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WEINGUT ZIEREISEN

Tasting Year

2021

[Note, this report has been updated with three new wines I received in a later delivery, to be found at the end of the report].

 

The first thing to report is that every red wine changed markedly from day-1 to day-2, and all for the better. If you note a tonal shift in the notes, that is why. In essence, the wines need air to access their sweetness. And I don’t mean sugar; I mean the qualities of kindness and solicitude we sometimes infer from delicious wines.

I did find myself wanting to consider other causal variables, but there weren’t any important enough to weigh. Even the weather was the same both days. I looked at the biodynamic calendar, and neither day was propitious for tasting wine. So there were in effect four encounters – so far – two days’ tasting and also drinking some of the wines with dinner. I’m about to do a 3rd look tasting, and now we do find a significant variable: the fill levels in the bottles, which of course have sunk.

I must say, though, that it makes a certain sense for Ziereisen’s wines to be “moody.” Everything about them is animate. We love this quality, and it’s rare that we find it. As such it’s tailor made for my full-immersion essayistic kinds of tasting and writing, and I found myself lamenting the mistakes I (or anyone) might have made by assigning absolute evaluations based on first impressions. If you’re looking to me for any sort of guidance, if you own any of these wines – and man, you really really should – then decant them, even the whites, several hours out. I’m tasting the reds at 62º and the whites at about 58º, and it seems perfect. I’m using various glasses but you don’t have to. If you want the wines to cover you in cuddles of vinous bliss, I suggest the Karen MacNeil glasses from Oneida (either the “Silky & Creamy” or the “Bold & Powerful” for whites and reds respectively) and if you want the wines to describe themselves with delicious precision, Jancis is the way to go.

The wines from “The End Of Germany” are full of surprises. If you drive there, you keep going south south south until you can see the border to Switzerland, and that’s where you find Ziereisen. Look west over the Rhine valley and the Vosges have faded off to the north. A big undulating hill looms over Ziereisen’s village, and if you climb high enough upon it you are looking at the city of Basel resting in its furrow between the hills. The northernmost slopes of the Swiss Jura are behind it, and Hanspeter Ziereisen swears that “On a clear morning you can see the Berner Oberland,” with its peaks like great white giants, as if bride’s veils were rippling on the horizon. Beaune is closer than Stuttgart. To the extent Baden means anything at all to American lovers of German wine, it’s either the big names (and their big reds) from the Kaiserstuhl or perhaps the tangy volcanic whites from the impossibly gorgeous Ortenau.

But down here where “the buses don’t run” (in Hunter S. Thompson’s coinage) (Or was it George Carlin?  Either way….) Mr. Ziereisen is creating a fine rebellion. He is also part of a group of like-minded producers who wish to wriggle free of the strait jackets of the German wine law, and simply make the best wine they can. Meeting Hanspeter for the first time, his first words were “What you need to know about me is, everything I do is forbidden.” Then we should get along just fine, I thought.

This is just my second full-immersion into the wines – and not all of them, just the Spätburgunders, Gutedels (aka Chasselas) and Syrahs. At the estate I tasted everything (and lusted after the sold-out Muskateller in a most unseemly way), and as a merchant I sought to focus on the wines where the estate staked its claim. But there are no mundane wines at Ziereisen. 

Those Pinots are serious business, of another order from any other Spätburgunders I’ve tasted from Germany. Several metaphors offer themselves; they’re the chewy flavorful cuts, not the butterly bland filets….they show a 5-o-clock shadow at 2-o-clock. But what keeps amazing me about them is their articulation poised improbably against a ruggedness of body and contour. You are thinking “This wine is as chewy as crags” and then in a flash you think “But there is a brilliant mind in them,” and I don’t mean a brilliant mind behind them pulling the levers. I mean the wines themselves embody the kind of lucidity that indicates the presence of high intelligence. And when they do reveal their fruit they offer a miraculous sweetness poised in unfathomable ways over the stones and scree. There are loads of excellent wines in the world, but we also know right away when we’re drinking something of consequence.

Consequential wines seem to step off the roads whereby their  inherent quality is measured and judged. They matter no matter how good they are – but they don’t matter unless they are good. (Ya know? Zen, baby!)

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2017 Blauer Spätburgunder

(The “estate” PN is hardly a mish-mosh of the lesser casks or the youngest vines; it’s sporting 13% ABV without chaptalization – admittedly in a ripe vintage. If it misses the specificities of the single vineyards, it brings a heartiness and candor to compensate. It is not entirely estate-grown fruit.)

A perfect intro to the world of Hanspeter Ziereisen’s Spätburgunders, which seldom showcase the “sweet” side of the variety, but rather the iron. The expressive and compelling fragrance is markedly ferrous and the palate is as firm as a sledgehammer. It’s both more refined from the Jancis glass but also more determinedly peppery.

The first time I tasted one of these it was blind, and I was fumbling. “Clearly Old-World, but where??”  I got as far as Pinot Noir but eliminated Burgundy, and it also lacked the sweet ingratiating sheen of most German examples. I wondered about Gantenbein, and finally settled on Switzerland, but something less “international” than Gantenbein. I was somewhat reassured to learn the wine came from near the Swiss border!

The texture is nicer from the Spiegelau “red wine” stem. Juicier. Dustier. 2017 is a vintage with a kind of char; the Rieslings also show it. This wine is tough but not rustic; it’s a hangar-steak of Pinot Noir, a wine with attitude, possibly too much so. We’ll see how time treats it, but on first glance there’s more to admire than to love.

Yet on second glance it’s entirely sweeter and more inviting. Say what?? Even the texture is creamier. On day-3 I tasted from the Jancis exclusively – I’m getting tired of washing wine glasses! The wine was betwixt. So I tried something I haven’t done before, and slugged it straight from the bottle.

This was interesting! The wine was all middle, and all Burgundy-bloody middle at that. Probably don’t try this at home, or rather, don’t try it in a restaurant, but you can risk it at home if no one’s looking.

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2017 Tschuppen                                                                              +

(Only on the back-label do we read Blauer Spätburgunder.)

The color is paler and more limpid now. It’s from a cadaster on the hilltop with a loamy soil overlain with loess. Vines are young. The aroma is really fine and really bloody; ripe, visceral “nature” but not feral or funky. On the palate we find some PN sweetness but stopping short of ingratiating – thankfully. It’s happily chewy. Yet the Jancis glass renders it silky, lucid and appealing.

It’s hardly “bigger” or more “intense” than the estate wine. If anything it’s more delicate. But it is in every way finer. It has some of the sinew of Hanspeter’s PNs but encased in a lovely fruit. Like fire-roasted eggplant, it gives you the sweet umami but also the agreeable scorch.

I just went outside to taste it – the weather is finally mild and dry enough to permit this – and startled a rabbit who’s been browsing around the last week or so. We’ve never had rabbits, only squirrels, but this one scampered off a few feet and stopped to regard me. If the creature plans to hang out with us, we need to give it a name. I decided on “Dorothy” if she’s a girl and “Toby” if he’s a boy.

If the empty glasses are a guide, this wine will blossom over the next few days.

As indeed it has, evolving into an angular prettiness that reminded a fellow taster of Pernand Vergelesses, one of my favorite communes. He also notes “pencil-shavings,” which is a sharp pickup. Yellow tomatoes and marjoram also comes close. Are there facets of greatness here? No, but there are all the facets of fine-ness.

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2018 Schulen                                                                                    +

(Again, Blauer Spätburgunder only appears on the back label. I note also the moderate alc, 12.5%.)

I rarely write about color – but this color is beautiful!

If a color could be called “articulate,” this one can. The first of Ziereisen’s limestone PNs, the vineyard is layered with alluvial stones from the ancient Rhine.

The fragrance is seriously beautiful, and the palate has the slippery-dream quality we love (and cannot fathom) in excellent Pinot Noir. It runs in three channels. One is the pungently herbal; lovage, sea fern, conifer, juniper. Another is spices and umami; Tasmanian pepper, soy and sandalwood. And finally we have sweet fruit (cooked tomatoes) and nightshades. Its 2018 refinement exposes a certain coarseness in the ‘17s. This wine ripples and glides – yet it has vertebrae and shape and contour. And it finishes with the firm iron all these wines seem to show, as though it contained 5-10% Blaufränkisch.

It’s not a popular-kid wine, but boy, it is absorbing. A flowing, almost haunting tertiary finish develops over the days. It has changed the least of all the wines so far. I think it’s always a “fruit-day” for this wine.

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2018 Talrain                                                                                         ++

(Blauer Spätburgunder on the back label only.)

The only non-local vineyard; in fact it’s a 30-minute drive away, to the lower hills of the Black Forest, at 2,000 feet, on limestone layered with iron-rich clay.

The wine is basically drenched with terroir. It’s the red wine cognate for one of Nigl’s Pellingen Veltliners, no “fruit” but waves of everything else, especially a rampant fir-tree character that is deliciously stinging.

