The world's greatest and most age-worthy dry Riesling may come from a few select pockets of the world, but among historical gems the 1335-founded Karthäuserhof estate reaches rarefied air. Today's e-mail features the top two dry wines of the estate, with bottle age now entering their prime window. With pricing far less than current vintages offered in the US this is not to be missed. And, I've created special mixed 6-pack pricing to go even lower!
Ruwer Valley Riesling is most recognized for its delicacy and mineral spring purity. On the towering Karthäuserhofberg vineyard these attributes are met with a special grandeur placing these at the top of the heap. With decades in bottle Karthäuserhof develops wispy pine needle inflections and a hypnotic iron streak of super-fine minerality.
Today's 2008 Alte Reben (old vine) and 2009 Grosses Gëwachs (great growth) show the emergence of these notes that are so singluar to the great Karthäuserhofberg vineyard.
Devonian slate is found throughout the Ruwer, and here its unique pink copper hue plays a role releasing iron-rich minerals into soil. Bands of clay throughout bring advantageous water retention, and the pine forest above the vineyard protects from harsh winds. All these elements are crucial in endowing some of the more fleshy apricot, green apple, and pink grapefruit notes that verge into a pronounced, smokey mineral core.
Karthäserhof was originally founded as a monastery in 1335, and today is recognized as the 8th oldest winegrowing estate in the world. I'm always on the hunt for back-vintage wines from this fabled house, but I never thought I'd get pricing down this sharp for their top dry wines.
2008 Karthäuserhof Riesling Spätlese Trocken Alte Reben
$39 per bottle.
2009 Karthäuserhof Riesling Grosses Gewächs
$64 per bottle.
Special E-Mail 6-pack Pricing: $258! (Regularly $309)
(3 bottles of each)
2002 Karthäuserhof Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel NR. 52 #16 375ml
$59 per bottle.
2009 Karthäuserhof Riesling Grosses Gewächs 1.5L
$149 per bottle.
2012 Karthäuserhof Riesling Grosses Gewächs
$79 per bottle.
Saturday night's Rieslingfeier at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn was, again, one of those pinch me evenings surrounded by some of the world's greatest producers and tables filled with historic wines. Established by importer Stephen Bitterolf, Rieslingfeier is a celebratory weekend gathering enthusiasts from all over the globe. I found myself lucky enough to be seated with one my heroes in the world of wine, Christoph Schaefer of the Mosel's Weingut Willi Schaefer.
Visiting with Christoph 6 years ago at his family's cellar at the foot of the wickedly steep Domprobst vineyard of Graach was also an unforgettable experience. The wines have long impressed me for their featherweight texture and mineral spring purity of fruit. The balance that the Mosel River Valley can captivate us with is always on full display in the Willi Schaefer wines. And their finish reminiscent of cake frosting with dancing mineral stardust is what's always stuck with me since being introduced to the producer a decade ago by Jill Bernheimer's top shop, Domaine LA.
Schaefer's minute holding of 4.2 hectares primarily focuses on two vineyards in the village of Graach, the Himmelreich and Domprobst - both comprised of Devonian slate soils. Only .2 hectares of the Sonnenuhr vineyard of Wehlen round things out here.
Himmelreich is the more charming, approachable, fruity, and silky. Lots of citrus and white peach tend to dominate. There's an agility and sense of weightlessness to Himmelreich that personifies the magic of the Mosel.
Domprobst is the more deep, spicy, and powerful. Earthy characteristics reveal themselves here in wines with slightly higher acidity, lending an even greater aging capability. Flavor profile tends to push further away from the citrus register and into yellow and red orchard fruit notes.
The 2016 vintage featured today is an ideal one for Kabinetts (the lowest on the sweetness scale from Schaefer). The vintage is characterized first and foremost for its balance, not favoring ripeness or acidity, but rather a sense that everything's in its right place. Tasting with Christophe Saturday morning at Craft restaurant in Union Square really hit home just how impressive this vintage is right out of the gates. Following the powerful 2015's, this new release is so perfectly suited to appeal to purists as well as newcomers interested in learning about Germany Riesling.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to the wines many years ago by Jill, and today they represent the lion's share of my personal Riesling collection, as well as the back-vintage collection I've sourced for the shop. There is no producer I recommend with greater fervor than Willi Schaefer.
2016 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett
2016 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett
2x 2001 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auselse #8 Grosser Ring (Auction) 375ml
3x 2001 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese
2x 2001 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese Grosser Ring (Auction)
6x 2001 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #5
6x 2001 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese Grosser Ring (Auction)
1x 2002 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #09
2x 2002 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #12
2x 2003 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese #16
8x 2004 Willi Schaefer Estate Riesling QBA
12x 2004 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #10
3x 2004 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese #12
1x 2005 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese #06
1x 2005 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett
6x 2005 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #07
11x 2005 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Auslese #09
To view more Willi Schaefer wines, including 2006-2015, please click here.
Although my focus on Alsatian wines is very narrow, André Ostertag's 2016 release was the first thing I jumped on when importer, Kermit Lynch's new arrivals were announced. Ostertag has long gone against the grain of Alsatian expectations, crafting dry, disciplined wines that still summon the sunshine that most marks the region. His Fronholz and Grand Cru Muenchberg Rieslings both highlight a vintage imbued with, as André aptly describes, the transparency and purity of a mountain lake. This is the moment of clarity for Alsace.
