For many years, Germany has been swinging for the fences chasing that home run impact for Pinot Noir to rival Grand Cru Burgundy. In most cases, the results fall well short for me, as the wine's showy full-throttle ripeness and excessive new oak suggest a lack of conviction in the site's potential.
In Germany, the Baden region seems to be the sweet spot for where Pinot Noir ripens sufficiently, and old vines tend to be planted. Here, the greatest surprise comes from two guys working very much against the grain, with a strong focus toward natural winemaking and only hands-on viticulture. If there's one undiscovered Pinot Noir producer that warrants your immediate attention, this would be the duo.
Today, I'm happy to offer the Baden Pinot Noir lineup from Enderle & Moll.
Sven Enderle and Florian Moll began farming 2 hectares of vines in 2007. They had worked in different settings throughout the globe. They came back home to Baden with a clear mission: to work the land in organic and biodynamic viticulture, applying the lightest touch possible in the cellar (they do not use pumps, filters, or fining agents). The two were very lucky to work steep parcels of ancient vines of Pinot Noir, some of the very oldest in Baden. Their exacting approach in both the vines and the cellar has allowed them to use minimal sulphur, highlighting even more fruit's vivid purity within each parcel.
On the one hand, the wines are spicy, ethereal, and composed. On the other, the Buntsandstein, in particular, has a power and intensity that brings a great counterpoint. Aging in older barrels directly from Burgundy's Domaine Dujac ensures these are brought up with the best care possible, given their extreme work on the edge with minimal sulphur.
While the more natural-focused wine crowd has championed these upon their relatively recent release in the US, critics covering a large spectrum of styles have dialed in here, most notably Jancis Robinson placing them firmly in the "cult" category. Whatever label you want to place on Sven and Florian, one thing is obvious; this is the new frontier of German Pinot Noir. Drawing inspiration from Grand Cru Burgundy is one thing, but the ultimate reason these are such achievements is from a strict focus on their own sense of place and unique style.
“Among others, the vintage delivered some stunning Kabinett wines, although few achieved the grace of the 2019er Graacher Domprobst Kabinett by Willi Schaefer.” —Mosel Fine Wines
Visiting with Christoph Schaefer seven years ago at his family's cellar at the foot of the wickedly steep Domprobst vineyard of Graach (pictured above) was an unforgettable experience. The wines have long impressed me for their featherweight lightness and mineral spring purity of fruit. The balance found in the Mosel River Valley wines captivate us at every turn, but, for me, those from Willi Schaefer sit in a select category. Along with J.J. Prüm, this is where the Mosel reaches its crescendo.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2019 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst Rieslings.
Schaefer's minute holding of 4.2 hectares almost exclusively focuses on two vineyards in the village of Graach, the Himmelreich and Domprobst - both comprised of Devonian slate soils.
The Himmelreich, in its youth, is the more approachable, fruity, and silky. Lots of citrus and white peach tend to dominate. There's a nimbleness and sense of weightlessness to Himmelreich that personifies the magic of the Mosel.
The Domprobst is the more deep, spicy, and powerful. Earthy characteristics reveal themselves here in wines with slightly higher acidity. Flavor profile tends to push further away from the citrus register and into yellow and red orchard fruit notes.
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.
While Summer of Riesling always pulls me towards this noble variety from corners of France, Germany, and Austria, there's just something extra clarifying about the diamonds from the former Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Last night was the first of the year at home where the open windows and doors didn't quite do the trick, so I reached for a 2013 A.J. Adam Dhroner to pour alongside the local San Diego sea bass, and all was right in the world.
These three zones in western Germany are where Riesling is endowed with the most cut and precision. Residual sugar often provides the ideal balance to counter the wicked high acidity. Though, warming temperatures have meant the dry and more off-dry styles are far more charming today than the teeth-chattering dry wines from decades past.
The list is Mosel-heavy today, with superb value gems like the beautiful clarity found in all of the Weiser-Kunstler and Julian Haart bottlings. And, the greatest dry Riesling you've never heard of, Ulli Stein's Alfer Hölle "1900", from both 2015 and 2016 - and, yes, those vines were planted in 1900! Saar's lineup is comprised of only two names. The legendary Egon Müller and today's younger rockstar, Florian Lauer. Chopin-to-Brahms, as I see it.
And per usual, our Willi Schaefer lineup is so deep I thought it easier to embed a link to direct you to that list of dozens of wines.
"[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.