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lördag 12 april 2014

Vintage 2013 in Germany

First - again - some Swedish music, just to cleanse the palate. If you wonder, it's Jose Gonzales, a former Ph.D. student in biology at Gothenburg University. Although we biologists lost a fellow researcher I'm happy he chose another path.

Before adding the next round of tasting notes from my recent trip, I might as well I'd share some thoughts on the vintage 2013 in general, with all its limitations, based on the few tastings I managed to squeeze in and above all, based on discussion with the growers. Still not a humongous overview of every single corner and every producer so please take it for what it is - at least a first data point. With hopefully many more to come! What I find most apparent in this vintage is the considerable difference between wine regions.

Usually I feel it's much more homogenous so when leaving Saar after a tasting and travelling the windling roads in the valleys towards Nahe I know it will often be quite similar but this time there seem to have been quite some differences. I didn't visit Pfalz but just heard that they experienced a similar situation as in Mosel where there was considerable rain (partly more than 400mm in August to October) and a VERY quick harvest; in some parts of the Mosel the winemakers had harvest their best plots in 2-3 days only. That certainly affects the decisionmaking on what to take in and what to focus on, not to mention the character of the wines. Hanno Zilliken and Christoph Schaefer told the same story. They were out in the vineyards every day, tasting the grapes, slowly following their development (like they always do) but this time they faced some mighty challenges when they could taste one day and feel that the ripeness was still not optimum and the acidity too high and then the next day suddenly everywhere grapes started to ripen ultra-fast and two days later parts of bunches were already dropping to the ground. Hanno said it was like watching half of your harvest falling to the ground day after day. I dared not ask him how much they could finally harvest but based from what he told me it must have been a reduction of more than 50% down. Christoph Schaefer said they harvested even less than in 2010, which was a record low production year so you might imagine how low production really is. Like one winemaker told me - it's not really a question about if the wines will sell or not but whom to sell to, as allocations will have to be cut drastically and it's a matter of dividing it fairly between the wine lovers who stand in line and hope to get some fermented juice... I asked the reason for this and the answers seem to indicate a various of explanations that - unfortunately - worked together to produce a record low harvest along the Mosel and its tributaries. First a late flowering, so everyone knew from the beginning that this will be a race to full ripeness before the season was over, then also a highly irregular flowering, not to mention dito fruit setting. Once off and away, there was some hail to further reduce the yields (so the joke to Hanno that I just came down from the Rausch vineyard cutting some bunches of grapes to help him with some extra green-harvesting before visiting him didn't land favourably when I visited him last year...) and then a very wet August. But then the weather turned warmer as harvest time was approaching but just like Hanno said - warmth during the day, rain at night didn't help either.

However, one also needs to understand the interplay between various components. Rain doesn't necessarily mean pouring down for hours and days; and also, scattered rain doesn't really affect the steepest plots in the vineyards that much, where the slate ground quickly absorbs the moisture and the wind dries out the vineyards. Only sun, day after day isn't ideal either as moisture in the ground helps the flow of nutrient uptake of the plant and even adds certain complexity but that aside, what really made it somewhat problematic for the growers was the quick ripening from one day to another as the harvest days approached. The Schaefers reported a record fast harvest where they watched the weather patterns closely and hurried to take in the fruit just in time when the window of opportunity allowed for some sunny and dry days. But just as they observed in 2010, when harvesting the bunches they realised there were a lot of space between the grapes and once everything landed in the harvest bins they realised that it will not offer a lot of jucie once lightly, lightly pressed. And the quality of the jucie that actually flowed out from the grapes...? I'll come back to that later - this is just a general discussion on the vintage character. :-) I think that the key this year was to keep yields low to further enhance the core structure of the wines. Given the cool character of the vintage it gives plenty of opportunities for the growers to make some really top class Riesling in the lower prädikat spectrum, like Kabinett, although I realise it won't thrill them economically since these wines sell for a song. If harvesting with higher yields (perfectly acceptable in steep slate soils, just look at J.J. Prüm) in a year like this, I believe you will get sleeker and very refined wines that might still show a lovely elegance but for my palalate, I will probably find them less exciting than when the extract pushes the fruit characteristic into a tight wrestlling match between the natural minerality and high acidity that the Riesling grape potentially can offer. Overall I can't say it's a favorite general vintage of mine along the Mosel, based on the fact that I want riesling in the entire prädikat spectrum to consider it a top vintage. For some of you who in general favour the more cool and mineralic/acidic vintages like 2010, 2008 and 2004 and in particular prefer the prädikats to have "true" ripeness levels (not a Kabinett that is a declassified Auslese with creaminess, high sugar and predominantly tropical fruit), I believe there will be some gems to be found. But since many estates nowadays also focus - much more than before - on dry wines, I feel that the highest quality hasn't been attained as I have never liked the best Trockens from Mosel as much as those from other German regions. Dry wines from Mosel can display a little too high and above angular acidity already in warmer years. Again, remember...to my palate. And who am I to say? I would like to advise the winemakers to stick with their fruitier styled Riesling because these are some of the best wines in the world and they are unique but they also need to sell the wines and the demand for dry wines is as it is, so... But most importantly, remember - this is just a first data point - there's so much more to be discovered and tasted as the months progress. I'm looking forward to knock on the kitchen door to the estates I already visited, for a replay, and add to them other favourites of mine, like van Volxem, Karthäuserhof, St Urbans-Hof, Julian Haart, AJ Adam, Schloss Lieser, Fritz Haag, J.J. Prüm, Christoffel Erben, Merkelbach, Selbach-Oster, Wieser-Künstler, Löwenstein. Only THEN will it be possible to form a better opinion on the 2013 vintage in the Mosel region. For now, I will nevertheless predict that for Mosel, 2012 was a better overall vintage, compared to 2013.

