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tisdag 15 april 2014

Willi Schaefer, Kühling-Gillot and Battenfeld-Spanier

Willi Schaefer

Next up is Willi Schaefer in Graach. Or in fact, I didn't meet Willi this time but Christoph and Andrea Schaefer who are now officially running the humongous estate of, ehhh, could they actually have reached 4 hectares by now or are they still stuck at 3.95? That basically sums up the perpetual problem - the scarcity of their wines and a never-ending struggle to obtain a few bottles. The fact is I could actually blame other German producers for the annual "Ausverkauft" stamp after each line of their wine list - no names mentioned but at times I have honestly thought that another German winemaker might have some kind of distribution deal with the Schaefers but as it turns out they just like to drink their wines - that apparently explains the cases upon cases of Willi Schaefer in their cellar and empty boxes littering their courtyard...

I could go on for hours and hours telling you stories about Willi and Christoph Schaefer. We've been friends for as long as I can remember and every little tale would of course be highly subjective but for those of you who have met the Schaefers, you know what I mean. Willi, the kind and gentle teddybear of the Mosel, who like two other producers I know, have this little tradition of stopping the auction on purpose by flooding the market for everyone to have bottles they want, just because they are embarrased that the price of their wines might be too high for many loyal customers. I mean...we're talking 2014 here. This is the age of CAPITALISM. But I won't get into all that or the fact that I have probably never laughed so much as in the company of Willi and Christoph - that's another story that will not be told here. Tasting their new vintage for the first time is always a moment with anticipation, simply because I've been a fan of their wines for as long as I can remember. I believe I have mentioned previously on several occasions how Christoph experienced this vintage. The story of irregular flowering and fruit setting combined with some hail reducing the crop further is similar at so many estates in this region and just like other growers reported it was a race to harvest since the grapes ripened at record speed. I vividly remember Christoph's story about picking the bunches and when gathering them in the buckets realising that oh, "that will not make for a large harvest this year!" In fact, they have a lower yield even when compared to such a horrific low-production vintage as in 2010. I was afraid to ask Christoph how low we're actually talking about... I mean, what do they produce in a good year? 33-35 thousand bottles? And if the crop is reduced by half...? I don't even dare to speculate. At least they did produce something and thankfully they didn't provide me with a list like at Zilliken, with almost all the wines gone. However, there were inevitable casualties here as well. No regular Riesling Trocken, no Feinherb (I almost said but actually there seems to be a few bottles produced after all), no regular Qba and no Grosses Gewächs in 2013. At least there were some grapes over for a few bottles of Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese. Beerenauslese I don't know if they did, at least I didn't taste any. I'll leave it up to the professionals to inquire about how bad it really was and what was produced. John Gilman and his entourage arrived just as I was about to leave, Terry Theise had visited the day before and hopefully David Schildknecht (where aaaaare you, David!?) might visit soon to give us his impressions.

If there was one common denominator for this vintage it was that...the wines were more difficult to asses than the previous two vintages. At least the Kabinetts. The 2011s were finished in record time. I tasted on january 28th with Willi and it felt like most wines would be ready to bottle the very same day. Willi agreed and told me it it was an unuasual quick development (they were of course still allowing them to rest further on the lees as this most often adds a certain complexity). The 2012s had a slower development and what I most remember from this vintage was this uncanny masking of the sweetness. The wines up to Spätlese almost tasted "dry" on the last sip or actually after swallowing, to make room for that after-glow finish. It's as if the salinity and the minerality combined forces to subdue the feel of sweetness, making it an extremely pleasurable drinking experience to yours truly. The 2013s, as I see it, are even further delayed in their developmental stage and sure enough, Christoph told me they were aiming for an unusually late bottling time this year. The big vintage observation here, to my palate, was the pronounced minerality that somehow overpowers the fruit even at this early stage. Much more chrushed stones and slate salinity than I can remember from the previous two vintages. And also, more so in the Auslese Prädikat, again this sensation of drinking a wine and feeling dry in your mouth. In the most positive sense. You know there is sweetnes but the whole damns thing comes in such a polished and invigorating style of energy and liquid mineral that you grasp for more as soon as someone leaves a bottle unattended in front of your eyes... (big mistake on their behalf!)

