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  • September 17, 2013
  • The 2012 Mosel GGs: A Report from Wiesbaden

  • by Bennett Traub

VorpremiereGGWiesbaden(c)RalfKaiser (2)One of the most anticipated tasting events of German wines, which is fairly new and held annually in Wiesbaden, is the “sneak preview” tasting hosted by the VDP to introduce the newly bottled Grosse Gewächse (GGs), or legally dry “grand cru” wines. The event is held annually the last week of August. This year featured the 2012 vintage for whites and 2011 for reds. The wines are permitted to be sold on September 1 of the following year after the harvest. This is an invitation-only event for the wine trade and press and is not open to the public. Moreover, the producers are not allowed to attend either. I was at this tasting for the first time last year and was looking forward to tasting the highly anticipated 2012s this year.

The tasting itself is run with impeccable German efficiency, and the environment is well designed to give the wines serious attention. Attendees (around 120 people in total) sat at tables with plenty of elbowroom for glasses, spittoon, laptop, notepad, and so on.  A basket of bread rolls and bottled water was furnished, as well. A pad of paper was provided to write your seat number, and the flight number you wanted to taste. A runner would collect your paper and then reappear a few minutes later with a six-bottle carrier with the wines, which were poured from a bottle at your table. All wines were served at the proper (cool, but not too cold) temperature in good stemware: about a one-ounce pour per glass was perfectly adequate. Once you finished a flight, you just called for another. The only constraint was time, as nearly 450 wines were available to taste over the two-day event. Clearly, some hard choices had to be made about what to taste and what to skip. I suppose it would have been possible for someone moving quickly to get through all 77 flights (mostly six wines per flight) over the two days of the tasting. I was able to go through 58 flights and, in the end, wished I had spent more time on fewer flights.

The tasting covers most of the winegrowing regions in Germany, and not just Riesling. GG status has been approved for Silvaner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), and Lemberger, plus even a Chardonnay was included this year. But most of the wines are, of course, Riesling, and each region’s wines are grouped together for comparison. For this report, I’m only focusing on the GGs from the Mosel region.

The greater attention that is given to trocken, or legally dry, wines on the Mosel is quite apparent with the increase in the number of GGs being offered this year. From six flights of GGs last year to eight flights this year (45 wines in total, plus one flight of six feinherb-style wines), the Mosel is no longer just the last bastion of the fruity/sweet style of German Riesling. And it’s not just the Lower Mosel, which has been at the forefront of dry Mosel Rieslings, as only two VDP members hail from the Lower Mosel: Heymann-Löwenstein and Clemens Busch. The majority of the wines tasted came from the Middle Mosel (Mittelmosel), Saar, and Ruwer. Too bad, really, as the Lower Mosel has a bunch of small, exciting producers whose dry-tasting wines deserve more attention but are not members of the VDP (as at a tasting of the new 2012 releases of the non-VDP member Immich-Batterieberg later in the week demonstrated), so their wines are not included in the VDP’s event. Regardless, 2012 appears to have been a very successful vintage for dry wines from the Mosel, as very few wines were less than very good, and a few were positively exciting.

They arranged the flights by village, rather than producer, proceeding from north to south. In most cases, Mosel producers concentrate on the village where they are located, so it was possible to taste all the wines from one producer in a single flight. Some, of course, have holdings throughout the Mosel (Dr. Loosen, von Kesselstatt), so their wines were scattered in different flights. For convenience, I have grouped each producer’s wines together here, in roughly the order they were presented:

Heymann-Löwenstein: In Winningen, way up north (near Koblenz), this highly regarded estate turns out mostly dry and off-dry wines that elegantly reflect the vintage. The 2011s were not declared GGs, as they exceeded the 9-gram maximum for residual sugar. Hence, these were “relegated” in the off-dry flights at the end of the tasting. Nonetheless, they were excellent wines, though clearly showing more sweetness than a typical GG. The 2012s, however, are much drier and have been declared GGs. The sole wine not from Winningen is the 2012 Hatzenporter Kirchberg, which had nice, lean peachy fruit with bright acids in a light and elegant style; a pretty wine, but maybe lacking a little depth. The three wines from Winningen were all more serious and deeper wines. The 2012 Röttgen had a hint of sponti stink, with slightly riper fruit than the Kirchberg, but still with pinpoint acidity and a relatively light taste. This was seamless and had good persistence. The two wines from Uhlen were, as expected, the stars in this portfolio. The 2012 Blaufüßer Lay was rich and deeply fruited, with an almost creamy taste (but not creamy flavors). It was a bit lower in acidity with riper fruits redolent of apricot and plum, very long. A little more elegant was the 2012 Laubach, which had a beautiful roundness and seamless quality, along with real depth and breed. Overall, this estate had an excellent vintage of GGs in 2012.

