Howard Ripley’s 2011 German tasting was one of the most pleasurable things I’ve ever done in public. The wines were incredible, showing this to be a very high class vintage. I warn you: a lot of colourful superlatives will follow.
A few producers were back to historic form and some were the best I’d ever tried from them. I won’t mention every wine from every producer but, after a vintage overview, I’ll sign-post highlights you should make strenuous efforts to obtain.
We high-graded slightly at the tasting, but we did not taste a single bad, unbalanced or disappointing wine. It is a truly great vintage. The wines have really pure, focussed fruit (it’s not a big botrytis vintage) with amazing acidity and a great, vivid expression of vineyard character.
It is highly attractive that the wines are true to their quality levels, in a way that 2009 (and to a lesser extent, 2010) Rieslings were not. The wines are definitely not lacking ripeness, yet not as forcefully powerful as the 09s and 10s. This is a beautiful vintage for people who like purity, finesse and pleasuring themselves immensely with gloriously wizard things of complete loveliness.
When we went around and tasted the Kabinetts I thought to myself that it was a great Kabinett vintage. Whilst trying the Spätlesen I thought it was a great Spätlese vintage. Trying the Auslesen and above made me think ‘Oh wow! Oh, oh wow!’ on multiple occasions. However, with the positively lewd quality it at the lower Prädikats stocking up on Spätlesen and Kabinetts would be a cracking move. Some Auslesen should not be skipped, though.
OK, here are the highlights.
Dönnhoff’s two Spätlesen, Oberhäuser Brücke (£132) and Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle (£159), may be pricy but they are the best Dönnhoff wines I’ve had in a while. Real vineyard intensity and great, great acidity that burns through the wines. Go for the Oberhäuser out of choice.
I feel pleased that I can finally say something positive about wines from Fritz Haag after years of feeling let down. They seem a return to form. Things to get here are the nervy, bargain-mongous Brauneberger Kabinett (£51) and the flagellatingly fantastic Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese (£78) that was in no way lacking drips of satisfaction.
Karthäuserhof continue to produce wines of stellar class and excitement, but much like previous years I feel these wines will be best younger rather than older. That’s not a problem, though, I NEED to get some and I’ll drink them with extraordinary pleasure in their first years of life. The Kabinett (£63) is penetrating fun but the wine you should sell siblings to get is the Auslese (£90). Drink it with florid pleasure in its first few years of life and you’ll smile broader than a politician at a photo-opportunity with attractive disabled children.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve only ever been so thrilled with Weingut Keller – I’ve found them a bit lacking acidity and vineyard definition. Not a hint of any such issues in 2011 – across the range the wines were truly excellent and some of the best we tried at the tasting. You’ll be happy with anything, but a cheapie and a star stood out for me. The basic Riesling von der Fels (£69) was a wonderfully balanced wine of delight and fun, probably for drinking relatively young but it will provide many grins and go well with food. The Hubacher Dalsheim Auslese *** (£180 for three bottles) was awe-inspiring. I lack the words.
It is hard to buy better wines than those from Thomas Haag at Schloss Lieser – they get better every year and 2011 was no exception. I have two screaming bargains and an object of lust to recommend. The Estate Kabinett (£42) is practically impossible to beat for the money. It has fierce acidity, ravishing fruit and the flavours just go on and on. The Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr really is spiked for his pleasure and at £69 I just think ‘WANT!’ The Lieser Niederberg Helden Auslese Goldkapsel (£132) was simply a magic wine of incredible lightness and harmony for its undoubted power and presence.
Carl von Schubert (Maximin Grünhaus) made wines that should be the object of all sophisticated person’s desires. The Abtsberg Alte Reben Trocken (£65) was a wonderfully balanced and concentrated wine that drank a treat but will blossom with ageing. The Abtsberg Kabinett (£54) and Spätlese (£69) were obscene, throbbing bargains for wines I loved so utterly. Perfect balance and nervy thrills here. The Auslese (£114) was good value too. This was the best showing from von Schubert in years; it’s not that I’ve thought them bad but these wines were just the business.
If you like Trockens then there was an absolute stunner from Georg Mosbacher. The Bundsandstein Trocken (£75) was perfectly poised and all you could ask from a wine of this style; I thought it had better harmony and vineyard definition than their more expensive wine on show. Excellent!
