When the world of politics is dissolving, you know that there are still a few remaining certainties in life, and one of those is that a Howard Ripley German Tasting will come up with the goods. Consistency is something the Germans do well in most spheres, be that football, politics or wine. As the rain held off over Gray’s Inn yesterday, and eager voters thronged the streets, a group of us were getting down to the business of tasting sixty-two wines (and one delicious grape juice) from the 2016 vintage.
So what of the vintage? Terry Theise said of 2016 “Where I tasted, it is almost never not delicious” That’s a reasonable place to start, on a positive note. I am equally positive, although I do have friends with nuanced views based on their own stylistic preferences.
Generally, wines are of medium weight in relation to other recent vintages. Some wines were sweeter than expected within the Kabinett and Spätlese prädikats, but where I potentially differ from Theise in his own vintage assessment, is that I did find some mineral flavour and texture in the Mosel wines, where he found more silkiness. I agree with those who say that the wines of the Pfalz were quite “generous”, Rheingau being somewhere in between – so no surprises there.
Personally, I like the balance of the 2016s. There was, in the wines of my favourite producers, a freshness, and indeed in some, a lovely lick of salinity. The best Kabinetts were really to my taste, and where the Spätlesen were restrained, they were lovely too. Indeed, the move to sweeter Spätlesen seems to have been checked a little in 2016. Do you agree?
Finally, let’s not forget the trockens. I know these are more to my own taste than some people’s. I am, after all, quite a fan of the Grosses Gewächs wines higher up the scale. The dry wines here are (mostly) in contrast to those, wines to thrill the palate and quench a thirst on a hot day in the sunshine. Perennial favourites, Like Keller’s Von der Fels, always deliver for me. Again, it’s a matter of personal taste, but if you like that wine in 2016, there are others to try here as well.
I think “strong and stable” sums up the 2016s far better than it does our own political situation, as we go forward into the unknown. After the richer 2015s, this vintage may be slightly dialed back, but it will be no less long lived in the best wines – and there are plenty of those.
I don’t plan to give you a note on every wine tasted. I’m just going to give you a highly subjective overview of the wines of my favourite producers on the Howard Ripley list, along with a nod towards some of the other wines I found outstanding. I make no apology for the bias towards the wider Mosel Region.
All wines below will be shipped in Spring 2018. Further details from the Howard Ripley 2016 German Primeur List.
Julian is a rising star. Two years ago some of my friends were unaware of his wines, but no longer. He came to wine making via the kitchen (as a chef), and then via a stint at a number of top estates (he’s now good friends with the winemaker at one of them, Klaus-Peter Keller). He began with around 4 ha of vines, at Wintrich and at Piesport (where he is based). The wines are still extremely good value, and are truly worth seeking out in any recent vintage (I really loved his ’15s too).
Piesporter Riesling is the dry wine, very hard to spit out. £69/case in bond is not the cheapest of my recommendations, but it does illustrate how silly prices are for German wines…well, some German wines.
One of my favourite wines from Julian is his classic Piesporter Goldtröpchen Kabinett. Stylistically, this wine suits my own taste for diversity in Kabinetts. If you compare it to the same wine from Reinhold Haart, you find a little less perfume, but a little more silkiness and, perhaps, weight. In other words, you gain a little succulence and lushness, but also find the tautness of a racket string. £66/case in bond.
When we move on to the Piesporter Schubertslay Spätlese, you definitely get more depth. Schubertslay is not an individual vineyard, but a section on the Goldtröpchen slope, a very individual microclimate planted with ungrafted vines of over 100 years of age. This is a very fine bottling, not too sweet, and suggestive of the slate on which it is grown through a touch of texture. The price is commensurately higher at £96/case in bond.
As with many wines in the tasting, the Spätlese will age well, yet it this one is strangely moreish now. In fact few wines were not immediately enjoyable, in the sense of “I know I shouldn’t, but…”. One or two wines yesterday did show a little sulphur on the nose, but only one or two.
Schloss Lieser (Thomas Haag)
Schloss Lieser is a brooding castle on the banks of the Mosel, just outside Bernkastel. It has a slightly gloomy air. But the wines are the complete antithesis of this. Thomas Haag has made this estate one of the river’s top producers, lavishing extreme levels of attention to detail to produce wines which, more than anything, display elegance and precision.