Clemens Busch: As with Heymann-Lowenstein, some (but not all) of this producer’s 2011s were too sweet to be GGs at last year’s tasting and were assigned to the feinherb (off-dry) flights. Last year, I found the 2011s to be rather disjointed and clumsy, not at all what I expected. Perhaps they were still recovering from bottling? There were no such problems with the 2012s, though. All the 2012s are labeled as GGs and showed well. In total, four wines were poured, all from different sections within the Pündericher Marienburg. The straight 2012 Marienburg was fairly rich and ripe, with moderate acidity that seemed to taper off in the finish; hence, leaving a flat impression. It’s a correct wine but could be better. The 2012 Rothenpfad bottling, however, had better acidity and a more seamless character, with clean fruit flavors that were persistent. The 2012 Fahrlay was similar, but a bit leaner and more elegant. I liked the combination of intensity and the sense of weightlessness this wine provided. The 2012 Falkenlay had a bit more complexity and bright acidity with a fresh fruit, which was quite attractive and elegant, but with a slight bitter note in the finish. A good showing overall for these wines, although not among my favorites.

Dr. Loosen: This large estate has holdings throughout the Middle Mosel, so I’m grouping them all here for convenience. I’ve noticed that among many of the German wine cognoscenti, Dr. Loosen tends to be looked down upon to some extent. The estate is deemed too big, too commercial, and too, well, ordinary. Granted, Dr. Loosen has become a major force in the German wine industry, entering into joint ventures in the US and elsewhere, and establishing a growing import business in the US (Loosen Bros. snagged the Fritz Haag estate from Rudi Wiest earlier this year, to go along with Robert Weil, also formerly at Wiest, and Maximin Grünhaus). And Ernie Loosen’s low-priced, off-dry “Dr. L” is ubiquitous. Yet preconceptions aside, I found his GG wines to be quite fine across the board, if a bit more fruit forward and “easy,” not among the elite in depth or complexity, but delicious wines nonetheless. In Erden, the 2012 Treppchen GG was creamy and bright, with peach and tropical fruit but also excellent acidity, medium-bodied, not especially rich but very well balanced; while the 2012 Prälat GG had an extra dimension of fruit complexity with notes of spice, a more tightly wound wine with great potential. The 2012 Graacher Himmelriech GG was bright in an easy-to-drink style with forward fruit of peach and pineapple. It was round and delicious, if rather simple (and no match for Willi Schaefer’s Graacher GG, see below). In a similar style was the Wehlener Sonnenuhr GG with pretty and delicious fruit notes of apple, peach, plum, and cherry. A very well-balanced 2012 Bernkasteler Lay GG had almost the same round, seamless structure. Finally, the 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten GG showed a bit of the spice that this vineyard is known for, along with the full-fruit notes that characterize all the Dr. Loosen bottlings. The term “crowd-pleaser” came to mind more than once, as I tasted through these wines. Their emphasis on fruit makes them delicious and easy, if lacking some of the terroir-driven complexity of other producers’ wines.

S.A. Prüm: This estate is one branch of an extended family tree of Prüms, which includes the most famous estate of Joh. Jos. Prüm. The latter doesn’t bother with producing GGs. Anyhow, the three S.A. Prüm GGs were, frankly, among the weakest of the Mosels that I tasted in Wiesbaden. The 2012 Graacher Domprobst “Prevot” GG was rather sour with a noticeable vinegar note, not entirely clean. The 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr “Alte Reben” was ripe but had some notes of botrytis. The (tropical) fruit seemed a bit overripe and heavy, with barely enough acid for balance; thus rather clunky. The 2012 Bernkastel Lay “Grand Ley” GG was full-bodied, but a bit flabby with some heat showing on the finish.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt: This large estate has holdings all along the Mosel region from Graach upriver to Scharzhofberg on the Saar. The quality is decent but unexceptional. The 2012 (Graacher) Josephshöfer GG had enough richness and acidity, but it fell off quickly. The 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr GG was a larger-scaled, fairly rich wine with riper fruit flavors of apricot and plum. It had good length, but a slightly hollow mid-palate. The 2012 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr GG was overshadowed by Fritz Haag’s (see below), but had decent balance, richness, and length, but lacked the precision and energy of Haag’s. The 2012 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen GG had a darker color and was rather ripe-tasting. The decent acid provided balance, but a sense of dullness pervaded. The 2012 Kaseler Nies’chen GG had a bit of a sponti nose and a sour aspect to the fruit, with some minerality but was essentially unexciting. The best GG from von Kesselstatt was the 2012 Scharzhofberger, which was seamless with more depth and complexity than the others from this producer. The quality of the vineyard stood out. Overall, these wines were acceptable, I suppose, but lacked the vibrancy and complexity a GG should have.

Willi Schaefer: This superstar among producers of fruity-style Mosel Rieslings proved it could deliver in the dry style, as well, with its sole 2012 GG at the tasting. The 2012 Graacher Himmelreich had tightly wound fruit supported by pinpoint acidity, bright citrus, and peach notes with some minerality. It's full of energy and very long, with brilliantly fresh, mouthwatering acidity, great depth, and balance, which promises to turn into something spectacular with some bottle age. All in all, it's one of the top Mosel GGs of the vintage.

Wegeler: Another producer with only one GG, but from one of the most famous vineyards in Germany: Bernkasteler Doctor. A bit of sulfur dioxide on the nose was not a problem on the palate, as the wine has good ripeness with strong supporting acidity. The deep fruit was beautifully balanced and seamless from entry to finish. This had excellent depth and is very good wine, although not quite the standout that the 2011 version was at last year’s tasting.

Fritz Haag: Haag’s two GGs from Brauneberg both showed very well. The 2012 Juffer Sonnenuhr GG had great balance with perfectly ripe fruit. It was round and seamless, with great length. The Juffer GG was similar but with more minerality and slightly leaner, quite bright with good energy and lightness, intense flavors and excellent length. I slightly preferred the Juffer to the Sonnenuhr, but both are excellent GGs.

Reinhold Haart: This producer’s fruity-styled Piesporter Goldtröpfchens are always among the most opulent wines from this area, so I was interested to see what the estate would do with its GGs. The 2012 Wintricher Ohligsberg GG was ripe and low in acidity, a rich wine but with fruit seemingly muted by its weight and alcohol, a bit dull. The 2012 Piesporter Kreuzwingert GG was better due to its brighter acidity, with some citrus notes, but without quite the depth or richness. The 2012 Piesporter Goldtropfchen GG was the best wine in my opinion, as it had good fruit and richness with well-balanced acidity. This had plenty of depth and richness, too—complete wine, and the only one that is clearly, in my mind, of GG quality.

Grans-Fassian: I had never tasted a wine from this producer before last year’s GG tasting, and I liked most of the wines that I tasted then. This year’s offerings were mostly strong, if not idiosyncratic, as well. The 2012 Dhroner Hofberg GG is rich but with an oily, cidery, and phenolic character, probably from skin contact.¹ This was quite persistent, but the cidery notes dominate the fruit. Better was the 2012 Trittenhemer Apotheke GG, with some skin-contact flavors, once again, but with better-balancing fruit and firm acidity, surprisingly bright and elegant, although more meaty and opulent. Pure fruit expression and less of the skin-contact character was noted in the 2012 Leiwener Laurentiuslay GG, a lighter texture and more elegance, but with depth, complexity, good fruit, and length; this was my favorite of the Grans-Fassian GGs.

St. Urbans-Hof: Following Grans-Fassian’s 2012 Leiwener Laurentiuslay GG, St. Urbans-Hof’s 2012 Laurentiuslay GG was a tad less rich and with none of the cidery notes. In addition, it was well balanced and long, with more pure fruit. On the Saar, Nik Weis also has a 2012 Ockfener Bockstein GG, which was quite lush, with exotic fruit and very forward and open. The wine had bright acidity and good richness: a wine to drink young for its sheer deliciousness.