Please understand, I have limited regard for “cerebral” wines because too often they seek to justify a simple lack of sensuality, using concepts instead of flavors. On the other hand, my skin starts to tingle when I sense an assertion of identity where one feels This could only be one wine…

I’m thinking back to Dautel’s Spätburgunders, and I realize you can’t compare the two – but you can compare this to Christian’s Lembergers,and that juxtaposition is revealing. Nor is it far fetched to liken this wine to really good Teroldego. Hanspeter may well scream to read these words, but this PN is a shape-shifter, as well as being stunningly detailed and original.

With air a sweetness emerges that’s not at all succulent. Currants, black cherries, but <whew>… hard to resist. The wine is a keen dark lyric that has access to an occult world of beauty that has excluded everything sentimental.

On day-2 it shows, of all things, a little bretty. It’s fleeting and doesn’t affect the palate, but it surprises me. And on day-3 it was gone. Here the MacNeil glass came into its own. 

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2018 Rhini                                                                                          ++

(Blauer Spätburgunder on the back label.)

This is the “cult” wine among aficionados of Ziereisen; the best site on the great hill, pure limestone, old vines.

 

To me it recalls Clos de la Roche. The color is more earnestly dark now. The fragrance is searching, layered, strong.

 

There’s more tannin now, but not too much; more new wood but not too much. It needs a half-hour to unfurl itself. It’s large but not huge, smoky but not bitter, intense but not sharp. Yet it has the limestone bite.

 

Till now I’ve just used the Spiegelau and the Jancis, as mentioned, but I had to try this in MacNeil’s “Bold And Powerful” glass, whose paradigm is along lines of Napa Cab, or so I infer. Our Rhini is sumptuously expressive in it. It offers the Grand Cru experience, and nothing wrong with that. It lets the wine stretch. I often enjoy the compression of detail, but now I want the wine to show its breadth. It also mitigates the tannin. It’s what I’d use if I weren’t “tasting” but just drinking for pleasure.

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2018 Ziereisen Jaspis  Zipsin Pinot Noir                                   ++

(heavy bottle alert….)

(Hanspeter told me this was a cask-selection of his favorites rather than a specific site-origin, so I’m trying to learn about “Zipsin.”)

Turns out it’s not a site-name at all. “Everything is in flux with us, currently also the names of some of our wines,” says HP’s wife/partner Edel. “In the future our Jaspis wines will be called Nägelin - Zipsin - Däublin - Würmlin - Bürgin - after the surnames of the previous owners or the landlords of the corresponding vineyards.  We need to arm ourselves for the future in view of some upcoming changes in the wine law, in which we may no longer be able to write Landwein on the label, which also means we can’t show the grape variety. We are introducing the new names so that you can still clearly recognize our Jaspis wines for the time being.”

 

These top wines are ambitious (and expensive) and massively impressive. And this wine is indeed magnificent, as we generally understand that term. It has the breadth and dynamism of Rhini but with a length and juiciness that distinguishes it from the single site wines.

But I fear I’m being a snob. This wine is “great” in ways that most (wine) people will easily appreciate, whereas something like Talrain requires another kind of discernment. Okay, fine. But why sneer at an outstanding wine that’s easily apprehended? No good reason! Except I’m pissed off that I can’t afford it. But I also can’t afford Romanée St. Vivant, and I’m not squirming with pique about that.

No, the problem is mine. Some part of me doesn’t want this wine to be so fabulous. But fabulous it surely is.

In what way, particularly? Well, in a way that isn’t ineluctably Pinot Noir, though it also couldn’t be anything else. The Jancis glass makes that point quite firmly. It makes the wine smarter. Let me also acknowledge that conventional “scorers” will probably give this more points than the Rhini or Talrain, and they’re not wrong. I’m just tied up in a knot of my own making, recoiling perversely from something that, to silly me, feels plausible.

But you know? If you asserted the point that this wine was a kind of cultural monument to the possibilities of Pinot Noir from Germany, and that its “monumental” nature was best appreciated in that context, I’d be right there with you. By any reasonable measure this wine is superb.

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2018 Gestad

(WATCH OUT! This is now Syrah, as can only be gleaned from the back label.)

The vineyard is Jurassien limetone overlain with loess, and Hanspeter describes it as “Syrah for Pinot Noir lovers.”

Densely colored after the Pinots, and it helps if you relish a stanky wine. But don’t most of us who cherish Syrah make allowances for a certain tang of brett? 

I’d only ever tasted one vintage of this wine, and it was much lighter than what’s in my glass now. This is true, albeit it is slinkier and more vertical than its northern Rhône brethren. Varietally honest (blackberries, violets, peppercorns) but without the charcuterie sweetness that can make Syrah so enticing. It’s like someone told you “Inside of every Syrah is a little spindly skeleton that’s surprisingly strong, and when you taste the hickory-smokiness and the (Sarawak) peppercorns, that’s this skeleton rattling his bones.”

Some varietal sweetness emerges as the funk subsides. We’ll keep an eye on this guy, because it’s clearly more than a curiosity-project for Hanspeter. And on third glance, after being open 48 hours, there’s a streamlined element that seems to align fennel and mineral.

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2018 Ziereisen Jaspis  Syrah                                                          +

Quite dark in the glass, with aromas recalling Côte Rotie, which yes everyone always says but I can’t help that this time it’s true. In fact I’d be very happy to drink this presented as nearly any northern Rhône from a cool, fine vintage. (Alc. Is 13%, what bliss!)

Quite a panoply of aromas, sleek and stylish, and for this producer, rather polished and sophisticated. If it were a pedigreed Rhône wine we’d be thinking in terms of “altitude,” “shade,” and “breezes.” I think we’d also be incredibly happy.  We’re receiving a kind of list of flavors – expressly including cardamom – in a markedly transparent element; we’re getting all the savory sweetness we love in Rhône Syrahs but now it’s all coolly digital and improbably articulate.

We also have length, and class, and balance. To me this constitutes a laudable achievement, to get all the explications of Syrah without any of the associated sultriness. I’m not drinking hundreds of Syrahs per year, but I’d be shocked if anyone could show me one with this combination of virtues.

WHITE WINES:

As a group these were (even) more sous-voile than previous vintages I tasted. That said, unlike Jura wines (or those Austrian wines of Johannes Hirsch, which these resemble superficially) we’re looking at blissfully moderate alcohol levels ranging from 11-12.5%. Somewhat to my surprise, the best time to drink them was when they were opened. They “kept” perfectly well, but the aldehydic leesiness seemed to surmount the fruit after a day or two. 

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2018 Heugumber                                    glug-glug-glug! and      +

(The back label explains that this is Chasselas, a.k.a. “Gutedel”, and that “Heugumber” is “grasshopper.” It’s a wee fellow indeed, with 11% ABV.)

Even this light entry level wine isn’t steel-vinified and bottled before Three Kings Day. Thirteen months on its fine lees makes me think of Nikolaihof, where this easygoing guy would be quite at home.

Hanspeter’s whites seem to look to the Jura for their paradigms, and I have sometimes thought that they’d be among the best in the Jura, were they in fact located there. This wine, seriously, is just stupid-good, and I happen to know we can all afford it and that every restaurant on earth should be pouring it. The leesy savor is addictive, the walnut-oil umami will make a slave of you, the buoyancy will have you gulping the bottle down in record time. The finish is a gorgeously weird amalgam of ginger and hay and phyllo.

I haven’t tasted a more exciting wine yet today! All those stupendous Pinots and Syrahs, and this little dickens done stole my heart away.

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2019 Heugumber (Gutedel)                              glug-glug-glug!

Even their basic level of Gutedel is only bottled after 19 months in cask on the lees. Clearly these people are nuts.

I tasted the 2018 a few months ago; it was kind of them to send the new vintage. In common with most of Hanspeter’s whites, it’s decidedly leesy and shows a more or less vivid flor note. But while the bigger Gutedels are greater in affect, this one is content to be its nutty irresistible self, giving you an entirety of vinous delight with all of 11% alc.

Look, I love Gutedel (Chasselas) and I’ve hardly ever had one that wasn’t delectable, bearing in mind I haven’t had them randomly but rather from good growers who resisted the tendency for the wines to be attractive but mundane. This wine is anything but mundane, though it strikes me as a teeny bit more slight than was the ’18. But what a useless cavil that is! If I ever went to a restaurant that poured this by the glass, I’d never go to any other restaurant.

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2018 Viviser                                                                                      +

Not a site name but an archaic word for Chasselas, this wine spends up to two years in big barrels (3,000 liters); it comes from a high-elevation limestone site with a lot of wind. Each of the three vintages I’ve drunk has had a hint of Jurassien sous-voile character – which I accept. Still just 11% ABV, it’s not “bigger” than the Heugumber, but deeper and saltier. The vines are 35 years old now.

Think toasted nuts, basmati, brewer’s yeast over popcorn.  Light as it is, it’s almost too dense to glug – I tried! Admittedly I love Chasselas, and to quote a saying I cherish, “Doubtless God could have made a better Chasselas than this, but doubtless He never did.”