We begin with two Kabinetts. I know writers always seem to focus on Haag’s sweet wines, but I really like these (a Lieser Kabinett was the white wine at our son’s wedding last year). The Schloss Lieser Kabinett is the entry level (there is a “Kabinett Trocken” from the estate sometimes, not on the Ripley List). This is a wine where my description of “precision” is well aimed, I think. Perfect balance on a tightrope. You can buy this for £54/case in bond, yet the Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett is only an extra 50 pence/bottle (in bond), and you get a real hint of what is to come in Haag’s signature spätlese wine from this site.
The Brauneberger Jufer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese is a beauty, though you didn’t need me to tell you. Very elegant, with a touch of salinity. But don’t discount the Niederberg-Helden Spätlese. What I personally liked about this was that you could almost smell the wet slate. Very fresh and alive.
From the same vineyard there’s a Niederberg-Helden Auslese which is completely balanced and, topping the list at £177/case in bond, Lieser Niederberg-Helden Auslese Goldkapsel. Probably little point in saying anything but “sublime”.
Weingut Peter Lauer
Let’s go with Florian Lauer next. If I was forced to buy just one producer from 2016, I’d probably choose this one. I met Florian this year, and it only cemented my love of his wines, which go well beyond those at this Tasting.
We begin with the Saar Riesling Faß 16. Ironically I bought some 2015 of this cuvée only two days before this Tasting. The 2016 has a new label and, at £45/case in bond it’s great value. You have to be partial to precision, but it’s fruity with citrus freshness. This precision comes from both the Saar region, and from the Devonian slate of the soils here. We step up with the Ayler Kupp Kabinett Faß 8, which may cost £69/case in bond, yet is worth it. There’s still that precision, and the concentration of the fruit is a notch higher. These are both wines you’d be tempted to guzzle very soon. Whether you are prepared to keep these mineral gems is up to you, but the Ayler has great ageing potential.
The Ayler Kupp Spätlese Faß 7 was a tiny bit sweeter than I expected from this address (such perceptions can be so subjective when tasting among other samples), but still thrilling. The fruit is a touch fatter, from an extra week of hang time. I’m sure I have it wrong in many eyes, but I think this needs time much more than the Kabinetts. Kupp Auslese Faß 10 just has a whole lot of everything. More colour, more sticky weight, and yet a mineral spine as well.
I admit I came to this wonderful Nahe producer rather late, just a few years ago. Tim Fröhlich was a star before I ever tasted his wines. He began making wine in Bockenau around twenty years ago, despite looking not much more than thirty (I think he’s in his 40s). These are terroir wines, made on the back of old vines on the best sites. Again, this is an estate which has built a reputation on its GG (from Felseneck), and on its sweet wines from the same site.
There are two dry wines to try here. Nahe Riesling Trocken was the cheapest wine at the Tasting (£39/case IB), and deserves a mention for its nice grapefruit notes and freshness. You have to leap to £72 for the Vulkangestein Trocken, but this is really good, if quite bracingly mineral. It comes from parcels in Felsenberg and Stromberg.
The Felseneck vineyard, which this estate is famed for, first appears as Felseneck Kabinett, which has wonderful mineral precision. We are treated to two Spätlesen from this site, the straight Felseneck Spätlese, which appears to have all the fine balance you want from this prädikat, until you try the Felseneck Spätlese Goldkapsel. It’s a leap from £84/case IB to £102, but it is also clearly a step up, it seeming to have more in every department. This is probably down to it being made from an especially old vine parcel within the vineyard.
Felseneck Auslese (£112 for a case of half bottles IB) is made from non-botrytis fruit, and is not as sweet as you’d expect. It has room for minerality, salinity and a herby side. It probably needs a good fifteen years before you will really see its nuance and complexity, yet Auslesen are always so tempting.
I’m not going to try to get away without featuring Klaus Peter Keller’s Rheinhessen marvels. So much does everyone focus on the finest wines like Morstein, Hubacker and even G-Max, that people can forget how German estates generally offer wines to suit all pockets. Here we are going to focus on four such wines.
