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THE TOP 25 DRY GERMAN RIESLINGS OF 2016

by jamessuckling.com

Any list of the top German Rieslings two decades ago would have been dominated by sweet wines like Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese with 10% (100 grams per liter) to 25% (250 grams per liter) residual sweetness. Dry wines with less than 1% (10 grams per liter) unfermented grape sugar would have been shutout all together.

How the times have changed. The sheer number and volume of sweet German wines have decreased significantly since the last turn of the century. Specialists such as Egon Müller and Zilliken on the Saar and Joh. Jos. Prüm on the Mosel continue to produce the full range of these wines every year, but they can now be numbered on a couple of hands. Instead, Germany is cranking out far more high quality dry wines that are 90 points or more.

One of the producers who would have been on that list of great wines a generation ago is on this list today. I rated the 1990 Berg Schlossberg Riesling from the Georg Breuer estate in Rüdesheim/Rheingau 90-91 points when I first tasted it from cask back in the late spring of 1991. It was made by Bernhard Breuer who died in 2004. The 2015 of the same wine was made by his daughter Theresa and scores a 97 on today’s hit list.

The shift towards dry wines is not only about fashion, as is sometimes suggested by lamenting fans of those sweet wines. It has everything to do with climate change and greatly improved winemaking competence for the dry style. Helmut Dönnhoff of the eponymous estate in Oberhausen/Nahe, the father of Cornelius Dönnhoff and maker of the number wine on the hit list explains. “More than 20 years ago we only got the kind of fully ripe, but beautifully clean grapes for top quality dry wines a couple of times a decade, so those wines were rare. Today we get the right kind of grapes for them every year!” Where else in the world did climate change turn wine styles upside down like that? I can’t easily think of another example.

When it comes to winemaking, the big lessons that were learned were about pre-fermentation skin contact and post-fermentation lees (that’s the dead yeast) contact, and which young wines benefit from this and how long to do it for. Skin-contact extracts the aromas, minerals and phenolics (tannins) that are all located in the skins. This helps integrate the pronounced acidity of the Riesling grape and that’s important, because dry wines can’t rely on unfermented sweetness to balance the acidity. The phenol give the wine a lot more power, but they can also make it too mouth-puckering. This is where the creaminess that young wines gain from long lees contact comes in, harmonizing the tannins extracted during skin-contact along with Riesling’s pronounced acidity.

There’s no single right way of playing this winemaking game, rather a bunch of different stylistic possibilities. The list reflects both this and vineyard location. Some of these top wines are quite big and bold, particularly those from heavier soils like the 2015 Morstein “GG” from Wittmann in Westhofen that rated 97 points. At the other extreme are sleek wines from very stony soils like the 2015 Berg Schlossberg from Georg Breuer that also rated 97. 

My Top 25 is all about harmony and individuality. Although one or two of these wines need a bit more time to open up, they all have great balance. None are lacking in ripeness or concentration, but those levels weren’t so difficult to achieve in this rather low yield vintage with a hot and dry growing season. Individuality isn’t a hit or miss matter, rather a task that requires years of systematic work refining a particular style of wine. That makes the achievement of winemakers karsten Peter of Gut Hermannsberg, the erstwhile State Domaine in the Nahe, and Achim von Oetinger of the eponymous estate in the Rheingau all the greater. Both made the Top 25 after only a few years work. 

Although the main focus of this list is wines of the 2015 vintage, a couple of late-release wines from earlier vintages also earned a place, most notably the 2012 Erdener Prälat “GG Reserve” from Dr. Loosen. It spent two entire years on the lees in barrel and is only now about to be released. Ernst Loosen is one of a small, but important group of producers experimenting with extended barrel ageing for high-end dry Rieslings. The fact that this wine earned 2nd place on the list suggests we’ll be hearing a lot more about German Rieslings like this during the next few years. 

What to drink with these wines? Certainly with any fish dish with which you would order a Chablis Grand Cru or 1er Cru. In that case, the more bottle age the wine has, the better it will fit with the food. However, unlike those wines, everything on this list can also cope with intensely spicy dishes from a wide range of Southern and Eastern Asian cuisines. In this case you need to stick with the last couple of vintages for the pairing to work really well. There are also possibilities like beef tartar, roast chicken, or preserved lemon risotto

 

1 DÖNNHOFF RIESLING NAHE HERMANNSHÖHLE NIEDERHAUSEN GG 2015

2 DR. LOOSEN RIESLING MOSEL ERDENER PRÄLAT "GG RESERVE" 2012

3 GEORG BREUER RHEINGAU RIESLING BERG SCHLOSSBERG 2015

4 WITTMANN RIESLING RHEINHESSEN MORSTEIN GG 2015

5 DÖNNHOFF RIESLING NAHE DELLCHEN NORHEIM 2015

6 HEYMANN-LÖWEINSTEIN RIESLING MOSEL UHLEN “LAUBACH” GG 2015

7 EMRICH-SCHÖNLEBER RIESLING NAHE HALENBERG MONZINGEN GG 2015

8 WAGNER-STEMPEL RIESLING RHEINHESSEN HEERKRETZ GG 2015

9 DÖNNHOFF RIESLING NAHE FELSENBERG “FELSENTÜRMCHEN” SCHLOSSBÖCKELHEIM GG 2015

10 DÖNNHOFF RIESLING NAHE BRÜCKE OBERHAUSEN GG 2015

11 GEORG BREUER RHEINGAU RIESLING NONNBERG 2015

12 DR. LOOSEN MOSEL RIESLING ERDENER PRÄLAT "GG RESERVE" 2011

13 MÜLLER-CATOIR RIESLING PFALZ BÜRGERGARTEN IM BREUMEL GG 2015

14 GUT HERMANNSBERG RIESLING NAHE STEINBERG NIEDERHAUSEN GG 2015

15 PRINZ RIESLING RHEINGAU HALLGARTEN SCHÖNHELL GG 2015

16 SCHLOSS JOHANNISBERG RIESLING RHEINGAU SILBERLACK GG 2015

17 LUCKERT (ZEHNTHOF) RIESLING FRANKEN SULZFELD MAUSTAL GG 2015

18 SCHÄFER-FRÖHLICH RIESLING MOSEL FELSENECK BOCKENAU 2015

19 AUGUST KESSELER RIESLING RHEINGAU RÜDESHEIM BERG SCHLOSSBERG GG 2015

20 PETER LAUER RIESLING MOSEL SCHONFELS AYL GG 2015

21 REINHOLD HAART RIESLING MOSEL OHLIGSBERG WINTRICH GG 2015

22 DR. LOOSEN RIESLING MOSEL PRÄLAT ERDEN GG 2015

23 ACHAM-MAGIN RIESLING PFALZ KIRCHENSTÜCK GG 2015

24 VON OETINGER RIESLING RHEINGAU ERBACH MARCOBRUNN GG 2015

25 PHILIPPI RIESLING PFALZ SAUMAGEN 2015

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