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Riesling Feinherb
Grey slate rock mixed with pear and herbs take the front stage in this delicate ballerina, only to fill out the minimalistic costume with some added juicy grapefruit creating a nice uplift. A delicious wine but also a reminder that while obviously with great inherent quality, I always feel that with Willi Schaefer's wines, when you take away the residual sugar you loose something. It's like the r.s. creates this glue holding together the acidity and minerality into a holy threesome (forgive the expression) that is somewhat missing when their wines become too dry. The only exception is the Grosses Gewächs where I thought the 2011 and 2012 were brilliant examples (but none produced in 2013). But for the rest of the pack, I've always felt that Wiilli's pure Trocken has been considerably far behind the incredible Qba and Kabinetts in quality. While I find this Feinherb to be somewhat better, I feel the same sense of missing something. We should force the Schaefers to only produce Qba-Kab-Spä-Aus-BA-GG! 
:-) 86-87 points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett
This is a first and something I never thought I'd use in a description of a wine from Willi Schafer - at this early stage it's somewhat sprawly. You notice the wine needs more time to come around. On the palate you are exposed to a wonderful mixture of stone, yellow fruits, some green pear (less than usual) and a coating of white, mouthwatering peach and salinity as a natural wrapping. The finish lingers on the tongue and continue to pump out flavours even as you sit and wait for the next sip. There's this lively energy from the very beginning and as always you feel this great tension in the wine but this one needs time to come around. 89-91+ points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett
Beautiful from the first sniff & sip. One could argue that you feel the energy in this wine just by putting your nose above the glass. On the palate, that strucks you the most is this enormous wall of...rock. Really wet, saline stones, unusually pronounced for this particular wine at this stage (normally the minerality and association of melted stones componens appears at later developmental stage when the baby-fat fruitiness has receeded just a pinch). It continues with zappy lime and grapefruit notes, constantly with this underlying oscillation of grey:ishness, as if the grey slate has been pulverized into sand and then spread out as a mineralic coating. A beauty in the making but here too you sense that the developmental metamorphosis isn't completed yet - it needs more time before bottling. I believe this will be one of the most mineralic Kabinetts coming out of this estate lately. 90-92+ points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
Wroooooom! Oh what a start, great tension and a gear-shift to higher energy levels as soon as you step insidise the car and take a seat. Immediately succulent on the first sip with - again - unusually pronounced grey slate/stone characters, like a mineral lick out in the forest. It's as if the mineral and slate components take center stage this vintage and push other characeteristics aside, towards the peripher. Otherwise it's the opposite, with the slate's smoke, salt and minerals compose the outer wrapping, keeping the luscious fruit inside in a firm grip. I get this mental picture of walking through a field of wheat, me being the stone, and while moving forward pusing the straws (fruit) aside. Hmm, where have I seen this before? Ahh! Here. 92-93 points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese
Uhh, this is...Brutal, Brutus. Like an industry crusher grinding through your palate freshened up with Domprobst's signatory cold mountain spring with pear and white peach. There's this incredible sense of flushing your throat completely clean like a washing machine detergent (in a positive way!) cleansing anything in its way as it flows through your system. Surprisingly forcefull; I'm more accustomed to a gentler and more elegant style at this early developmental stage. Instead this one is rumbling of powerful energy in a delicate, elegant body, like mounting a V8 engine inside a Fiat. Again, your attention is mostly focused on the stone and minerality more than the delicate pear, white peach and pink grapefruit flavours. Completey irresistable. 93-95 points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese AP #4
How to explain this? I need to remind myself how the entire range of 2012s lured you into believe the wines are something they are not and here's a wine that mimics that sentiment - it feels like a "dry" wine. And fore sure, it can't be. After all, it's an Riesling Auslese... But think...it's the "gefühl" I'm talking about here and that's what makes this such an intriguing wine. The usual suspects: pear and gray slate, flinty, piercing acidity that bounces like a flipper between your salivating cheeks. Mesmerising... This one really shakes your bones, like an earthquake, or, as an alternative hypothersis it's nothing more than my old hands shaking and trembling. If the latter, forget about this wine, if the former, it's sensational. Don't take my word for ut - try it out yourself and form your own opinion. 94-96 points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese AP #11
As hard as it might be to believe it, this displays even more filigree... Lighter, no, brighter and utterly precious, like delicate angel wings, so utterly softspoken you have to lean forward to listen and feel the vibrating energy, rumbling quietly at first and as the sip stays on your tongue, then increased tension creates a remarkable uplift and keeps you completely fresh and invigorated as you are being washed, rinsed and polished by this shining, crispy, sweet-salt-sour delight. Long, long, loooong energetic finish. In every sense a "dry-styled" wine with almost a Sahara desert-syle salinity on the very fininsh, which together with the lip-smacking acidity makes you come back for more. And more. Sensational stuff. I could see the look of John Gilman, as his entourage filled the tasting room, having that familiar question mark as if to ask - "Is he suppose to empty that sample before we get the chance to taste??" 95-96+ points.