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2018 Steinkrügle                                                                              +

Still Chasselas, still (somehow) 11.5% ABV, longer cask-aging (and has the gold color to demonstrate it) and the closest thing to Meursault of anything that isn’t actually Meursault.

 

Hanspeter calls it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and it can stand among my most precious white wines.

If you’re a wine-person seeking to amuse yourself, you will totally fuck your wine friends over when you serve this to them blind. You’re welcome.

This ’18 is leesier than the other vintages I’ve had, but it shares their fervent minerality. It has the mien of white Burgundy allied to a ridiculous drinkability no white Burgundy can offer. You can imagine a Burgundy vigneron returning from an excursion to the Jura, wondering what if……..

The limestone is taut here, and the butter is carefully browned, and some Grand Cru Chablis have this aroma, and these waters are deep but clear all the way down, yet the surface is as crazy-delicious as the toasted upper surface of a potato galette. With the finest nutty brown-butter for you to dip it in.

But drink it the day you open it, or maybe a day later if at least half the bottle remains. I nursed it over four days, and by the end it had grown unpleasantly beery, more (dubiously?) recherché than its forbears.

The following three were received later as a second batch.

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2018 Ziereisen Jaspis Gutedel 10(4) Alte Reben                           +

10,000 vines per hectare, hence “10-4” Perhaps Ziereisen’s most controversial wine, as he has likened it to a “Montrachet” and priced it accordingly. The vines were planted in 1968 and 2006, the alcohol is all the way up to 12% (!), and we are bathing in lees.

So, okay, just how good or great can Chasselas be?

 

This wine is certainly intense, feverishly so. It has that seethe of “important” wine. It’s hyper-expressive in all facets. Its length is overt; it clamors on the front of the palate, moderates in the middle and fades a bit in the back. That is finally the deciding factor for me. 

 

But what can you do but be stunned with admiration at the ballz of the ambition? And in fairness I need to let this spread its wings for a few days. I think I see what Hanspeter seeks to do here and I think he is partially, and intriguingly successful. But we must judge according to the task he’s set himself to, and I need more input.

 

Yet the wine didn’t really blossom, or perhaps more accurately, it didn’t add blossom to what was already there. 

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2019 Weißer Burgunder

There is one level above this, so let’s call it the “basic” wine insofar as anything at this winery is “basic.”

I just finished the last of a few bottles of 2018 I had in the cellar, and this one is much better. The flor aroma isn’t there, and in its place is a lovely, envelopingly toasty fragrance with a masa harina note, toasted corn, reminding me of Hiedler’s Maximum bottlings of PB (at least before climate-change hijacked their alcohols). The palate is suave and redolent of autumn squash but also fennel-pollen and chamomile. 

I’m also finding it compellingly drinky. That is, I find I want less to study it than to just take it to the table. I am also so happy that vintages actually do vary at Ziereisen; this is radically different than the ’18. If I hesitate at all before these whites, it’s that the flor thing is, in the end, boring, because it always tastes the same.

This wine has real vinosity, saltiness, and a farm-butter quality I find hard to resist. I want food with this wine because this wine is food in some elemental way. I don’t “thirst” for it; I HUNGER to drink it. So, we did take it to the table. The meal was roasted black cod (a.k.a. sable) in olive oil, with sautéed wild-gathered (by my sharp-eyed wife) chanterelles, puff-balls and black trumpets, brown jasmine rice and shredded napa cabbage. As I suspected, the wine was seamless and perfect, a true table wine.

I often wonder, if I place myself in the mind of the grower, what (s)he would rather hear. “I gave your wine 91 points in my tasting group,” or “My sister-in-law came for dinner and we roasted a fish and drank your wine and it was exactly the best wine to drink.”

I think we both know the answer, don’t we?

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2019 Grauer Burgunder

There are two levels above this. Also, Hanspeter told me he probably would never have planted white varieties at all except that his wife (Edel) insisted on it, and his own favorite variety is this one, Pinot Gris, probably due to its mass and muscle.

Its mass and muscle is much of the reason I’m cool toward the variety. Hanspeter and I had a wry discussion on this topic. One can approve of the idea of a truly dryPinot Gris with “only” 13.5% alc, but approving is one thing and relishing is another. I have full respect for this wine, but as a matter of true taste, I’d have to say it’s “good for those who like this kind of thing.” Maybe time and air will unlock elements that seem obtuse to me now.

Here are some things the wine is not: it isn’t brutish, it’s not overstated, not over-alcoholic, not clumsy, not crude, not overly massive. Not sweet. Also no sign of the flor thing we see in several other Ziereisen whites. And now a few things this wine is: it is seriously interior, implosive, and at first, obscure. It also impresses as blankin some way, as though one had painted a picture of a huge muscular person but forgot to draw the features on the face. Something tells me this will change, but…into what?

2023

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2018 Blauer Spätburgunder

The estate-level wine is interestingly one vintage older than the single-vineyards. Knowing HP, it probably has more to do with stock than philosophy.

A little reduction under the screwcap makes me think of Syrah more than PN. Fragrances cross-over similarly, with raspberry and black cherry, leading to a palate that’s pleasingly rustic in terms of the generosity of dusty tannin and a certain starched texture.

There’s some sweet….not exactly fruit but berry, but the reduction perturbs it before it can register fully. The Jancis glass shows more of it. 

Considering how outstanding Ziereisen’s Spätburgunders have proven to be, I must say I wish this wine were better. Or let’s say, even better, because its only “flaw” is to be merely good. When the reduction fades (in around 6-7 minutes) there’s an enjoyable vigor and a hearty energy, but it still wants to dance away from any normative expectation of “Pinot Noir” and instead alight on either Blaufränkisch or a sort of Languedoc Syrah.

It will probably improve over the days, so let’s see.

I should add that the wine “showed” more attractively when we tasted it on a mild Spring afternoon at the estate last May. I didn’t notice if that bottle was freshly opened, but I was delighted with it. “No great wines, only great bottles….”

Even out past the reduction I’d still guess this was Blaufränkisch rather than PN.  Or else a Languedoc Carignan, or as my fellow taster says, “European red wine.”

It’s been five days now, and I’ve tasted it three times and sipped it twice, and now for the final look I’m using the Spiegelau red-wine glass – and the wine smells excellent, and smells like Pinot Noir. Go figure! The Pinot-y sweetness has emerged and the wine is as enticing as it was last May. No great wines, only great bottles? How about “No great bottles, only great moments with any given glass?” A lifetime of tasting, and as perspective increases with taste memory, and even as knowledge accumulates, isn’t it strange and wonderful that certainties fall away?

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2019 Schulen                                                                                  +

Blauer Spätburgunder appears only on the back label. Estate bottled. He says “Jura-limestone” and there are alluvial stones from the ancient Rhine. 10% new, 90% used barriques.

The fragrance is very serious and ferrous, even the sharper element of conifer. There’s a youthful opacity and tannin to spare, but there’s an honestly stunning umami on the finish, and I mean directly on the finish, within seconds, that augurs a potentially thrilling near-future.

An element of that umami comes back to perfume the wine in the Jancis glass, and behind the tannic shroud there is something remarkable here.

I can’t fathom any blind-taster landing on PN; it suggests Brunello as much as anything else. For all its ripeness there’s so much lift and transparency and grace; its guts feel as though the meatiness was hollowed out and replaced with a gossamer of berries and an esoteric mélange of redcurrant and coriander powders. As such it’s a hard wine to “rate” even in my purposely vague system, because it’s in kinetic motion and highly allusive. If I owned it I’d decant it at least an hour out, but with sample bottles I feel like it’s cheating to coax them into showing their “best.”

What I will do is taste from the MaNeil Creamy & Silky when I come back to the wine. Her glasses tend toward the hedonic, notwithstanding her intent. In the interim, this is a most provocative and haunting little beast. It keeps teasing with a tertiary fruit that’s kind of haunting, but even the surface flavors are compelling without being at all ingratiating.

And like most of these, it reverted to its ur-Pinot after five days. It still has a gravely entry and texture but now there’s a swell of the “serious” element of PN on the mid palate, and we aren’t merely intrigued, we are satisfied. 

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2019 Talrain                                                                                           ++

Blauer Spätburgunder appears on the back label.

This is my subjective favorite of HP’s wines. A 2,000 foot elevation on a slope below the forest, on limestone with iron-retaining loam; exclusively in used barriques (from “Aßmann,” whom I gather is local), and as has been the case consistently since I came to know these wines – the aromas are enthralling.

The palate is adamant and grippy and finishes with a lash of mints and white pepper, all encased in this ridiculous mineral brightness, which lights slowly like an LED bulb, but buzzes and glows in some otherworldly way, as though it would stimulate echolocation if you drank it in the dark.

All of this is heightened in the Jancis glass, which finds its purpose in just this kind of wine. Forgive me if I’ve written this before – I don’t look back at earlier notes – but this strikes me as a sui generis kind of wine, adapting to no known model or paradigm, unconcerned with varietality, answering to only its own obscure destiny and inventing itself as it proceeds. What a decade of bottle-age would do to it, I don’t yet know. In its young form it is one of the world’s singular wines, in its graphite-like precision, less a discrete flavor than an acupuncture of terroir.

