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torsdag 17 april 2014

Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken

Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken

With both 2012 and 2013 vintages of Weingut Keller being such a humongous task to report on, I though I'd offer a small interlude with Zilliken from Saarburg. I think Hanno and Dorothee Zilliken might be the only ones in Germany who would ask you to please keep the engine running while you're visiting and tasting. Being slightly cooler, Hanno explained, in the 70s, 80s and even 90s you were lucky to have three vintages for every 10 year period where you would have most of the grapes reaching full ripeness. Nowadays almost every vintage so just a l i i i i i t l e more global warning and Saar will be perfect (whereas some sites with perfect sun exposure along the Mosel can already be too warm in very hot vintages). So feel free to leave your car keys inside and the engine running while you're visiting. This year and maybe the next one - then Saar will probably reach an opimally climatic peak.

I guess Hanno considered 2013 to be one of those few outlier vintages remaining in the 21th century. The challenges for the Zilliken family seem to be similar to what many other estates reported so if you visited at harvest time and were contemplating about the unusual scarcity of people in the villages it's because every passing visitor was probably kidnapped by the winemakers to hurridly climb the vineyards and help out with the record-fast harvest as the grapes turned from still somewhat unripe to overripe in matter of days. Hanno's story reminded me of what Helmut Dönnhoff told me one year, that the postman came by to deliver the mail and Helmut asked him:

- What will you do now?
- I will of course continue delivering people's mail, the postman replied.
- No, you're NOT, Helmut replied and pointed up towards the vineyards.

So a lot of stress to pull everything in while the grapes were still healthy. In fact, Zilliken did have an opportunity to bottle both Spätlese and Auslese but they simply didn't feel that the ripeness and the extract was sufficient to produce them with such high quality and style that has always been the hallmark of their estate so they decided that the juice would go into fewer wines and by that make the wines they actually release being top notch. And admirable effort but probably not a winner economically speaking. So no Riesling Alte Reben this year, and no Diabas, no Grosses Gewächs, no Spätlese and no Auslese - but nevertheless some delious juice in the glass.

Oh, before I continue I should point out that tasting with Hanno carries this love/hate relationship. After the tasting of the recent vintage, Hanno very much enjoys running down to the cellar only to return with these damn, unmarked bottles. I mean, have you seen the cellar? It's like this imaginary this-is-how-a-cellar-would-look-like-if-I-could-invent-one-from-scratch-in-your-dreams. Damp, cold, several layers beneath the rock with stalactites forming from the roof. Now, imagine how a wine evolves in these perfect conditions. Why the cursing and why is it love & hate? Oh, don't get me wrong - I absolutely love this unique opportunity to taste wines I would never have come across otherwise. Sure, you might find an occasional bottle on the internet but that's usually a bottle that has been stored way, way too warm in a store somewhere for many summers and will most likely just disappoint. But this...this is something different. The bottles are absolutely prestine with utterly perfect storage and has never left the famous Zilliken cellar. So where's the "hate"? The reason that it's not uncommon to have this type of dialogue at the table with Hanno Zilliken:

Hanno returns from the cellar with some bottles and pours the first one.

- Well?

- Hum...a more yellowish colour...on the nose, a little more perfumed and some petroleum compared to the new release - this one has some age!
, I shout out triumphantly.

- Yes-yes, please go on.

- But still with lot's of freshness and the sweetness slighly integrated with the acidity so can't be that old but still, hum...

- Yes, carry on, Hanno replies with that disturbing smile in his eyes, making me suspect I should guess older than I really think.

- Hmm, I was going to say 2004 but with the smile on your face I reckon it's older so I'm actually going to say 2002!

- Ahhh, not bad. Really not bad at all! (Encouraging words from Hanno Zilliken. What a relief!)

- Really!? Not bad at all? I was that good? Spot on or did I just missed it by a year?, I ask eagerly, thinking that shit Miran, you're not such a bad taster after all.

- Yes, yes, really not bad at all. Almost there.

- Stop teasing me! So what are we talking about here? 2001? 2002??

- Almost. It's a 1983.

- But... But that means I was 20 years off!

- Well, yes...

Do you get the picture? So you can imagine the slight drop of self-confidence. I think I hit rock-bottom once when I was sure a wine was from 1993 or possibly 1989 but it turned out to be a 1959. That damn cellar!

