The wines of Germany's Saar region are best defined by expressions from its greatest heroes, Egon Müller and Hanno Zilliken. For over 2,000 years Riesling from steep slopes above the Saar tributary has been known for delicacy, finesse, and sharp clarity. These two renowned ambassadors over the last century have relied on ample residual sugar for their snap-shop of vineyard and vintage. The young Florian Lauer has a very different perspective on the Saar, and he's not been shy about it.
Today, I'm happy to offer one of my favorite wines released in 2018, and as I see it, the single greatest value in German Riesling, The 2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp "Senior" for $30 per bottle, and down to $27.95 on orders of 3 bottles or more!
Lauer's departure from the Müller and Zilliken mold can be found in two areas that stand out the most at first glance. His wines focus on a dry-tasting style, and the Saar's conventional "lightness of being" is traded for an unapologetic, deep textural symphony. One with a saturating grip that calls to mind Metallica more so than Mozart. THIS is Florian Lauer's Saar today. And it is awesome.
I've given up trying to count the number of times a Lauer wine has been poured for a drinker not particular fond or familiar with Riesling only to have them change their tune immediately. Florian's wines have a way of flipping preconceived notions upside down in a flash. They are radical, yet engage us all with their purity, detail, and site specificity.
Increasingly warmer temperatures in the Saar now allow for this dry-tasting style to excel - it's one that would've been teeth-chattering just a couple decades ago. The magic of Lauer, and his home village of Ayl. comes from old, un-grafted vines worked entirely by hand. Within an exceptional range of wines all worth our attention, it's his Ayler Kupp Fass 6 "Senior" that stands as the proverbial whisper within the world of collectible German Riesling.
Kupp is the greatest vineyard of Ayl, and here 70-yr-old un-grafted vines are tapped for a wine whose name comes from a special portion of the vineyard that Florian's grandfather was enamored with. This western-most parcel would regularly end up in the Fass 6, a specific fuder that the patriarch would write "Senior" on to mark it strictly for personal consumption. Thankfully, today Florian is more into sharing.
$30 per bottle puts Senior on my short list of the great values in the entire world of wine. Truth be told, I promise to cellar this wine each vintage, and each year I fail miserably in this pledge. Last year at our annual champagne and fried chicken party in San Diego it was a magnum of Lauer's Senior that emptied before any 750ml bottle -the truest testament to a wine's greatness.
2016 is a vintage truly defined by its perfect, exquisite balance. Everything is in its right place. There's no shortcoming on ripeness. There's no element of acidity that stands out. Each component melds perfectly with its partners. If you're fond of Riesling or maybe been hesitant due to levels of sweetness, this is the perfect bottle to display the noble variety's prowess in the best hands from the best site.
The Rheingau's unconventional and delicious wines of J.B. Becker are known well for his very late winery releases. Vintages offered below are 1990, 1996, and 2008. But, his 2015 collection of dry and dry-ish (halbtrocken) wines are equally as intriguing.
Since 1971, Hajo Becker has been farming 11 hectares in the Rheingau. Certified organic since 2005, though Becker worked organically for decades. Native yeasts ferments and aging in massive 2,400-liter barrels. "Singular" is often the descriptor used for these mainly dry wines, and I cannot think of a better application of the word. These taste unlike any Riesling, or any wine you're likely to ever have. They are charming, supremely vibrant, and endlesssly thought-provoking.
"[Mineral] not only lives up to its name but also offers excellent price-quality rapport...The bell-clear finish vibrates and tugs at the salivary glands even as it delivers consummate refreshment."
- David Schildknecht of Vinous (04/19)
In Germany's dry wine hierarchy the Nahe's Emrich-Schönleber joins Keller, Dönnhoff, and Schäfer-Fröhlich as the countries most noble estates. And within the "villages"level realm I don't really see much confusion on where to turn first. Annually, my obsession continues to be with the "Mineral" Riesling Trocken. For drinkers who regularly turn to Chablis at this price point, I strongly urge you to take a walk on the dry side.Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Emrich-Schönleber "Mineral" Riesling Trocken for $44 per bottle.Today, there's a focus on a range of styles at Emrich-Schönleber, but it's their dry wines that have pulled me in over the years the very most. While their Grosses Gewachs (GG) wines come from undisputed "Grand Cru" sites Halenberg and Frühlingsplätzchen (offered below), the Mineral is, and forever will be, among the most reliable and complete dry Rieslings on earth. As top GG's now stretch over $100 per bottle, the brilliant value with "Mineral" (sourced from young vines within Halenberg and Auf der Lay) cannot be overstated.
This spring in Los Angeles I tasted dozens of dry Rieslings from the 2017 vintage. Thus far, 2017 seems to be fit squarely between 2015 and 2016 in style. It has a deep texture and breadth closer to 2015, but shows more nervy energy. But, that tension and "minerality" doesn't come across nearly as obvious and straight-line as 2016 has. Frank Schönleber and his father Werner see 2017 resembling the 2002 vintage, one that has proved over time to be brilliant, especially for the dry style.The Emrich family began growing Riesling vines on the treacherously steep slopes along the Nahe river in the mid 1700's. It wasn't until the 1960's that the family could focus entirely on viticulture and winemaking, a risky proposition until that time to have your livelihood be at the will of nature so directly. From 1965 to 1985 the estate steadily grew from 2 hectares to 10. I can beat the drum for dry Riesling as much as possible, but sadly it's a category that falls way behind in the broad consciousness of US drinkers, with Chablis and Sancerre still garnering much more attention. If there's one estate to introduce yourself to the most regal and profound dry Rieslings in the world, Emrich-Schönleber's"Mineral" would be it.
