2013 German Riesling is as impossible to summarise the intricacies of as is ‘War and Peace’. But to prove I am a clever sod I shall do it for both. 2013 German Rieslings captured the essence of their vineyards of origin like no other vintage I have known. War and Peace is a partly unintelligible, partly soul-destroyingly tedious, load of toss. That is enough of literary criticism, we are here to talk about the Howard Ripley 2013 German Riesling tasting that provided some of the most profound and moving tasting experiences of my life. By no means did everything sing, but those that did were positively mellisonant.
The key was the weather – it was a real bitch of a vintage. A bitterly cold winter was followed by a spring that alternated between warm, and cold and wet caused flowering, and therefore fruit-set, to be uneven – from the very start there were going to be low yields. The middle of summer was warm, raising ripeness-levels and this warmth persisted into the harvest times. But there was more rain. Rain and warmth makes for ideal growing conditions for rot, which can be good if it is of the right sort, but will usually bugger your year’s crop if it is too early. Some growers hired double the number of harvesters to get in a harvest that was, in many vineyards, less than half the size of the previous year’s. Potentially a total disaster.
However, those growers who harvested clean grapes, or grapes with good botrytis rather than nasty rot affecting them, were rewarded with fruit of nigh-unparalleled concentration giving rich wines of great extract and incredible personality, but still in possession of that scalding acidity we Riesling lovers crave.
This made the Howard Ripley 2013 German Riesling tasting an exhausting, almost gruelling, experience. The wines demanded so much of one, even when only having a little taste of around 50 wines, that one left the tasting feeling drained. But this exhaustion was predominantly due to the frequency with which one felt elated. You could not have had more fun trying to sniff cocaine off clamps on your own nipples.
Now, I am not even going to try and present thumbnails of the 50-odd 2013 German Rieslings The Editor and I tasted: the notes would be bollocks, you would be piss-bored and I would go completely loopy. Instead, I will present thumbnails of the best wines from five producers you should, under no circumstances, miss out on buying. I will not detail all of their wines, but, rest assured, even if you only get the tartaric acid scrapings from their barrels, they will shatter your teeth with mastery. So let us get started on five astral artisans of refulgent Riesling.
After years of questionable, but admittedly improving, guidance by the eldest Haag son, 2013 could well be, metaphorically, viewed as Wilhelm Haag’s climax of wine-making. Haag Junior has captured all of his father’s stunning skill at making elegant wines and added to that the power and sophistication that 2013 German Riesling can display.
Brauneberg is a wonderful place to own vines and this is transparently demonstrated in the supposedly modest Brauneberger Riesling (£54). It is a nice drink, for sure, but it asks more of you than most ‘nice drinks’ are ever capable of. It has density and power from botrytis as well as fine acidity and nice sweetness one wants in these things. At this price it is the dingo’s danglies.
Worlds away in beauty and style are the Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spatlese (£81) and Auslese (£102). Both are intensely sweet, but so loaded with extract and acidity they have that sexy savoury character that truly fine wines so often possess. They were both elegant, certainly, but the Auslese had a shade more power and sang a sweeter song of seduction. Secure either of these (bargains) and the prolonged and intense nature of your chortling will probably add an age to your time on Earth (at least in happiness-adjusted years).
If anyone could doubt that German Riesling is a bargain, one sip of the Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel (£180) would make them sob at their folly as they begged you to take their sponds. It is a magisterial wine, supremely refined, gloriously commanding in its presence and dazzling in its complexity. Those of us who love wine… no… those of us who relish all that is splendid in life exist to drink things like this. If we could not our existences would be drab and hollow. This is a special thing!
I hope Julian’s uncle Reinhold is not too upset that his nephew is crapping all over him on his front door. Whereas Reinhold makes plump, blowsy, facile wines for the easily impressed and cretinous, Julian makes fierce, intense, stunning beauties of, in 2013 especially, considerable power. They demand concentration, respect and adoration from their enlightened drinkers.
I will mention his other wines in passing but there are four of his vivid lovelies I want to concentrate on. But let me be clear, any Julian Haart wine you get will, be it his basic Mosel Riesling (£51) or his Piesporter Riesling (£66), will improve your appreciation of life and make you wonder what you have been throwing money away buying until now.
The Wintricher Riesling (£96) is a dryish ‘village level’ wine much like the Piesporter Riesling, but it burns with a heightened level of intensity. It has elegance and refinement, sure, but there is an added dimension of power and extract to the wine that makes it utterly thrilling.
That wine is nearly, but not quite, better than the single-vineyard Goldtropchen (£120). This is truly a wonder. Anyone used to Reinhold’s inadequate brews could hardly imagine that the vineyard is capable of such lithe refinement. It does have power and density, partly imparted by botrytis, but it is the knockout beauty of this intricate, heavenly wine that makes you want to jump around on one leg during a tasting and make your back ache even more.
