German Vintage Reports: 2021, 2020, 2019
German Wine Vintages
How is the 2021 Vintage?
German 2021s are a return to a truly cool-climate, old-school style of wine. Wines are racy, electric, spine-tingling, with the Kabinetts reigning supreme. If Austria offers pure pleasure, Germany captures the pizzazz.
After an unseasonably warm February the temperatures dropped once more for an exceptionally cold March, April and May. June and July were cooler than normal, but also came with torrential down pours. The Ahr saw devastation, and many low lying vineyards elsewhere were also adversely affected. The cool and wet conditions have made it the most expensive to farm in living memory.
The fall dried out, allowing the grapes to finally reach maturity in October and November. Farmers had to return to a time where ripeness was sought out, rather than slowed down. All the extra time in the vineyards has meant quality fruit, but with acid levels absolutely unheard of this decade.
Classic Mosel style wines: a of juxtaposition of wispy, airy texture, against deeply concentrated minerality and just enough fruit to remember this wine started as a grape, were the norm, not the exception.
This style is getting harder and harder to achieve in the age of warming climates as once-perfectly-suited south facing hills now are almost too hot. But 2021 is like a time machine, a throwback to a time when achieving ripeness was difficult, when you played roulette with the weather, waiting just one more day for slightly riper grapes, hoping the rains wouldn't start before you got there.
Until the late 80's, Kabinett was a dime a dozen as lower sugar levels were the easier to reach consistently. They were not given the appreciation they deserved. It was the sweeter, more powerful Spätlese and Auslese that were prized by Riesling drinkers. These days, sweeter wines are almost always achievable, just as the favor for the style is at its lowest, and the delicately styled Kabinett have almost become a thing of the past.
2021 was a reminder of what perfectly balanced, ethereal Kabinett can do. The market has responded accordingly. At the fall VDP Mosel auction, a special bottling of the Wehlen Sonnenuhr Kabinett flipped the pricing hierarchy on its head and went for a record breaking €405 ($427)!!! With the Spät and Aus at €350 and €300, respectively.
The point is, this is the year for lovers of cold-climate German Riesling to go big or go home. It may be the last time we get to enjoy this particular style, for a long, long time, maybe ever. Do not hesitate to add these to your collection.
Besides the impeccable Kabinetts, the dry GG wines are thrilling, relying on minerality and elegance rather than power and density. Once the rain stopped there was almost no botrytis so you will see precious few Auslese, BA or TBA wines. Don't worry there are plenty of other treasures to discover!
How was Germany's 2020 vintage?
German 2020s are filigreed, elegant and absolutely delicious.
The fruit was incredibly clean, pure, exotically aromatic, with good acidity levels, similar to 2012 and 2015, but with more delicacy and less power. Kabinett, Spätlese and the dry wines are inducing bouts of glee. The Auslese, BA, TBA and Eisweins are going to be gorgeous but, in very short supply thanks to dry, sunny conditions.
The vintage was not without its challenges: early bud break, warm temperatures, lack of rain, lower than average yields, and of course labor shortages thanks to the pandemic. But all of these were mitigated by experienced growers and some lucky breaks in the weather coming at exactly the right time. Producers were fearing the earliest harvest ever, but nighttime temperatures dropped at the end of August and light rains fell in some regions, retaining acidity and extending harvest, making this the longest harvest in history for most.
German 2019s are producer and region driven. The best winemakers made incredible wines, as usual. Down in the Pfalz, conditions were perfect and Von Winning put out another set of stellar offerings, with more structure than 2018. The Nahe got more rain than normal, but our favorite producers invested heavily in manpower to bring in healthy fruit, and rigorous grape selection to ensure only the very best berries made it into the wine. That selection lowered production, but preserved acidity, which is complemented by a mineral and herbal focus rather than plush fruit. For the full rundown on each producer we've included videos, bio's, tasting notes and the vintage report.