2013 Zilliken Riesling Trocken
Delighful, elegant filigree from the very first sip, is the first line in my notebook. It's as if you feel aromas of flinty dust on the nose, mineral dust, a tad smokiness, almost like a dusty layer abobe the liquid in the glass. Utterly pure and transparent yet with enough stuffing and extract in its texture. Utterly elegant, very crisp and vivid, with lime-peel, white peach and green apples. And smoke! From grinding two pieces of slate together. The saliva keeps you drooling uncontrollably with your lips smacking to save the day. Not a pretty sight if I would take a selfie at this very moment... 87-88 points.

2013 Zilliken Saarburger Riesling Trocken

Take everything you find in the wine above and make it a little more polished. Divide the crushed slate into even a finer powder to a accentuate the minerality and salinity. Add to it flavours of violet, almost minty violets and mixed it with more yellow fruits compared to the brighter white peach infused regular Riesling Trocken. A touch of mandarine-peel bitterness towards the finish, making it more interesting. This really is the epitome of succulent juiciness. I teach biology at school and try to describe to my students that in order to reach the reflex to swallow the food it needs to be moist from the saliva and oh boy, this really makes you swallow... 87-89 points.

2013 Zilliken Riesling Butterfly
Considerably rounder in style, with more residual sugar but as with other 2013 it finishes almost dry, making it a very refreshing. Yellow peach, some nectarine, quite juicy, medium-full and well-balanced. A typical food wine that I imagine must do very well in restaurants. 86-88 points.

2013 Zilliken Saarburger Riesling Feinherb
So yellow in colour I was expecting a little more yeallow fruit and roundness, like the wine above, but instead you are met by this very pure and surprisingly weightless, levitating wine that seem to just touch your tongue ever so lightly as if not wishing to step on it. Flint stoniness with added smoke, delicate fresh herbs and only towards the finish you get more yellow apples mixed with dito green. Very elegenat finish with a lovely boyancy. 89-91+ points.

2013 Zilliken Saarburger Riesling Kabinett

Very light in style, weighing in at 7.5%, it starts of with sweetness on the palate but as the acidity kicks in and wraps up the entire package on each side of your mouth, it slightly erases the initial delicate sweetness with added salinity. Very lucid and fresh, delicate on all senses as is so often used when describing Zilliken's wines but for an even higher rating I would need more energy and extraxt on the palate. 87-88 points.

2013 Zilliken Bockstein Riesling Kabinett
A totally different style here, more oppulent, juicy, rounder and with more yellow apricote and orange-peel. But get this...with racy acidity that makes it very difficult to settle for one glass only. Smoke on the nose, the succulent texture on the palate being very flirty and overall very fine, transparant and light Riesling that reminds me more of the classic type of Kabinett from before - not this declassified Auslese-versions you come across in so many vintages. 89-90 points.

2013 Zillken Rausch Riesling Kabinett
Compared to the Bockstein this is both more elegant yet denser with more stuffing and hence to my palate a wine offering even more drinking pleasure. Influenced by teaching in mathematics I imagined it with the basic characteristics (fruit, acidity, minerality) as vectors pointing in every direction with uttermost, razor-sharp precision. Crisp, lazer-like focus with hints of melon and pink grapefruit, It seems to accelerate into this extra gear making it levitate above the ground with a wonderful vibrating energy and a long, complex and mineral-driven up-up-up-lift finish. A class act. 92-93 points. It really is a remarkable vineyard, this Saarburger Rausch, one of the very few that has this soil type, a mixture of two thirds blue slate and one third volcanic soils, the only other one that comes to mind would be the Abtsberg vineyard in Ruwer, according to Hanno. Both capable of creating this zappy, complex Rieslings with invigorating tension and complexity.

2011 Zilliken Saarburger Riesling Alte Reben
Hanno could of course not prevent himself from opening some more bottles "while we're at it". Harvested from several plots of old vines with widely spaced clusters and tiny berries. As good as I remember it upon release. Crystalline precision, crushe the stone and then liquify it and you get the crisp, stoney feeling, add to it cool, snow-like fruit with lemongrass/citrus and a very lively, boyant texture and you start to get the idea. Flushes down your throat like detergent in a washing machine (I know that doesn't sound too positive but what's that liquid called that you can use to flush your mouth after tootbrushing them, like an extra wave of cleaning?). One of the most delicate and filigree examples of Riesling from this vintage in Germany. 92 points.

2011 Zilliken Rausch Riesling Grosses Gewächs

Remains almost as weightless and delicate as the wine above but add to it even broader, deeper layers of extract and you have the Grosses Gewächs. Silky, almost creamy (but not yellow creamy but think creamy with white flowers and white peach - anything white will do), beautifully caressing ripe acidity like sun rays on a frosty window a cold winter morning. I find myself saying "crushed stones" all the time but how else to describe this wonderful feeling of salinity and minerality? Crystal-clear, totally transparent in its flavour profile, laser-like focus throughout the drinking experience and such utterly pure, seamless finesse on the long finish. How can you possibly go wrong here? 94 points.

2012 Zilliken Rausch Riesling Diabas
So fun to jump like this between different wines and vintages and have the possibility to compare! I'll start from the end. A loooong, persistent finish makes it difficult to continue to the next wine since this stays on your palate and refuses to budge. Feels a little more creamy and above all juicer than the ultra-precise GG and that's what the extra r.s. usually does - rounds it up a bit and in good years, does it without taking away the balance. Otherwise I think this is basically the same material as the GG but just that one barrel didn't ferment completely out (so basically a "halb-trocken" version of the GG) and thus not fitting with the legat boundaries of a GG according to VDP rules. Lovely floral notes with some slate smokiness. Similar to the GG, this comes out as so incredibly graceful and fine-tuned. Impeccable juice in a glass. 93 points.
 1983 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Halb-trocken
Obviosuly a completely different create (I have learned my lesson and today I'm always guessing 10-20+ years compared to what I really think), this offers up a delightful mix of swetness and freshness rolling out on your tongue like a silky carpet (imagine the age you will normally guess with that kind of first impression...). The acidity more integrated with the creamy, yellow fruit, with hints of butterscotch and some smoke. Lovely liquid gold feeling. It really adds to the experience when a wine can look this good. 89 points.

1983 Zilliken Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese
Yes, it's true, some years the Bockstein vineyard also produced Spätlese. Compared to the other 83er above this too has a lovely note of smokiness adding to the spicy flavour profile yet it possesses more fruit of mango, some pinapple, again a very lovely creamy texture and in the middle of all this integrated fruit you have this refreshing flinty smokiness (yes, again) and flinty stone character that makes it fresh and boyant. I think this is what Hanno would like many of us to taste, to see what Riesling can truly be like with considerable age but the truth is that very little of the output from any German winemaker will reach this type of maturity amongst us consumers. And who can blame us when young Riesling can be so refreshing and hard to resist!? I'm not taking the blame for this! 91 points.

1991 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese (Auction)
Lots of herbs here, mixed with round stones and flinty smoke. Fruitwise its an intriguing mixture with green AND yellow apples, melon, mint and some starfruit - incredibly salivating on the palate makes you politely ask for another napkin to hide the most obvious drooling. Very herby and refreshing with ripe acidity well integrated but in no way "creamy" like the older examples above. This feels fresh and delicate so trust me, you won't mumble about this wine being 22-23 years old as you sit opposite Hanno. So what - I guessed maybe a 2004 on this one. For a while I forgot how and where it was stored. And after all, it's a Zilliken. So I should have added ten years to my guess. I would love to have a stash of this at home to sip every now and then but how on earth do you get hold of bottles like this? 92 points.

2009 Zilliken Rausch Riesling Diabas

Strange thing to suddenly jump to a 09, you say? Well, I describe them in the order they were served. Compared to the younger versions of this wine, here are the first tiny signs that the Diabas with this age is beginning to peel of its initial baby youth and enter into a more adolescent style of maturity (and a long, long way to fully blossom as a true adult). Pronounced flavours of spices and herbs, like dried grass still left on the field. The r.s. is 15 grams in this one and it has already started to integrate very nicely with the acidity. Not creamy in any sense but still very soft-spoken, almost mellow in the middle but refreshing towards the end as the acidity on the finish kind of reappears (with a vengance) to make it succulent and mouthwatering as the wine sploshes down your dry throat. 91+ points.

