2010 German Riesling – stupefyingly good

I have been having computer issues over the last week so I am getting a tad behind transcribing my notes, I hope the next few days will see them published. Yesterday’s tasting of 2010 German Rieslings organised by the great wine merchant Howard Ripley was such a remarkable, marvellous and flabbergasting experience that it has jumped right to the top of the list of events to record.

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Whilst it is true that Howard Ripley import an embarrassment of covetable producers, this alone did not account for the wines being better than I could have hoped for. 2010 is clearly the finest vintage since 2001 and I feel that tasting the wines when finished will show it to surpass even that cracking year.

The 2010s generally possess a fantastic tension between enchanting fruit, thrillingly nervy (and, for those of us with sensitive stomachs, often agonising) acidity and intense, complex minerality. These wines will captivate and seduce all Riesling aficionados, not only with their harmony and finesse, but also their supreme sophistication. Even though it is a ripe vintage the wines sit comfortably in their quality classifications – when it says Kabinett on the label they possess the desired poise. Only rarely are they Auslesen in disguise. If I may stick my neck out, the refined style of the 2010s make the 2009s, also great wines, seem somewhat libertine and show definite hints of wanton intemperance.

Sounds brilliant, eh? Sadly, there is one disappointment I must warn you about. After more than a decade of loving the wines of Fritz Haag with a passion, it seems the new generation in charge of the estate wish to dispense with my affection. Now they make unattractive, heavy and distinctly plodding wines, totally different from the exciting, refined and painfully mineral wines they used to produce. They have foolishly cast aside that sculpted elegance that I used to love about Fritz Haag wines and I certainly will not be buying any more – you shouldn’t either.

I’ve never been a big fan of the ultra-dry German Trockens but, judging by the samples on offer in the tasting, it seems that most successful producers improve the balance of what can be frighteningly dry wines by retaining a hint of residual sugar. Van Volxem’s basic Saar Riesling was definitely in this style and was a deliciously drinkable wine of impressive character for a hilariously low price (£42 for six).

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Keller’s Riesling von der Fels (£132 for six) and Mosbacher’s Ungeheuer Forst (£126 for six) were also enjoyable but the wine of this style that really yanked my bell pull was the quite gripping and totally stimulating Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg ‘Superior’ (£99 for six). Whilst it didn’t claim a ripeness level it seemed like an Auslese (halb)trocken as it had the body one might expect from fully ripe grapes. Yet this did not result in any heaviness or alcohol heat. Indeed, it had a refreshing, harmonious palate, bursting with alluring fruit and scintillating acidity. I was quite taken with its accessibility at this early stage in its evolution. It will clearly be making people smile for many years to come, if they can hold back from popping all their bottles in its first charm-filled years of life.

Kabinetts may be at the bottom of the QmP quality scale but when they are joyously vivacious models of balance like most of the 2010s there is no shame in buying and enjoying them – your bank manager will thank you as well. I tried fourteen Kabinetts and almost all of them were of such an impressively high standard that choosing where to drop your sponds might prove a challenge. As I can already feel you, dear reader, twisting my arm for the intelligence as to which were the very best I’ll mention six of them that performed extraordinarily well.

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Regular readers will not be surprised that I loved Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Domprobst (£56 for six) – clearly up to his usual quality level and a mouth-watering Riesling to be drank with glee. Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg and Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg were stellar examples of Ruwer Kabinetts: nervy, racy and suffused with energy. Donnhoff’s Oberhauser Leistenberg had a degree of exoticism to its fruit and I was rather taken by its restraint. Robert Weil’s Kabinett was clearly far riper than that quality level, definitely sweeter than the others at this level. However, the acid levels were just fine and it had a gorgeous expression of minerality.

I am always pleased to point out bargains so it is simply spiffing to say that the most pant-wettingly delectable Kabinett in Ripley’s line up was the cheapest at £45 for six. Schloss Lieser’s (Generic) Riesling Kabinett was by far and away the best wine of this level I have ever tried from them. It was a Riesling of total finesse and elegance, oozing with sophistication and permeated with vivid life. A scintillating star that induced elation and kindled contemplation. Want!.

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Schloss Lieser’s Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spatlese was also a lucent, vital entity of stirring jouissance. A stunning standard-bearer for Mosel Spatlesen it utterly shamed and outclassed the dreary wine from the same vineyard made by his brother at Weingut Fritz Haag. It is another wine worthy of special efforts to acquire (I know I will make them) but happily, thanks to its eminently keen price (£69 for six), one of them will not be rendering yourself destitute.

There were more exceptional Spatlesen suited to the pecuniarily-challenged. Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg (£75 for six) and Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg (£71 for six) were impeccable exemplars of the exquisite Spatlese idiom. Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Himmelreich (£78 for six) was a lovely, chic little number but, as usual, given a choice I’d drop the extra fun tokens on his Fuder #5 Graacher Domprobst (£105 for six) that was imbued with a shade more complexity.

Of the producers whose wines command higher prices you will not stray from the path of pleasure if you can score some Donnhoff or Robert Weil. Both Donnhoff’s Oberhauser Brucke (£140 for six) and Niederhauser Hermannshohle (£169 for six) Spatlesen were as good if not better than any I have had from that tip-top producer – go for the Hermannshohle if you have the option. Kiedrich Grafenberg Spatlese from Robert Weil is always amongst the most expensive Spatlesen (£156 for six), but with its thrillingly intense, complex minerality, tooth-dissolving acidity and superlatively ravishing fruit it undoubtedly merits the asking price.

