From €9.16, £9 in bond, 18 Swiss francs, 169 Norwegian krone
This is German wine season and what could be a more delightful drink for those of us in the northern hemisphere celebrating the arrival of summer? One of our most energetic and fastidious importers of German wine here in the UK, Howard Ripley, showed off its range of 2012s yesterday afternoon, although the sun was shining so unaccustomedly brightly that many people seemed, foolishly, to be giving the tasting a miss.
I loved the wines, and I love the fact that in general the best German wine producers continue to raise their game. It seems as though they are putting as much effort into their fruitier, more traditional wines as they do into their dry wines. There was a time not so long ago when some of them seemed to regard sweetness as something to distract from relatively lacklustre fruit, but in 2012, certainly with the wines handpicked by Sebastian Thomas of Howard Ripley, this phenomenon seems to be over. Fellow wine writers David Schildknecht of the US, Stephan Reinhardt of Germany and I had been plotting an exercise to revive interest in genuine Kabinett - crisp, light wines with a little more sweetness than would be allowed for a trocken wine - as opposed to declassified Spätlesen. Unfortunately our efforts had to be postponed because of Stephan's workload but now I wonder whether they are needed. Kabinetts seem to have gained new respect in 2012. Purple Pagers can enjoy this thread on the forum in which Swedish German wine enthusiast Miran Kegl raves about a range of 2012 Kabinetts in particular.
I found much to enjoy at the Howard Ripley tasting yesterday and will try to publish my tasting notes as soon as possible, but I wanted to flag up my enthusiasm in advance. Two producers' wines particularly shone. And although, perhaps because, they grow grapes in extremely different regions - Klaus Peter Keller in the warmth of the Rheinhessen, Van Volxem in the cool Saar tributary of the Mosel valley - the Keller H Kabinett is featherlight whereas the Van Volxem Rotschiefer Kabinett at 10.5% is considerably more potent. As Michael Schmidt notes about Van Volxem in his first batch of tasting notes on the Mosel 2012s, 'in terms of expression of terroir, Roman Niewodniczanski is not a man to take prisoners, and neither is his winemaker Dominik Völk, who may look like a schoolboy, but makes wines like a headmaster. Needless to say, the pair do not command the undivided admiration of their peers.'& The beanpole, pony-tailed hussar Niewodniczanski plays with old vines and low yields to make very different wines from his neighbours. But they are hugely dramatic.
I loved Van Volxem Rotschiefer Kabinett 2012 Saar that Howard Ripley is offering for £51 per six-bottle case in bond for delivery next year. It has masses of concentration (sorry, intensity - see this particularly intense thread about Alex on loudness) on the nose with strong hints of blackcurrant leaves and of course that red slate but also massive tension. Beautiful balance characterises this feinherb off-dry wine. Also a more typical product of this estate is the vibrato Van Volxem Riesling trocken 2012 Saar (£54 per six-bottle case in bond from Howard Ripley) that is positively pungent with mineral intensity but has quite enough extract - and alcohol, 12% - to counterbalance the acidity. These are very atypical Saar wines, indeed atypical Mosels, and I adore many of the lighter, fruitier examples that make such great aperitifs, but these Van Volxem wines, already widely sold throughout Europe, are great for drinking with food.
But the real marvel on the table yesterday was Keller, Nierstein H Kabinett 2012 Rheinhessen that has only 8.5% alcohol. This debut vintage is from the vines in the Hipping vineyard in the Roter Hang recently added to the Keller estate well to the south west of here from the old F K Schmitt holdings. Above left is a photograph taken of an expedition to view grapes ripening in the Hipping vineyard late last August; Schildknecht is far left; Keller far right. This wine is breathtakingly elegant and featherlight while being crammed with flavour. Somehow it tastes absolutely classic Rheinhessen, wonderfully vital flavour-packed fruit but is not remotely heavy. Instead it is revivifying and bracing. I'm not suggesting you buy this for current consumption, however tempting that is. But it should really start to come into its own towards the end of this decade. Howard Ripley are asking £78 for six bottles in bond and a total of about 2,500 bottles were filled.
Keller has made a truly magnificent range of 2012s, including an impressive array of Auslesen in a year when they are thin on the ground. Look out for his Grosse Gewächse wines that will be released, like their peers, from September. So far his 2012s seem to be offered only by Howard Ripley in the UK.
But there are many underpriced treasures to be found in German 2012s. See this guide to our continuing coverage of German 2012s. We will soon be publishing Michael's notes on the Nahe, Rheinhessen and Rheingau 2012s from VDP producers he tasted when they were shown at the Mainzer Weinbörse in late April as well as my notes from Howard Ripley's tasting yesterday.