After a succession of warmer vintages, 2021 serves as a welcome return to classicism; a year which has produced crisply etched, enlivening Rieslings with a fine mineral-soaked elegance. Animated and playful in the Estate and Feinherb categories, strict selections across Germany mean that the Prädikats and Grosses Gewächs in particular offer a great sense of structure and precision. For this, we thank high levels of buffering extract, which balances the vintage’s naturally fresh acidities beautifully, delivering wines of lacy, traditional contours and definite ageability.
Producers we spoke to were overall hugely positive about 2021 – if not the journey, then certainly the results. For many, 2021 was a vintage that harked back to the “good old days” of the 1980s and 1990s when this generation’s parents rode every year on the edge of their seats, scurrying up and down steep slopes with the daily determination of those whose very livelihoods depended on it. One eye on the météo and the other on their footing, spraying at the right time and the taming of unruly canopies was essential to combat peronospora, all-the-while standing arms and legs akimbo, in the desperate attempt by both vines and masters to absorb all the light and heat on offer.
At times, it looked as if 2021 would be a total wash-out. Katharina Prüm remarked that the months of April, May, July and August all saw below average temperatures with very little in the way of blue skies. When hail struck in the Ruwer Valley at the end of July, Maximin Von Schubert would be the first to admit that he had what can politely be described as a sense of humour crisis, knowing that from that point on, they had no choice but to wait it out and hope for the best. Christoph Schaefer opined about the internal conflict he felt between the rainfall and temperatures he was seeing in front of his eyes and their experience over the last ten years, which suggested sunburn might become an even bigger issue later in the season. This was a testing year for viticulture - and not just in the Mosel Valley.
Down in the Rheinhessen, Oliver and Carolin Spanier delivered it straight: more than 5,000 extra labour hours went into producing the 2021 vintage at their biodynamic estates Kühling-Gillot and Battenfeld Spanier. It was a vintage that required intense weather watching, diligence and trust in both the team and the old vines which dominate their holdings. Frank Schönleber added that they have said goodbye to the practice of habitually picking their Grosses Gewächs last; climate change has made the growing season simply too unpredictable.
So, what do we have on our hands? A Riesling vintage that was late, for the modern era, starting in October and running through until mid-November; strict selections to concentrate the crop and discard unhealthy grapes – painful commercially but essential to achieve a good skin to juice ratio; a paucity of noble rot leading to very few noble sweet wines; high acidities and low alcohols, but plenty of dry extract. The finished wines are beautifully fresh and agile, particularly in the crystal-clear Grosses Gewächs, Kabinett and Spätlese categories, and while they certainly have an edge to them in a twenty-first century context, they are not uncompromising.
On the contrary, the 2021s are friendlier than the 2010s were, and offer more complexity than the 2014s at the same juncture. Most put this down to broadly good weather in late September and October, with the higher water table providing the roots with a more ready access to minerals and vitamins and adding to the sense of balanced wines with a certain grip in the end. 2021 is not merely a light, flyaway vintage, nor is it a blockbuster, nor one with undue austerity. 2021, in the hands of a top producer, has all the backlit, vibrant attributes that the Riesling lover seeks. Moreover, these kinds of invigorating, cooler vintages are becoming increasingly rare in Germany. For that reason alone, it would be a shame to miss out on 2021. We are with Oliver Haag when he says that
““I am convinced that in ten years’ time people will recognise the quality of this vintage for its finesse, just as they did with 2004, 2008 and 2012.””
So perhaps our title is a little misleading, for the wines are not “cutting” in the truest sense of the word. But when we talk about fine German Riesling, they clearly do maintain a pretty sharp edge. An edge when it comes complexity, for no variety displays the myriad fruit flavours, flowers and soil-driven notes so well as Riesling. An edge when it comes to ageability, for no white variety can be cellared as successfully as Riesling (and 2021 will be no exception). An edge when we speak about rising alcohol levels, for there are no wines on earth that deliver the same intensity with such levity. And an edge in relation to price: a quick scan through our offer today will hopefully uphold the notion that Germany’s finest wines are still released at unbelievable prices.
I hope you enjoy reading through our producer profiles and tasting notes. In tasting and putting it all together, we have enjoyed every moment of it.
Perhaps it is that continued sense of pure, uncomplicated joy, over years and years of tasting that is, above all else, Riesling’s Cutting Edge.
Germany Buyer, Justerini & Brooks, September 2022