The best of the Auslesen on show were certainly as ripe and sweet as one could hope for, but the harmony, finesse and wonderful quality of the vintage shines through. If you like your Auslesen obscenely sweet with only a vague approximation of acidity then look elsewhere, these are vivid, balanced wines for the sophisticated lover of fine things.

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Schloss Lieser’s first-rate performance in 2010 continued with an Auslese Goldkapsel (£132 for six) and an Auslese Lange Goldkapsel (£168 for six) from the Lieser Niederberg Helden vineyard of almost indescribable beauty. Just thinking about tasting them is a profoundly moving experience. Von Schubert had a compelling range of different fuder number Auslesen from the Abtsberg vineyard, the choice picks are Fuder #72 (£180 for six) and (especially) Fuder #42 (£153 for six) (go for #24 if you feel flash enough to drop £222 on a six-pack).

Karthauserhof’s Auslese was perhaps a shade less vibrant, but provides quality drinking at keen prices(£90 for six). You’ll rarely go wrong buying a Willi Schaefer Auslese, the Graacher Domprobst Fuder #1 (£171 for six) on show was an electricity-charged being sparkling with animation. Weil’s Kiedrich Grafenberg Auslese was floridly enjoyable but, alas, priced somewhat enthusiastically for this devotee (£300 for six).

Having tasted through the range it was time to surreptitiously score another splash of that Lieser Spatlese and thank Sebastian Thomas (boss of Howard Ripley) for inviting me before retiring to a convenient boozer to consider my views on the experience. As I necked a restorative pint and cogitated it became abundantly clear that the wines were of transcendent quality and 2010 a vintage of outstanding if not unrivalled character. Their charms were certainly plain for anyone to see, but for those seeking harmony, finesse and style the German Rieslings of 2010 will blow your socks off with ecstasy.

  • Mark Gough

    Great to meet you at the event David.

    Was certainly some tasting of the sock blowing off, tooth dissolving acidity, super fruit, eye watering kind ! Watching you have the odd taste certainly left one in no doubt how much you were enjoying the wines. I didn’t know it was possible for someone’s eyes to pop so far out of one’s head without falling out completely, to say nothing of the pleasurable ‘noises’ being expressed. Brilliant !

    Until now hadn’t had time since returning from London to review my notes but am pleased to see we are in mutual agreement on any number of wines. I also found the F Haag wines wholly uninspiring to the ravishing number of others on display.

    No need to decide just what to allocate pennies to and have a word with that top man, Sebastian.

    Hope to see you again soon.

    Mark G

  • Richard Brooks

    I think it’s a year that favours the higher prädikat wines. The top auslesen and above actually seemed fresher to me than some of the spätlesen, for example. The lower prädikat wines won’t be quite so food friendly as they often are, due to the high concentration and sweetness. Lots of good wines on display this year, but I’m not sure it’s a better year than 09 or 07 for example, just different, with exceptional concentration.

    Agree that the Fritz Haag wines have lost their shine. As recently as 07 they were luminous beauties, but now they seem a bit bland.

    Keller… these wines are just incredible. My top tip is the Westhofen Morstein Auslese. Just a regular old auslese, but of staggering complexity and balanced power. Ridiculous value at £166 for 12 halves. Absurd.

    Also the Grünhaus auslesen: five different ones, one Herrenberg and four Abstberg from different fuders! Brilliant diversity. The no.72 was my favourite: long, fresh and intensely mineral and driving. This is surely a wine that will last for a long, long time and become a really interesting, savoury pleasure.

  • Hi Mark, pleasure to meet you. Great tasting, wasn’t it? All those ravishingly enjoyable wines – what a difficult choice deciding which to score. I hope you can get the stuff you are after.

    Hi Richard, For sure, the Auslesen were stunning successes, but I also thought the Spatlesen and Kabinetts had precisely the energy, life and balance one seeks in those styles. They may have had concentration, but things can be concerntrated without being heavy or lacking harmony. There were many Spatlesen and Kabinetts I would commit morally questionable acts to obtain. Keller was far better than Rheinhessen wines are supposed to be. Von Schubert was staggering across the range, not a single wine I would be unwilling to pay for. I really should have said more about Schafer-Frohlich’s wines, they did it for me as well.

    On the subject of Fritz Haag, I reproduce a short rant I subjected innocents elsewhere to:

    I cannot remember which of the Haag brothers runs Schloss Lieser and which has the family domaine – whoever has the reins of the latter is clearly aesthetically challenged and needs to try some of his old dad’s wines that rarely failed to stun with their unbounded elegance. He could certainly get corrective instruction from his brother at Lieser – he clearly knows his onions.

    If I may expand on this theme, last year I was pleased as chips to get a couple of magnums of 2009 Fritz Haag Auslese and AGK before I had the chance to taste the wines. Then I did taste the wines and not only felt disappointed but also personally offended that someone could squander the brilliant resource of that vineyard and then have the temerity to misappropriate some of my practically non-existent supply of caper counters and only give me woefully poorly constructed and generally dreary confections in exchange. I may well wait until they are 18 years old and sell them as birth year wine to someone who may not be well-informed but probably does not deserve to have such dross foisted upon them.