2013 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese AP #14
This is just a matter of style; either you like more firm, acidic and delicate style of Auslese with no or ultra-clean botrytis like the sample above, or you feel more moved by a sweeter version with more clearly marked botrytis as in this one. It very much remind me the difference of Maximin Grünhaus regular Auslese compared to the sweeter wines with fuder numbers. Usually the latter are more cherrished by the wine critics but I would say that while still absolutely delicious, to my taste, the previous fresher samples if Willi Schaefer's Auslese speak to me more. Who knows, with this additional sweetness and tropical fruit flavours, this is a style of wine that will last longer and hit a higher level in the long run when the sweetness is better integrated with the sweetness and the ripe acidity. But after all, when assessing a wine it's a matter of how a wine tastes today, not in 10 or 20 years. With the added layers of tropcal fruits and dried honey, this displays less intricate, oscillating energy compared to the Auslesen above. It's still there - the energy - but instead of jumping out of the box and hitting you in the face as you sample the first sip, this one is more soft-spoken and initially comes whispering, then slowly building up a low-key rumbling that grows on you and tops out only "towards the end of the very last finish", as I have scribbled down on my paper. I very much understand that some find this style more concentrated and more compelling but while this is super delicious, the previous samples are nothing but sensational. 92-94+ points.

I finished writing up my notes while the other guests where sampling the two Kabinetts. While preparing to leave, suddenly, there was an uproar at the table. A bottle was missing! The Spätlese from Domprobst had somehow disappeared. A heated discussion among the group followed while they stared despondently at Christoph who thoroughly surprised scanned the table and argued that he was sure he had put everything out from the cellar. Then silence... And then everyone looked at me. Reluctantly I looked down on the floor and returned the bottle to the table. A sigh of relief among the tasting group... "Well, that all for now, thanks for having me and thanks for the tasting", I said to Christoph while rising from my chair to prepare my departure and gather my tasting notes. "Aren't you forgetting something?", Christoph asked with a firm voice. Reluctantly I also returned the sample bottle with the Domprobst Auslese to the table. This type of stunt seems to fail more often these last few years, unfortunately. Another sight of relief among the group that were about to continue the tasting without me. Little did they know that I would be the first one they would meet at their next appointment. Again sitting at a table with the sample bottles in front of me half-emptied... :-)

