Whereas I would consider 2018 to be a great year for the dry wines, I am a bit more doubtful for the Prädikat wines, especially when it comes to Kabinett. The very essence of quintessential Mosel Kabinett is a lovely light fruitiness on a backbone of minerality, something that was not easy to achieve in a hot and dry vintage like 2018. I like my Kabinett at this stage to be lean and crisp, with fruit lingering somewhere in the background but not taking the center stage just yet. There were unfortunately quite a couple of wines where this was not the case.
Of course there is nothing wrong with an easy-drinking fruit-dominated bottle of Kabinett from time to time though. Schloss Lieser’s Juffer Kabinett manages to strike the right balance, with that typical reductiveness on the nose, but a quite forward fruit impression on the palate that gets pummeled into order by a nice touch of acidity. Willi Schaefer’s Himmelreich Kabinett is perhaps the nicest example of the fruity style that I tasted, clearly betting on drinking pleasure from the get-go, and while it is slightly less strong then in recent vintages, it does drink away oh so easy. Both are actually harvested at Spätlese-level Oechsle and I would bet that their residual sugar levels would also be in the high fities/sixties, so for those who are looking for the really nice crisp Kabinett style, I would thread warily.
Saar and Ruwer were better off and it is here that we get to the good stuff. No one can ignore Egon Müller’s Kabinett, which is one of the world’s greatest wines. Introverted and subdued, just a little bit of smokiness in the nose but with a lovely creamy touch on the palate. Perhaps a bit more dense than last year, but give it 5 to 10 years before it has a fair shot at showing what it has in store. It gets more expense every year unfortunately but honestly, for what you get it is simply an amazing wine.
In a more reasonable price range, von Othegraven’s Kanzemer Altenberg is my go to Kabinett in the Saar. Stinky and reductive in the nose, yet focused and energetic on the palate. Needless to say, I am a big fan of Andreas Barth’s wines.
Whereas Kabinett is often the style that is most shut down on the nose when young, Spätlese can actually be enjoyed early on. Of course, it will benefit from cellaring, but it is the Prädikat where it is easier to assess quality and potential because most of the components actually show up! A bit of boldness is permitted at this level and 2018 quite delivers. Fruit is definitely on the foreplan for all the wines tasted, the question is if there is the acidity and freshness to counter it.
JJ Prüm has the Spätlese collection that I think best represents the vintage. The Wehlener Sonnenuhr SL, never the coldest vineyard, cannot hide the fruity character yet there is a quite pointed acidity to it to add some balance. Zeltinger Sonnenuhr SL has characteristic zesty orange notes and actually comes across very un-Prüm-like as it is so approachable already. Graacher Himmelreich SL is always a favourite as it has these lovely floral notes, a bit of honeysuckle mainly, combined with a refreshing touch of sherbet. It iss perhaps the Spätlese leaning closest to the classic Prüm-style.
Onwards to the Auslese category, where the wines are as expected a bit more shutdown. The absolute winner is Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Domprobst Auslese, striking just the right balance between cream, orange sherbet and a nice kick of freshness towards the finish, really one of those wines that makes you question just why this is not more popular as this would have something for everyone.
Now, given the dry vintage conditions, it should not be surprising that there was very little botrytis to be spotted. It helped that autumn continued to be dry, allowing whatever noble rot there was to be picked out gently as the grapes remained quite healthy. These wines are of course uncompromisingly sweet, sometimes painfully so, making it difficult to properly assess how they will turn out in the future. Nonetheless, there are again some wines that anyone should be able to tuck away with confidence for a couple of decades. A cross section of the Mosel subregions, starting with the Terrassenmosel and ending in the Saar.
I loved Knebel’s Röttgen Auslese, which had that typical saffron note that I always associate with botrytis, while not being dominated by it. The fruit is as with the dry wines less present here, but there is a juicy acidity running through it that will be nicely integrated in 10 years or so. Matthias also presented the 2009 Röttgen Auslese Goldkapsel, which was a bit more saffron-dominated and came across quite laidback at first, only to give a nice little fresh clean kick in the finish. At a good point now, but with a long life ahead of it.
JJ Prüm’s Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Goldkapsel was on a different level, introverted and nuanced, with a slight impression of apricot syrup on a backbone of slatey freshness. Incredibly intense but oozing finesse at the same time. Zilliken’s Saarburger Rausch Auslese Goldkapsel is a lot gentler yet seriously sweet. There is vigour in it which helps, and experiences with past vintages are confidence-inspiring, so I would not touch this for 20 years.
Up next: the auction wines!
Photo credits: Grosser Ring VDP Mosel