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The Riesling Why

One of the most anticipated immersions of the year for wine scribes is the tasting of the new vintage dry Rieslings of Germany. In the case of 2016, that means quite a lot of pleasure. It started for me with the ‘sneak preview’ of the vintage in Wiesbaden in August, where the great VDP estates of the Mosel, Rheingau, Mittelrhein, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Franken, Württemberg, Baden and even tiny Saale-Unstrut, paraded 354 new vintage Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru) single vineyard Rieslings.

I caught up with a handful of these wines again earlier this month at a portfolio tasting put on by Awin Barratt Siegel, but because of overlapping tastings at this busiest period of the tasting calendar, it was painful to have to miss similar such tastings organised by Justerini & Brooks and Howard Ripley. Nonetheless, they, along with Berry Bros & Rudd and other German specialists, all have mouthwatering offers of the 2016 Rieslings.

Compared to the media circus of Bordeaux en primeur, these offers are considerably more restrained and often worthy of greater attention. And so it is with 2016. It was a difficult vintage to start with because of humidity during the beginning of the growing season and the resulting danger of mildew. It meant that growers had to be especially meticulous in their management of the vineyards, organic growers in particular. The first half of July lacked the required sunshine, but there was a turn for the better from the middle of the month on and into August and September, with hot weather allowing the vines to play catch-up, continuing through to the harvest.

All the Rieslings shown at the sneak preview tasting in Wiesbaden are dry because Grosses Gewächs is by definition dry. I like them not least because the dry styles with their racy acidity, climate change notwithstanding, are wonderful food wines. In this vintage, they tend to be a little less powerful and more elegant and charming than the excellent 2015s with a wonderful purity of flavour and textural charm. That makes them relatively approachable although my first impressions are that the best of the 2016s will develop flavour and complexity in the bottle for at least the next 10 years.  I doubt I’ll be waiting that long.

Among my 2016 favourites to date, I would list Dr. Loosen, Heymann Löwenstein, Schloss Lieser and van Volxem in the Mosel; Robert Weil, Künstler and Kesseler in the Rheingau; Dönnhoff and Schäfer-Fröhlich in the Nahe; Kühling-Gillot, Wittmann, Battenfeld-Spanier, Winter and Keller in the Rheinhessen; and Philip Kuhn, Bassermann-Jordan, Christmann, von Winning, Acham-Magin and Ökonomierat Rebholz in the Pfalz. A by no means exhaustive list, but I would be happy to have all or any of these in my cellar and I shall (alas, a selective few).

Because these estates are members of the exclusive VDP ‘club’, you can expect to pay a premium over and above the price from non-VDP members. Prices are starting to move up but I still think they are reasonable for wines of this level of quality, especially given the low yields and labour-intensive process required in their production. It’s worth pointing out though that there are many excellent estates that aren’t VDP members, and that, as a result, their wines can be even more keenly priced. Among them, I would list Martin Tesch, Theresa Breuer, Markus Molitor, Spiess, Louis Guntrum and Geil, but there are many more such pieces in the complex jigsaw that makes German wine such a rewarding area of exploration and discovery.