Most regions had one or two refreshing rain events during the growing season, but otherwise it was sunny, warm, and overall, exceptionally dry. There was no frost, and almost nothing lost to hail – the most notable exceptions being two of Klaus-Peter Keller’s top sites Morstein and Abts E, both of which had their production trimmed by around one third by a severe hail storm on the 1st June.
Given the heat and sunshine hours, comparisons have inevitably been drawn to other hot vintages like 2003, 2005 and even 1959 – the latter, according to Manfred Prüm, strikingly similarly up until the start of harvest. And it is true, that 2018 sits in the solar category of vintages – ripe acid profiles and generous quantities of delicious fruit are the hallmarks of many of these wines. But at the same time, particularly in relation to a vintage like 2003, the wines in 2018 have a certain shape, a control, and a freshness, in flavour and structure terms, that sets them apart from other ‘hot’ vintages.
Several factors define 2018; firstly, there simply weren’t the heat spikes of a vintage like 2003. The temperatures in 2018 remained hot throughout, but seldom did the mercury rise to dangerously high levels. Secondly, growers are becoming increasingly accustomed to warm years. With so many of the past century’s hottest vintages having occurred in the past 20 years, producers have a good feel for how to handle such extreme growing seasons. Picking was generally carried out earlier and winemaking was restrained, with less time spent on skins and gentler pressings. Thirdly, harvest was not baking hot. And finally, after the frosts of 2017, 2018 was naturally bountiful crop.
This final point on yield might be what really sets 2018 apart from other recent hot vintages. Had the weather not been wonderful, such a yield would have meant underripe grapes and diluted flavours. Had the yield been half the size, such conditions might well have resulted in rather heat stressed grapes. As it was, sunshine, warmth and plenty of grapes has resulted in a vintage whose best wines are both charming and serious, fruit filled, concentrated but also fresh.
As I have already mentioned, harvest for almost everyone we spoke to started very early, often as early as ever before. But curiously, after such a good summer, September arrived and with it fresher, more moderate weather. It remained dry, but for most, there was little excessive heat. Readings taken in the vineyard showed remarkably stable grapes, thick skinned berries, stable acidities balancing sugars, great phenolic ripeness and aromatic complexity developing day by day. After an initial burst of activity, the result was a long, surprisingly relaxed harvest across most of the regions. It is true there wasn’t a huge amount of botrytis, but it was present for those that waited and as a result, many growers have produced a full range of wines, from trocken right the way up to TBA. For those that didn’t see noble rot appear, the pay off was beautifully pure, shrivelled grapes with intense flavour profiles, concentrated juice and ripe, backlit acidities. Scintillating Auslese material in other words.
We had a lot of fun tasting these 2018s back in April. From charming and juicy estate wines all the way up to truly kaleidoscopic, jewel like Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, there are gems to be unearthed in 2018. There are dry wines with great power and generosity and some truly breezy and moreish feinherbs. If there seems to be a sweet spot, it is perhaps in the Spatlese, Auslese and Goldcap zone. Here we found, time and again, a combination of luscious fruit and crystalline flavours that can only come from perfectly ripe, golden, shrivelling berries. The results are long, focussed weightless wines that hit the palate running and send bright sparks of flavour to all corners of the mouth. This is Riesling at its most complete, satisfying and singular. It is perhaps in these wines more than any others in this radiant vintage, that one’s palate truly feels the bright beams of sunshine that give this year’s wines such illumination and joy.