Monday, September 22, 2008

a couple noteworthy visits in the Rheingau

I took advantage of the fact that I’m not currently selling anything German to tag along with David Schildknecht for a couple days, and revisit some notable addresses along the Rhein. And I don’t really care to act as bearer of tough tidings—it is far too easy for any would-be Cassandra to end up coming off as Chicken Little—but the entire parade did get severely rained-on while I was there—making 2008 in this part of the world somewhat of a wait-and-see how-much-it-dries-out proposition.

Two estates in particular stood out for the quality of the 2007 rieslings: Weingut Johannishof and Weingut August Kesseler.

It was particularly rewarding to sit with Johannes Eser and his father Hans-Hermann over a plate of Pfifferlingen at their Hoffest and exchange news and opinions with Christian Witte from Schloß Johannisberg about the latest developments—some concerning the use of native oak in the cellars—in this storied Anbaugebiet. I had forgotten—or perhaps hadn't ever learned—that Papa Eser had done an étage at Muré in Alsace, long before it was customary for German winemakers to cross that particular border. And I think it was David who said that Muré has recently gotten official permission to plant a few rows of syrah... plus ça change, plus ça change...

The 1992 Johannisberger Klaus Spätlese that we drank at the dinner table was particularly fine, and has matured gracefully. And there were some rather lovely offerings from 07, which got tasted in detail—the first vintage in quite a while that each Prädikat has found its way onto the label here at the Johannishof. Wines that I particularly liked were 1. Geisenheimer Kläuserweg Spätlese Trocken: finely textured with lovely minerality... 2. Johannisberger Hölle Erstes Gewächs: very round and luxuriant with satisfying depth, pineapples and pears with a nutty spiciness nicely integrated, profits from having as much residual sugar as the law will allow... 3. Kabinett "V": elegant and expressive, peaches and pears, nicely integrated mineral strands, citrus finish aromatix... 4. Johannisberger Klaus Spätlese: minerally magical, stone fruit, with finely tuned acids... 5. Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Spätlese: holy show! what a mouthfull... the 2007 Eiswein was picked on 22 December from Johannisberger Goldatzel, and wasn't as agressive to taste as one might imagine... BA and TBA came out of Berg Rottland...

I’ve been visiting with the Eser family since my first trip to the Rheinland in 1988, but I had only been once previously to visit August Kesseler in Assmannshausen, and that was to taste the 2002 vintage five years ago. My notes from that trip reveal that we tasted the rieslings before the spätburgunder, and I am pleased to report that on this occasion the reds were presented first. Kesseler spent a great deal of time with us, and took us on a tour of the vines above Lorch and Lorchhausen, sites I'd not yet seen... Also noteworthy was Herr Kesseler’s stated opinion that ’02 was the last classic vintage for spätburgunder in his neighbourhood.

Highlights of the tasting were the 06 Spätburgunder Cuvée Max, which likely profited from the fact that we were shown no Höllenberg or Berg Schloßberg spätburgunders. This wine presented a lovely mouthful of blueberries, spiced with a bit of charcutérie, nice body and lovely balance. Kesseler got Erstes Gewächs out of both Berg Roseneck and Berg Schloßberg in 07—and I am always fascinated to try vineyards side-by-side: 1. Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Erstes Gewächs: nose stony and resinous, rich and meaty on the palate, rather elegant with a good shot of residual sugar, very nicely textured... 2. Rüdesheimer Berg Schloßberg Erstes Gewächs: very round aromatic impression of honeysuckle and honey, creamy rich, peachy-pearsy on the palate, spicy finish aromatix... 3. Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg Spätlese Goldkapsel: great density without much perceptible weight to it. how does he do that? very eloquent expression of peach and vanilla. rich and nicely textured; good acid. 4. Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Auslese Goldkapsel: magically transparent texture—perfumed and elegant... 5. Rüdesheimer Berg Schloßberg Auslese Goldkapsel: quite a mouthful, grander but still elegant. beautifully floral with a stone-fruit substance... 6. Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Beerenauslese Goldkapsel: not lacking for density or chew, but once again elegant, dark flavours coupled with lychee and mango, wonderful length with citrusy finish aromatix... and then there were three Trockenbeerenauslese Goldkapsel: Lorcher Schloßberg, Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck and Berg Schloßberg...

So, especially good news for the sweet tooth!

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