Thursday, November 23, 2017

Germany’s Nail-Biter Vintage: 2016

2016 German Riesling Review

By Eric Guido

Better Late Than Never

In the past, I’ve shared my insights on Germany’s newest vintage releases in the late spring or summer, as I would wrap up my tastings of wines that were brought over by producers to taste with the media and industry, but something about the 2016’s gave me pause.  As I tasted the wines, I couldn’t help but feel that they hadn’t quite reached the point that anyone should be tasting them.  They were like unruly teenagers, with all of the anxiety, self-conscious mood-swings, and over compensation when in the spotlight.  Most of the wines seemed disjointed and some even seemed hollow.  Many of the wines from my favorite producers left me feeling unsatisfied--which is what really gave me pause.  

I made the decision that I needed to taste these wines again, when they had more time in bottle to settle and get their footing, so to speak.  In the end, I’m glad I waited, because what I’m tasting now has me smiling from ear to ear.

What to Expect from 2016 German Riesling

The 2016s are in many cases very immediate wines with rich textures and an acidic spine that takes a back seat compared to vintages like ‘14 and ‘15. Yet these are wonderfully balanced wines and so hard to resist already, and for those who love minerality--there’s plenty to spare.

The 2016 vintage in Germany was a nail-biter for winemakers. The season started with a warmer-than-average winter that accelerated budbreak, and was followed by spring frost through much of the country and even into Austria. Flowering was late and yields looked to be down, but this didn’t deter growers from remaining positive. It wasn’t until the rains came--and didn’t stop until into July--that most producers realized that there may be reason for worry. Then came the heat, which started out as humid, causing bacterial infections and rot in the bunches. The humidity left, but the heat did not, as it remained throughout August. Growers who worked the vineyards, trimmed bad fruit and sprayed survived through these conditions, but some vineyards lost their entire crop.

Then September came and with it the only weather that could save such a vintage--warm dry days and cool nights. The well-manicured vineyards were able to recover health, yet yields were down by up to 30% across the region. Growers suddenly went from biting their nails to realizing that they could harvest at their leisure. Mother Nature had saved the day, but it would remain a small vintage with wines that spoke more of a winemaker's prowess than anything else.

Where To Look and What to Buy

For my tastes, I’ve found the most pleasure in the feinherb style of Riesling--those with just enough residual sugar to balance out the intense acidity and minerality. These wines are already drinking beautifully.  A good example is Peter Lauer’s Senior, as my household has gone through six bottles, yet I only have one tasting note, because the wine is so easy to love that it just disappears before I can pick up a pen.

As for the dry wines (Trocken) and Grosses Gewächs, it’s apparent that these are in need of some time to truly stretch out and begin drinking well.  My experience with the Julian Haart Wintricher Ohligsberg was a testament to that, as the wine was so tense that it nearly sizzled on the senses.  I would place these in the mid-term aging department, with five years in the cellar as my best guess to when they’ll start to really show off.

Then there are the Pradikat wines, Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese.  From my tastings the category of Kabinett shows beautifully in this vintage with amazing delicacy and sweet fruit flavors, which, when balanced with heightened minerality, (think Weiser-Künstler Wolfer Sonnenlay) creates a stunning display.  It’s also worth mentioning that this specific wine has an alcohol level of only 7.5%, yet it’s impeccably balanced.  

In my opinion, It would be a huge mistake to pass on the 2016s.  Not only are so many of them drinking amazingly well already, but many of them also have very bright futures ahead of them.  Frankly, I can’t wait for my next taste.  Below are some of my favorites to date.

On to the tasting notes:

Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Stirn Fass 15 Feinherb 2016 - The nose was mineral-driven and intense with crushed limestone giving way to ripe peach, granny smith apple and fresh green herbs. On the palate it was medium-bodied and soft, backed but vibrant acidity which was nearly hidden beneath notes of ripe mango, lime and a spritz of penetrating, sweet, vibrant minerality. It finished on tart citrus tones and zesty acid with caking stone dust minerals on the senses. Very nice. (93 points)

Julian Haart Wintricher Ohligsberg Riesling Großes Gewächs 2016 - The nose was intense with crushed limestone, wild herbs, tart lime citrus, and spicy floral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures, yet with understated tension, as saline minerality, lime citrus and zesty acidity barreled their way across the senses. It finished long and tart with lime citrus and inner floral tones. (93 points)

Weingut Keller Riesling Westhofen -KR- 2016 - Of all of the '16s I've tried to date, this is the most tightly wound and in need of serious time to come around. Here I found an austere, almost Burgundian bouquet of white pit fruits, wild herbs, (I swear there's a hint of vanilla), almond skins and grapefruit. On the palate, it was focused like a saber, precise and intense with a tart apple, pineapple, lime and a mineral mix. The finish was long with saturating minerality, green citrus tones and cheek-puckering acidity. I'm not sure where this is going, but I can't wait to find out. (93 points) 

Weiser-Künstler Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling 2016 - The nose was almost savory in it's display of floral undergrowth, saline-minerality, rosemary and lime zest, as notes of honeysuckle and ripe apple came forward with time in the glass. On the palate, I found a zesty expression, yet ultimately with soft textures, showing salty citrus, wild herbs, green apple and wonderfully balanced acidity. It finished on saturating minerality, with ripe apple and an almost oily texture coating on the senses. (92 points)

