Guten tag noch einmal von dem immer gleichbleibenden Nahe-Superstar,
Any of you who have known me for some time have heard me pound the drum for the incredible work of the Nahe’s Tim Schäfer Fröhlich for nearly a decade. Among critics and wine lovers, his name has become synonymous with Germany’s top 5-10 estates, with a track record that is so insanely consistent that it boggles the mind. After my visit last year, I flipped my top, pronouncing his 2015 collection among the pinnacle highlights of the much-heralded 2015 vintage. You all heard my call, answered the bell, and were rewarded with a healthy bounty of vinous treasures at the best pricing seen stateside, with rare Magnums in all things dry/fruity to boot.
So when Tim communicated to me that in his mind 2016 is on par with and, in some cases, surpasses the 2015s, I literally could not believe that such a feat was possible. He is pretty much the opposite of a boastful, glib superlative kind of guy, so that really meant something. Faced with either presenting the wines blind on Tim’s recommendation or making a trip to see for myself, the choice was clear: GO TO BOCKENAU, AKA MECCA! And so, I did……
On the bleary eyed heels of an overnight transatlantic flight, I rolled into his winery at 11am, and we dug in….three hours of tasting and discussion later, I now could see for myself just what he means, and will do my best here to communicate that to you……
First, here are the striking similarities of the two vintages: both years yielded impeccably clean, pure fruit that required virtually zero sorting, from a long cool end of season that presented virtually no botrytis. To reinforce this point : His mother asked when they brought in the cases of grapes destined for the entry level dry Riesling if those were the grapes for the Grand cru bottlings, that’s how healthy and perfect even the entry level grapes were. This is abundantly clear, as the purity and polish in the entire range is outstanding. Our next point of similarity: the analytics are nearly identical in their level of acidity and amount of sugar at harvest. Last year’s tremendous Kabinett was picked at 83 oechsle, with 9.5 g/L of acidity. This year’s is identical. The GGs last year were all 12.5-13% in alcohol, with roughly 8g/L of acidity and 4-6g/L residual sugar. This year, they’re identical (a smidge lower on residual for the ’16s, around 4 across the board). On paper, at least, the two years couldn’t be more similar…..
So how are they different? One major difference is how difficult the early season was. The crazy amount of rain in May/June demanded a backbreaking amount of work, Tim literally working 7 days a week for 6 weeks straight. The vineyard team is only 5 people working nearly 25 hectares, so such intense mildew/oidium pressure demands an unfathomable feat of endurance to keep up. 2015 was easy peasy vs 2016, as Tim said that 2016 was literally double the workload, but clearly their hard work paid off. Tim’s word for the finished 2016 wines from afar was “filigree delicacy”. From the opening bell, even the entry level estate trocken distinctly pronounced this sense of lacy, gentle power. I could tell real quick that (surprise, surprise) his summation of the vintage was indeed quite appropriate. This filigree personality presented itself throughout the range, with a few wines outperforming their ’15 counterparts, and the overwhelming majority qualitatively on par with the ’15s. Wine lovers will debate for years to come which of the two vintages is “better”. At this point, I can confidently declare that it will come down to uniquely a question of subtle personal preference, as the raw quality of both are simply undeniable. Once again, this is as good as it gets…..
And so wasting no time, I present to you the full 2016 collection, replete with Magnums of everything dry and fruity, which amounts to another globally exclusive offering of epic proportion. Tim is going to bottle the Kabinett and Spätlesen on Wednesday 5/31, SO I HAVE TO KNOW OF YOUR REQUESTS NO LATER THAN TUESDAY 5/30. Fwiw, I will have this year’s Kabinett bottled under cork rather than screwcap (I was not told last year that I had to request as much; it was Rudi Wiest’s decision…). I have included my impressions of each wine. There is no other press to accompany the offer this year, as Gilman was unable to visit Germany this year due to health issues. But trust me when I say that if he did, the same kinds of superlatives would be flying about….do you trust me? Even more importantly, do you trust Tim? :0
Riesling trocken – Bam. From the first whiff and impression, a picture of the vintage: “Very good purity, almost delicate, filigree in detail. Gorgeous white floral/white fruit aromatics. This is as good as one could hope for as an intro to the house calling card.” Tim feels that this is the finest entry level trocken he has yet produced, and i’m not arguing. It hails from all of his vineyard sites, from young vines ages 4-20, thus it very well presents the blend of blue slate and volcanic soils of his vineyards. This is an everyday house wine no brainer that any fan of the estate or curious newbie will be delighted to have around. 11.5-12% alcohol, 8g/L acidity.
