In May 2016 I joined a wine trip to Germany arranged by the wine tasting club CVP (Collegium Vinorum Polytechnicum or just “Vincollegiet” in Sweden) over an extended weekend, as part of their 40th anniversary celebration. CVP is loosely affiliated with my alma mater, the Royal Institute of Technology, but is populated more by recent graduates than current students. The trip went to the Mosel and Nahe wine regions, and we visited quite a high-end set of producers (four plus four) at just the right pace for a group that filled a small bus.
Our visits were to:
- In Mosel
It may seem strange for me to mention this visit more than seven months later, but I still think it will be worthwhile for me to write about the visits to (at least) Dönnhoff, Schäfer-Fröhlich, and Geltz Zilliken, and I’m sure there will be many additional posts about the German 2015s in the years to come. But how many posts and when – we’ll just have to see as my blogging activity goes up and (more reliably also) down…
Although I’ve blogged more about Champagne than anything else, it was German wines and in particular German Rieslings, that was my first specific interest in the wine world. I have blogged less about Germany than I should have, if my blogging were to reflect my actual interest in various wines. Also, for the last several years I haven’t really followed the German vintages and “new” high-end producers to the extent I did about 5-10 years ago, mostly before I started to blog.
The timing of the trip was very fortuitous, since the most recent vintage available was 2015, which is an excellent vintage in Germany, at least in the classical Riesling regions.
In May, wines of the 2015 vintage had just started to be sold, in the form of the basic level (the Gutswein level, or “Estate”), dry mid-level wines, and most of the off-dry wines, up to the Spätlese level. Pleasantly enough, we also got to taste some Großes Gewächs wines, the dry top-level wines, which can be sold from 1 September following the vintage year at the earliest. Sweeter wines from Auslese and up also tend to appear slightly later than those up to the Spätlese level.
In summary, my impression is that the 2015 vintage is quite brilliant, all the way from dry wines to sweet wines! (Those 2015s I’ve tasted later haven’t changed my mind, by the way.) It is clearly better than 2013 and 2014, which are a bit more uneven in quality and style, although there definitely are many very good wines from those vintages. (The best 2013 wines may be excellent for those who truly enjoy high acidity levels, or wish to be able to cellar their wines for quite some time.) A reason why 2015 turned out to be so good was that the harvest season offered perfect weather for several weeks, something we heard in both Mosel and Nahe. (I’ve later gotten the impression that “perfect” for that long didn’t apply univerally, but apparently conditions weren’t really bad anywhere.) This meant that the growers could harvest the grapes at the ripeness they preferred, at their ease. Both in 2013 and 2014, the harvest was much more stressful for those that wanted to produce top wines, with time windows of hours or days to hit the optimum ripeness and to avoid rot.
Stylistically, the 2015s are characterised by good ripeness, good concentration, and pure aromas, while also having good acidity levels providing balance and freshness. The acid component is made up of “ripe acids”, a term used by e.g. Helmut Dönnhoff, which means that there is a lot of tartaric acid and not as much of the “harder” malic acid (of which there is a lot in 2013). The only drawback of the vintage, is that 2015 isn’t really a general Eiswein vintage, since the winter was mild. However, there definitely are some Eisweins also from this vintage, such has Dönnhoff’s Oberhäuser Brücke. Another producer mentioned that sufficiently low temperatures didn’t appear until February, and then their grapes were long since ruined.
This vintage profile most likely means that also “medium-quality” producers, who can’t afford huge teams of harvest workers, have produced quite good wines in the 2015 vintage. However, the quality at Dönnhoff and Schäfer-Fröhlich (where we got to taste the GG wines) shows that exacting vineyard work and low yields have shown up in the final quality also in this vintage, although there was possibly less need for extreme selection at the end. I must add though, that there are some reviewers who consider a few producers to have produced less good wines at the top level than could be expected. When this has happened, the wines are apparently a bit overripe, showing signs of heaviness and clumsiness. Apparently, this has not happened in any particular wine region, but it is a tendency with some individual producers. So far, I haven’t really tasted any of them, so I won’t repeat any names here. This means that even in an excellent vintage such as this, it might be a good idea to check up reviews from trusted sources before buying en masse. Or even better, tasting youself! But coming back to the main message, if you at all enjoy German Riesling wines, you should definitely seek out the 2015s!
Often, consumers are more fond of comparisons to previous vintages than are producers. However, two producers independently mentioned 1975, and Dönnhoff also mentioned 2004 (but meant that 2015 was heavier and better) and – if memory serves – 1998. I was a bit surprised that noone mentioned the excellent vintages 2005 and 2010, which I thought the wines I tasted reminded me of, when comparing at the same Prädikat level. Possibly, this is because the producers have a tendency to compare conditions in the vineyard and overall composition of the portfolio of wines produced. 2005 may not qualify since it is a vintage of a heavier style with a lot of higher Prädikat wines due to more botrytis. I don’t know why they didn’t compare to 2010, but possibly this vintage didn’t really offer as calm a harvest season although the end result turned out well. I know that in many places (meaning primarily France), 2010 was initially underestimated, and only acquired the label of a top vintage at a second look. This indicates it wasn’t obvious at harvest time how good that vintage is. I perceive 2012 to be a bit similar to 2010, but perhaps a bit lighter and not quite having that “little extra”. As mentioned, 2013 has high acidity levels and a lot of malic acid, meaning that many wines come across as somewhat “hard”. 2014 tends mostly in the cool direction drar för det mesta åt det svala hållet i stilen, without the hardness of 2013, and they seem to be a bit lighter than 2015. Although there are really good top wines from 2014, my impression is that the quality of this vintage isn’t as evenly high as is the case for 2015, and not as consistent in style. I must admit that I have a less firm opinion about 2014 than 2015.
Our trip also included something of an overdose of white asparagus, since that most noble of vegetables was in season just when we visited. At the last dinner, most of us actually choose something else than asparagus, since we’ve already had large quantities at the previous two dinners plus one lunch. 🙂
Following this trip, I’ve also tasted the 2015s from many Rheingau producers, both in Sweden and on location in November. These tastings have confirmed the general impressions I got in Mosel and Nahe. My notes from a Schloss Johannisberg tasting have been published over at BKWine, and notes about Leitz and some other producers are likely to appear here in due time.