Grapelive German Riesling 2013 Preview
By Kerry Winslow
This winter I had a chance to try some barrel/tank samples from some of Germany’s top Riesling producers, they were showing some young 2013 wines, to get a gauge on the vintage. All these wines were presented by Riesling importer Terry Theise, maybe the foremost Riesling expert and fanatic in the USA, his enthusiasm and insight has inspired thousands to enjoy this noble grape, myself included. The good news is the wines are showing well with amazing clarity and heighten aromatics, the bad news is there will be only tiny amounts available later this year and or next, as the crop was greatly reduced due to severe growing conditions in 2013. The German wine scene is hot, the home market is extremely good and even emerging markets are discovering the joy of Riesling, so that means even less wine for the rest of us, especially here in the US, where there seems to be a re-awakening to Riesling, and to German red wines like the fabulous Pinot Noirs coming out of the Ahr. The dry “Trocken” wines again seem to be the center of attention with a real awareness of Grosses Gewachs taking hold, plus non cru dry wines which offer a great value. The sweet wines don’t deserve to be overlooked as they are as beautiful as ever, even as they become a bit less in favor, but seriously the Mosel Spatlese are some of the greatest wines available and can be drunk as table wines and with many cuisine options. Germany is going through classification pains and each governance seems uniquely club like and traditional QbA, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, BA, TBA and Eiswein still confuses some people, as does the VDP’s Cru labeling, but regardless the best producers in Germany’s top regions are making sublime wines and honestly some of the greatest period in the wine world, this is without doubt a golden era of German wine. Here’s a quick look at what’s in store from the 2013 vintage.
The Donnhoff estate needs no introduction, they are one of the world’s great wineries and this sample of 2013 wines are just stunning. Cornelius Donnhoff’s estate wines are a huge success in this difficult year. The yields were exceptionally low and the grapes came in with great extract and intensity. I think the wines will be a cross between the high acid and extract of 2008, but with the pretty aromas and generous fruit of 2007 or 2011. It will be hard to beat 2012 for overall perfection, but 2013 certainly will not be lagging too far behind in terms of quality or intreats, there just won’t be much on offer, and that is a shame, especially as these Donnhoff wines are very tasty, so be sure to fill out your pre arrival requests early, these will be gone in a flash.
2013 Dönnhoff, Riesling, Estate Trocken, Nahe Germany.
Always a treat and cooly dry the Estate Trocken by Donnhoff is one of the great values in wine, remarkable clarity, mineral driven Riesling of outstanding quality. It will be hard for the 2013 to compare to the 2012 which is still getting better in the bottle as I speak, but it certainly will be a fun companion and it is impeccably well made. I almost compare this bottling to Premier Cru Chablis, but honesty I might rather drink this given the choice 8 out of 10 times, this is just sizzlingly good and vibrant to the core. I’d say buy as much 2012 as you can, but don’t miss out on the 2013 it will be a worthy purchase, and I do adore the heightened aromatics of this vintage. The nose is fresh with lime, white flowers and chalk dust leading to a tangy palate of brisk dryness that includes grapefruit, lime again, unripe green apple and sour tarts. There is vivid steeliness and wet stones along with earthy sea salts, melon and white tea spices adding complexity, look for the extract to expand and roundness in the future when released late spring/summer of 2014, drink from 2014-2018.
($24 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2013 Dönnhoff, Riesling, Estate, Nahe Germany.
The semi dry Estate bottling is going to be a winner too, I found it juicy off dry with hints of sweet and sour, it is well defined, balanced and flexible. Again it is hard to match the 2012, but it is pretty darned close, and there will be far less available anyway, so as mentioned it would be wise to stock up on 2012, though I will certainly be getting a few of these myself, the touch of sweetness really makes this a grand summer sipper. The 2013 starts with a tropical note, floral charm and orange leading to a peach and sour apple infused palate with hints of lime, more stone fruit and kiwi, plus hints of mango, mint and river stones. This is pure and easy, super with Asian cuisine and is priced well, especially for the quality. I look forward to seeing what evolves in the bottle, drink 2014 to 2018.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2013 Dönnhoff, Riesling “Norheimer Kirschheck” Spätlese, Nahe Germany.
