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Weingut Willi Schaefer

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese

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

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