That beauty is present in the Piesporter Goldtropchen Kabinett (£66). That a wine of such exquisite class, as well as Montrachet-like scale, can be purchased for so little money shows that German wine is still where the sensible fine wine drinker gets their towering quality. I purchased a case of this, one of only two cases I could afford, so I like it. I preferred it to the more expensive Piesporter Schubertslay Kabinett (£72) which, relatively speaking, was a shade less demanding and a hint more obvious.
One of the greatest 2013 German Rieslings on show in this tasting was Julian Haart’s Wintricher Ohligsberg Spatlese (£96). I admit I have never even heard of the vineyard before, but, my, how it sang in 2013. This was certainly rather sweet and possessing a real degree of concentration brought about by low yields and botrytis, but I am not really sure I am capable of describing the pure refinement of its elegant beauty. Amazing. And its acid grip made my tongue burn and commanded me to try and get a sly extra sample to swallow and revel in its complex, fascinating charms. This wine is not expensive by any means, and when you consider its effulgent brilliance you would really have to be the worst kind of miserable-ist fun-hater not to make a special effort to claim some as your own.
Describing the experience of tasting through the Keller wines would just be embarrassing for us all – I would just gush like a teenager on discovering what their older sibling hides under the mattress. All you need is a warning, they are relatively pricy, and a command, just buy whatever the hell you can afford. Download Howard Ripley’s 2013 German Riesling offer (see link at end of this article) and try to sell as many relatives for medical experiments (or for pies, if they are not in that good condition) to push your purchases as high up the pricing structure as you can achieve. Why? Well, the Hubacher Dalsheim Auslese *** (£198 for three bottles) is the fucking best Beerenauslese you will EVER try in your ENTIRE life, until you try their Beerenauslesen. And there is a Trockenbeerenauslese which shits all over them from a great height.
Just buy them. Money is referred to as ‘fun tokens’ for a reason. Sod saving. Sod buying cars. Sod holidays. It is more important that you buy the most expensive Keller wines you can, even if it makes any monetary instrument in your possession spontaneously combust once you get off the phone to Sebastian of Howard Ripley.
We are still on wines that are a saturnalian debauch. Tasting these wines was like having every wish you have ever had in your life coming true all at once, so I imagine when The Editor and I get our tiny allocation we will explode with insanely smug self satisfaction.
Peter Lauer own the Ayler mountain and vinify different plots on from it separately to make a range of wines. They will all make you happier than my cat would be if he were sitting in a sunny window being fed little chunks of really good roast chicken.
We started off tasting the Saar Riesling Faß 16 (£45), then the Ayler Kabinett Faß 8 (£63), Ayler Spatlese Faß 7 (£72) and finished off with the the Ayler Auslese Faß 10 (£144). Basically, they were all wines of supreme elegance and refinement but with the added power, concentration and electricity brought about tiny yields and Botrytis in the vineyards.
However, the further up the quality levels you go these qualities get disproportionately increased until at the end you are fixing Peter Lauer’s son with a worrying glare and spouting frightening superlatives related to filthy sexual practices. You can only break out of this mode when The Editor thumps you and you recover and shake Herr Lauer’s hand and thank him for one of the most profound experiences of your life.
There is absolutely no shame buying the cheapest thing your wallet can stretch to, it will detonate your silken pants with delight. But the more money you spend the greater the excesses of pleasure you will experience. The Editor and I are totally broke and we felt we had done better than we could have hoped for to get a case of the Kabinett and Spatlese. If you have some Auslese you are invited to lunch (as long as you fulfil the entry requirements).
Much the same holds true for the wines of Willi Schaefer, as long as you buy the Graacher Domprobst wines. All the usual Willi Schaefer things apply about the Graacher Himmelreich wines: they are peachy, elegant, refined, pretty, charming, etc., etc. But no. We want the brilliance of 2013 German Riesling to shine with its coruscating, throbbing, pulsing vigour. And that is what the Domprobst wines show.
The Kabinett (£60), Spatlese (£102) and Auslese (£198) do get a bit pricy as you go up the quality ladder, but, by arse, they are good. They all have the characteristic Schaefer elegance and refinement, but they have frankly astounding power and extract. That is what the best 2013 German Rieslings show. They are all quite sweet too, but with that extract, acidity and power they all seem quite dry and have that lovely savoury character.
These are fine wines by any definition of the word. Thrilling, exciting, screamingly characterful wines, and they are all the kind of thing one should be looking to buy. If you want easy and cannot handle the true brilliance of 2013 German Riesling then by all means go for the Graacher Himmelreich. Those of us who appreciate greatness eagerly anticipate our next taste of Schaefer Domprobst.
You may note I have not said anything about the age-worthiness of these wines. Let us be clear, the best 2013 German Rieslings, those I have talked about, are probably the best young German Rieslings I have ever tasted. They are thrilling, almost overwhelming wines to drink at this age. However, with their extract and power, that additional stuffing above any other vintage I have tried, they will keep and improve for longer than I would usually think any modern wine is capable of ageing for.