It was a great treat to spend the morning tasting through a range of German 2009 wines, so many thanks to Sebastian Thomas of Howard Ripley for inviting me along. There are clearly some mind-twistingly good wines from this vintage, but not all of them are models of perfect harmony.
If you’ve never tasted German Rieslings at this stage in their development let me assure you it is not quite as fun as it sounds. Even before you get to the stage of sugar and (hopefully) untamed acidity dissolving your teeth and burning your stomach you firstly have to survive the nose. They often show so much sulphur you might be forgiven the wines were bottled in Vulcan’s forge. Sulphur is varietal character for young German Riesling.
The sulphur is necessary, alas. This is partly because a sweet, low alcohol liquid is a biological time-bomb just waiting to explode with wine-buggering fauna should any protist nasties gain access to it. Sulphur kills these beasties off and so keeps the wine in a potable, non-plague infested state. Moreover, sulphur is a very good preservative. This is why in one refulgently glorious tasting Egon ‘Yoda’ Muller, of Scharzhofberger fame, quite candidly related something his father said, “For a Riesling to age many years it needs three qualities: Firstly, a lot of fruit. Secondly, a lot of sugar and finally a lot of sulphur.” There was much sniggering around the Red Room in New College.
At this point, you’ve tasted 30-odd wines in one of the tasting rooms. Your teeth are already throbbing and the contents of your stomach are fervidly convinced they want out and will burn through your innards to achieve this if required. Walk into room two and you still have this many wines to try:
Feeling a bit shagged out now, are we? Fear not, out of the many wines some are kit of the very highest rank. (By the way, on the far side of the work surface the chap pouring himself a glass is that great mover and shaker in the London wine scene Paul ‘Archimandrite of all things vinous’ Day; he is a lovely fellow who taught me so much whilst at Oxford.)
The 2009 vintage in Germany was evidently rather warm; the ripeness of even basic Kabinetts, which are only Kabinetts as far as the label goes, is quite astounding. Whilst this powerful ripeness makes for flash wines at lower quality levels unfortunately it also resulted in a few higher level wines getting overly tropical in terms of fruit and having too much acidity baked out of the grapes. For this reason I suggest you avoid Reinhold Haart’s Piesporter Goldtropchen offerings and I was unsettled to find the Donnhoff’s suffering from exiguous levels of acidity, they were distinctly marked by the heat of the growing season.
Three producers really impressed me and seemed to have worked out the vintage conditions with aplomb. The wines of von Schubert may be a bit sulphury, but their fruit was quite delicious with a practically severe rod of acidity burning through them. I even liked their dry attempt, Maximin Grunhauser Abstberg ‘Superior’, as for once it had the depth of fruit to be harmonious when dry and very acidic. I also highly recommend the Kabinett and Spatlese Abstberg wines to anyone who loves racy, nervous tension in their wines. They are also hilariously affordable. The Auslese also has that edgy tension between ripe fruit, sugar and acidity, but it is significantly more expensive. I’m happy to recommend cheapies.
2009 produced some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted from Karthauserhof. Once again, it was the Kabinett and Spatlese which really nibbled my nipples especially as far as the quality/price ratio goes. They had a polished ripeness to the fruit and brilliant, fizzing, sparking acidity. Again, total bargains for wines of such obscene quality and we would be doing ourselves and our drinking buddies a disservice if we failed to score some. The Auslese was livid with expressive fruit and had such fantastic balance I felt like time had stopped as the finish took its own good time to melt away.
Finally there was the producer whose wines I thought whipped the pallid, spotty arses of most of the other offerings on show: Willi Schaefer is supremely gifted with grapes. His wines were amazingly beautiful, refined knots of nervous tension which exploded on my palate to reveal entrancing panoplies of perfectly balanced flavours that dazzled with their complexity and flair. From the Kabinett upwards these wines had everything one seeks in German Riesling but with quite stunning sophistication and stylish elegance. Just buy whatever you can, you will not regret it. Needless to say, I’m going to post this after I’ve emailed to secure my allocation.
There were a selection of Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eisweins on show. They could accurately be described as being very impressive, but they are not really styles that thrill me (even if I could afford them). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best wines in this group were also made by Willi Schaefer, they had more dimension and more wine-like qualities than the others.
It was a deeply interesting and thought-provoking tasting, at least I know what I’ll be buying for myself! Many thanks once again to Sebastian Thomas for the invite.
Interested in my order? It is quite modest but the wines are damned good. I’ve asked for these:
1 x magnum Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese No. 6 2009 from Fritz Haag
1 x magnum Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel No. 9 2009 from Fritz Haag
1 x case of six Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Kabinett 2009
1 x case of six Graacher Domprobst Kabinett 2009 from Willi Schaefer