This 2013 Norheimer Kirschheck is serious stuff, already a heady and well defined Riesling, incredible really considering this is a tank sample, Donnhoff has crafted a beauty here. This lovely and caressing white has creamy sweetness, plenty of firm extract and deep layers of flavor and there is much more to come given time. This super impressive 2013 Spatlese looks set to have a long and pleasure filled life, I have put it on my own personal wish list, no doubt it will provide amazing drinking enjoyment over the coming decade. I can’t wait to try more of Cornelius Donnhoff’s 2013, hopefully this summer I’ll get that chance, and for sure I am planning to visit the winery in the Nahe when I get an opportunity, maybe later in the year or next year, if plans come together. The 2013 Norheimer Kirschheck Spatlese leads with rocky mineral, white flowers, tropical essences and layered textures with tangerine, apricot, white peach and passionfruit all playing roles as well as green apple and more mixed citrus. There is a touch of density starting to come through, but the fresh acidity holds things in balanced harmony, this pretty Spatlese feels juicy and vibrant even though there is delightful sweetness and fleshiness throughout. Mineral notes and exotic flavors are there in the background, everything is looking good here, I believe this to be a brilliant and excellent Riesling that will continue to impress for a decade or more, drink from 2016 to 2028.
($44 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
I think the Rheingau will be a big hit for 2013, the wines I tried all offered up beautiful bouquets, crisp mineral notes and impressive depth of fruit. They might develop even more exotic characteristics as time goes by, these were very early samples, but things are looking really good. The leading light of these were the Leitz wines, from his QbA Dragonstone to his Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese, Johannes Leitz crafted some magical wines. After tasting his samples of 2013, I started day dreaming of returning to Rudesheim and hiking these glorious vineyards above the Rhein, this place is still one of my greatest ever wine region visits, it keeps me checking on flight times to Frankfurt! Like the Donnhoff wines from the Nahe, the Leitz wines from 2013 show intense and powerful aromatics with the classic flinty/spice of the slate and the peachy character of the quartzite in the differing soils make of the Rudesheim and Rheingau area. It is hard to imagine a week or so to go by with having a bottle of Leitz Riesling, these wines are so compelling and delicious.
2013 Leitz “Dragonstone” Riesling, Rudesheim, Rheingau Germany.
The Drachenstein Rudesheim Riesling 2013 is perfumed and vibrantly peachy, it looks set to be another success, I almost like it as much as the currant 2012, which is high praise, I adore the “Dragonstone” this is massively appealing wine, there is always richness and finessed detail to be found in this Riesling, the must weight is usually quite high, this is not a wimpy afterthought, this is serious and deep wine from Riesling grown high up on quarzite soils. I believe this wine is way under priced for the quality. This is terroir and craftsmanship on show, making for a mostly dry feel, but with a hint of sweetness and a full and juicy mouth feel. This 2013 shows exceptional floral character, maybe unique to this small yielding vintage, it is richly flavored with yellow peaches, pineapple, basil notes, flinty mineral and tangy citrus. This entertaining Riesling has star quality at a more than fair price and I love the extract, acidity and creamy length, drink from 2014 to 2018.
($19-22 Est.) 91-92 Points, grapelive
2013 Leitz, Riesling, Rüdesheimer “Klosterlay” Kabinett, Rheingau Germany.
Another great value from Johannes Leitz is the flavorful and elegant Klosterlay Kabinett which would be a great dessert island wine, you could survive on this no problem, if there was only one choice, especially as it is well suited to be enjoyed with warm weather, tropical cuisine and seafood! I am impressed to see the 2013 showing so well, it really is right up there with the dynamic and gorgeous 2012’s produced by Rheingau favorite Johannes Leitz. Rudesheim’s terroir and exposure is historic, this is a perfect winegrowing area and it’s little wonder it is Meursault’s sister city, this is wine country at it’s best and these wines are as good as any made anywhere. The Klosterlay is honeyed pear, lime, tangerine and peach driven with a hint of sweetness, spice and stony, everything is beautifully detailed and weighted artistically. This fine expression should drink well over the next 3 to 5 years, but there is enough stuffing to last a decade, this is nice juice, drink from 2014 to 2018.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Leitz, Riesling, Rüdesheimer “Magdalenenkreuz” Spätlese, Rheingau Germany.