Riesling trocken Vulkangestein – As soon as I smelled this wine, I told Tim that this is a markedly more expressive and charming wine than the corresponding ’15. He agreed. Part of the reason why is that he included even more from the steeps of the GG Stromberg in it this year, a 50/50 split between it and the volcanic Felsenberg. This is a WOW aromatic kind of wine, that in the mouth is then wonderfully pure and filigree (there’s that word again), with good finishing mineral grip. Plain terrific.
Riesling trocken Schiefergestein – The Schiefergestein is uniquely from the 90/10% blue slate/quartzite soils of the Felseneck, and very much behaves like a baby GG version of the site. Aromatically, it reflects a cooler, compact sense of slatey minerality, with a gorgeous sense of class and complexity. Sorry to filigree you to death, guys and gals, but it too is quite filigree and fine, with a long lingering floral and mineral sensibility. For value hounds after the GG experience on a budget, this is you…..
GG dry Rieslings: As has so consistently become the case, the differences in the GG range are uniquely terroir driven, as the pinnacle quality of each and every bottling in undeniable. That being said, everyone has their own preferences…..this year’s collection is once again simply mind blowing, in the filigree finessed fashion of the vintage….i’ve kept pricing identical to the 2015s, the best seen stateside by quite a bit, I believe…..For what it is worth, when critics’ scores finally do come out, they will (as they ALWAYS do) range between 93-98 points, mark my word.
Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg GG – As we step into Grand cru territory, the change in register is very apparent. The aromatics of the volcanic Felsenberg had me in fits….”Aromatically wowie zowie, with all things fruit/floral/mineral dancing in a dazzling fashion. Then in the mouth, this is weightless, harmonious, filigree class, with remarkable purity. An outstanding showing.” For those of you who prize complexity/subtlety/weightlessness over raw power, look here.
Schlossbockelheimer Kupfergrube GG – The tell tale smoky aromatics of the high iron content red slates of the Kupfergrube are on full display. Then in the mouth, this is wonderfully pure, with an undeniable sense of delicacy. The smoky spiciness is once again echoed on the finish. Classic Kupfergrube, in filigree fashion…..
Monzinger Frühlingsplätchen GG – Like a broken record: “The telltale filigree and purity character…again. Almost red fruited and quite spicy, with a powerful sense of mineral verve. Good lord…..”
Monzinger Halenberg GG – A perennial pet favorite of mine for its sense of implosive power, this year hardly disappointed. This is class!! “WOW. Darker implosive slate character on the nose, then powerfully dense with dry extract. This made my eyes bug out of my head….”. Tim referred to how his son prefers blueberries while they are still firm, with skins giving that crunch and grip. The Halenberg reminds him of that….Along with the Felseneck, this is my class of the range.
Bockenauer Stromberg GG – The Stromberg (picutred above in the panorama pic) only began its GG history here in 2012, but you will only continue to hear more, as the quality is tremendous, with Tim continuing to plant on its 70 degree slopes (the picture does little justice to how steep it is). The soils are virtually pure volcanic rock, both hard dense Porphyr and decomposed/crumbly Melaphyr. The GG contains the oldest vines of the entire estate at nearly 100 years old. Its personality is one of straightforward power, both in its fruit and mineral senses, broad shouldered, deep, gripping, and right ‘atcha. Aromatically it is slate mania. It is impossible to miss what it is saying: I am volcanic soils, hear me roar…..Vying with the very different Felsenberg in my personal top 3 of the GG range after the Halenberg and Felseneck, fwiw….