2011 Zilliken Rausch Riesling Kabinett

Oh, succulent peach, juicy and refined at the same time, adds to the initial peachy flavours with an intriguing mix of fresh citrus, mango, mandarin-peel, and even some flowers. And all this mixed up with an inner core of stone-stone-stone creating wonderful complexity of this typical sweet-sour-salt feeling. So delicate and energetic and at the same time so graceful. No wonder another sip is mandatory, despite Hanno's effort to pour the next wine. No-no, we won't have that so I politely asked for a refill to sample this wine once more before the next one arrives. 92 points.

2012 Zilliken Rausch Riesling Auslese
Holy shit... What to say about this one? Harvested from cold, shrivelled grapes, it bounces in your mouth like a flipper, cold minty melon flavours with white peach as the wing man and passion fruit as the backup. Loads of minerality and also balanced with a lovely touch of salinity. A strange mixture indeed as it feels both tropical yet crystalline and zappy, crisp and mineral-driven. Layers of complexity here - optimally one should just sit with the glass for a long time, contemplating while the flavours change on the nose and palate but Hanno was already waving with the next bottle so I had to leave this one in a hurry. 95+ points.

1995 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Auslese AP #1

Mature, creamy, caramell-coloured and completely integrated in all aspects of flavour, mineral and acidity profiles. Feels very tropical with mango, pineapple, vanilla, and yellow kiwi - like a meringue cake. And at the same time with such a precise, levitating acidity, perfectly integrated with the fruit at this stage. An Auslese with tension and up-lift, at this age. Every component seem to have taken its place and are now neatly tucked in to display percet and utter harmony. 95 points. A quick look in my cellar - number of bottles: 0. Damn...

1959 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese Trocken

You see, this is what I'm talking about. This is what he does to visitors. You're happy if your guess comes at least within 30 years of the correct vintage and you leave with yet another humbling experience as to your ability to guess the vintage of a Riesling. Not! Smoke on the nose as well as first impression on the palate, completely dry at this stage with more notes of crushed rocks and polished stone rather than fruit flavours. Looks and feels like liquid gold or some ester mixture taken straight out of the chemistry lab where I teach. To me, more interesting than delicious as I find hints of sherry notes and I usually don't appreciate that even in young wines, you know, the way a Chablis can get with some bottle age. However, many of my friends would drool over a wine like this and insist there's nothing better than this combined with tapas and a bowl of nuts at the wine bar. 85 points. Since this was dry already from the beginning (Spätlese trocken) I would love to find out how a regular Spätlese (or Auslese) of this age would taste today. Probably almost dry but I suspect with added complexity as the sweetness has melted together with the acidity.

1976 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Auslese Halb-trocken
Nowadays there's no more "halb-trocken" bottlings but basically it's the same as a Diabas version. With age this has taken on a full-bodied, creamy texture and compared to the dry 59 above, the younger age and the added residual sugar from the beginning lift up the flavour profile a little more, to make room for hints of papaya, mango dried apricot, and some yellow stone melon. Above all, what makes it such a joy to drink is the feeling of seemless integration between acidity, minerality and fruit. 91 points.

That concludes my impression from my visit to Zilliken in Saar. Now I have only to digitalise my tasting notes from visits to Keller in Rheinhessen, Maximin Günhaus in Ruwer, Clemens Busch and Julian Haart in Mosel, Dönnhoff and Schäfer-Fröhlich in Nahe, Robert Weil in Rheingau and Müller-Catoir in Pfalz and I'm finally done with my first impressions of vintages 2012 and 2013 in Germany! At least for Riesling. Oh, and then there's the tasting in Saarbrücken with 24 wines from the 2004 vintage, with some of the best Rieslings from Germany, Austria and France.

Doing all this writing without actually drinking Riesling to sustain the energy needed, is of course...impossible. So yesterday I opened a trio of German Riesling to accompany a delicious sushi plate: 2005 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett, 2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett and 2005 Dönnhoff Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Spätlese. Tasting notes? Patience, young Skywalker... That would be tasting note No. 71, 72 and 73 so far and seeing I have 16 tasting notes from Clemens Busch only, 17 from Maximin Grünhaus, more than 50 from Keller, more than 40 from Dönnhoff and so on, it will take some time...

Hopefully ther are more Riesling aficionados out there who are willing to share their impressions, good or bad, from these two very interesting and different vintages in Germany.  
And if you have actually made it this far without falling asleep...thanks for listening!

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