In the dry category there is a Riesling Trocken for just £57/case IB. This has a floral nose and a lick of gooseberry fruit, with a little sourness on the finish. Upping the price to £72/case gets you the very well regarded Riesling von der Fels. I would say I buy a few bottles of this pretty much every year. It’s always remarkable value, and Ripleys suggest that it is of GG standard. It’s hard to disagree. The vines are really quite old for a wine at this level, and are all situated in Hubacker, Kirchspiel and Morstein. Consequently, the ageing potential is surprising. If you drink it young, there can be a sense of solid mineral there, which age adds complexity to, and softens (though it never disappears).
There next comes a couple of Kabinetts. Kabinett Limestone gives minerals, fruit and precision for just £81/case IB. It comes from the same parcels as the “von der Fels”. Of course, if you are flush with having a bet on the election, you could move up to the Niersteiner Pettenthal Kabinett. This is a great wine. I may have detected a sniff of sulphur, but this wine is destined for the long haul, and I’ve no doubt it will go to around 2040 if well cellared.
There is no doubt that these are very impressive wines. For me, I’m a fan of the von der Fels, and a buyer of odd bottles of the GG wines (and of the Spätburgunder reds when I spot them). But it would be wrong to fixate only on the GGs.
We finish Keller with the Westhofen Bräunenhauschen Abts E Spätlese Goldkapsel. This is another fine wine which clearly has everything. But at £198/case IB of course. If you can afford it, this is worth purchasing, because these Spätlesen are made in fairly small quantity and you might not get another sniff at it. There are a couple of Auslesen and a BA on the List, but we were not likely to have been offered a taste of these. There was only 60 litres made of the BA GK 2016, but some can be had for £948/six halves, in bond of course.
What else should we talk about? Too much, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can. The Ruwer wines of Maximin Grünhaus/von Schubert continue their revival in my eyes. I’m always a sucker for one of their wines which shows great individuality, the Abtsberg Superior. Almost dry, but ripe and rounded fruit showing grapefruit with a hint of pineapple, and with a little more weight than some of the dry wines here. It’s £114, but these are some of the Abtsberg’s finest grapes just left to do their own thing. I’ve been lucky to buy some older vintages of this bottling and it does age marvelously well for a decade or longer.
I’m not going to say much about Egon Müller‘s Scharzhofberger Kabinett. The only vintage I own now is 2008, and if anyone thinks I should be giving it a go yet, do let me know. £336/case, and unsurprisingly, by the time I got to the bottle (the Tasting was around 40 minutes old at this point) it was only 20% full (compared to 70-80% for the rest). Interesting, that. Still, potentially a great wine, even at Kabinett level, if you are wealthy enough.
There were two Mosel wines which were new to me: Philip Vesser Mülheimer Sonnenlay Kabinett and Franzen Bremmer Calmont Kabinett (the latter is new to Howard Ripley, I believe). Both are worth trying if you get a chance. I enjoyed trying the Franzen (£57 IB).
There were several other individual wines I liked a lot. Hermann Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett has great fruit. This is significant, as it’s a cooler vineyard with a really mineral terroir, so it needs it. Another Spätlese I particularly liked was the Grünhaus Abtsberg (£78). Robert Weil Gräfenberg Spätlese was also especially good, but you need deeper pockets (£176). This is richer, quite honeyed, as one might expect.
Of the Auslesen I liked the contrast between Reinhold Haart Goldtröpchen (about 20% botrytis, very fine and long) and Peter-Jakob Kühn Lenchen, which is more creamy and rounded, a touch of plumpness too. A contrast between Mosel and Rheingau.
There are notable names missing from my write-up (like Zilliken and Willi Schaefer), but please don’t think that because they are missing there is something less attractive about their wines. This is a personal selection, based on my taste, and very subjective. And price plays its part for me, as well, in some cases.
But by way of a postscript, I will mention the non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice, Raumland Grape Secco. It’s made from the Bacchus variety, and is more frothy than straight sparkling, but the bead is very fine and it is full of apple acidity. Incredibly refreshing and quite intense. £42/case IB (no duty, of course), making it a cool £3.50 per bottle. Well worth it!