On the eve of Prowein, the biggest wine event in Germany and perhaps all of Europe, there are plenty of off-events to attend. Everyone who matters or wants to matter is already in or near Düsseldorf, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to socialize? Two years ago, I attended Grosse Winzer, Grosse Weine, a gathering of some of Germany’s most esteemed winemakers, and I was quite happy to see it organized again this year. The location was changed last-minute, moving from Schloss Calmuth to Kloster Mariental in the Ahr Valley (where I coincidentally attended the Frühburgunder Symposium last year), but luckily the content stayed the same: top German wines combined with Michelin starred food in a relaxed setting.
How often does one have the opportunity to taste multiple vintages of Dönnhoff’s Hermannshöhle GG? The Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle is one of Germany’s most celebrated vineyards, often noted as a benchmark of the Nahe region, and the Dönnhoff family comes closest to making the most perfect wine the site is capable of. One of the estate’s entry wines was the trigger of my love for Riesling, as noted long ago, and ever since I try to buy a small selection of the GG’s each year, which is becoming increasingly difficult given global demand. Often muted in its youth, the wine takes different paths with age depending on the vintage, but always following the same delicate, almost crystalline structure, a delicate backbone of minerality.
They are not always the easiest wines to judge in their youth, really just confirming my belief that the vast majority of GG wines are released too early with the VDP-imposed September presentation, and it was evidenced by the three vintages presented here. 2016 was tense, balled-up yet with a vein of minerality coursing through it, really quite focused. 2013 was to my surprise quite fruit-forward, ripe mirabelle peaches mostly, yet followed by citrus notes on the palate. It is still quite tight overall, but you can see it developing a balance between delicacy and texture. The 2012 finally, was in a perfect place. Nuanced, just at the point where everything comes together, creamy notes of yellow peaches, a slight smokiness, and then such vibrant freshness on the palate that just goes on and on.
The wines of Egon Müller remain a personal benchmark for defining finesse in wine. I had my first sip of a Scharzhofberger Kabinett at the previous edition of Grosse Winzer, Grosse Weine, vintage 2004 then, and I was speechless (it did not help that I was admittedly a wee bit starstruck to taste it in the company of Müller himself, the man does not do conversation easily) with the almost weightless impression it made. The 2017 had been quite good, small in quantity, as appears to be the message in most parts of Germany, yet big in quality, with the entire range of Pradikat wine produced.
The Scharzhof Riesling 2017 is entry level for the estate but would pack quite a punch against more prestigious cuvées by other estates. Quite dominant on candied lemon, just a little bit spritzy, which makes sense as it had only been bottled a couple of weeks earlier but good on potential. The Kabinett 2017 is unsurprisingly tight, smoky and a bit sponti on the nose, but with weightless fruit showing throughout already. As there is always an older vintage to be drunk as well, who could say no to the 2009 Spätlese? Whereas the young Kabinett was tight and clearly close to being shut down, I would say that the SL was more introverted. Not the easiest to approach, but overdelivering with lemon, honeysuckle and only the impression of sweetness. Enormously charming already, but woud benefit from another ten years.
Gantenbein is the odd member of the Grosse Winzer troupe, being a Swiss estate, invited as one of the ‘Friends of Ernie’ (Loosen). It has quite the cult reputation, both cultivated by its quality and rarity. The estate was founded by Martha and Daniel Gantenbein in 1982 in the Kanton of Graubunden, close to the border with Liechtenstein. Inspired by the great wines is burgundy and the Mosel, they produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling in tiny quantities. I had come across the wines from time to time, but a price point above 100 euros is not exactly an incentive to just randomly buy a bottle.
It is the attention to detail that supposedly elevates these wines to another level, finetuning every aspect of winemaking over the past thirty years, maintaining focus on a portfolio of but three wines. The Chardonnay 2014 is simply magnificent. Smoky with astonishing minerality on the nose yet swinging completely around on the palate towards a creamy and deep yet titillating structure. Easily capable of going over and against some of the finest Corton’s I have tasted, and already a contender for best wine of the year.
Next: three vintages of Pinot Noir. These are clearly wines that need time, seeing as the 2011 was only just coming around. Juicy impression, a bit riper on fruit than I expected but quite energetic, with a lovely fresh note to it. 2012 goes a bit further on the ripe fruit, even showing a deceptively sweetness at first. 2014 has greater potential towards ageing, as there is a certain savouriness hidden behind the dominating oak. It was a good opportunity to taste the wines and to see what they are capable of, but overall, I was a bit disappointed, given the hype and the pricepoint. My advice: if you can ever find the Chardonnay and you can afford it, don’t hesitate to go home with a case!
Finally, something sweet. Whereas the goal is to always end with TBA, recent vintages have been insufficiently kind. Luckily, Schloss Lieser’s Niederberger Helden Auslese Goldkapsel 2011 is more than enough to comfort anyone. Thomas Haag is one of my favourite Mosel producers, and I buy basically anything he produces from Helden, whether it is dry or sweet, without hesitation. 2011 is only just starting to open up with a smoky note pointing to the spontaneous fermentation but continues beautifully on zesty orange and mandarine with a creamy yet fresh touch to bring balance. Delicious!