Joe Salamone and I were lucky enough to attend this excellent lunch in February which highlighted barrel samples from a medium swath of Rudi's producers. Here are our long overdue notes:
We are reticent to provide any definitive conclusions based on this modest (but fun) selection of barrel samples, the most impressive wines seemed to fall within two camps :
1)Vineyard sites that offered some protection against the fast developing botrytis that resulted from an August filled with nearly continuous rain.
2)Growers who had enough resources and sincerity to practice ridiculously rigorous selection. (Rudi told us that the yield at Rebholz's Kastanienbusch vineyard in the Pfalz were only 12ha/hl.). Unfortunately their sacrifice may result in some pretty crazy prices.
Other important notes:
Though September was generally dry and warm, hail and rain were also present in late September/early October which hastened the harvest for most if not all estates. Conditions were extremely challenging: the fruit was ripening quicker than predicted and botrytis was beginning to rage so the harvest was done at lightening speed.
To us, the wines that seemed to miss the mark shared a penchant for their exotic flavors becoming unfocused with a prevalence of overripe tropical fruit. Those that were spot-on had unparalleled concentration and structure.
It's seems clear that dry wines, lower pradikat levels, and QbA wines will be minefields in 2006 - not only was production down by 35-50% in general (due to harsh selection) but few if any true "Kabinett" wines exist as many grapes were harvested near 130 Ochsle!. Moreover, growers that believe in adhering staunchly to traditional style (like Manfred Prum) actually made zero QbA and Kabinett wines and only a bit of Spatlese.
Some of our early favorites:
Hit or Miss. While a few Rheingau wines were stunning, others lacked focus, highlighting the difficulties of the rainy vintage.
The Kunstler Riesling "finesse" was Tom's pick for best of the qba - simple slightly floral with nice half-tart acidity and a style that was much less overblown than expected. Fans of Kunstler dry wines should enjoy this non-pradikat effort.
However, Robert Weil's Kiedrich Turmberg Spatlese showed the most precision, acidity, and lack of exotic flavors that in other wines flirted with clumsiness. While I've always been a sucker for Weil, it has been some time since Joe has been wooed by the winery's efforts, finding them expertly composed and precise, but often a little dull. Likely stemming from the incredible terroir (parcel is 3 ha) and Weil's notorious spare-no-expense-vineyard-practices, the Turmberg was a knockout.
It's also likely that the winds in Kiedrich that help to ward off rot. Location also played a factor in Wegeler's Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg which displayed intense minerality, large amounts of ripe fruit, and surprising purity. This success was not altogether surprising since the village is renowned for its windy, dry, hot vineyards which seem ideal for 2006. As always, there is a caveat: the wines of Rudesheim are often lower in acidity, even the more slate dominated Schlossberg, and the Wegeler RBS was true to form showing just a hair less acid character than we would have liked.
An early favorite - Rudi commented that he felt that the Mosel performed particularly well and even went so far to say that many wines showed greater concentration than in ‘05. While there were not enough Mosel wines at the tasting to completely prove Mr. Wiest's claim, most of the Mosel bottlings that did make an appearance (Haag, Lieser, and Wegeler Spatlesen+) were on the short list for best in the tasting.
As a set, the wines Fritz Haag were probably the most fascinating. Under Haag's incredibly delicate hand, the Brauneberger Juffer Spatlese and the BJS Goldkapsule showed their classically ethereal nature that excites some and perplexes others as well as a large amount of exotic fruit intermingled with intense minerality. These were especially convincing efforts since Brauneberger is famous for attracting botrytis but the amount of noble rot displayed by these wines was moderate and refined. Haag must have been ruthless at the sorting table, but this is no surprise given his rockstar effort in the botrytis-riddled 1976 vintage,– a recent tasting of Haag BJS GKA #12 displayed almost zero botrytis. We are confident that his trademark style is a perfect marriage to the conditions in 2006.
Joe and I were startled by the success of von Buhl's wines especially given our apathy to the winery's efforts in recent vintages. However, these were some of the best wines of the tasting. As usual the Forster Jesuitengarten was big, round, and open, but with a balancing structure that was shocking. The more reticent Undeheurer showed more minerals and more structure, but the fruit was hesitant to reveal itself.
Schafer-Frohlich's Bockenauer Felseneck Spatlese showed nicely crystalline with a cut that was missing from many of the other wines at the tasting. Tim Frohlich seems to be a winemaker who is just beginning to hit his stride and not even a challenging vintage will stop him.
Full Lineup of 2006 Wines Tasted:
Rudolf Furst, Pinot Blanc, pur mineral, dry
Okonomierat Rebholz, Pinot Blanc, Spatlese, dry
Kunstler, Riesling finesse, dry
Karthauserhof, Riesling Estate Kabinett, dry
Schafer-Frohlich Riesling Spatlese dry, Bockenauer Felseneck
Wirsching, Riesling Spatlese dry, Iphoer Kronsberg
Zilliken Butterfly Riesling medium dry
Wegeler Riesling "Pure", medium dry
Robert Weil, Riesling Kabnett medium dry
Wegeler, Estate Riesling
Kusnstler, Riesling Kabinett, Hochheimer Reichestal
Wegeler, Reisling Kabinett Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg
Fritz Haag, Riesling Spatlese, Brauneberger Juffer
Schloss Lieser, Riesling Spatlese, Niederberg Helden
Von Buhl, Riesling Spatlese, Forster Jesuitengarten
Robert Weil, Riesling Spatlese, Kiedrich Turmberg
Kunstler, Riesling Spatlese, Hochheimier Kirchenstuck
Pfeffingen, Scheurebe Spatlese, Ungseteiner Herrenberg
Karthauserhof, Riesling Auslese (1973!), Kronenberg
Von Buhl, Riesling Auslese, Forster Ungeheuer
Schafer-Frohlich, Riesling Auslese Goldkapsule, Bockenauer Felseneck
Wegeler, Riesling Auslese Goldkapsule, Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Fritz Haag, Riesling Beerenauslese, Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr