I will not give scores to wines as a regular feature any more. They are often misleading and make little sense without context, which leaves it to the reader to guess what the context may be. In comparing similar wines head to head I see them as a useful tool to convey finer gradings of one preferences, but in general I prefer to no longer undertake this exercise. I will use symbols as a quick way to indicate my feelings about certain wines I describe, namely (+) for "I like it", (-) for " I don't like it, (?) for "not sure", and (!) for "I love it".
The German harvest is not finished yet, so it's early days for an assessment, but one can safely say that 99 will be remembered as a rather special, but also difficult vintage. It had everything going for it, with perfect conditions until September, when the highest must weights were recorded that we have ever seen this century at such early a time. The sun was shining so much that growers began to worry about lack of water and dropping acidity. With hindsight, one should have harvested some varieties probably during that period. But then it started to rain, and it rained plenty. The Pfalz is facing serious rot problems. The lucky ones find their Riesling develop "noble" rot, and are collecting Auslesen and above now, during the dry spells between the rains. How good they will be is a question to be asked next year when the first samples will be taken. Maybe some historic 1999s will find their way into the bottles.
Now the two wines.
Ernst Loosens Pfalz venture is producing nice results. I did not find a weak wine in the whole line up. The emphasis is on dry Rieslings and a bit of pinot gris / noir. The sweeter Rieslings carry only village names and are very good, but not as interesting imho as the dry wines, which are the reason of Ernst Loosens interest in this area. The wines were just bottled when I tried them. Here some selected impressions:
The Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein is probably the leading, and certainly
the most well known Weingut of the lower Mosel area. Richard Löwenstein has a
talent for public relations and controversial politics, but his wines are just
as interesting as are any conversations with him. We spent a very informative
and entertaining afternoon at his estate, tasting the very good selection from
the 98 vintage and some older wines. The wine making has changed a bit over the
years, and he still seems to see himself as an experimenter and enquirer rather
than being firmly settled in his ways of making wines. He has settled on making
either dry wines which are invariably sold as QbA, even if they might deserve
the label of an Auslese trocken in some cases, or nobly sweet dessert wines from
high grade Auslese upwards.
The Schieferterrassen QbA 1998 is still unready on the nose, showing a touch of sweetness as most of his dry wines do these days, as well as power and stony fruit, with well integrated acidity. The vom blauen Schiefer QbA 1998 is more open, elegant, and with a more pronounced slatey character. A very nice dry Riesling indeed. His Zeltinger Sonnenuhr QbA 1998 is a juicy and harmonious wine with a rather soft acidity considering the usually higher levels of the middle Mosel, where he rented a piece of vineyard in exchage for a bit of Winninger Uhlen with Bernd Selbach. The Winninger Uhlen QbA 1998 is the deepest of his dry wines, with yeasty notes and hints of citrus as well as minerals. It has some residual sweetness, stony depth, juicy fruit, and a long and satisfying finish. An excellent wine worth its comparatively high price of 38DM. In an international context, such a price is no more than fair, but for a QbA from the lower Mosel this is a statement of confidence and pride. A look at the steeply terrassed vineyards will convince everybody that this money is earned the hard way.
We tried the Winninger Uhlen GKA 1998, which seems a bit bottle sick, but with obvious potential, honey, quince, power and good acidity shoing towards the finish. The Winninger Röttgen GKA 1998 is more accessible now, with a more peachy fruit and everything in place for a rich and sweet but well structured Riesling. His Eiswein 1998 is not an extreme expression of Eiswein, being stylistically rather similar to the GKAs. Finally the TBA 1996 is a thick monsterwine brimming with apricot fruit, super dense, with gripping acidity, built for the decades to come. It is almost surprising how enjoyable it is to drink (if it was not for my hurting teeth...).
We proceeded to taste through a range of mature vintages of Winninger Uhlen QbA, which showed to me that these wines can age well, but not always do seem to really improve compared to the younger examples. Certainly the 1990 is not very charming at this stage. It appeares much harder than later vintages, and the nose is dominated by petrol. Reinhard L&ozml;wenstein says it may be getting better rather than worse, but ragards it not as one of his favorites in terms of the vintage conditions as well as the wine making methods. The 1991 is more fun. A smaller wine but nicely elegant and joyful. The 1992 is fatter and softer. 1993 is a real winner. There is lovely fruit and smokey slate, and with time it may gain some more elegance. We missed ot on the appearently rather difficult 1994. The 1995 is something of a classic Uhlen, with something almost playful about it, that lacks in some other, rather serious renditions of this wine. A beauty.
