Though we’re looking ahead to all that is 2018—and if you’re in the Northeast Corridor of the United States, it currently includes a whopper of a “bomb cyclone”—it doesn’t mean that we should forget all that was great from last year.
Here, our Germany-based reviewer gives his top picks from 2017:
Most Outstanding New/Current Release Wines of the Year
From German-Speaking Origins
2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Nahe Riesling Felseneck "GG"
From a coolish vineyard on blue slate, this is a super pure, precise and crystalline Riesling with a fascinating floral and mineral bouquet. Highly elegant, finessed and balanced, with perfectly ripe and juicy fruit, this 2016 reveals a long, piquant and salty finish with fine tannins and lingering fruit intensity. Probably the best Felseneck I have tasted here so far.
2015 Egon Müller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberger Auslese GK (AP #12)
This is the perfection of an Auslese from the Scharzhofberg: rich, round and perfectly elegant yet also pure, highly finessed and in perfect balance, revealing a subversive complexity along with a seamless texture and an endless finish. A legend that unfortunately costs a fortune. Pay a tenth of the price for the 2016 Scharzhofberger Spätlese, and you will still be in the heaven of Saar Riesling.
Just in case you can accept that great Pinot Noir doesn’t have to come out of Burgundy—or taste like a top Burgundy—Hajo Becker’s Anti-Burgundian Auslese Trocken from the Walkenberg has never seen any barrique and was raised in old large oak vats. Don’t expect a coolish, berry-flavored wine here. This 2015 is a highly finessed but concentrated and spicy/peppery-flavored Pinot Noir provided with remarkable purity and freshness. The tannins are tight and piquant, and the wine is very long and far too young to be celebrated today. Try the corresponding Spätlese Alte Reben instead. It is enormously ripe, rich and powerful; although it has many features of Grenache-driven Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is a Spätburgunder whose generosity and fruit intensity reminds me of the legendary 1945 and 1947 from the Domäne Assmannshausen. These wines were made by Ewald Schug (Walter Schug’s father) and still taste as generous and fine as the very best wines from Burgundy. The prices of a Walkenberg, however, is a fraction of the finest Burgundies.
One of the greatest 2015 Rieslings I have tasted from anywhere. From 30- to 70-year-old vines on red sandstone and volcanic sediments, this is pure and flinty on the nose, with notes of lemon juice and crushed stones, dried herbs and flowers. On the palate, however, this 2015 is rich, ripe and very intense as well as highly elegant and persistent, with great concentration and complexity. Still a baby, it will shine for about 30 years.
One of my all time Riesling favorites on planet wine! Always a mystery in its youth and still challenging when ten or more years old, but so full of darker toned and spicy fruit aromas as well as vibrancy, tension and complexity. This is one of the rare Alsace Rieslings from schist (Steige schist), here an iron and magnesium-rich conglomerate of schist, quartz, mica and chlorite. This 2015 is on its way to becoming a legendary Kastelberg. The wine shows fine tannins, great finesse and concentration, whereas its tension and precision in the very long and salty finish is mind-blowing. Low in sulfur.
What a beautiful red wine from the 16-hectare biodynamic family estate! From calcareous, partly iron-rich soils in Orschwihr (Haut-Rhin), this has deep, perfectly ripe and aromatic cherry and dark berry fruit. It is beautifully concentrated and intense but also super elegant and fine. The stimulating acidity is perfectly integrated (which doesn’t mean it’s not there), and I could hardly stop drinking it—if only I had it in my cellar!
From French Speaking Origin
2002 Bollinger Champagne RD
2002 is definitely one of the most promising vintages of the last decade, and the RD (read: Recently Disgorged) is one of the finest I have had so far, especially when served from Magnum. Sourced in 21 crus (17 grands crus), the 2002 blends 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Chardonnay. Very pure and fine on the chalky nose, with well-defined fruit, whole wheat bread and a discreet touch of honey, this is a terribly fresh and finessed, almost Burgundian Champagne. It is very complex and concentrated, tight and tensioned—but not austere—and is fine, very long and highly promising. Simply a very great Champagne!