The case is made by many that Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is the benchmark for diversity within the world of wine. And I'm not one to argue with that sentiment. Bone-dry, sparkling, off-dry, semi-sweet, and sweet. The entire range is covered here in the central Loire. However, this perspective has become a bit of a double-edged sword for Chenin. If everything can be done well, is anything actually exceptional? I won't make the case, as some do, that top sparkling examples rival great champagne. But, I will gladly tell you that the zenith of bone-dry Chenin Blanc is deadly serious.
Clos Rougeard's Brézé is the most famous name in this club, with current releases starting at $200 per bottle. But, beyond that there's one name that embodies the detail and clarity that top dry Chenin is capable of. Jacky Blot's domaine, La Taille Aux Loups works primarily with vineyards in Montlouis, but in Vouvray there's one parcel of old vines that produce his most coveted wine. Precision is the first word that comes to mind when I taste his monopole, Clos de la Bretonniere. At $41 per bottle, this is the greatest bone-dry Chenin Blanc that still lies under-the-radar.
Blot takes his cue's from Burgundy gods, Coche-Dury and Roulot. After a slow barrel fermentation (20% new wood here) he moves his wine into steel for several months prior to bottling. Much like the disciplined Chenin found in Saumur, here battonage is avoided and malolactic fermentation is blocked - a necessity in accentuating the laser-focus and sleek frame that draws comparisons to Burgundy.
Blot is no nonsense when it comes to farming, with organic and hands-on viticulture serving as the root of success for all his wines. However, Clos de la Bretonniere stands out in his lineup. While his Montlouis wines can show density and breadth, this rare Vouvray parcel of 62-yr-old vines on pure limestone is a different beast. There's a mesmerizing level of detail and shimmering range of flavors that seemingly dance on the palate. It's a drinking sensation that you do not want to end.
Vouvray is most associated with off-dry and sweet styles of wine. Since 1993 Jacky has focused on bone-dry wines, a choice that was not received warmly for the first two vintages in the Loire. But, after some time, people began to see what he was after. Today, the Clos de la Bretonniere is one of the greatest examples of dry Chenin Blanc in the world. But, like the Loire in 1993, people are still just catching on. 2017 has proven so far to be a thrilling vintage for the whites of the Loire, but even in this context the dry wines from the vintage have a unmistakable featherweight presence on the palate that's pure magic.
It's not often you can tell drinkers of Coche and Roulot to pick up a bottle of dry Chenin and expect to be be floored. At $41 per bottle, today is definitely that day.
Magical is a word that adequately sums up the Koehler-Ruprecht estate in Germany's Pfalz region. The wines bear little resemblance to those of neighboring producers, nor to those next door in France's Alsace. Though Riesling is the focus here, a super-natural element exists within all of their wines that make them stand out among their contemporaries.
These are some of the very most fascinating wines on earth, and it's the extreme hands-off approach here that's largely responsible for that singular quality. Today we take a look at the new release of the shimmering and crystalline 2016 vintage, as well as the beautifully balanced 2012 and the nervy and energetic 2008 vintage, each from the estate's top vineyards, Saumagen.
The winemaking has remained about the same since the early 18th century when the domaine was established. Ferments occur completely naturally. Aging takes place in larger old German oak barrels. The vineyards are worked without herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation. The sweet spot of the holdings comes from Kallstadter's famed Saumagen vineyard, which translates to "pig's stomach" due to its shape. The Pfalz is home to an amalgamation of soils. But, here in Saumagen, it's limestone that takes center stage and bears the most responsibility for this site's crystalline nature, and peerless transformative abilities in bottle.
Koehler-Ruprecht produces Rieslings dry, off-dry, and sweet, but it's their trocken (dry) bottlings that really hit the mark for me. With age these begin to convert into absolutely mystical wines. Their calling card is a cotton candy note that slowly develops. The protective influence of the Vosges mountains to the west gives the Pfalz the lowest amount of rainfall in Germany. This abundance of sunlight gives ample texture and full-throttle ripeness. Finding wines from the Pfalz that avoid getting a little chunky can be challenging. Koehler-Ruprecht's dry versions always carry a flashy mineral streak that brilliantly juxtaposes with the golden apple, sweet corn, ginger, and quintessential cotton candy note.
I was thrilled to receive this trio of Saumagen bottlings direct from the domaine. Each vintage offers a perfect illustration into how all these elements balance together, unfolding slowly over time. The wines are pure, textured, with a laser-cut focus to them - Riesling at its most enchanting.
The different designations like Kabinett and Auslese refer to the ripeness level at picking. Auslese, picked later, will show more weight, and power. While Kabinett will show more delicate and agile. Both wines are fermented completely dry.