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.
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).
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.
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!.
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.
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.