Bockenauer Felseneck GG – And, as it seemingly always does, the hometown near-monopole Felseneck takes the cake for class, complexity, balance between fruit and mineral in a powerfully finessed fashion, the all around player from decomposed/crumbly blue slate and quartzite. Its aromatics are simply dazzling, I could smell this forever. I think that anyone that has ever tried this wine gets exactly why it is one of the top bottles of dry Riesling in the world, and is a fan for life. This will certainly continue that trend…..get some, and thank me later…..
Pinot blanc trocken – Tim’s entry level Weissburgunder, aka Pinot blanc, is a perennial everyday delight, offering a versatile blend of generous aromatic charm, moderate textural richness, with very well measured balancing acidity. As an aperitif or with fish dishes, this is one of his most popular bottles featured in German restaurants. I toot the horn for it every year, but consumers are understandably Riesling centric in their focus.
FRUITY WINES: This year’s fruity wines are…..as good if not better than last year, period. I didn’t really think it was possible, but….Tim knows exactly what is he is going for, and isn’t missing the mark. Thus I have once again insisted on being able to bottle magnums (whose raw material cost is solely responsible for the large price discrepancy. Tim has to order very expensive magnum bottles and corks that meet his standards, and I am not arguing with what he deems needed for quality….). These are heart thrilling wines that are not to be missed…!!!!
Bockenauer Felseneck Kabinett – From the first mineral and fruity whiff, my mouth was watering. My note: “WOW. F’in Fantastic! Intensely mineral and magically weightless. The purity and complexity are astounding. Just WOW.” This is positively electric (9.5g/L acidity), low octane, true kabinett (picked at 83 oechsle) that is clearly Grand cru in character. Its analytics are identical to the 2015, fwiw. Buy a case and a few mags, and enjoy the fireworks in the years to come. It doesn’t get better than this, to my taste!!! The 750s will be bottled under cork this year, fyi…..
Bockenauer Felseneck Spätlese – Picked two weeks after the Kabinett at 92 oechsle, the Spätlese finds the animating acidity (9g/L) weightlessly enrobed in silken fruit. It weightlessly gildes across the palate, its sense of expansiveness gentle and cloudlike. Its purity is self-evident, with long lingering length of buried minerality and florals. It reminds me of a more animated version of the 2011, whose silken weightlessness won it “Best Spätlese in Germany” in the Gault Millau. For fans of Spätlese, clearly not one to miss…..
Bockenauer Felseneck Spätlese GK – The corresponding goldkapsule Spätlese is picked on the exact same day as the regular, from the oldest, upper slope vines of one section of the Felseneck. The difference is night and day evident, as the palate staining sense of dry extract/minerality is jaw dropping. Its sense of crystalline purity and weightless, mineral driven power is remarkable, plain class in a glass. Get all that you can justify, and thank me later. YES TO MAGS OF FELSENECK GK SPAT!!!!! :0
Bockenauer Felseneck Auslese – The Auslese this year is made in “old school style” (says Tim), picked at 105 oeschsle with nearly 10g/L acidity, from 50% lightly botrytised fruit and 50% non-botrytised fruit. Its pale stony color betrays no honeyed botrytis heavy qualities whatsoever, rather it is dominated by its blue slate compact sense of minerality in weightless, dancing style. This is absolutely gorgeous, a Felseneck nectar of the gods…..
AND THAT IS THAT!!!
I like Gilman’s analogy that witnessing Tim’s year-after-year success is like watching that of Roger Federer’s remarkably super-human consistency of fine tuned power-meets finessse. I don’t know what there is left to say other than that we are witnessing one of the greatest wine growers in the world in his prime, on point. It is a joy and an honor to continue to represent his work, driven by the same essential passion that drives so many of the wine world’s best, in respectful service and devotion to the majesty and mystery of their homelands and Nature herself……
CHEERS TO TIM, WORKING TWICE AS HARD TO PRODUCE YET ANOTHER MIND BOGGLING COLLECTION OF FILIGREE FINESSE!!!