STOP PRESS I have just learnt that the Zillikens are crowned Winemakers of the Year in the influential Gault Millau Weinguide 2017 launched yesterday. A very well-deserved accolade, and perhaps a further sign that fruity wines are coming back into fashion in Germany?
From €22, £25.90 (per bottle as part of a mixed dozen, duty paid delivered), or £107 for six bottles in bond, $35, HK$580, AU$77.95
It seems ages since we had a German wine of the week – which is crazy considering how keen we are on Riesling in general and German wines in particular on this site. (See, for instance, this guide to our coverage of the 2015, and 2012, German vintages.)
Here’s a marvel that is just 7.5% alcohol but is absolutely packed full of flavour and refreshment. A bottle of fireworks for Guy Fawkes/Fireworks Night tomorrow perhaps? This is, as Hugh Johnson has observed, the sort of wine you can drink a bottle of not just while reading a book but while writing one.
Michael was the first to taste the wine, in Wiesbaden back in April 2013, and wrote this tasting note, giving it a score of 17.5 and recommending a drinking window of 2013-2022:
‘Animating aromas of exotic and stone fruit and even a hint of marzipan tease the olfactory senses. On the palate the generosity of fruit is balanced by a perfect dose of mouth-watering acidity and, despite its undeniable substance, the Spätlese remains an elegant and racy wine with lots of life and a subtle dab of minerality. Classic Saar Spätlese that will never go out of fashion! (MS)’
I tasted it more recently at OW Loeb’s tasting in September and wrote, giving it a score of 17 and recommending a drinking window of 2015 to 2019 – which I realise on reflection is almost certainly over-cautious:
‘Very developed aromatically but extremely pure and light. So appetising! Racy and sleek. Mint toffee aroma.’
I think it was because the exuberant bouquet seemed so evolved that I suggested drinking it over the next few years – but actually the acidity is so delightfully salivatory that I’m sure Michael’s suggested end date of 2022 is nearer the mark and even that may be too cautious. When I asked the wine's maker, Hanno Zilliken about the wine's likely longevity he replied, 'As I am a lover of mature Riesling, this Spätlese should have a minimum age of 10 years. Then you will have pleasure with it for the next two decades…' So there!
Whichever the year, this is the sort of wine you could almost drink at any time of day – so light and bracing is it – and that mint toffee analogy just came to me, a sign of just how refreshing it is. Hanno Zilliken and his daughter Dorothee have such a wonderfully sure touch, having made wines as linear, light and precise as this steadily every year. Rausch is their top site and famously produces particularly bright-fruited, crystalline, racy Rieslings – the perfect match between grape and site. Talking of site, Zilliken’s informative website tells us that the total acidity of this wine is 9.0 g/l and the residual sugar is 88 g/l, but you would never guess it was as high as this; the wine tastes as though it is walking a tightrope, it’s so nervy. As Michael says, Saar Riesling is one of the great classics of the wine world, and nowhere else in the world that I have come across is capable of producing such light-yet-flavourful wines.
The Zillikens – whose full wine-estate name is Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken – also report about this wine thus.
‘The bad: a wet spring during flowering dampened our expectations for a bountiful harvest. Due to a poor fruit set, yields were low from the outset. That said, the remaining grapes developed so well in summer and autumn that by the end of harvest we had achieved an almost average yield. Much more important for us was the quality: we were relieved to find that our entire harvest matched the impressive benchmark set by the 2011 vintage. The VDP Grosse Lage wines may even exceed them in terms of intrigue and complexity.’
This glorious wine is available in the UK, US, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Australia, Hong Kong – also in half bottles (though, as I intimate above, this is one of those wines where you don’t need to limit yourself to a half) and magnums (that's more like it). UK residents should note that the wine is available at £25.89 a bottle duty-paid, delivered price from OW Loeb, or at £107 for six bottles in bond from Howard Ripley. It is also offered at £235 by the dozen in bond by brokers Fine & Rare, while Farr Vintners are offering the auction (Vertsteigerung) version by the dozen in bond at £450.