It’s immovable 48 hours later, a wine that’s fervidly magnetic without being seductive – yet it’s clearly superb, for lovers of dark, dark chocolate, black pepper and irises that bloom overnight. 

On its final sampling, it has moved further than the first wines, and I’m suppressing the ferrous minerality with my choice of stem. Yet it still announces “I come from someplace remarkable,” and it’s still my favorite, though I’m sure this is a minority view. But I know of few wines, and almost no Pinot Noirs, with this articulation of iron.

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2019 Rhini                                                                                       ++

Back label shows “Blauer Spätburgunder,” adding “Pinot Noir” helpfully in parentheses. It’s the best cadaster on the big hill looming over Ziereisen’s village, on Jura-limestone with iron-retaining loam. All barrique (again from Herr Aßmann), 15% new.

Ziereisen Rhini is becoming a “brand” for connoisseurs of such things. It is more overt and spectacular than Talrain. Raj Parr once told me that he identified Grand Cru (red) Burgundies blind by the taste of limestone, which is seriously vivid here. There is also earnest tannin and a more toasted feel, like a great crust that got the slightest bit burned but the toast tasted better.

It is clear there is another resonance of flavor here, a sustainable reason this wine is cherished of its amateurs, and I count myself among them. The wider circle of elements is entirely convincing, and the wine behaves as we expect “significant” wine to behave. Indeed, among such wines this one’s markedly original, and far from “international.” (Unless by that you mean you stand astride the borders of three nations – Germany/France/Switzerland – in your very backyard….)

Rhini unfurls itself deliberately, as it has a lot of sheer material to deal with. It’s “sweeter” than Talrain, but that’s as far into hedonism as it goes. The clinging length is almost stubborn. “I don’t feel like leaving the party!” 

It had the most to reveal and so it has, more than the others. There’s a limestone bite at first, a big whomp of mocha-tinged fruit, a big smoky finish, an explicable beauty after the more Talmudic Talrain. My sense is that Rhini really glows in less ripe vintages, where its larger more capacious flavors will be craved. That said, this is pretty damn tasty.

Where Talrain has precision, Rhini has capacity. It’s analogous to the distinction between the paradigms of Volnay and Pommard; the latter is wider and the former more precise. At this point (five days in) the wine is in shadow again, but the wash of limestone on the finish is vivid.

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2019 Jaspis Zipsin Pinot Noir                                                              ++

Jaspis has been used as the name of their top cuvées, based not on location but on single casks; in this case old-vines PN. “Zipsin” is  a long-established family name that guarantees honesty and fidelity.

If you happen to obtain this wine, and wonder at the very-heavy bottle, blame problems in the supply chain for bottles – which have become hard to get all over Europe. Hanspeter needed to bottle, and at that moment it was these or none. They’ll disappear going forward. Applause is warranted….

This young PN is so concentrated it seems to turn blue in some way, as though its very density constricts it. Obviously it needs air, and it’s clearly a great-big wine. It is also – and this I find intriguing – the one that most resembles what we think of as Pinot Noir

A wine like this should be tasted every three hours for five days, as straight from the bottle it’s a black hole of concentration. Other than its blatant mass and fruit sweetness, it isn’t showing its cards.

Two days later it’s quite the blossomer, and goes three lengths further than Rhini in fruit concentration, plus it’s (in a good way) blatantly Pinot Noir. Is it plausible? Perhaps, but in a way that offers a generous pleasure that only a churl would gainsay.

Remember, this is a cask-selection rather than a particular plot, though more often than not it hails from special land. Over five days I’ve watched it open up and now I’m watching it close again. Even compared with the previous evening – when we sipped a little – it has furled its wings and lowered its gaze. Its explosive aromatics reappear on the finish but are inarticulate on the actual palate. But you won’t wait five days and taste it in dribs and drabs, will you?

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2017 Jaspis Bürgin Spätburgunder                                                 ++

This is another family name, and what I think is transpiring is, as the German wine law changes, the family who have never obeyed it are examining what they can get away with under the new regulations, and so some sleights-of-hand may be seen on labels while all of this is worked out. In any case this is the ’17 Jaspis, with all of 12.5% alc (yay!!!) and enough age to see what’s really going on.

The vines were planted in 1953-54 from Dijon clones. I was born in ’53, and they’re in better shape than I am, if this wine is any guide.

And what’s going on is an inordinately seductive and succulent PN, a superb and tangible wine that is easily (and delightedly) “understood,” because this is one sensual feast. Whether it’s the ’17 vintage or the extra two years of bottle age, this is creamy and gushing and it wants less to be sipped than to be hugged and kissed. Its descriptors would deploy all the usual suspects for PN, so I needn’t repeat them here. Indeed its direct fruit attack could suggest the New World, though the alcoholic brevity would imply otherwise.

There is much more embedded in and among all this fruit-glow, and I’ll wait to see which other dimensions may become evident. But if the generous sensuality of this wine were all it had to give, it would be enough. You dive into this wine, and then you see all the little fish swimming around you, and then you write a story about the fauna,  just as we write the story of the flavor nuances swimming through a wine like this.

It’s also a master class in the proper use of oak. While I wouldn’t say it’s quite “ready,” it is definitely available and will give wonderful generosity, depth, and succulence, throwing in a fistful of nuance free of charge.

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2019 Gestad                                                                                           +

Back label shows SYRAH, which could surprise you if you’re not expecting it. 15% new barriques (Aßmann).

The deepest color of any vintage of Syrah I’ve seen from here. And the fragrance is ideal, just the right blend of berries and violets and animality, and even the Syrah-typical reduction is agreeable in this context.

The wine could seem “slight” next to, say, a Graillot Crôszes, but it’s ripe (13%) and its sleeker lines deliver a pleasure of their own. The microclimate is warm in these parts, but all ripeness isn’t the same, and the idea of kilocalories of sunlight intrigues me, or else why is the Rhône wine so much thicker and bloodier?

But we don’t always have to seek that out, and we definitely don’t need to insist it’s the sole criterion of quality. Actually what this also calls to mind is one of those ambitious Zweigelts that combine roastiness and berries and spit-roasted lamb jus. There’s a salty, almost mineral element, and apart from its serious attributes it’s also delicious, a stylish wine of improbable length.

It’s less tannic than the comparable Spätburgunder, and such oak as it has is entirely integrated.  I am seriously impressed.

It’s been subject to my tasting/sipping decathalon, and now as I conclude I’m putting it into an “unsuitable” glass just because I’m a degenerate, and I can. It’s so shockingly good that I want to make it drop and give me fifty pushups.

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2019 Jaspis Däublin Syrah                                                         ++

Again a long-established family name for an unfiltered “premium” wine that actually has lower alc (12.5%) than its forbear.

The first fragrance is dense, suggestive, translucent from the Riedel “Chianti Classico,” but explosively expressive from the Jancis. The palate, from either glass, is magnificent.

Years ago at a superb restaurant (since closed, alas) in the Valais, I seized the chance to study from a staggering list of seemingly every important Valaisian wine, and so my world was enriched by acquaintance with Humagne (Rouge and Blanc), Cornalin, Dioli Noir, Petit Arvine, Heida, among others, and I tell you this because I hesitated to order Syrah, because I “knew” Syrah and I preferred to steep myself in the authochones. The sommelier set about surmounting my stubbornness, and brought me one of the most impressive Syrahs I’d ever tasted outside of the northern Rhône, and I’m telling you this because this wine reminds me of that one.

Its lines are strict and its superficial impression is cerebral. Within an almost tensile body is a groundswell of meat and berries and mineral and garrigue, yet it doesn’t offer the cigar-box and it certainly doesn’t splash you with oak. The wine is both ambitious and also somehow giddy, the way the best Blaufränkisch can be.

What’s most striking to me, these Syrahs ride in the front seat with the Pinots, and I can’t say whether it’s the ’19 vintage or more know-how, but whatever it is I’m knocked for a loop. When you talk about complexity without weight, you’re usually talking about white wine, and when you taste something so brilliant yet also so smooth – well then you’re talking about  a pretty rare creature.

The wine has grown more moderate and elegant over the days, and is the least “rugged” among the range of reds. When the “complications” of freshly opened Syrah have faded, we’re left with a rustic sort of glow, a wine that “dresses up nice,” one could say.

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2019 Viviser                                                                                     +

This is an old name for the variety GUTEDEL, a.k.a. Chasselas, which appears on the back label.

The basic Gutedel is called “Heugumber” and was not sent, probably to make room for a Jaspis-level Chardonnay coming up. I’ll try to score a bottle locally, because I love that wine. This is the next one up; it’s aged in large cask on its gross lees for 20 months, and often shows what they call a “yeast-reduction” and what I find is between an aldehyde common to many “natural-wines” and a flor quality we find in the Jura. Both are present here, in a wee slip of a thing (11% alc) that makes a point of its own.

