The balanced Rieslings found in Mosel River Valley captivate at every turn, but for me, Willi Schaefer sits in a select category. These wines have long impressed me for their featherweight lightness and mineral spring purity. Along with J.J. Prüm, this is where the Mosel reaches its crescendo.
Schaefer's minute holding of 4.2 hectares focuses on two vineyards in the village of Graach—Himmelreich and Domprobst—both comprised of Devonian slate soils. Visiting Christoph Schaefer at his family's cellar, situated at the foot of the wickedly steep Domprobst Vineyard, was an unforgettable experience.
In its youth, Himmelreich is the more approachable, fruity, and silky, with lots of citrus and white peach. Its nimble weightlessness personifies the magic of the Mosel. Domprobst, in comparison, is much deeper, spicy, and powerful. Earthy characteristics reveal themselves, slightly higher acidity, and the flavor profile moves toward yellow and red orchard fruit notes.
Pfalz's Koehler-Ruprecht bears little resemblance to neighboring producers nor those next door in France's Alsace. Though Riesling is the focus here, a supernatural element exists within the wines that make them stand out among their contemporaries.
The sweet spot of their holdings comes from Kallstadter's famed Saumagen Vineyard. Pfalz is home to an amalgamation of soils—in Saumagen, limestone takes center stage and bears the most responsibility for this site's crystalline nature and peerless transformative abilities in bottle. Winemaker Dominik Sona says the 2016 vintage was Koehler-Ruprecht's last late harvest as the region grows warmer from climate change.
I'm thrilled to have received these bottlings directly from the domaine! Unlike other wineries, Koehler-Ruprecht determines designations by taste rather than calculated sweetness levels: The lightest wine of the vintage becomes Kabinett while the most complex is Auslese.
The Mosel is home to the most laser-focused and filigreed German Rieslings. Estates like J.J. Prüm and Fritz Haag put this iconic region on the worldwide collector map in the 1700s, but today's offer highlights the new generation. A.J. Adam marvels the senses with saturating and powerful style, electrifying acidity, and unmatched texture that stands out from traditionally-minded estates.
A.J. Adam works with 1950-planted vines in Dhron and Piesport and farms their minuscule four hectares entirely by hand. The incredibly steep Hofberg vineyard receives maximum sun exposure, moderated by the Dhron tributary below and the whipping winds coming above the Hunsrück Mountains. The estate's hallmark is maximum ripeness with a fierce dry-extraction in the cellar.
The lineup ranges from the bone-dry Grand Cru-level Hofberg and Goldtröpfchen to the painfully rare Beerenauslese. Wines tasted back to 2001 have barely budged in their evolution, still showing fresh salinity and pale straw hues. A visit just before harvest in 2012 was my first exposure to these wines, and since then, each vintage has been accumulating in my personal cellar.
Riesling from the steep slopes above Germany's Saar tributary has been known for its delicacy, finesse, and sharp clarity for over 2,000 years. The region is best defined by expressions from its greatest heroes Egon Müller and Hanno Zilliken, two renowned ambassadors who have relied on ample residual sugar, but the young Florian Lauer has a very different perspective on the Saar.
Florian's departure from the Müller and Zilliken mold can be found in two main areas: His wines focus on a dry-tasting style, and the Saar's conventional "lightness of being" is traded for an unapologetic, deeply textural symphony. One with a saturating grip that calls to mind Metallica more so than Mozart.
Increasingly warmer temperatures in the Saar now allow for this dry-tasting style to excel where it where it was once teeth-chattering just a couple of decades ago. Kupp is the greatest vineyard of Ayl, and here, 70-year-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.
I've lost count of the number of times Lauer has been poured for someone not particularly fond of 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.
The world's great and most age-worthy dry Riesling may come from a few select pockets of the world, but among those historical gems, the 1335-founded Karthäuserhof estate reaches rarefied air.
Ruwer Valley Riesling is most recognized for its delicacy and mineral spring purity. On Karthäuserhofberg's towering vineyard, these attributes are met with a special grandeur placing these at the top. With decades in bottle, Karthäuserhof develops a wispy pine needle inflection and a hypnotic iron streak of super-fine minerality.
Devonian slate is found throughout the Ruwer, and here its unique pink copper hue plays a role in releasing iron-rich minerals into the soil. Bands of clay throughout bring water retention, and the pine forest above the vineyard protects from harsh winds. These components are crucial in endowing some of the more fleshy apricot, green apple, and pink grapefruit notes that verge into a pronounced, smokey mineral core.