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Weingut Willi Schaefer

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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