I usually feel that buying up is well-worth it at Joh. Jos. Prum, and this seemed to be the case in 2011. The Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett (£66) and Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese (£99) were certainly good value, but utterly eclipsed by the ribbed, rubber underpants that was the Sonnenuhr Auslese (£120). What a bargain that wine was, with so much acidity, so much fruit and real mineral power. Amazing wines all, but the Auslese is the one to wave private parts at your aunties for.
Willi Schaefer is a genius. I could just say ‘Get what you can’ but let’s try and narrow things down a bit. The Graacher Domprobst Kabinett (£54) had a little bit of fat and weight to it that made it supremely charming. For a combination of ripeness and poise the Domprobst Auslese Goldkapsel #11 (£168) would be hard to beat, but the Auction Goldkapsel Auslese (N/A) he showed did. There was a Beerenauslese #4 (£420 for 3 bottles) that re-defined the levels of acidity and excitement one should expect from such wines.
Schäfer-Fröhlich had a great Bockenauer vom Schiefergestein Trocken (£69) that burned with mineral intensity. However, if I were you I’d go for the Kabinett from the same vineyard (£54) as I preferred the harmony of that whilst it lacked nothing in vineyard character.
Now this was one of the wines of the tasting. All of Selbach-Oster’s offerings were good and exceeded my expectations but the Zeltinger Himmelreich ‘Anrecht’ (£102), made from old vines in the best sector of the vineyard, was good enough to make a grown man wet himself with pleasure. It was just brilliant, with sugar levels between Spätlese and Auslese matching frightening acidity and a supreme expression of vineyard wonderfulness. The livid intensity had me doing one-legged dances (again); an amazing wine.
Van Volxem’s basic Saar Riesling (£42) once again proved itself to be a standard-bearer for the drier wines of the region. Poised and balanced it was a delight. However, I’d drop the extra three caper counters and get the Rotschiefer Kabinett (£45) as the electric life that charged it was just winning. His 2009 Goldberg (£78), also on show, was singing.
Robert Weil makes amazing wines and I love them all. If you are prepared to pay, these are real stunners, but the prices are not cheap. It is worth trading up the quality levels, but even the basic Kabinett (£66) has real Rheingau breed and class. If you have a rich relative ask them to buy you the Kiedrich Gräfenberg Beerenauslese (£624 for six halves) – you can even offer to share a bottle with them.
If I haven’t made it clear by now, this is a vintage you buy in preference to new cars, dog food and toilet paper. I have rarely had more fun at a tasting and I utterly adored these wines. I hope the fun tokens will stretch to me buying as much as I can because rarely will this much quality wine be available again for such modest prices. Bravo, Sebastian Thomas of Howard Ripley and all the growers from Germany we tasted!
The prices given are for six bottles in bond unless otherwise stated.
I must say, David, if this sparkling review doesn’t have people fighting their way to Howard Ripley’s, and grabbing all they can, nothing will. I remain – disappointingly for many, I know – a Riesling sceptic, as yet unmoved by its charms, but I cannot deny that the deep and unrestrained passions it arouses in people whose judgement I respect, makes me want to learn more. I want to love it – I need more and more exposure to it. I also ought to say I literally bellowed with laughter at your sublime opening sentence, which ought to be enough to take any reader all the way to the end, be they interested in Riesling or not, or even, dare I say it, wine. Please continue to write with such intensity and justified belief, and such pellucid eloquence.
Like you, I thought it was a wonderful tasting, and I don’t have too much to disagree with here. There was some evidence of sulphur, but I put that down to the slate and recent bottling as, in general, it did not interfere with the flavour profiles. I was not as enamoured with von Schubert and felt it was a bit short, but that may have been because he poured small samples and it was difficult to tell. What I do miss in your comments is any mention of Vollenweider or Julian Haart, both of whom I ordered alongside the Schaefer Graacher Dompbrost Spaetlese #5: all wonderful wines, with the Vollenweider Spaetlese Goldkapsel a particular bargain.
Great review David and one that almost point for point reflects my experience at the Howard Ripley tasting as well. I was a little limited for time but did the same things as you in regards to the tasting e.g. Kabinetts, then Spatlese’s etc. I also had the same impression as you, “Wow, great Kabinett vintage, Wow, great Spatelese vintage…..”
Where to spend the fun tokens is the challenge but a broad spread seems to be the right option and definitely something that will bring rewards over the coming years. Anyway this is my first visit to the Elitist Review, I will be returning as I very much enjoy your style and content.
Thank you for your kind words about my site, Craig! I like to think I can craft a good wine-related bodily-function reference.
Great tasting, that much is sure!