Weingut Keller Riesling von der Fels 2016 - The '16 Von der Fels was gorgeous, with an almost savory bouquet, displaying provencal herbs up front, followed by notes of green apple, lemon, and crushed seashell. On the palate, I found weighty textures, yet nearly imperceptible; the result of a mix of intense tart citrus, zippy acidity and saline-minerality with a spring of lemon zest and savory herbs that revisited toward the close. The finish was fresh with a lasting buzz of mineral-strewn citrus and minerals. The longer this wine sat in the glass, the more it seemed to grow. (92 points)

Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Senior Faß 6 2016 - Here I found wonderful inner florals, with savory spice and lemon tones. It displayed great density for the vintage with rich textures offset by saline-minerality, ripe apple and zesty acidity. The finish was long with gorgeous inner floral tones and hints of citrus. (92 points)

Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Vulkangestein trocken 2016 - The nose was intense, savory, almost briny, yet so pleasurable, as notes of olive, seafoam and crushed stone were offset by green apple, melon and fresh herbs.  On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by stunning minerality and a zing of vibrant acidity with notes of tart apple, lemon rind and spice.  It seemed to buzz of the finish, as zesty acidity lingering among citrus tinged minerals. (91 points)

Weiser-Künstler Riesling Wolfer Sonnenlay Kabinett 2016 - The bouquet alone is making me hungry with a savory, saline and mineral burst, followed by lemon rind, crushed seashells and yellow flowers. On the palate, I found a zesty expression of tart acid and lemon-lime intensity mixed with ripe apple and spices. It lingered long on the finish, with a tart mineral-driven display as saturating citrus tones slowly faded. (91 points)

Julian Haart Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Kabinett 2016 - The nose showed intense minerality with crushed stone, lime, and sweet florals. On the palate, I found soft textures with peach, apple and hints of lemon, sweet inner florals and refreshing acidity. It finished clean with lasting ripe peach and hints of citrus rind. (91 points)

Weingut Keller Riesling Limestone 2016 - The nose showed intense lemon citrus with masses of crushed stone minerality, hints of mango, and savory herbs. On the palate, I found soft, weighty textures with a coating ripe lemon and green apple acidity that saturated the senses, forcing the mouth to water. It finished on cheek-puckering minerality, inner florals and citrus pith, yet through it all a note of ripe green apple resonated. This is so good that it’s almost impossible to put down. (91 points)

Dönnhoff Roxheimer Höllenpfad Riesling trocken 2016 - The nose showed sweet florals, young peach, and a hint of lime. On the palate, I found soft textures with ripe lime citrus, minerals and exotic tropical tones. I wanted more energy in the finish, yet that’s splitting hairs and the Hollenpfad is highly enjoyable for current drinking. (90 points)

Gunderloch Riesling Rothenberg Spatlese 2016 - The nose was wonderfully floral with airy minerals, hints of citrus and kiwi.  On the palate, I found silky textures lifted by stunning acidity with notes of ripe apple and mango.  It finished long with a sweet and sour display of stone fruit and tropical tones, all the while providing a sensation of energy and verve.  Very nice. (92 points)

Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Felseneck Spätlese 2016 - The Felseneck Spatlese was gorgeous, with a display of crushed stone minerals with ripe apple, and sweet citrus tones.  On the palate, I found a weighty-silky textures offset by vibrant acidity mixed with intense minerals and hints of green herbs before a mix of ripe pear, apple and peach washed over the senses.  It finished long, layered and complex showing amazing balance and lingering acids.  This is one for the cellar, and a standout of the vintage. (93 points)

Schloss Lieser Riesling Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett 2016 - The nose was incredibly fresh with minerals and notes of post-fermentation funk in the foreground, followed by dried flowers and ripe peaches. On the palate, I found soft textures with sweet and sour apple, floral peach and hints of spice.  It finished long with notes of ripe apple, contrasted by a sour-patch lemony sensation of acid and sweetness.  It’s more of a fun wine that a showstopper and really packs a punch. (90 points)

Schloss Lieser Riesling Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2016 - The nose was intense with a display of minerals, crushed stone and dried flowers up front, ripe apple and peach tones followed shortly after.  On the palate, I found great textural depth with gobs of minerality to offset, leading to peach and tropical fruits with inner floral tones providing lift.  It finished long and textural, as it’s ripe fruits seemed to slowly melt away from the senses.  This is a Kabinett?  I’d think more Spatlese--but I’m loving it all the same.  (92 points)

Schloss Lieser Riesling Niederberg Helden Spätlese 2016 - The nose showed crushed stone minerality with with dusty florals and ripe peaches. On the palate I found silky textures with notes ripe peach, a zing of brisk acidity, lemony citrus, and nectarine.  The finish was incredibly long with a hint of spiced orange and ripe stone fruits.  (92 points)

Schloss Lieser Riesling Niederberg Helden Auslese 2016 - The nose was remarkably fresh and feminine, displaying sweet florals, peach and more peach with sweet cream.  On the palate, I found silky textures with green apple, tropical citrus and caking minerality.  The mix of minerals and acid gave this an almost dry sensation going into the long finish, where saturating citrus and tart apple tones prevailed. (93 points)

* Originally published at The Cellar Table Blog