Travelling to Germany reminds me of my travels to one of my great favorite cities in the world, New York City, and the dilemma I'm faced with each and every time. I must have visited on some 35+ occasions by now and most visits are seldom more than 2-3 days, sometimes a little more. Where to eat? Usually I have my favoutite restaurants and once you have them you always come back to the dilemma of knowing you have a limited amount of evenings out for a dinner so what sould you do? Venture into new territory and allow yourself to be surprised by new restaurants or...go the the usual suspects where you know you will eat like a Royal? For many years the Japanese restaurant ISO down at 2nd Ave between 10th and 11th St made it almost impossible to venture into anything new in terms of sushi. Then apparently the sushi chef got shot in his hand while at a bar after a working day and left for Japan. Too bad. And with Yama on 17th St in a steady decline I was forced to cut the anchor and set of to new culinary adventures on Mahattan. My favourite lunch stop was always Chiam on 48th E St but when Henry Leung left things were never as before so nowadays I have been forced to venture out to new establishments but for a long time these were my pit stops during my short stop-overs in New York. My visits to Germany faces me with the same dilemma. What to do - visit the usual suspects, whose wines you know are an absolute delight, or venture into the unknown and actually try some new estates? Usually, I'm stuck in the former pattern. I have my favourites, I know them, I love their wines - ergo, I visit them. And since times is always of the essence, there's seldom an opportunity to visit anyone else. But this time I promised myself that at least I would try to visit somone I didn't know already from the past. As it turned out, with keeping to my promise I actually succeed in tasting wines from two different estates just by vising one of them.

Battenfeld-Spanier and Kühling-Gillot

Sticking to my usual routine of no planning I just took my chances by throwing away a mail to Battenfeld-Spanier in Hohen-Sülzen in Rheinhessen. Probably with the same look in their eyes as everone else when the saw my mail. "He want's to visit now?? Just before ProWein!?" Nevertheless, a cheerful and optimistic Carolin was responding and somehow we finally managed to agree on a time and day for a meeting. All the time with these confusing comments on which place to conduct the tasting. Hum, what does she mean by that? Apparently there are two estates linked together but I didn't think much about it until I drove into the small village of Hohen-Sülzen without a GPS navigator in my car. I mean, I had the address but could this really be the right place?? Then it hit me - oh, what if I was supposed to meet at that other estate in Bodenheim? Prooooblem! At least I followed the map I had printed out and as I was driving among residential houses I finally came to a dead end... At a small train station! And with farming land behind it. WTF!?  Could this even be the correct village? Surely this little assemblage of buildings couldn't house a full-blown winery? I back-tracked and looked at the numbers and finally arrrived to the correct street number among the residencial houses. Hum...a farmacy? Oh boy...this will be bad, I though. I called on the phone, Carolin answered and cheerfully said that her husband Oliver would come down and greet me. Yeah, that's what she believes, I though. But just you wait when we will speak on the phone and realise we are standing in two different villages trying to get hold of each other... As it turned out, it was my lucky day because there was indeed a winery hidden behind some houses and Oliver did indeed come to greet me.

I won't get into the incredible mixture of historic accounts between the two families here with Spanish, French and German descent but what I WILL tell you is that both Carolin and her husband Oliver are very kind, witty and fun to taste with - and with the danger of infusing some personal bias here, both Oliver and his eldest son are trekkies, which of course immediately makes for a very positive approach whatever they present in the glass. I was lucky in that a contingent from Finland was there before me and were just wrapping up their visit so in front of me I had a table with lots of goodies to taste from. Again this feeling of a child in a candy shop with unlimited time or...restrictions. What's even more fun is that I have NEVER tasted one single wine from any of these two producers which made for a most interesting excercise, as it always is when you taste something for the first time in your life. If you wonder about the mishmash between the estates, I'll present the wines in the way they were served instead of separating them. What made this such a fun and unusual tasting apart from the fact that they were a first for me, is the side-by-side comparison between two completely different terroirs. The Roten Hang with red slate from around Bodenheim and Nierstein (heeey, that's close to where Klaus-Peter Keller has his tiny cult subplots) and the chalky soils of the upper plateau parts surrounding Hohen-Sülzen. And Oliver, not wanting to be any less that Carolin with regards to having vineyards close to Keller, also has a holding in Frauenberg, from where I have tasted many outstanding Spätburgunder from Keller over the years. So here it goes...