Blending 50% Chardonnay with 50% Pinot Noir exclusively from grand cru villages, this golden-colored Vintage Champagne is lovely and very pure yet highly finessed and elegant as it combines the freshness of the vintage with the complexity of the composition and the bottle aging. The finish is very long, tight and rich but stimulatingly dry, pure and mineral.
The 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend gets its marvelous pink color from the 6% of Pinot Noir red wine and is one of the finest Rosés I can remember. Intense and complex yet pure on the nose and palate, this is a round, almost smooth but elegant, dry and fresh Rosé Champagne with a perfectly balanced and charmingly vinous Pinot Noir character. Gorgeous with food and great for meditation.
This is a classic wine from Franconia. Bone dry, structured and with character. Fermented with natural yeasts and aged in large oak, no primary fruit aromas but lots of Franken in the glass. A great wine with fish and veggies.
2015 Muhr-van der Niepoort Carnuntum Cuvée vom Berg ($19-21)
A gorgeous red wine blending Blaufränkisch, Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah that was aged in used oak. This is round and charming on the palate, with sweet and lush cherry flavors. The finish is peppery and spicy, and the tannins are supple and well integrated. This generous but well-balanced wine already drinks beautifully today.
2010 Domaine de la Maison Carrée Pinot Noir Auvernier ($22)
A fantastic, highly finessed and elegant yet tensioned Pinot Noir from the Lac de Neuchâtel. Grown on deep marl soil over limestone, this full-bodied Pinot has an intense and juicy fruit flavor with fine tannins and an impressively fresh and persistent finish. It’s one of the finest Pinot Noirs you can find in Switzerland, and it was selling for an unbelievable 22 Swiss Francs! This 2015 was launched a few weeks ago, and you can read about the result four weeks from now.
Aged in a 600-liter barrel until August, this is a highly sensual and very elegant single-plot Riesling from the oldest vines in the Sankt Nikolaus “Grosse Lage.” Full-bodied, fresh and generously lush on the palate, with noble, tropical fruit flavors, this is a super balanced, highly elegant, vital and tensioned Riesling with fine tannins and a long and balanced finish. One of the greatest dry German Rieslings I have tasted in years.
2011 Jean-François Ganevat Côtes du Jura Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes
The wine was still young, but the vines (on red marl and gravel soils) were 100 years old when Jean-François harvested the Chardonnay grapes for his Les Grands Teppes VV, which unites the iodine, finesse and precision with a ripe Mirabelle fruit and a deep, persistent structure. This wine is highly complex and rich but has incredible purity and freshness too. Amazing. Nature is the most beautiful expression of culture!
Fifty years old, this Nahe wine is still bright in its golden color and enormously precise in its fruit and terroir expression. Incredibly vibrant and elegant, this wine from ryolithe soils shows great elegance, finesse and mineral tension, as if it was 10 or 20 years old.
Best Vertical/Retrospective Tasting of the Year
The 2015 Vintage of Rolly-Gassmann, Alsace
I have tasted 40 different 2015s from this exceptional producer in Rohrschwihr, and almost all of them were Vendanges Tardives or Séléctions de Grains Nobles—so, noble sweet wines, even if they hadn’t been declared as such. The finest are ageless and belong to the greatest terroir wines I have had this year. Sugar doesn’t cover the terroir character here, it actually seems to express it. All the wines—based on varieties such as Auxerrois, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Riesling—are highly precise and fresh, although they are rich and partly terribly sweet. Coming from a great vintage and harvested during 18 days until October 11 and in perfect conditions, these are wines made for eternity. Sweet as they are, they might not be in fashion these days, but since Pierre Gassmann is currently constructing a cellar for two million bottles, they will be stored under perfect conditions as long as it takes until the market discovers these exceptional treasures. Definitely the most impressive tasting I have had this year, and it took me two days to comb through all these wines that have left me with a sense of wonder.