Karthäuserhof: This famous Ruwer producer’s sole wine in the tasting was the 2012 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg GG. This shows plenty of bright and spicy fruit with great intensity of flavor while remaining light-bodied. Very elegant, quite pretty, and with plenty of energy, but today I wondered if there’s enough depth for GG quality. Some cellar time should bring out more complexity.

von Othegraven: I had been disappointed in this Saar producer’s 2011 GGs, but the 2012s were solid, if not brilliant. Only two wines, starting with the 2012 Kanzemer Altenberg GG: a light, pretty wine with good fruit/acid balance. It’s elegant but not especially rich, not sure if there’s enough depth for a GG. I liked the 2012 Ockfener Bockstein GG better, as it had more depth, minerality, and a firm structure, with clean apple/peach fruit, moderate richness, and excellent precision.

von Hövel: I’ve enjoyed this producer’s fruity wines for years, and now their dry wines are coming on strong. The 2012 Oberemmeler Hütte GG shows its Saar heritage in a crisp, transparent body, and with complex fruits, great minerality, precision, and depth. Even more impressive in this vintage was the 2012 Scharzhofberger GG, showing more weight and richness but beautifully balanced and with that same sense of weightlessness and transparency. This was richer than the Hütte, although less minerality is apparent at this stage.

Geltz Zilliken: One of the Mosel stars of 2011, and a longtime personal favorite, Zilliken’s 2012s were also excellent and certainly equal to, if not better than, their 2011s. Perhaps Zilliken was not quite the standout as it was last year, as the competition was stronger. The 2012 Saarburger Rausch GG was a round, complex wine, with deep fruit and some minerality, ripe but not heavy. Overall this had excellent acid balance and had a long finish. This seems a bit reserved, but with great depth that promises for a very good evolution in the cellar. Zilliken also makes an off-dry wine from Rausch that doesn’t qualify for GG status (i.e., under 10 grams of sugar per liter). This wine (along with all the wines from Van Volxem below) were in a separate flight. The 2012 Saarburger Rausch Diabas is noticeably sweeter than the GGs but still tastes dry. It’s quite rich and round. The acidity is less apparent, but Diabas has great depth and length, a seamless wine of real beauty. This would seem even drier tasted with most foods, and it should be very versatile at the table.

Peter Lauer: This was Lauer’s first showing of GG wines, having just been admitted into the VDP this year.  It was a very auspicious debut, as these wines ranked among the best of the Mosel region. The 2012 Ayler Kupp GG is fairly rich with bright fruit, medium body, and a well-balanced, creamy texture. This is round with good minerality and peach and cherry fruit. A strong wine and quite powerful for a Saar Riesling, the 2012 Schonfels GG was similar but with a slightly different fruit character, less mineral, and yet with more complexity. The 2012 Saarfeilser GG is even richer than the Kupp, and is also quite powerful, rich, and long. It had a bit of a sponti nose, emphasizing the wines intense minerality and firm acidity. All in all, the wine is quite complex, rich, and powerful, the biggest of the Lauer wines but not necessarily the best. All of these were outstanding and have great futures.

Van Volxem: In most vintages, Van Volxem’s top wines don’t qualify for being designated GG, as they usually have above 9 grams of residual sugar per liter. As with last year’s tasting, these wines were placed in a flight at the end. This year also included Zilliken’s Diabas. (In 2012, there were two such flights of 2011 non-GGs from five different producers.) All of Van Volxem’s 2012 Rieslings tasted much drier than the 2011s. These were excellent. The 2012 Wawerner Goldberg had crisp fruit with apple, peach, and cherry notes, as well as excellent energy and balance. This was a delicious wine. A bit richer and more intense was the 2012 Kanzemer Altenberg, which had great acidity and length. The 2012 Wiltingen Gottesfuss had a hint of sulfur, but it didn’t detract from the very minerally, leaner style, with notes of stones more than fruits, and really quite dry. Even better was the 2012 (Wiltinger) Volz, just a seamless, round, and perfectly balanced wine of great depth. At the same quality, if even a bit deeper was the 2012 Scharzhofberger P (Pergentsknopp), a great wine, very round and luscious but with a firm underlying structure and very long. This was a terrific collection of wines. ♦

1. I am describing here only my perception of the wine and the flavors that I associate with white wines fermented with skin contact. I do not know if this wine (or the other wines with this flavor) was, in fact, fermented on its skins for any appreciable length of time.

Photograph courtesy of Ralf Kaiser and the VDP.

Bennett Traub lives in Long Beach, California, and has been involved in wine sales on both the retail and wholesale levels since his retirement from practicing law.

