Saar Riesling 2019-2020: Selective Excellence

PEARLS FROM THE SAAR While you aren’t likely to mistake a 2019 German Riesling for its 2020 counterpart – least of all in the Greater Mosel – the two growing seasons had surprisingly much in common. And from that, there’s a lot to learn. Both 2019 and 2020 dramatically illustrate a general trend toward precocity of vine evolution along with warmer and drier summers. You can get an argument going among growers – and, naturally, this will vary according to region – as to which year featured more or fiercer heat spikes, which had more sunburned grapes, or which was, all things considered, harder on a Riesling vine. It’s not that the summer of 2018 was significantly cooler or witnessed more precipitation, but the winter of 2017–2018 restored the water table, whereas in both 2019 and 2020, soil went into the growing season precariously bereft of underlying moisture thanks to meager winter snow and rain. And, while the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons suffered from lack of rain, in both instances harvest was plagued by lots of it. From the resulting wines, it’s clear that Riesling with elevated and efficacious acidity, finesseful flavors and (especially in 2020) alcoholic levity, even in the realm of analytical dryness, is fully compatible with global warming, at least as we are thus far experiencing it. And for Riesling lovers, that’s a big deal. Moreover, clearly gone are the times that might have justified Frank Schoonmaker’s 1957 claim that for Saar Riesling, only “once, twice, or at most three times in a decade, nature is kind,” or Hugh Johnson’s contention of the 1970s that “[the] battle for sugar in the grapes rages fiercest in this cold corner of [Germany and] is won perhaps three or four years in ten.” The 2021 growing season – an almost unremittingly cool and rainy contrast with 2020 and 2019 – represents only the third or fourth time since 1987 when too little sugar accumulation seriously worried any halfway conscientious German Riesling grower. Chaptalization, while still widespread, has dropped dramatically in both frequency and degree, and nowadays it is driven by stylistic preference, not fear that Riesling will be too thin and weak to stand on its own. SELF-CORRECTING SUMMER? To some extent, the drought and heat of summer 2020 seem to have ultimately corrected for the very challenges that such conditions appeared to present, and especially for those that were to follow once rain arrived near the end of September. Where vineyards and their soils were farmed meticulously with the goal of healthy fruit, this, in conjunction with the dry, hot summer temperatures, seems to have nipped botrytis in the bud. On top of any conscientious efforts in vineyard and especially canopy management to insure that must weights did not become too elevated for balanced dry Rieslings (let alone Kabinett), summer 2020 conditions appear to have allowed sufficient periods of vine shutdown that phenolic development could proceed while sugar production lagged behind. Where rain dilution might have permanently taken the edge off acidity, not only had shutdown aided in keeping levels high during the summer and early autumn, but the drought had also insured low levels of dry extract, specifically of potassium, that would otherwise have buffered or muted acids by elevating pH. And thanks to a sufficiently long and warm growing season – although imponderable factors can be relevant in this regard – acidity, just as in 2019, was preponderantly of the more positively efficacious tartaric as opposed to malic sort. Note, of course, my having resorted to such qualifiers as “meticulously” and “conscientious.” One could devote paragraphs – and I have done so in past reports – to the myriad considerations and hypotheses relevant to determining the best soil- and vine-management approaches for Riesling, particularly in a time of global warming and extreme weather. Suffice it to say that if you farm without acute awareness of potential soil depletion or desertification, using chemical applications or machines to substitute for hands-on weed control and vine tending, or in general follow strategies and protocols that dominated even at top estates during the 1980s, then you are not likely to have achieved memorably fine 2019 or 2020 results. And then, there is the matter of harvest date, which naturally is driven by vineyard and vine management as well as by stylistic goals and psychological proclivity. -- David Schildknecht, Saar Riesling 2019-2020: Selective Excellence, May 2022 Below is a selection of notes from the report. To read David’s full report and the producer commentaries, check out the full article on Vinous now .

Hofgut Falkenstein

Niedermenninger Herrenberg Trocken Red Blend 2019

Delectable Wine
9.1

Toasty, sweaty and smoked meat notes vie with dried cherry and red currant for aromatic attention on the nose of the 2019 Red Wine Niedermenniger Herrenberg trocken. The palate perpetuates those impressions with an alluringly silky feel allied to just enough juiciness. Rose hip, cherry pit, black tea and black pepper lend complexity to an impressively sustained finish. (For why this 100% Pinot Noir is labeled simply, in English, “Red Wine,” consult my review of the corresponding 2017.) (David Schildknecht, Vinous, May 2022)
— 15 days ago

Egon Müller

Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling 2020

Delectable Wine
9.3

The “regular” 2020 Riesling Scharzhofberger Kabinett (bearing A.P. #3) leads with quince and peach accented by mint, cress, ginger and lemon, setting up an overall impression of coolness, but also of brightness, with stimulating cut and pungency analogous to that of the corresponding Braune Kupp. In the background is a greenhouse-like amalgam of flowers and foliage. The phenolic concentration here belies a vintage with relatively generous yields even as the efficacious acidity and levity defy preconceptions concerning a year marked by summer heat and drought. The multifaceted finish, transparent to wet stone underpinnings, is tongue-tinglingly vibrant. Here is a Riesling Kabinett to really grab and hold your attention even as it delivers consummate refreshment and a bit of thought-provoking intrigue to accompany its entertainment value. (David Schildknecht, Vinous, May 2022)
— 15 days ago

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Egon Müller

Scharzhof Riesling 2020

Delectable Wine
8.9

Apple seed and apple wood accents lend decisive counterpoint on both nose and palate to the 2020 Riesling Scharzhof’s dominant, crunchy apple and zesty lemon fruit. Suggestions of apple blossom hover throughout. The feel is firm, and the lingering finish offers refreshment as well as stimulating cut and piquancy. (The source vineyards for this large cuvée are once again largely Saarburger Rausch, Wiltinger Braunfels and Oberemmeler Rosenberg.) (David Schildknecht, Vinous, May 2022)
— 15 days ago

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