2013 Kühling-Gillot Qvinterra Riesling Trocken
Made from grapes from three different villages, it displays a strong mineralic core as the first impression with generous layers of yellow apple, fresh lime and ripe grapefruit in the middle. Feels rather broad, almost a little "oily" and quite grainy in texture and feels somewhat "cloudy" in the way the flavours are presented on the palate, with a finish that ends rather short - I suspect there is still some influence of the yeast here so a revisit is need once the wine comes around. Easy and straightforward drinking. 82-84 points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Eisbach Riesling Trocken
Oh, this is something different - brimming of energy straight out of the glass, clear yellow fruit of fresh apples with a really extra-pronounced fresh lime and bright acidity - mixed with some lighte sparkles of green herbs and a touch of salinity. A completely different creature compared to the wine above. This is clear-cut, sharp, vivid, and really pure fruit. You need to be in your mineralic mode to like this one, otherwise you will like it less than I did. 86-89 points.

2013 Kühling-Gillot Nackenheimer Riesling Trocken
Back to the red slate again would you believe it, but there really is a touch of a red fruit layer through the pallet. Very soft, mellow and restrained with broad paint brushes, round and very polished and there you have this oiliness again, like there would be some oil from pressed nuts into the mixture. Fruit components? I don't know, other than the usual grapefruit it's difficult to pinpoint the fruit - I'm more reminded by the flint and crushed rock here. 86-88 points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Hohen-Sülzer Riesling
Oh, a complete throw to the opposite side of the stylish spectrum again, this wine is almost dusty in its chalky characteristics. Think crispiness and transparency, imagine clarity and freshness and you'll get my point. There's tension throughout and I won't even bother looking for some fruit characters other than the crytalline expression of the texture here as this one reminds me more of a good Chablis but with more extract and stuffing. It must be fun moments around the dinner table when Carolin and Oliver can compare so vastly different style of wines each time they decide to pull the cork of their own production. 87-89+ points.

2013 Kühling-Gillot Niersteiner Riesling Trocken
Oh dear...I'd better mail to Oliver instead of Carolin in the future for new appointmens because here again I find the wines from Kühling-Gillot a little less to my liking. This comes out of the stable as somewhat sprawly but in fact, sprawly in a good and interesting way. Wine doesn't have to be polished in absurdum just be interesting. On the palate, you have a lot going on with a mixture of citrus, plum and grey stones, a pinch of apple in the middle and as the flavours sit on the finish they transform into more of a yellow apple flavours mixed together with lime and red, smokey slate. Very broad and round. Apparently the fruit comes from both Pettenthal and Ölberg. 86-87 points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Mölsheimer Riesling Trocken
Yellow fruits in all senses of the mind and flavour. It looks yellow, it tastes yellow, beaming of a yellow ray of sun hitting a clean, white wall in of chalk. An intriguing combination. Feels very precise and clear-cut without any hints whatsoever of roundness so one can truly say that the wine is persistant. Cool, refined and on the palate yet warmly yellow in the colour with a nice juiciness despite the slim appearance in the beginning. For generic riesling this is really high quality stuff. 87-89+ points.

