By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 4 September 2021
“Delicious elegant featherlight wines with a relaxed flowing quality which makes them as fresh as a mountain stream on a hot day”.
This is how wine buyer Sebastian Thomas of Howard Ripley Wines describes the enchantingly delicate 2020 German wines, an ideal vintage for drinkers to enjoy right now whilst they wait for the two previous heavyweight vintages, 2018 and 2019, to develop and reach their best.
To showcase this charmingly fruity accessible vintage, Howard Ripley Wines hosted three 2020 ‘en primeur’ tastings focusing on Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese and dry Trocken wines from leading producers across Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau and Rheinhessen.
According to Thomas, 2020 was the driest year on record. “It was a very dry summer with almost no rain until October with younger vines suffering more than the older vines with deeper root systems”, he says. “Ripening was moderately good in 2020, but not with the sugar levels of the dense monolithic 2019s; but luckily acidity did not go down and 2020 acids are smooth and ripe”.
Our tasting began focusing on 2020 Kabinetts from Mosel, Nahe and Rheingau, which were tasting so deliciously thirst quenching with just a hint of sweetness, really enchanting seductive wines. Kabinett, the lightest of the QmP Pradikat terms, can be dry or off dry – in the past they tended to be drier than they are today.
Kabinett has become quite a confusing term. If a producer is a member of the leading wine association VDP, they are not allowed to state Kabinett on labels if the wine is dry – however non-members can.
Our second session focused on sweeter wines, Spatlese and Auslese. “People say 2020 is a Kabinett vintage, but the Spatleses have more charm at this stage”, says Sebastian Thomas.
Whilst some excellent Spatlese and Ausleses were made in 2020 and grapes were in perfect condition, what is distinctive about 2020 is that there was virtually no botrytis.
“The noble rot just could not take, so there is very little sweet botrytis wine available in 2020 as heavy rain fell in October so they had to pick early”, says Thomas, who showed only one Auslese wine in the tasting.
The final session on dry trocken wines included some exciting pithy juicy wines from both Scheurebe and Riesling. Growers usually make these dry wines using skin contact to add texture and richness – but in warm very dry 2020 vintage the skins were thick and berries small, so growers had to reduce the skin contact to avoid tannins in the wines.
Growers across all German regions are now changing the way they work to adapt to rising temperatures and drier summers like 2020. Tim Frohlich in Nahe region is buying higher cooler parcels and lowering canopies to slow ripening, whilst Oliver Spanier in Rheinhessen who has vineyards on the famously dry Roter Hang red slopes is adding straw to vineyards. Straw absorbs water and releases it slowly and helps prevent evaporation and compaction with tractors – although it can be a fire risk.
All wines available from www.howardripley.com
(prices are in bond London)
Rheinhessen: Riesling 2020 Knewitz (£48 for 6 bts)
Bright juicy citric fruits, charming dense, lemony acidity, slightly herby produced on cool limestone soils near Appenheim.
Nahe: Vulkangestein Riesling 2020 Schafer Frohlich (£87 for 6 bts) ***STAR BUY***
From 30-40 year old vines in Stromberg and Felsenberg, Frohlich has crafted a fabulous concentrated intense pure Riesling, bright green apple fruits, great length.
Rheinhessen: Riesling 2020 Philipp Wittmann (£54 for 6 bts)
An exciting find from declassified Ortswein and Erste Lage vines near Westhofen punching above its price; such lovely depth of fruit, gentle lemony acidity, minerally finish – so approachable.
MEDIUM DRY WINES
Mosel: Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett 2020 Fritz Haag (£66 for 6 bts)
Outstanding wine in our Kabinett lineup; from steep blue Devonian slopes: elegant, understated, subtle grapefruits, saline minerality on finish: 8.5%
Mosel: Wolf Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett 2020 Daniel Vollenweider (£72 for 6 bts)
From 100 year old vines, this is exquisite Riesling with salty notes, mouthwatering lemony acidity, so much energy and ripeness: 8.5%
Nahe: Felseneck Riesling Kabinett 2020 Schafer Frohlich (£84 for 6 bts) ***STAR BUY***
Very intense, juicy acidity, rich generous mouthfeel, spicy, lemony, salty notes – a superbly crafted wine: 7.5%
Mosel: Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2020 Schloss Lieser (£84 for 6 bts)
Another very old vine Riesling from a dramatic vineyard with grey and blue Devonian slate: such vibrancy, juicy compact yellow fruits, still tightly wound, richness, power and balance: 7%
Mosel: Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2020 Fritz Haag (£96 for 6 bts) ***STAR BUY***
Enticing petrol nose, great finesse, elegance, spicy, long citric length from a top vineyard and very old vines: 7.5%
Mosel: Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2020 Fritz Haag (£126 for 6 bts) ***STAR BUY***
From the oldest vines on the famous Brauneberger Juffer vineyard around the sundial (sonnenuhr): lovely floral open nose, intense yellow fruit, fresh apricot, creamy sweet notes, saline hit on finish, such great length: 7.5%
Join Rose’s Croatia & Slovenia online wine tasting on Friday 10 September 6.30pm www.rosemurraybrown.com