I like Chasselas. I admire its feints toward significance (e.g., the Grand Crus from Switzerland) and I adore it in the simplest of forms, which some think are mundane but which I can’t resist in the glug-glug vein. There is definitely ordinary Chasselas but I can barely remember any that weren’t a pleasure to guzzle or a joy to study.

This is the best vintage of Viviser I’ve yet tasted. It has so much umami it’s like it was fined with kombu. The mid palate density is material, and lingers into a seemingly endless finish of walnuts and macadamias, but to get there you wade through a weightless yet thick miasma of masa harina and chanterelle and mussel and saffron and a salty-yeasty angularity – this ostensibly little wine is, in fact, a masterpiece.

It’s a somewhat perishable one; it didn’t get better over the days. But no matter! Open, drink, repeat!

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2019 Steinkrügle                                                                               ++

Back label shows Gutedel, adding that the vineyard is Jura-limestone with loss; 35 year old vines; large barrels on the gross lees for 20 months. Oh, and a mighty alcohol of 11.5%.

Again we have the Chassagne/Meursault aroma, and again we have a dead-giveaway for one of those “modest” white Burgundies that punches way above its weight, like a 1er Cru St Aubin you paid a pittance for, that all your friends swear is village Meursault.

After an awkward vintage last year, this is back in glorious form and is, for me, one of the hidden jewels of the wine world. To receive these flavors in such a drinkable form is a gift from the angels, and even if you’re skeptical about my Burgundy cognate, you’ll surrender to the nut-husk saltiness along with the buttery porridge and the melodic repose, as if Mozart had dropped off to sleep on your couch.

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2019 Jaspis 10-4 Gutedel                                                                  +

It stands for 10-to-the-4th-power, referring to a planting regimen of at least 10,000 vines per hectare.

The alc is a modest 12.5%. Modest because this ne-plus-ultra Gutedel has nothing less than Montrachet as its ambition, and is priced….not identically but accordingly.

It happens I have drunk a Montrachet just a few days ago, thanks to the generosity of a friend; it was the 2015 from Jadot, and it was entirely different from my anticipation and also both celestial and inspiring. But let’s leave it off to the side, and approach this wine on its own merits.

It is certainly marvelous. It isn’t quite successful as a facsimile of Burgundy, but as a shake of the fist toward the heavens, it is a heroic Gutedel. In many ways it’s mind blowing that it exists at all. Usually the upper reaches of the variety aim for minerality and depth, but this one is a sun-warmed pond of leesiness and brioche.

Given that there is clearly more to this than to the last wine, does it follow that it is better? Yes, if it’s volume and concentration and (physio) sweetness that you want. But I find the Steinkrügle more seamless, and the Viviser even longer on the finish. No question: What seeks to impress here does impress, and there’s much to delight in its honeyed doughy richness. Yet it has the paradoxical effect of highlighting the superbness of the wines that led up to it, and while this wine is overtly more stupendous, I’d argue that its little brothers are even more heroic.

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2019 Jaspis Nägelin Chardonnay

Unfiltered, 13.5% alc, another old family name.

There’s a reason they sent this to me, obviously, since it is likely I asserted my indifference to Chardonnay. So! After bathing in the delights of Gutedel, what have we here?

We have a firm, fine Chardonnay with a certain coarseness of structure but with an admirable determination not to copycat anyone. Something I notice with many ambitious German Chards is a flavor of meyer-lemon zest and not-too-old Reggiano, alongside a stoniness that either works or doesn’t.

But I can see why he’s happy with it. There’s a fist like a boulder in the mid-palate here, whereas the Gutedels are more pliant. I myself am finding that the rockiness is clumsily situated but that the flavors it supports are very good. It also strikes me that, on another day, from another glass, with another meal, all of this could vanish and the wine be entirely satisfying. But all I have is here and now – or actually, a series of heres and nows. We will see what they bring.

It took four days, but the last sips of this wine were quite happy, when its constituents knit together. 

2024

GROUP ONE: THE PINOT NOIRS

 

(And a quick note; all the Pinots were sent, sensibly, in half bottles, so do bear in mind that my impressions are based on whatever effect the smaller bottle might have on the contents.)

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2022 Blauer Spätburgunder

This estate-level PN ripened in large old casks.

This has a markedly “sweet” fruit-forward attack for a Ziereisen Pinot; it’s loaded and primary, and while I doubt that Hanspeter “formed” it to be this way, it’s certainly quite cordial and inviting in its primary flavors. Some darker notes arrive from the Jancis glass, and this is another instance where you can essentially choose the wine you want – ultra forthcoming from the Spiegelau red-wine stem and far more gravelly from the Jancis.

 

I prefer it when the entry level wine is clearly a member of the family that will follow with the more exalted bottlings. It should belong. It bothers me when the intro-wine is essentially different from the other wines, even if it’s a good wine, because it feels as though it was made to “create an impression” rather than to lead us inside. By that criterion we have a fine success here, a wine that deftly balances finesse and rusticity, and that is unpretentious but not mundane.

 

We’re in the black-cherry blackberry register of PN, should you wish to know!

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2020 Tschuppen                                                                                  +

Loess over Jurassien limestone; 23 months in used barriques from Aßmann. 

It’s as roundly “Burgundian” as this wine has ever smelled, along with its typical ferrous edge and high notes of conifer. It’s a serious aroma.

 

The palate has well assimilated tannin but also a majestic sharpness, as smoky as burning shoots and as earthy as summer truffles. The wood is ideally poised and integrated. It’s the best Tschuppen I’ve tasted since I’ve known the estate.

 

I mean, wow. This has such focus, such an arc of flavor and a dialogue of elements, from its fir-like tangy attack to its almost voluptuous sweet fruit. Maybe it’s a teeny bit more “mainstream” than Hanspeter’s norm for Pinot Noir….maybe? But regardless, it is some seriously complex and tasty wine.

 

Usually one expects a wine to be more tertiary after a couple days open. One looks for greater fruit. This wine has less fruit and more underlying structure (viz. tannin), which I suspect is a positive sign that the fruit isn’t perishable. Every other virtue has escalated, and I fear I may have underrated this amazing wine (and even more amazing value).

 

When I returned to this (tasting backwards) I was struck by its cordial limpidity, and by a rock-dusty note that lingered into the finish.

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2020 Schulen                                                                                         ++

Jurassien limestone; 20 months in Aßmann barriques, 10% new this time.

The fragrance has all the elements of a Grand Cru, explicitly including the initial puzzle of how to put it into words. There’s less fir and more nightshade than in the Tschuppen; grilled eggplant in place of truffle.

 

The palate shows a rapturous top note of white pepper and steel, riding over this stewy-sweet richness. The Jancis glass reveals that “artichoke” flavor some ascribe to Pinot Noir, but it also shows an already complex set of esters that make the wine both seductive and fascinating. If the Tschuppen is a chicken roasted with a lot of herbs, this wine is a duck stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and lacquered with chestnut essence.

 

These are blow-you-away wines, and I haven’t even gotten to the “top” bottlings. It’s almost scary. And the wine gained in force and expressiveness after 48 hours. The finish, interestingly, is less clinging than the Schuppen’s, though everything else about the wine is a clear step up. And don’t mistake me; the first wash of finish is impressively complex. It’s the tertiary “internal” finish that’s relatively brief.

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2020 Talrain                                                                                        ++

Lower in alc (12.5%) than the predecessors; grown at 1,600 feet in a protected site below a forest, on limestone with iron-retaining loam; 20 months in used barriques from Aßmann.

 

Talrain has tended to be my favorite, and here the fragrance recalls a Goldberg Blaufränkisch from Prieler. The iron and pepper are so psychedelically present very few would immediately guess this was Pinot Noir. Nor would anyone argue if you said Priorat.

 

When it reaches the palate (when, that is, you’ve succeeded in tearing yourself away from sniffing the crazy-ass aromas), it comes in broad and clement and then quickly and gorgeously seizes up, showing a minerality so brash you….it sounds nuts…you think of lemon. You also think of flowers, penetrating ones like freesia. You may also note a sideways glance of greenness, and then you might recall the altitude of the vineyard.

 

It's a quieter wine than its siblings. More introverted in comparison, perhaps. The great producers of Blaufränkisch have often described a kind of crossover phase (at or around ten years old) where BF starts to resemble Pinot Noir, and here is a PN that has many of the more exciting elements of BF – which I mean as the highest of compliments – the focus, the verticality, the blatant minerality, the herbal resins, the rotundone. And in this case, the resplendently sweet-earthy finish that leads into some unmapped places in a taster’s guidebook to descriptors.

 

The wine is masterly, incisive, and truly intense. Its finish is deliberate, evolving, and haunting.

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2020 Rhini                                                                                            +++

Jurassien limestone with iron-retaining loam; 20 months in Aßmann barriques, 10% new.

 

I have a pal whom we entertained recently, who is a lover-of-wine but not an obsessive, and who would reject the moniker of “expert.” We roasted some Joyce Farm guinea hens with Burgundy truffles (they were on sale! We don’t keep fresh truffles in the pantry…) and we served him something I was sure he’d never had.

 

“It’s Pinot Noir,” I said. “Do you want to know more before you taste it?” He did not.

