Reviewers’ Favorites 2022: Stephan Reinhardt

I am currently finishing another big Germany report with more than 700 wines that will be published here very soon. Of course, among them are many personal favorites, although that doesn’t mean these are the highest-rated wines. You could easily rank all the tasted wines by scores in our archive and wouldn’t need any further explanation. Yet here, I only recommend what I have personally bought this year or wish I would have bought early enough. 2021 was a very difficult vintage in Germany not only due to a very small crop but also due to the fact that many rainfalls let the grapes ripen only slowly and late. While the dry white wines are most likely not the best ever made, the classic predicates such as Kabinett and Spätlese brought some exceptional Rieslings, namely along the Mosel but also the Nahe and the Rhine. The naturally high but ripe acidity levels were just perfect for Rieslings that did not ferment to fully dry (or weren’t allowed to ferment dry), since the acidity combined with the mineral tension uplifts the sweetness that has rarely tasted that dry in recent years. In fact, I haven’t tasted such lean but dramatic Rieslings as the 2021s in more than 20 years, when global warming or climate change wasn’t yet on everybody’s minds. However, my favorites were not just Rieslings this year, and certainly not just 2021s. 

A Wine for The Cellar:
The Felseneck vineyard (Photo courtesy of Schäfer-Fröhlich)

Tim Fröhlich's Rieslings from the Bockenauer Felseneck are among the most impressive wines in Germany. The steep slope is located somewhat off the beaten path, in the valley basin of the Ellerbach, a side valley of the upper Nahe. Fröhlich owns nine hectares in the purely south-facing site, where the vines climb from 250 to 310 meters in elevation up to a high plateau. About 80% of the acreage is planted with vines that are over 40 years old, sending their roots deep into the rocky, easily warmed, but also permeable soil that is dominated by upper red clay, with conglomerates of blue Devonian slate, white-gray quartzite and basalt boulders. Miraculously, the old vines defy summer drought (as they did in 2018 to 2020) but also the abundant rainfall that occurred in 2021. The precision and finesse of the Riesling Grosses Gewächs from the Felseneck was not affected by the 2021 vintage. In any case, the wine is incredibly impressive and expresses the multilayered slate minerality of the Felseneck terroir in a focused yet currently wild and untamed way, reminiscent of crushed flint and slate stones, herbs, green leaves, chamomile, lime zest and iodine. Full-bodied and rich on the palate, this is a pure and crystalline laser sword of a dry Riesling that should be cellared for at least 10 years in order to reach the Mount Everest of German Riesling. 

A Wine That's Under the Radar:
Assmannhausen stronghold

The Höllenberg in Assmannshausen, Rheingau, is one of the most famous and best sites for Pinot Noir in Germany and has been for a very, very long time. Ewald Schug, father of Walter Schug, who grew up in the Assmannshausen domaine of the Hessische Staatsweingüter but became famous in Napa Valley and Carneros, produced some of the finest red wines in German history here between 1919 and 1959. Vintages such as 1945, 1947 and 1959 still easily hold their own alongside the most expensive grand crus from Burgundy, as so many tastings have proven. Thank goodness the treasury of the Staatsweingüter is well stocked, so that earlier this year I was again able to taste the Assmannshäuser Pinot Noirs far back into the 19th century (the report will be published in the first quarter of 2023), which once again proved the value of this steep slope on the Rhine. Nevertheless, it is neither the sought-after Höllenberg Pinots of youngster Carsten Saalwächter nor those of doyen August Kesseler or even those of the Staatsweingüter that have remained under the radar for so long, but it is the Pinot Noirs of Krone Assmannshausen belonging to the Weingüter Wegeler. Michael Burgdorf, the most reliable constant at Wegeler for 22 years, has also been responsible for these red wines growing on phyllite slate soils for 15 years. The pinnacle of his cellar master's art is the Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs from the Höllenberg. This juicy, salty and, above all, vital red wine comes on sale late, just as it used to when Assmannshäuser was synonymous with German red wine. Currently, the two vintages 2016 and 2017 are offered. Both vintages are great, but the 2017 is perhaps a touch denser and more dramatic: it is bright red, firm and distinctive, and although it’s no charmer, it is confident and terroir-driven, a rigorous classic of German red wine literature.