The next day, we tasted the 1998s at S.A. Prüm and H. Kerpen, both located in Wehlen. Raimund Prüm has made some changes at his estate. He has found an investor who has built new facilities and increased the vineyard holdings. The wines from 98 are excellent, from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr and perhaps even more so from the Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst. Unfortunately the prices have rocketed into uncharted territory, with 80DM for half a bottle of Auslese where previously one would get a whole bottle for half of that money. The wines are very good, but are they really *that* much better now? Martin Kerpens wines are certainly lighter and more in line with earlier years price wise. The Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines are finesse wines that will not impress everyone, but I find esp. the Spätlese* highly enjoyable with fine peach fruit and slate, in that flowery-seductive Sonnenuhr style. He also made two fine Eisweine, a lighter and more open one from the Bernkasteler Brathöfchen and a bigger one from the Badstube, which needs some years to show its stuff. We also tasted his 1990 Auslese***, a wine that a ceratin critic once awarded 98 points, and which shows how much better 1990 was for sweet Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines compared to dry Winninger Uhlen. It is a classic that is nowwhere near the end of its development, marrying elegance and seduction with depth and power.
Wines from the district of Koblenz, which includes lower Mosel, Ahr, Mittlerhein, and Nahe, were presented at the Koblenz palace. This provided an opportunity to try some wines from the newly arriving 1998 vintage. My impression in general was that there are plenty of good or even very good wines to be found from this difficult year. The harvest was severely compromised by persistent cold and wet wheather, but still many winemakers managed to produce good wines. The vintage is crowned by some superb ice wines, which were made possible by the early arrival of a severe frost in November. There are no quantities of BA or TBA I know of, and many Auslesen clearly taste like Spätlesen boosted by a good dose of ice wine to get the necessary oechsle and concentration. There is nothing illegal about that, but one should be aware of it nevertheless.
The wines from the Ahr will not be up to the 97s, but I did like in particular the Frühburguunder QbA from Meyer- Näckel. Some cask samples I found hard to judge, e.g. from Deutzerhof. At the Nahe things got more exciting. Helmut Dönnhoff has produced another collection that will have few equals (if any) in all of Germany. Brilliant wines from semi dry Riesling QbA to three Esweine, of which he showed the smallest one in Koblenz. Thankfully, his supply is not as short as in 97, so the growing number of fans will get their share of the stuff that dreams are made of ;-). Also highly recommended are the wines of Emmrich Schönleber who brought a superb auction Auslese as his highlight for the tasting. The dry and sweet Spätlesen are also very fine. The wines of Peter Crusius I found a bit rustic by comparison, at least in some cases, but the Traiser Bastei Spätlese and the Rotenfels Eiswein really goot me excited. The wines of Armin Diel wiil not dissapont his followers either, but to me they cannot compete with Dönnhoff in terms of finesse or depth, often showing a rather obvious cassis fruit. At the Mittlerhein I found some good wines, but nothng truely outstanding, at least in the time I could devote to the region. Many producers still sell their wines so cheaply that the necassary reduction of yields for making really fine wines is simply not economically possible. The final highlights came from the lower Mosel where 98 looks like a very good year for powerful slatey Rieslings. I have very little experence with this region, and this has to be regretted. I was most impressed with the dry Rieslings from Beate Knebel and Reinhard Löwenstein. These wines are different from typical Middelmosel wines, and to me work perhaps better as powerful dry Spätlesen, like Knebels Winninger Uhlen, or QbAs, like Löwensteins dry wines. The sweeter styled wines lack a bit of the brilliance of the interplay of sweet fruit and elegant acidity which characterises the finest Middle Mosel, Saar, or Ruwer wines. But this does not mean they are not worth checking out, of course! I hope to give a more detailed report on some lower Mosel wines soon.
The German Wine Page has a new url, that is easier to remember, and allows me to move it to another server freely. The adress is
Please update your bookmarks NOW.
From the hills of Rheinhessen, usually idendified with sickly Liebfraumilch
and dull Silvaners, the Weingut Keller has risen to stardom in the German wine
scene. They have collected more medals than fieldmarshall Göring, recently
winning the Feinschmecker Riesling prize for dry Riesling, and reaching 18
points on the Gault Millau fever curve. This creates a healthy demand for their
wines. Still, we found the current list to contain a number of goodies from
recent vintages, beside a few already filled 98s. The Kellers seem very happy
with the quality of the 98s, despite rainy conditions, and are particularly
proud of the forthcoming Eisweine, which, like elsewhere in Germany, should
provide the high point of the vintage.
The '98 Silvaner QbA certainly tasted like a lot of wine for under 4 euro, but I was irritated by a gluey component in the nose. Not everyone found it to be there, and maybe the recent bottling of the wine has to do with it. For now, I just give you notes on 2 wines we had in the quiet of our home last night:
Tasted on earlier occaisions: