From €10.80, CHF15.48, £16.40, $20 (2012), AUS$36 (2013), DKK108
I first came across Alexander Laible in 2012 at Michael Schmidt's dining-room table in the village of Ahrweiler, surrounded by the steep vineyards of the Ahr Valley. We were working our way through dozens of non-VDP Rieslings, from entry-level trockens to honey-dripping Auslesen, and suddenly, in a line-up of cardboard-wrapped wine bottles, there was one that made us stop. We went back to it several times over the course of the day, and each time it confirmed our first thought: this was something special. That wine was Laible's Tausend Sterne Riesling 2011, and when the cardboard was removed from all the wines across the categories, it turned out that Laible had done well across the board.
Three years later, as a part of The WineBarn tasting, I bumped into Laible's wines again. This time it was the Alte Reben *** trocken which snagged my attention. Like the Tausend Stern three years earlier, it was a wine that caught my breath. Some wines are very hard to describe in words, and with the particularly beautiful ones I often wish that I could just give the reader a photograph instead. This was a Riesling that made me think of early morning light coming through the dew on a spider web,
(Image credited to Jörg Hempel)
drops of water glinting on an alchemilla leaf,
(Image credited to Pezibear)
and a dandelion seed floating into the air.
(Image credited to Jenny Downing)
There is, of course, a much more conventional word version of this
Alexander comes from a winemaking family with a long history. His father, Andreas, and his older brother, also named Andreas, currently run the family estate in the village of Durbach, Baden. He did his oenology training at Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt Weinsberg and then worked for several years in the Mosel before coming back to the southern wine region of Baden. Realising that there wasn't much room for another winemaker on a 7.5-ha estate, Alexander left in 2007 at age 29, buying up vineyards in Sinzheim near Baden-Baden from his second cousin, Eugen Schlindwein. The winery itself is in Durbach - south of Sinzheim and not far from his brother's - so travelling some 100 km a day to tend to his Riesling vines is not an unusual commute. And that's without considering his Chardonnay vineyards in Lahr, another 70 km south of Durbach, and the fact that all his vineyards are hand-tended...
Laible runs his vineyards along biodynamic principles, following lunar cycles, using only ambient yeasts, and eschewing the use of chemicals, although he hasn't committed to any certification programme. He has much-cherished parcels of old vines, some of them over 50 years old, although this particular Alte Reben is from 38-year-old vines planted on clay-limestone, with yields of about 50 hl/ha. Made in stainless steel and bottled under screwcap, the winemaking suggests nothing particularly out of the ordinary. And yet somehow, with a quiet modest touch, Laible turns ordinary into something brilliant.
My mind turns to Benjamin Franklin: 'The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.'