretches its sinewy limbs it yields to the “usual” apple and mango and pistachio. It’s a finer, more chiseled wine than the Himmelreich, yet for all its exactitude it shows a balance that’s almost magnificent. When Schaefer’s wines are this way, you wonder how anything so crystalline can also be so juicy.

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2022 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese                                  ++

AP13, the auction wine. It reminds me of the old AP10, which was always the crunchiest most mineral of the Domprobsts. This one feels as if it were soaked in extract.

I’ve seen this wine in 2020, 21 and now this. ’20 was the vintage that made the greatest “sense,” because I’m finding the particular nature of this “auction” Spätlese wants a more clement, “golden” vintage as a backdrop.

It is very easy to see what is profound here, and in some ways the wine makes a monumental declaration. For me, on this day from this bottle in this weather, the wine is, let’s say, quite earnest. It’s serious about how serious it is. That is peevish of me.

There’s a “red” note that reminded me of (the Saar’s) Kanzemer Altenberg, allied to the Saar’s prominent acidity. An argument for not over-chilling the wine, clearly.

Most strikingly, the wine resists being shrunk to any of its components, whereby we could consider its “fruit” or its “minerality” or whatever other nuances might be in play. It is instead an oration of primordial Mosel-ness. It is redolent of spices in general, but no spice in particular. You could throw “redcurrant” around, or physalis, and the wine would only laugh. A menhir of stone as ancient as this one has no use for our feeble attempts to deconstruct it.



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