>> A Bizarre GG Love Triangle

  • Bennett Traub says:

    One other point I should emphasize—there’s a lot of excellent GG-quality dry wines in the Mosel and elsewhere that don’t show up at the Wiesbaden tasting, either because they are not VDP members or for some other reason they choose not to show their wines at that time. This year, for example, Schloss Lieser (Thomas Haag) declined to show his wines even though he is a VDP member. Also, in the piece I only mentioned the producer’s from the Mosel whose wines I tasted on the trip. One of those occasions was the release party for Immich-Batterieberg (outstanding 2012’s), and also pouring there were von Racknitz, Eva Fricke, and Koehler-Ruprecht, all excellent non-VDP members, although not from the Mosel (Nahe, Rheingau, and Pfalz, respectively).

    • Thanks for your piece, Bennett. On the photo by Ralf Kaiser, that’s fellow subscriber Stephan Reinhardt in the green polo shirt. I’m glad, too, that you mentioned a few of the non-VDP producers that have top-quality dry Rieslings. The list is quite long, but some of the best on the Mosel include Markus Molitor, A.J. Adam, and Weiser-Künstler. I agree with you about Immich-Batterieberg as well. As in the last three vintages under Gernot Kollmann, the 2012s from Immich-Batterieberg are also excellent.

      Koehler-Ruprecht is a VDP member, but they choose to use Prädikats, which highlight not only that the wines are unchaptalized—unlike GGs—but also the different ripeness levels, for their various dry and off-dry Rieslings still. Yet there are even a few Grosser Ring (VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) members who don’t bottle their best dry wine as GG, such as Schloss Saarstein or Dr. Wagner on the Saar.

      Nonetheless, more and more non-VDP members are taking off the Prädikats for their dry-tasting wines, at least on the front labels. Some like to use the designation Grosses Gewächs for their high-end dry wines, like A.J. Adam or members of the Bernkasteler Ring.

    • David Schildknecht glanced over your report and wondered why Schloss Lieser wasn’t listed. I pointed out your comment above, though.

      He says: “From my experience, Thomas [Haag] is among the best practitioners of truly trocken Mosel Riesling. But he’s also a great example of the unfortunate contemporary German schizoid approach.” He means, “[the wines] are either legally dry or much sweeter.” Few producers, including Willi Schaefer, produce wines in the range between 10 and 40 grams per liter.

  • On the forum Wine Berserkers, Charlie Carnes, who subscribes to my site, asked me about Peter Lauer’s Schonfels and Ayler Kupp GGs. He wanted to know, too, if Schonfels is still trocken and whether the Ayler Kupp GG comes from a specific parcel, like Unterstenberg.

    Schonfels fermented under 10 grams in 2012; hence, it’s GG. In past vintages, it was either trocken or close to legally being “dry.”

    Although I’ve been remiss with writing profiles, I did update the profile of Peter Lauer. The Kupp GG 2012 comes from a mid-slope old-vine plot between Unterstenberg and Stirn. In the 2011 vintage, it was called Kupp 56, because the grapes that are culled from this plot of vines were planted in 1956.

    Peter Lauer was admitted into the VDP at the beginning of this year. With the VDP’s approval, certain single vineyards, or sections of vineyards, are designated Grosse Lage. From these sites, VDP members can produce a Grosses Gewächs (GG). The term “Grosses Gewächs” isn’t legally recognized, though. In addition, the Bernkasteler Ring also uses this term for their members’ “best” dry Rieslings. Producers not belonging to either syndicat can designate their top dry wine as “Grosses Gewächs” as well, even if it’s only on the price list. The abbrievation “GG,” however, is trademarked by the VDP. I’ve also heard that non-VDP members who meet the VDP’s criteria can start using GG in the future.

  • As for Grosse Lage, a lot of top sites get ignored—even those belonging to VDP members. It’s often arbitrary as well. If, for example, no other estate in the VDP were to have Ockfener Bockstein (Dr. Fischer, von Othegraven, St. Urbans-Hof) and Zilliken chose to only highlight their larger holdings in Saarburger Rausch as Grosse Lage, then Bockstein would be deemed “second class” sort of speak. That’s what Saarburger Stirn, Kupp, and Fuchs are these days, even though these sites have high potential. Bockstein has long been considered first-rate. Likewise, Peter Lauer had to decide which sections of the Ayler Kupp would be designated Grosse Lage, even if other areas not chosen are just as good. In Winningen, Heymann-Löwenstein feels that only Uhlen and Röttgen are grand cru. Yet sections of Brückstück and Hamm are worthy of more recognition, too.

    Lastly, the Mosel region has so many top vineyard sites that don’t have Grosse Lage status, while other regions with lesser sites do.

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