 

The wine was the 2016 Rhini. It did the job. It blew my friend away and it made me indecently happy to drink it. Rhini is the wine you “understand” again after the esoteric moment with Talrain.

 

At first glance this is one of those has-it-all wines; it delivers crazily mineral firmness with tautly structured fruit; its generous yet sinewy, powerful yet not musclebound; it has all the best aspects of Old-World Pinot Noir, and it isn’t Burgundy. Its virtues are so tangibly displayed you could even suspect it might be a little bit plausible, but then you’d realize you were being a pill. You know? “I understand this wine; thus it can’t be any good…”

 

I have a friend who runs marathons, and this wine is her spirit animal; it uses its energy economically, it hasn’t an ounce of flab, it has improbable stamina. There’s another surmise of “green” here, and this time it can’t be the elevation; it has to be that artichoke thing people say about certain Pinot Noirs. The wine has only 13% alc – “only.”

 

I returned to the Schulen – was I fooled somehow? No – it is really that good. So good that the (usually) “top” wines are not dramatically better, though they have more interior solidity, and something tells me they’ll come on when I taste them again in a couple days.

 

This one sure as fuck did. It has unfurled to display a fruit that’s like Pinot Noir turned into truffle and turned back into Pinot Noir. But that’s just the core. It’s encased in a frame of luminous stony solidity; it’s one of those wines that goes side to side and top to bottom, and the passage from start to finish seems to last longer than you can bear to keep it in your mouth. Apropos of which, this is seriously hard to spit, and even spitting, the finish lasts for at least a half hour.

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2020 Zipsin Pinot Noir  Jaspis                                                         +++  

Yes these are all Pinot Noir, but this time the (front) label says so; it also says “Jaspis,” which has been Ziereisen’s term for their ultra-best wines from their oldest vines.

 

I have been known to resist wines that are too overt, too obviously impressive. It’s a tic of mine, and honestly not one I’m proud of. A contrarian must guard against the reflex to dispute – you say it’s green? Well I say it’s RED.

 

I am also a man who finds it hard to surrender. Which means, of course, that I very much want to. A wine like this one asks for a suspension of disbelief, that anything could possibly be so delicious. Another thing I do – and this one feels all right – is to resist ratcheting up my language to mirror the intensity of the wine. I used to do that, and it isn’t that I’ve outgrown it so much as it's a question of how many times can you barf out superlatives?

 

So, as soberly as I can, I’ll try to say what this wine shows.

 

Generosity with restraint.

Fruit-sweetness with detail of nuance.

A panoply of suggestion.

Profundity without crude power.

Lavishness without sloppiness; endlessly juicy but not slobbery.

A palate-in-motion; something is always arising from the thing before.

The curiously haunting sense of divinity.

Most improbably, luxury leading to rigor; that is, the immense and enveloping gorgeousness of the central palate resolves into something firm and vertical.

 

If these things don’t add up to greatness, I wonder what would?

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2018 Bürgin Spätburgunder (“Jaspis”)                                         +++

 

It’s a quick developing vintage, ’18, and this wine doesn’t “mind” being drunk this very evening. It will reward you inordinately. 

 

It offers many of the gifts of the ’20 Zipsin; just a little more developed, and a lotmore tertiary, more marrowy, more foie-gras richness. You know what it’s like? It’s like a fresh-bottled “Riserva 890” from La Rioja Alta. Whatever oak it has is melted away into the fruit and savor. What’s left is a curious amalgam of honey and blood. That, and duck, porcini, and cloves. That, and an irreducible vapor one can only call ethereal.

 

And the finish takes you deep down into the lick of mystery. I keep willing this wine not to be so great, but its will is stronger than mine.

 

After two days, it poured out with a modest reduction that took about a minute to fade. It shows, for me, the acceptable side of gameyness, along with a charming dustiness and an appealing maturity. There isn’t much that one would call “fruit,” but there are tertiary notes of appealing dankness (think porcini or matsutake) and that wild-duck bloody-meaty jazz, and finally one of those mesmerizing estery finishes full of tenderness and questions, that makes you wish you were a better poet. 

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2018 “10-4” Spätburgunder (“Jaspis”)                                          ++

 

It denotes a wine made from plantings of at least 10,000 vines per hectare. You know the principle, right? The vine that has to compete for nutrients sends its roots deeper into the ground, so that the wine is both more concentrated and more “mineral.”

 

This is quite different from the Bürgin; less sweet, more solid, earthier. More physical, one could say. And in the best sense, more elementally pure Pinot Noir.

 

We do have, or seem to have, more oak with which to contend, but am I sure of that? I’m not sure how sure I am…

 

The Jancis glass shows a prominent (but not obtrusive) tannin, part of the grounded-earthy feel of this remarkable wine. It’s one of those Pinots that’s more than half-way to being food itself. It seems to be less lengthy than the Bürgin, but it’s actually another kind of length; that wine has a deliberate unspooling of estery esoteric or mysterious flavors, whereas this one starts out forthright and remains that way. Bürgin makes you want to drift off into its penumbra; this makes you want to swallow the hell out of it. Think leather and rich, ripe suede.

 

Many tasters will recognize what I’m calling great-wine-fatigue, in which you used up all your affect by wine # 5 but there’s three wines left to taste. As I’m not invited to vertical tastings of  Clos de Mesnil, I have mostly experienced this strange malaise at a certain winery in the Nahe, which resulted in a condition I’ve called “Dönnhoff Face,” in which one is so flattened by the repetition of gorgeousness that one’s face is incapable of even making gestures by the end, and you sit there in a kind of wide-awake coma.

PART TWO: GUTEDEL AND OTHER WHITES

 

I adore Chasselas. Have I told you this? Multiple times? The Germans know it as Gutedel, and regardless of its moniker, it is a thoroughly adorable wine almost all of the time.

 

The exceptions are the ever-fewer overcropped dilute bottlings essentially sold as plonk, and on the opposite end of the scale we have ambitious examples from old vines in privileged sites. But between these two poles we have wines that are fabulously innocuous and insanely drinky. I do not view “innocuous” as a dirty word. It isn’t the same as “mundane.” It is, if you like, a synonym for addictive drinkability and divinely simple deliciousness.

 

Among the Ziereisen series, their entry level  is the so-called “Heugumber” (grasshopper) and let me tell you, that bottle empties at warp speed. The others tend to peer in the direction of the Jura or even Burgundy. They have aims. They are not innocuous, though they often remain tasty.

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2021 Heugumber                                                glug-glug-glug, and  +

Again, it means “grasshopper,” and is their name for the basic Gutedel, with (again) 20 months in large cask on its lees, and wild-yeast fermented.

 

It is simply perfect everyday Chasselas, a wine that defines the concept of “drinky-ness,” except that you want less to drink it than to have an IV infusion of it. This modest (10% alc!) little wine offers more sheer joy than a thousand wines with greater affectations, let alone higher (god help me) “scores.”

 

You can smell it a foot from the bottle as soon as you screw the cap off. What does that signify? Only that a wine can be modest and simple but still have energy, even with (one might say especially with) low alcohol. It also does a thing Chasselas sometimes does; appearing to fade on the palate only to return in thirty seconds and then not leave

 

And when I subject this humble little critter to the arcane ministrations of the Jancis glass, it starts babbling poems in another language – which is Wacko’s strange way of saying it gains a kind of articulacy but loses the juicy tangibility that makes it so addictive.

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2020 Viviser                                                                                             +

This is the archaic name for Gutedel; the wine sits for 20 months (!) on its gross lees in large casks, and arrives with all of 11% alc, reason enough to celebrate.

 

We have some color, not surprisingly. We have expressively nutty aromas, like some genre of the Jura without the flor or the special twang of Savignin. The wine is firmer than the color would suggest, and it’s a wine with a sneaky and deliberate umami, which belies its subdued first impression.

 

It's serious, in fact. If you’ve ever wondered what confers “length” on a wine, or assumed it was an aspect of power or intensity, you’ll have to think again. Because this little dickens is a classic still water running deep, a wine that arrives demurely – you could call it aloof – but then reveals the most improbable clinging length, not only the swollen mid palate, but the seemingly endless finish. It’s huge fun and makes no sense at all.

 

Eventually it shows herbal notes along with a white-tea brothiness. (It’s weirdly like some caricature of Raveneau…) And while it’s as suave as the best raw pizza dough, there’s also a vertical line that alludes to the mints and to nettles and summer savory.

 

It’s a kind of masterpiece, this little gleaming jewel.

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2020 Steinkrügle                                                                              +

On Jurassien limestone with loess; 40-year vines, also aged 20 months on the gross lees and also with 11% alc.

 

(My hands are sore from all this applauding…) There’ve been vintages of this that bore honest comparison to the better village Meursaults. This vintage is a tranquil marriage between that Jura “atmosphere” and a Côte d’Or mineral and meal. It’s both more intense and more interior than the Viviser, yet it isn’t any riper. This delights me more than I can fathom.

