Germany 2013 Vintage: The Beauty of Contrast
There's been some intense discussion about the 2013 vintage in Germany. Reviews and notes from reputable sources have been published—try View from the Cellar and Mosel Fine Wines—and prominent importers Terry Theise, Rudi Wiest, and Vom Boden have all offered their perspectives. These are all very good resources offering balanced perspectives on the conditions of the vintage, and how the wines appear to be out of the gate. Empirically, it takes time to taste and evaluate a vintage, and oftentimes the market demands we skip to conclusions far sooner than what is ideal for a fair assessment. Challenging vintages like 2013 give me pause to wonder whether the concept of a "perfect vintage" is itself flawed, and does it really behoove us to seek to drink and cellar only those seemingly “perfect” vintages anyway?
Growers faced a number of difficulties throughout the 2013 season. Late flowering, a cool spring, hail storms, then rain and rot at harvest all made for challenges every step of the way. The results are varied and the yields extraordinarily low. Sub-regions that are naturally warmer (Rheinhessen, Pfalz) tended to fare better, but quality producers everywhere were capable of deftly managing the issues and making great wine. In general, we are seeing high acid and high extract, and it is true that some of the results are awkward at best. However, there are many, many great wines that are distinctive and beautiful not in spite of but because of the challenging conditions of the vintage. In fact, Rieslings like these are becoming increasingly rare. These are the elegant and svelte beauties that cannot come from early flowering and long hang-times. These are the cut, lean-muscle acrobats that cannot come from luxurious ripeness. What's good in 2013 is not just great; it's singular. My friend, Raj Vaidya, wine director at Daniel, said over beers last weekend, "the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, I'm so excited about these wines." In any vintage it's smart to be choosy, but I cannot imagine letting this minute vintage offerings escape my grasp.
A good deal of the trouble with 2013 is not the wines themselves, but the pressure to declare immediate judgements. For obvious reasons the market demands some early qualification of each release, and to a degree we can utilize our professional tasting experience as reference from which to gauge the potential of a vintage. But as I taste through 2013 I'm comforted by how much I don't know for sure, and am not particularly interested in mocking up a premature judgement; rather, I'm just deeply curious to see what these become. I am fascinated to buy, cellar, and drink these more than any vintage of my career (with exception for 2008) because I genuinely want to see what these unique, energetic beauties evolve into. My sense is that the well-made wines will be startling beauties that shimmer unlike any vintage we've seen in recent years.
But I also see tremendous value in experiencing vintages in relation to their brethren. I am most interested to see the way the 2013s contrast to the ideal '12s, the racy '08s, the longest-hang-time-in-history '07s, the baby-fat '09s—undoubtedly we will be surprised along the way. There is a real value in not skipping vintages based on premature judgements that a vintage might be "less-than perfect;" and that is especially the case when it comes to wines from skilled producers with a proven track-record for quality production.
Wine is fascinating and satisfying because of the story it conveys of itself. And those singular stories are often illuminated best in context of differing stories (e.g.,we know Blanc de Blancs because we know Blanc de Noirs). Maybe we'll only truly be able to know the greatness of the 2012s because we also know the contrasting beauty of the 2013s and the 2011s. Maybe in 2013 one grower's style will excel, while a certain terroir will sing in 2012. What I am certain of now is the uniqueness of 2013, and as we taste for harmony, balance, and deliciousness, the best wines will be apparent. More than any other recent vintage I am fascinated to see how these progress in five to ten to twenty years, and fortunately the only way to know is to simply enjoy each vintage for what only it will be.