Coming from one of the top sites in Rudesheim the “Maggie” 2013 is a stunning young Spatlese, be sure to keep an eye out for this one, it is a sleeper. This pristine and crystalline Riesling is full of flavor, charm and elegance with layers of detail and a rich sweet core of fruit, balanced by loamy earth, spice and kicking acidity, this is terrific wine start to finish. The talents of Johannes Leitz and mother nature came up with something rather special here and the 2013 Leitz Rudesheimer Magdalenakreuz is a joyous Riesling of class and extravagant underpinning, I think Johanne’s Maggie is one hot ticket! The nose offers up rose petal, tropical notes and fruity character leading to a vigorous palate of sweet apple, peach, fleshy apricot and pink citrus while white plums, fresh herbs, mineral tones and saline add complex edges. There is a lot going on here, but overall everything flows smoothly and harmoniously from start to finish with a lingering sweet note, though more is certainly coming to the mix, I suspect more intrigue over the next few years, further examination will be required and happily I might add, I am really excited by these 2013 samples, I can’t wait to taste the finished product in bottle, just be sure you chase some down as they look set to be rarities even before release, drink this one from 2016-2022.
($28 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
While there wasn’t much on offer of the 2013 from the top producers, I was informed by reliable sources that here too the 2013 vintage looks set to have made some intriguing wines. I look forward to trying the likes of von Winning, Muller-Catoir and other this summer when bottle samples will likely be more readily available. The Pfalz is an exciting region with a vast array of varietals and styles to chose from, there are some amazing wines coming from here and if you’ve not stocked up on the glorious 2012 vintage you are missing out!
Ahr (not a big Riesling area, but worth mentioning)
The Ahr is one of the hottest regions for Pinot Noir on the planet, and while 2011 and 2012 might be the best vintages back to back ever seen, I will certainly be keeping an eye out for 2013, though that should be about another year or so before any real meaningful samples get offered. 2010 was pretty decent with soft pretty wines, but 2011 and 2012 are amazing for Spatburgunder, these Pinot Noirs are just starting to hit the market and should not be missed, especially the wines of Meyer-Nakel, these wines would make even the most hardcore Burgundian cry with joy. If you are looking for unique and extreme Pinot Noir, this region is one to check out.
famed Mosel winegrower Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster told me flat out the 2013 was an economic disaster with grapes and quality juice down over 60%, but even with this terrible business reality the bright spot is what little amount of wine that was made in 2013 looks super. Selbach had a new, first time Kabinett from his Saar holding for 2013 and it was delightful and already easy to drink, it will certainly be on my list of wines to grab when releases later this year. The Selbach-Oster 2012 wines continue to perform well, and in fact are quite remarkable, so while there isn’t going to be much as of way for the 2013 vintage, you should stock up on 2011 and 2012 while you can. Johannes confessed his own stocks are running extremely low on these fantastic vintages, so I headed his advise and stashed some Schlossberg Kabinett myself! Other a real happy note, I got to finally try the single block Zeltinger Himmelreich “Andrecht” 2012 which is due here in the states in May (2014) and while I’ve already posted the review, I think it is worth mentioning again this is one of the great whites of the vintage and I believe a legendary wine. I also got to re-sample the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Ur Alte Reben” which again blew me away, it is a Feinherb, but forget classification or RS, this is a stunning wine that too will go the way of legends, so while not many 2013’s will be coming there is still something to look forward to, these two wines could be the most under the radar collectables on the planet, if you are a Riesling fan these are must find wines, trust me, you don’t want to miss them.
2013 Selbach, “Saar” Kabinett, Saar Germany.
The Selbach Saar Kabinett is the first of it’s kind, previously there were only Spatlese under this label, in 2013 there was an opportunity to pick twice from this section, one to make this Kabinett and again later for the Spatlese, and while quantities are tiny it is a great addition to the lineup. Johannes would have liked a normal vintage for obvious business reasons, he just shakes his head thinking about the lack of grapes in 2013, but he cannot be unhappy with the quality that is for sure. Even this little Kabinett from the Saar land is sumptuous and delicious with loads of fruit, purity and vivid character. Even though I am eagerly waiting on his more classic Mosel wines from places like Graacher and Zeltinger, this little gem is enough to tell you Selbach is going to have a nice collection of Riesling to search out in 2013, though you’ll have to fight to get them, especially if there as scare as Johannes hints at… The 2013 Saar Kabinett starts with pretty citrus blossoms, chalky stones, steely mineral and green apple with sweet pineapple, spiced peach and candied lemon rind along with tangy elements and fresh acidity. There is plenty of extract and this wine is really well defined with much more detail and focus than might be the case in an average vintage, there is plenty to love here, drink from 2014 to 2017.
($20-24 Est.) 90-92 Points, grapelive
Many thanks to Terry Theise, Hiram Simon (Wine Wise) plus Cornelius Donnhoff, Johannes Selbach and Johannes Leitz for their time, insights and kindness!