A Wine for Tonight:
(Photo courtesy of J.B. Becker)

Matured Riesling, of course, because this is what Riesling is made for. If you don’t have the chance, Hans-Josef Becker has. His winery in Walluf is something of a Gallic village in the Rheingau, even though Becker is not a rebel, just because he looks like one. Rather, he is a preservationist, a mustachioed patron saint of the authentic. Becker still uses the old German Prädikate (predicates) even for dry wines, which would be forbidden if he was a member of the VDP. The message included behind terms such as Kabinett, Spätlese or Auslese: My wine is naturally pure. Not improved, not sanded down, but naturally beautiful. The Pinot Noirs anyway, but also the vast majority of Rieslings are dry; and if they are not, then nature has arranged it that way, and man, Becker knows how to accept that. After all, he has a spacious cellar and sometimes allows his wines a lot of time. When Becker's wines have matured in the bottle for some years, like the 2009 Auslese from the Walkenberg—which was not fermented completely dry and which he put back on sale in late summer—then one would prefer to drink each bottle on its own. That's a mouthful of Riesling! And while many 2009s are hanging limp and heavy on the ropes today, Becker's Walkenberg knows how to dance, smack and charm. A wine that sings the praises of the Wallufer Walkenberg and, last but to least, of matured Riesling.

A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability: 
2020 Adams Wein Chardonnay Lohpfad (Germany, Rheinhessen)
Simone Adams

Since 2010, Dr. Simone Adams has been producing her own wines on the chalky weathered soils of Ingelheim am Rhein (Rheinhessen), predominantly from the grape varieties of the Burgundy family—i.e. Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir—as well as Chardonnay. In her first 12 years, Adams has developed what she calls "empathic viticulture." It consists of drawing conclusions from close observation in the vineyard as well as in the cellar, which continues to improve and refine the work in the field as well as in the cellar for the sake of the vine and the wine. After a few years of experience, there was no way around ecological work and, as a last consequence, biodynamics. Next year, Adams’s vineyard will be certified biodynamic, but she already tends her 10 hectares of vines like a garden. One almost gets the impression that she is on a first-name basis with every vine and is happy to be able to work and learn in this natural milieu. Adams focuses entirely on the system of soil, plant and light and is highly creative in what she does to bring out "the elegance, the pure, the finesse" in her wines, which come from the 50th latitude and should accordingly be subtle even in times of global warming, leading to certain viticultural measures. Adams’s wines are reflections of their origins, at least as much as possible and a little more each year. In the cellar, Adams can then leave her wines "on a long leash." Overripe, maximum extraction and high alcohol yield are not sought after, nor are French genetics. Simone Adams, a warmly cheerful as well as down-to-earth and obliging person, produces subtle, highly authentic Ingelheim Burgundies. They are certainly not yet the most spectacular in the country, but that is exactly what they are in any case: fine and lively unique Ingelheim wines that are simply a joy to drink. In addition to her Pinot Noirs (which she calls Spätburgunder and not Pinot Noir), the 2020 Chardonnay Lohpfad from the Ingelheim Schlossberg stands out. Grown in clayey marl, the wine is powerful and intense yet pure, complex and full of tension, as the fruit is joined by salt and even iodine notes, as well as lively acidity and fine tannin structure. If there are producers who continue the great Ingelheim Pinot Noir tradition of the 19th century, then it is Simone Adams and also Carsten Saalwächter, from whom we will also have much to report in the coming years.

A Wine That’s Especially Good Value:
Willi Schaefer’s 2021 Riesling Kabinett beauties

Ever since I have been drinking wine, I have been drinking Rieslings from Willi Schaefer. No Riesling is brighter, finer, more heavenly or more incomprehensible and yet stands with its feet in the slate that produces unmistakable wines of absolute world class in the Graacher Himmelreich and even more so in the Domprobst. One would recognize their smoky spiciness even in one's sleep and immediately want to open a bottle of Kabinett! The 2021 vintage was small in volume, but the qualities were superb! I didn’t study any wines longer this year than the 2021s from Christoph and Andrea Schaefer. Namely, the Kabinett Rieslings from this cool vintage are terrific. Although not dry, I first understood the darker-toned Domprobst in particular as a full-blown food wine, as deep and complex as it is for all its lightness. Great art, distributed over two fuders: AP #1 and AP #3. That is too little for the world, but to never forget the wine again, one sip is enough.

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