In Nahe and Rheinehessen there seems to be a whole different story. Yields were down at every estate I visited, with Schäfer-Fröhlich reporting the least drop in production while Dönnhoff had a lower yield along its entire range and Keller too. Especially at Keller you notice this in the "cheaper" wines - there is so much more stuffing in them this year. I can't wait to write my impressions of individual wines as I have some surprising favourites! Compared to the Mosel region, there was less rain (around 200-250 mm from August until the end of October, which I would say is quite normal for this region) which allowed for a prolonged harvest period and...this might explain why I found the quality to be absolutely outstanding in some of the estates. I believe it gave the growers exactly what they wanted: a slower ripening while the cooler nights allowed for a natural preservation of acidity and sweetness as the grapes were allowed to hang and harvested with that extra fresh juiciness found in these stylistic types of vintages. I received photos from winemakers who were harvesting under clear-blue skies while I listened to inside reports from pickers I know personally, who were working out in the vineyards and reported they were freeezing their fingers off while harvesting in cool mornings; describing the grapes as small, yellow and bursting with flavour like small champagne bubbles. You can probably imagine how that translated into grape quality... Oh boy. For those who are addicted to the sweeter stuff, Dönnhoff picked Eiswein quite early, I think it might have been in November, and holy smoke...! Oh well, I shouldn't get into tasting notes here.

And then there's Weingut Keller... I know they are mostly famous for their otherwordly dry GGs but I keep nagging my perpetual mantra to those who care to listen that this small family estate is producing some of the best sweet wines on Planet Earth and this vintage in particular seemed to favour sweeter prädikats. Then of course, Klaus-Peter isn't the economically smartest guy in the world - where he could harvest for top notch GG juice and sell at record high prices he's rather bloody obstinate, like a donkey if I'm allowed to make a comparison, for prefering to harvest more Kabinett and Spätlese from his cult vineyards just because Mother Nature tells him this is a vintage that offered the best potential for these kind of wines. Don't they teach economics at that supposedly famous enological school in Geisenheim? Nevertheless, Keller was able to make Trockenbeerenauslese from Morstein and Absterde, as well as Beerenauslese from Pettenthal and Hubacker. What is kind of fun and interesting (for Sheldon Cooper-like wine buffs like me) is that the sweeter wines are basket pressed since the 2012 vintage. Klaus-Peter restored a more than 100-year old press and seems to feel that this old technique really provides him with great quality juice. I believe him... When sitting down with Tim Fröhlich and Helmut Dönnhoff you can't avoid noticing that glimps of keen satisfaction in their eyes. They seem to have been given a harvest just like they prefer from Mother Nature and based on the wines tasted I cannot but agree with Terry Theise prediction that Nahe hit the sweetspot in this vintage. I believe some wines will be classics. Based on discussions with Klaus-Peter Keller, the overall assessment seems to be in line with his observations. 2013 is a cool vintage with prolonged maturation where those who picked early to secure the harvest will have good wines but those who work the vineyards and carefully followed the ripeness and even took some chances towards the end were gratified with some outstanding juice. I believe that if you like cooler vintages like 2002, 2008, 2010 and 2012, you will LOVE 2013 from these two regions. Based on the early tastings it's a very soil-driven vintage, producing very mineralic and precise wines with considerable finess and elegance already at the entry level wines all the way up to the GG level. I will go out on a limb here and claim that for some of the producers, some of the wines are even better in 2013 than the stellar 2012 vintage... Don't trust me on this one - it's only my palate - taste them for yourself and form your own opinion. And please share! It will be fun to compare impressions. While I think that 2012 might have the upper hand in Mosel, I believe it will be a tight race in Nahe and Rheinhessen. Now HERE'S my problem... When tasting early I usually always prefer warmer vintages like 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 but when tasting them a few years later I tend to prefer the cooler vintages 2008 and 2010. When newly released, I downright didn't like the 2004s that much and didn't buy as much as I usually do and today I sit here with these 2004s in my glass, crying...not knowing if the tears derive from how utterly compelling they taste or from sadness that I didn't scoop up more when I had the chance.

Speaking of a ten year old vintage, I was invited to this absolutely wonderful tasting in Saarbrücken where 2004 was the theme among some serious Riesling aficionados. Imagine...the following wines and little Miran, like a child in a candy shop where the owner is leaning down and asking: You can taste anything you like - what would you prefer to start with?

2004 Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling Uhlen R
2004 Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtröpchen Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Van Volxhem Riesling Schartzhofberger Pergentsknopp P
2004 Emrich-Schönleber Riesling Halenberg Grosses Gewächs (Auction)
2004 Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Koehler Ruprecht Kallstater Saumagen Riesling Auslese Trocken
2004 Bürklin-Wolf Pechstein Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Mosbacher Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Keller Kirchspiel Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Keller Hubacker Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Keller Morstein Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Keller Riesling G-Max
2004 Wittman Morstein Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Künstler Hölle Auslese Riesling Trocken Goldkap
2004 Breuer Riesling Nonnenberg
2004 J. Ruck Julius-Echter Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2004 Alzinger Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd
2004 Prager Wachstum Bodenstein Riesling Smaragd
2004 Rudi Pichler Achleiten Riesling Smaragd
2004 F.X. Pichler Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd
2004 Nikolaihof Riesling Steiner Hund
2004 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Fréderic Émile
2004 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste Hune

I realise I have a lot of hand-written tasting notes waiting to be digitalised and shared on this forum...

Finally some more music. Such a pity you don't speak Swedish...

Rememeber, this is live. I was thinking about so many recording artists out there who really can't sing live but who are packaged into something commercially viable nevertheless because you can fix most things in the studio.

And thanks for listening.

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