2013 Kühling-Gillot Niersteiner Pettenthal Riesling Grosses Gewächs
Opsidaisy! I might be able to call Carolin after all. This is thrilling from the get-go. Soft and hard, layer upon layer, long, persistent, laser-like levitated notes of succulent mandarine, vanilla fluffing, delicate lemon zest, touch of nutmeg, some spices and pure, crisp minerality. This is brimming of uplift energy. Truly class in a bottle. Too bad they're not bottled yet for immediate purchase! What impresses the most are the layers of various citrus fruits and the combination of smoothness, both hard and soft at the same time, just like you want your women. Oh, I mean wine. Long and persistent finish and overall very impressive. 92-94+ points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Flörsheimer Frauenberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs
This was fun. Normally I drink only Spätburgunder from Frauneberg whenever Klaus-Peter happens to open a bottle but this is Riesling from the same vineyard so I was very keen on tasting it for the first time. Immediately you notice one thing that sets a e truly good wine apart from the rest of the back - the rumbling energy creating both tension and lift. This one almost levitates in its energetic purity and offers waves of salivating minerality and ripe acidity on the palate, together with an array of spices. Can't seem to figure them out but it's really an intriguing mixture here. Is it...pepper? Hard to tell. Anyway, the fruit offered are yellow peach mixed with lemon and juicy (red) nectarine. Great transparency, great energy, great wine. 92-93+ points.

2009 Kühling-Gillot Nackenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs Wurzelecht
What have we here then? The last word in this looong name is referring to the vines being ungrafted, which surely must be quite a rarity along the Rhine river. Like a golden river it displays a wonderful colour, yellow apricote & plum, ripe peach and a touch of vanilla coating at the very edge of the flavout profile. Creamy, broad and spicy with a long finish and that somewhat oily structure again. Yepp, count me in as a fan! Yummy. 91 points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Hohen-Sülzer Sylvaner
The diversity of wines tasted here is...fun. I need to return more often! Here you have a straightforward Sylvaner showing a spicy character, quite pretty, lean, layers of soft, silky green pear and fennel and a refreshing finish. A no nonsense wines that deserves to be more attention than just gulping it down (like I did...). 87-89 points.

2013 Kühling-Gillot Niersteiner Ölberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs
Very nice precision, with great texture and a fine roundness polishing down the edges into a really compelling wine. Juicy lime fruit with almost red slate feeling between your teeth as you lip-smack the succulent, broad notes of peach, citrus and crushed yellow/red powder from the red slate rock. Maybe not as deep and complex as its neighbour but a damn good juice nevertheless. 90-91+ points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Mölsheimer am Zellerweg Schwartzen Herrgott Riesling Grosses Gewächs

Wowsa! Any English-speaking person who get the name right in his first attempt wins a free bottle! Gunpowder-dryness here, like a sleek Chablis but (thankfully) more stuffing and texture. Did I say dry? It feels almost dusty in its dryness. Very lean texture - not an extra unnecessery gram fat on the bone. In fact, it could have been to slim hadn't it been for the saving flavours of melon and plum adding the succulent fruit to this erect, crisp beauty. 91-92+ points.

2013 Battenfeld-Spanier Hohen-Sülzer Kirchenstück Riesling Grosses Gewächs
This is quite intriguing too. It opens up very lime zesty and then it suddenly changes on the midpalate, offering up spicy flavours, almost a little tobacco spice, grounded nutmeg, passionfruit, vanilla power and a long, persistent finish. Again this luscious yellow-fruit juiciness mixed with a spice mixture to keep things interesting. 90-92 points.

What a great tasting and how pleased I am I really tried to visit a new producer instead of just keeping with the same-same (althought I of course love my standard favourites). Carolin and Oliver were a joy to visit!

Looking at the pile of tasting notes and next up is a perennial favourite of mine...Weingut Keller. The interesting thing here is that I really have a PILE of tasting notes. Both 2012s and 2013s and not just one tasting but rather tastings from their youth the first time they are really showed after fermentation while it's still winter, then at later stages of progress in spring when they start coming together, yet again just prior and after bottling in early summer and also after some time in the bottle in autumn. Somehow I'll have to try to summarize all these different occasions into one general impression. Klaus-Peter is a close friend so don't pay too close attention to my subjective observations but to this taster there are several perfect three digit scores here - and I almost never rate any wine a perfect 100 points...

Here's a preview. Buckle up and be prepared for a...ride!


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