 

As it sits in the glass there’s an echo – maybe more than just an echo – or some of the serious old-vines (Grand Crus) from the Swiss Vaud. It’s a pan-European meisterwerk of Chasselas! Whence it derives its assertion and its strength, I couldn’t say, except to ascribe it to old vines, which seems facile. But believe me that it’s accurate to say that the wine smells and tastes like our kitchen smells when my wife’s roasting hickory nuts.

 

There’s more torque here, as well as a fetching saltiness, and most drinkers would agree it’s the “better” wine. That’s something it will take a few days to determine, but at first glance there’s certainly more stuff here, but is there as much intricacy?

 

It’s really a food-like wine. When we’re reducing chicken stock, there’s a moment where it stops smelling “sweet” and starts smelling more animal and “tacky” (the chef’s term), and that apex of “sweetness” is replicated in this wine.

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“V 21”                                                                                                      +

It is of course the 2021 Viviser Gutedel, sporting all of 9.5% alc and smelling like a dream you hope you never wake up from. It is the best vintage of Viviser I have tasted, and a miniature masterpiece of this neglected variety. Yes, I am using that “masterpiece” word a lot. Nothing else will do.

 

There’s less of the sous-voile note and more pure, pure nuttiness, along with the longest finish you ever experienced from a featherweight such as this.

 

2021 really starts to seem like a vintage that expresses its utmost genius the further south one goes. These are the best white wines I have tasted from Ziereisen. And this wine is elevated to vinous oratory in the Jancis, which teases out all the incipient finesse and – even – nobility, the little Spiegelau only implied.

 

AN ASIDE: I move out onto my ground-level deck to taste nearly every wine in the fresh air, as you may recall. These winter days with the trees bare, I have a view over to the Boston skyline, about seven miles northeast. Today in the late afternoon, I have a moment of looking at Boston and tasting southern Baden, where I could also look at the city of Basel, so that I stand here looking at my home city while tasting a place very far away yet the wine in my mouth is definitely of a place, and I’m liking this tiny moment of space-travel where I can be two places at once.

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“ST 21”                                                                                                  ++

It is of course the Steingrüble    b (and note the return to the old spelling), and at this point I am expecting something blissful – and here it is.

 

It’s the best Meursault I’ve ever had that wasn’t actually Meursault. (and that had 10% alc, which is another matter…) It is also a fabulously weird set of food associations, wherein  jasmine rice and porcinis sauteed in duck fat seem to intertwine.

 

You have to be willing to attend, studiously, to a wine that doesn’t blast at you, and the additional richness of these vis-à-vis the Viviser is something incipient; there is simply more more to this. But it won’t register as the things we call power or strength or intensity or concentration. It is just a richer umami, the phô you cooked for three days instead of two.

 

Texturally it’s more sedate than its earlier siblings, but what it loses in verve it makes up in an unruffled surface that’s deliberate and lapidary. Gutedels of this elegance have a lot of sweet peony scents  and the savors of the best white teas.

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2020 “10-4” Gutedel (Jaspis)

Again, at least 10k vines per hectare now, a self-described “wine for history” and yet somehow it sports a mere 10.5% alc.

 

The wine asserts a point, and the point is, it is profound, and priced accordingly. Therefore it is controversial.

 

Ambitious it surely is. The aim seems to have been to make a “Montrachet of Gutedel,” or at least to prove the variety could rise to a level of seriousness that no one supposed. Does it? I think it might, but it’s a difficult wine for the taster, as it constantly shape-shifts and its superficial attributes, those making up your first impression, are misleading – but you only establish that after many hours or days.

 

Thus we begin with a concatenation of nuts-oak-lees, and you wonder, is he forcing the point? (And “Haven’t I tasted this sort of thing a zillion times?”) But then you have to consider this porridgey mid palate and the whole-wheat doughiness. You start thinking you ought to decant (as he suggests for all his wines) because some inchoate thing is hiding in the shadow and you don’t see its face but you hear its breathing. Or so it seems on first encounter.

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2020 Roter Gutedel “Jaspis” – Unterirdisch

An amphora wine. You know the drill. The berries were placed underground (in the vineyard) in an amphora for a year, and then spent two years in wood; bottled without sulfur, and stabilized with a part of the yeasts. I suppose it was only a matter of time before he did it.

 

It smells like cigars. Animals, and beets you ought to have cooked a month ago. The palate is phenolic, obviously. Yet the wine is curiously at the very least interesting, and possibly even tasty if your food or occasion or general disposition calls for such a thing.

 

I’m glad he let me taste it. It’s both rough and also intriguingly sweet. I don’t mean to sound snooty, and I freely admit I don’t like this “kind” of wine, but it’s meaningful to me if it’s not actively disgusting. I actually kind of don’t hate it, and I’m wondering what Deirdre Heekin (of La Garagista in VT) would think.

 

I am not qualified to review this wine. I’m qualified (as all of us are) to assess it, and I bring a great wariness to the rim of the glass, clearly. But apropos La Garagista, I so approve of that winery that I really must ask myself, if this were one of their wines would I expect to like it? And would that color my view?

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2021 Weißer Burgunder

Large-cask aged for 20 months, and like all these wines, wild-yeast fermented.

Here’s another instance where we harken to the Jura, stylistically.

 

Yet after that opening fragrance the palate is surprisingly firm (that’s ’21 for you). Hanspeter writes of a “grapefruit” character but I’m not picking it up; what I am registering is a lovely Fino snap permeating a sweet-lees umami I’ve been known to call “wet cereal.” The influence of loess wouldn’t surprise me, but if you wait a few minutes a wild herbal second flavor arrives.

 

This wine has all kinds of yum-quotient and I can’t wait to tuck into it with food, yet I suspect it benefits from the backbone of 2021 and I might not like it as much in a “regular” vintage, which could lack the lift to justify the mid-palate succulence and ride alongside that nip of Fino.

 

On second glance, interpolated by a glass pre-prandial in the kitchen while dinner was cooking, it does “read” like a Fino/Jura hybrid, with the interior dispersion of umami Pinot Blanc can show at times – though that describes more Hanspeter’s style than the grape’s typical behavior. I like the wine, especially from the Jancis, and I’d be pleased to drink it if it were there to drink. But those Gutedels are one hard act to follow….

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“Lü 21”

That’s the entirety of the front label, while the wine is actually a Weißer Burgunder from the site Lügler, 20 months in large cask after pressing in a basket press. It is obviously the “premium” Pinot Blanc, and I suppose the obscure title has to do with trying to squeeze this go-your-own-way estate into the strictures of the new German wine law. 

 

We get intensity now, for what it’s worth. We do not get more overt cask notes, but we have more alcohol and the many things it totes along. It’s smoky, with the sense of embers from expired flames; it has more ambition but its reach exceeds its grasp. Other palates friendlier to this form of power will “get” the language here, and think I am churlish.

 

But I’m missing the organizing principle of the “little” wine, the sense of a nucleus around which the flavors orbit. This is all swirling and wisping amorphously; it doesn’t work as a “big” wine and it’s too diffuse to be really drinky. I’m willing to change my mind, and I’ll let you know if I do.

 

Tasted twice, sipped once (before dinner and at the table), I find my “judgment” unaltered but my convictions softened a bit. There are things to like here; the salty/mineral finish from the Jancis is pleasant. But it’s a wine where I’d say – we agree to differ.

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“HA 21”

It’s a Chardonnay , aged in 5% new and 95% used barriques from Aßmann for 20 months on the lees. That said, the opening aromas are sweetly oaky, by no means unpleasant, but anodyne and generic.

 

For all its overt oakiness, the wine is reasonably structured and certainly pleasant unless one is fervidly put off by oaky flavors. But the larger issue is a bit of dismay at the kitchen-sink approach to the white wines from an estate that is commanding and regal with its Pinot Noirs, and more-than-interesting with its Syrahs.

 

Not to even mention the outstanding group of Gutedels, certainly among the world’s most compelling expressions of Chasselas, and I have to wonder…why dabble in the likes of Chardonnay at all when one is showing utter mastery of Chasselas and Pinot Noir? Do their local customers demand it? Are they deeply curious about it?

 

But now I’m perhaps being too jaundiced, because the wine is good, with air, and with a decently open mind. Whether it “needs to exist” is maybe beside the point; it exists, and is tasty in its way, a genre of white wine toward which I am very cool. Yet I could rustle up some saffron risotto and drink this wine happily.

 

It's curious how a wine this oaky doesn’t taste slathered with oak, but maintains instead a certain reserve. This is true even in the MacNeil, which I worried might make it too Cal-Chard-ish. Paradoxically, that glass emphasizes the Europeanness of the wine, though one still wonders – why? I mean, come on Hanspeter, lone wolf that you are; isn’t it time someone proved you could ripen Humagne Blanche in your terroirs? Savignin??

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2020 Chardonnay Nägelin (Jaspis)

 

His back label is atypically reticent, saying only that the wine is “subtle and honest.” Nägelin is an old established family name being used for this particular wine (having to do with tip-toeing around the new wine law, about which the less said the better.)