Many elements stand André Ostertag apart from the norm. He studied viticulture in Burgundy, returning home to employ organic and biodynamic principles in the vineyard in 1998. He also chose to ferment and age his Rieslings completely dry in stainless steel. Even though Alace is tucked into the cool northeast pocket of France, its protection from the Vosges Mountains means it receives the very least amount of rainfall of any region. This abudnand sunshine has long given Alsatian wines a rounded and golden orchard fruit quality, often with a dollop of residual sugar.
Ostertag showcases his departure from this style the vey best in these two ulta-focused, dry Rieslings:
Fronholz comes from a one hectare parcel located at the very top of this southwest-facing slope. Quartz, clay, and marl are all featured here, but it's the particular white sand most responsible for the finely-etched mineral component. Bracing acidity met with late afternoons bathed in sunshine give a pitch perfect balance. A cool white peach, ginger, and faint honeyed quality are all kept dry, chiseled, and racy.
Muenchberg is Grand Cru Alsace at its most regal. "Muench" is derived from the Cistercian monks who first planted vines here in the 11th centrury. The south-facing amphitheater is composed of pink sandstone, volanic sediment, and limestone. At 300 meters above sea level, Muenchberg is all about definition and lenghth of finish. It's unmistakably Grand Cru, harnessing those oily, textural peach and green apple notes, but with a flinty crushed rock character that finishes as if minerality were dancing on the palate.
Today, Alsace is famous for having the highest percentage of organic and biodynmic producers in all of France. While the quality at harvest couldn't be higher, I still find few producers that execute with a similar crystalline sense of harmony that Ostertag is so adored for. 2016 and its cool-fruited style is exactly the vintage I look for here.
2016 Ostertag Riesling Fronholz
$47 per bottle.
2016 Ostertag Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg
$69 per bottle.
2015 was a watershed moment of sorts for German Riesling. The robust, yet vibrant wines throughout the country received wild praise at release. It's hard to come back the next year and argue the 2016's are "better", but in the warmer regions like the Rheinhessen and the Nahe we can certainly make the case that the vintage is profound. And when it comes to the Grosses Gëwachs, the Grand Cru-level top dry wines of the region, there's a sense of clarity, power, and snap that's remarkable. Tasting through the lineup of top bottlings recently showed just how much cut and persistence this vintage holds. In the end there was one wine that, unsurprisingly, left the greatest sense of awe.
There's no producer in Germany who's seen a meteoric rise to stardom like that of the Nahe's Tim Fröhlich. In 2005 he was named Newcomer of the Year by Gault-Millau, and in 2010 their Winemaker of the Year - the youngest ever to receive the honor. The range at Schäfer-Frölich has somehow continued to improve even from the estate's magical vintages produced over the past decade. In 2016 Fröhlich has raised the bar again, and while I won't fill these pages with "wines scores", the clamor over the estate's most prized wine, the Felseneck GG, has reached epic proportions.
The Felseneck is a prime 7.5 hectare vineyard composed of an unusual mix of blue Devonian slate, basalt, and quartz. Within the range of GG's from Frölich it's the Felseneck that has always been the most uncompromising in its rigor and incisive mineral thread. It's built upon grace not reliant on showy tendencies of forward ripeness, but rather displays its white stone fruit in a velvet glove with a relentless sense of grip.
The descriptors may give the impression of serious austerity in Felseneck, but all these elements are prerequisites for the intense and driving finish that puts this bottling in a category unto itself. The 2015 saw these similar characteristics, but in 2016 their is an added dimension of weightlessness that's at the core of the critic's unrivaled celebrated reviews.
The competition for adequate quantities of the Felseneck GG is always tight, and in 2016 the only opportunity was committing months in advance. I took everything I could after tasting, and today I'm very happy offer one of the world's greatest white wines, the 2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Felseneck GG.
2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling GG
$85 per bottle.
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 snapshop of vineyard and vintage. The young Florian Lauer has a very different perspective on the Saar, and he's not been shy about it.
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 unappologetic, 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 immdediately. 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 patriach would write "Senior" on to mark it stricly for personal consumption. Thankfully, today Florian is more into sharing.
$29 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. It's simply far too delicious upon release to justify tucking away, but for those of us who do, the reward is considerable.
2015 saw grandeur, density, and concentration. This new 2016 release is simply about 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. Among great German vintages, 2016 appears to be one we surely must add to the list. "Senior" does not make it far into the year without selling out, so I've done my best to bring on as much as possible upon release.
2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Riesling Senior
$29 per bottle.
1992 Peter Lauer Réserve Sekt Nature (Disgorged June 2016)
$79 per bottle.
2012 Peter Lauer Riesling Brut Sekt
$39 per bottle.
2014 Lauer Unterstenberg Riesling Fass 12 (off-dry)
$43 per bottle.
2015 Lauer Barrel X Riesling
$20 per bottle.
2015 Lauer Kupp Riesling Kabinett
$35 per bottle.
2015 Peter Lauer Kupp Riesling Spätlese Fass 7
$39 per bottle.
2015 Peter Lauer Schonfels Riesling GG Fass 11
$99 per bottle.
2015 Peter Lauer Unterstenberg Riesling Fass 12 (Off-Dry)
$39 per bottle.