Alc is 12.5%, and the initial aroma is a clean leesy Chardonnay, actually rather fetching. Oak shows but doesn’t obtrude. The finish is like French Toast without syrup; egg and brioche and butter. The wood underscores the physio-sweetness of the fruit.

 

It’s an agreeable glass of wine, elegant in its way. I’d be glad to drink it – I will be glad to drink it and see how it works with a suitable meal. But it is so manifestly less interesting than the Gutedels, you have to ask if Chardonnay, here, is more than ancillary.

 

Yet the wine has delights of its own to share. Sure the oak is plausible, but the wine is graceful and has a winning disposition.

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2021 Grauer Burgunder                                                                     +

Large cask for 20 months on the lees. Quite a substantial reduction when first poured. It takes 2-3 minutes to disappear.

 

What’s behind it is one of the most interesting, tasty and unlikely Pinot Gris I’ve had a quite some time.

 

What an odd variety this is. I mean, forget the supposedly “difficult” grapes like Petit Manseng or its ilk; Pinot Gris has so many ways it can go wrong, from excessive sweetness to excessive alcohol (from vintners seeking to avoid excessive sweetness) to overall sludgy blandness to an excess of chest-beating bellowing power, such that it is a minor miracle when one of them works, and then you realize the obscure, almost inexplicable pleasure a good Pinot Gris can deliver.

 

What this wine is, is cogent, convincing, even compelling. With just 12.5% alc is offers the voluminousness of the variety riding above a firmly organized core. This is rare. It also gives us a wine that occupies a highly particular place in terms of how we might use it. Because in effect the wine is a higher octave of food we have braised for a long time, that has acquired a collagen richness and a saturated umami we can achieve no other way. 

 

Assertive wines don’t work with that food. Pale or delicate wines certainly don’t. So what we’re usually left with are oaky bruisers or big-alcohol wines often coarse or bland. What do you reach for with a roast duck? With an exotic mushroom sautée? With a big old veggie stir fry with leftover beef or lamb or farro of barley?

 

I’ll tell you what you reach for; you reach for a wine that usually doesn’t work. Maybe this PG is a 1-off wine, never to be repeated, but believe me, I’m gonna make a phone call to try and score every bit of this they’ll let me have, because this is a prayer-answering Pinot Gris of a type you’d have to taste 49 wines to reach this number 50.

 

Just be careful if you’re looking for the usual oily succulence. This wine does not have that. I subjected it to the “wrong” glasses just to watch it squawk, yet it worked; it doesn’t require the kind of stem in which it would show “creamy,” because it doesn’t seek to do that. It’s a more pedagogical Pinot Gris that answers the question But what does the wine actually taste like below all the gooey richness?

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“MUS 21”                                                                                                  +

This is Moosbrugger Pinot Gris, basket-pressed, oldest (over 45) vines, 20 months in large old cask.

 

The color is butterscotch, and the aroma has more caramel now. But the fragrance is pure. And among Ziereisen’s ambitious Pinot Gris, this one makes the most sense to me. You’d wish you could preserve “2021” in amber, so that all the “Burgundian” whites would be like this.

 

In the rich, mushroomy idiom you couldn’t dream a more useful and successful Pinot Gris. It’s thick yet, amazingly, also silky, and its wonderful (umami) “sweetness” has no need of oak. Nor does any quantity of outré examples of this variety lay claim to a fraction of the sensible beauty of a wine like this.

 

Lest we forget – with 12.5% alc.

 

Apropos of which, and to be scrupulously fair, there is a fleeting note of naphthalene in this, which I only noticed when I really dug into the wine (aided by the strictures of the Jancis glass) but which I wouldn’t have registered otherwise.

 

Next time through, on a lark, I used the MacNeil Creamy & Silky stem, which would seem tailor-made for a wine like this. Indeed it was expressive, but mostly of alcohol and naphthalene. The Jancis glass seemed to calm the wine down in a most useful way.

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2020 Grauer Burgunder Würmlin (Jaspis)

 

This is anything but ancillary, as Hanspeter is a great lover and defender of this variety, and to the extent he concerns himself with dinky little me, he wonders why I’m so cool.

 

We have 13.5% at last! We have a shallot-skin color, and we have a big-bellied aroma, as though you could smell the corpulence. And we have, in fact, the kind of wine we don’t see too much of.

 

In its way it is singular. You could drink it with Osso Bucco. It almost tastes like veal stock, in fact.

 

If you want to know what I mean by “physio-sweet” just taste what seems like RS here, in a wine with 0.7g/l residual sugar. The market for serious Pinot Gris may be small, but that may also be because too few wines are like this one.

 

It bears mentioning that both this and the Chard tasted oakier two days later when I sipped them casually in the kitchen during dinner prep. The Gutedels are free of this element; another reason to appreciate them.

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PART THREE: SYRAH

(All in halves except for one, which I’ll note.)

 

 

2020 Gestad

(Syrah appears only on the back-label. Spend 20 months in Aßmann barriques, 15% of which were new; alc. 12,5%)

 

The quality of Hanspeter’s Syrah was the biggest surprise of last year’s tasting. It seems plausible to speculate they are more than a diversion for this grower; he’s serious.

 

It’s a sweet-smelling wine that only indirectly refers to Syrah in particular, and it is paler and more limpid than most of what’s emerging from the Swiss Valais. But it is enticing.

 

As Syrah it is allusive. It tastes as much like an ambitious Zweigelt – again, at first. From the Jancis glass it’s more peppery and expressive. If it had more overripe blackberry and less bacon-fat I might even have guessed Blaufränkisch, and I wriggle around pointing all this out because if you approach the wine with, I don’t know, St. Joseph as your guide beacon, you’ll be disappointed. Yet….

 

If you are open minded to the possibility of a delicious and useful wine that will “remind you” of Syrah, you’ll be highly content. You won’t mind the translucent shroud of tannin because of all the ripe sweet fruit on display. I’m not tasting anything earthy, gamey, or bretty. It also tastes more northerly than the Pinots, which are comparatively sumptuous.

 

We’ll see what time and oxygen will bring, but I’ll be surprised if the wine develops dramatically.

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2019 Gestad

(Again “Syrah” is inconspicuous on the back label. Same vinification as the ’20, this time with 13% alc, and the full-bottle is cork-finished)

 

The wine is burlier and more animal from the robustly ripe 2019 vintage. It’s more decidedly Syrah on the palate. Depending on your frame of reference it’s either “dilute” or “deliciously transparent and graceful.” You wouldn’t reach for it at the winter solstice with a foot of new snow outside. You’d want it on an early Fall evening before you stowed away your grill for the winter.

 

I like it a lot, but then I appreciate access to Syrah’s varietality without drinking anything too thick and sludgy and fatiguing. Clearly there’s a world between these two poles, and the greatest wines reside therein, but these delicate wines don’t get their share of kudos, besotted as we are with sheer muscle.

 

Mind you, there’s plenty of strength here, but it’s expressed as a sinewy ripple, and it sits below a tranquil surface. It’s more charming than lusty, but I must emphasize that it isn’t slight or attenuated – it’s real red wine with a graceful coolness and just enough mojo to be taken seriously.

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2020 Däublin Syrah Jaspis                                                                   +

(The top-level Syrah has 13% alc)

 

And now we have a fragrance to contend with. Smoke and wood and raw bacon and, oddly, a top note of celeriac.

 

On the palate this does remind me of some of the Valasian Syrahs, though if I was really being fussy I might infer a cuvée of Syrah and Cornalin. In any event the wine is delicious, idiosyncratic, and entirely compelling.

 

At this level we can refer to the more “noble” elements that we cherish from Syrah, though we remain spared from any overstatedness. Instead we get ample smokiness and a grilled nightshade umami – and that curious metallic clang –  and a grownup expressiveness that doesn’t have to bang itself on the chest to tell you to pay attention.

 

With air the bouquet becomes almost elated, and the palate’s luscious sweetness is perfectly contained within a gliding, gracious body.

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2018 10-4 Syrah Jaspis                                                                        ++

 

2018 is developing its own aroma, regardless of color or variety, and we have it here. There’s also a deranged sort of concentration in play, like scattering the puzzle pieces across the floor. Those first notes are intensely bloody, yet not bretty as far as I can discern. You could call it “brooding.”

 

The palate is pure 2018. I last smelled the aroma in a Pfalz Scheurebe, and I couldn’t describe it then and I can’t describe it today. Strangely it’s applesauce, peony, mace, to which is added a Syrah pepperiness, the metallic twang (again)

 

The palate is like one of those great-tasting gut burps; the flavors seem to rise out of your own body rather than entering you from the glass. It’s earthy and loaded with umami, and it’s the least “sweet” among the Syrahs – the least sweet and the most meaty.

 

Because it has so many of the important-red-wine elements, I’m somewhat skeptical. I know, I’m weird that way. But – it makes it all the better when I’m overcome, as I am here. This is simply beautiful red wine, the one among the Syrahs that can stand alongside the Pinot Noirs in sheer quality, length, capaciousness and gloss.

First Set
Second Set
2021
2023
2024
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