I hope you had as much fun as I did recently, but I seriously doubt it. Without wishing to gloat, I've got to tell you that I spent much of my time savoring the most glorious set of affordable young wines that I've tasted in the past decade. Rieslings from Germany's extraordinary 2001 vintage have arrived in our area, and there is a run on them, so you'd better act quickly if you want to get in on the enjoyment.
There are two distinct pieces of good news here, and I'm not quite sure which is more newsworthy. There's no doubting the greatness and importance of these wines, but the eager acceptance of them by American wine lovers may be even more significant. German Rieslings have languished in relative obscurity here for 20 years, despite several excellent vintages and frequent reports of impending Riesling revivals that never quite eventuated. Many writers -- myself included -- have argued that these are the most under-appreciated of all the world's great wines, but there's no denying the conclusion that our efforts have had little impact. The Germans have tried all sorts of marketing ploys and changes in labeling and nomenclature, all to no apparent effect.
But now, finally, there is a very real buzz here about the 2001 German Rieslings, with importers and retailers alike reporting sales running at a pace not seen for years. I'm frankly unsure whether this is because Americans are dropping their recent bias against tall bottles and lightly sweet wines, or whether people are just sick of Chardonnay. Perhaps the discrepancy between the high quality of these wines and the low level of public appreciation was simply too vast to last, and vinous nature has finally decided that it abhors this vacuum. In any case, the buzz is buzzing, the wines are here, and they are fantastic.
Thanks to beautiful weather in October of 2001, vintners at top estates across Germany were able to harvest Riesling grapes that were extraordinarily ripe, healthy and balanced. The resulting wines are strikingly harmonious already, with remarkable purity of fruit and exceptional symmetry between acidity, sweetness, mineral notes and fruit flavors. Interestingly, this holds true at all levels of sweetness and ripeness. That is, wines that are analytically rather sweet (like those in the Spatlese category below) don't taste particularly sweet because the residual sugar is so well balanced against acidity, fruit and minerals. Similarly, Trocken (dry) wines are much less tart and challenging than in most vintages because the acidity is ripe and the wines have enough fruit to achieve balance even without sweetness.
So, the upshot of all this is that novices and devotees alike need to try these wines -- and without delay. I'm limiting my recommendations to wines at the drier and more affordable end of the spectrum (as opposed to Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese bottlings) to help novices and avoid preaching to the converted. The wines are listed in rough order of preference within categories. Importer and wholesaler information will be provided along with regions of origin and more extensive tasting notes in the online show today at noon:
SPATLESE (MODERATELY SWEET)
* Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr ($28): Rich and soft but nevertheless quite delicate and lifted, with lovely mineral notes.
* Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg ($22): Exceptionally stylish and classy, with precisely delineated flavors.
* Theo Minges Gleisweiler Holle ($19): Deep and rich but only moderately sweet, with an outstandingly long finish.
* Richter Brauneberger Juffer ($22): Intense notes of slate provide a perfect foil to the deeply flavored fruit.
* Franz Kunstler Hochheimer Kirchenstuch ($33): Intense aromas of tea and baked apples, with lots of spice notes. Full and rounded, with gentle acidity.
* J.&H.A. Strub Niersteiner Paterberg ($21): Soft, sweet and seductive, with wonderfully pure fruit and very ripe acidity.
* Richter Mulheimer Helenkloster ($21); Weins-Prum Graacher Domprobst ($22); Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg ($27); Selbach-Oster ($24); Eilenz Ayler Kupp ($14); Joh. Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen ($20); Dr. Wagner Ockfener Bockstein ($22); Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Hipping ($10) Alfred Merkelbach Urziger Wurzgarten ($17); Eugen Wehrheim Niersteiner Orbel ($16).
KABINETT (SLIGHTLY SWEET)
* Franz Kunstler Hochheimer Reichestal ($19): A stunning Kabinett with explosive aromas of baked apple fruit, soft texture and great depth of flavor.
* Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg ($17): Extremely complex and detailed, with massive flavor on a lean frame.
* Karlsmuhle Kaseler Nieschen ($20): My jaw would have dropped but for fear of losing a drop. Intense minerals and brilliant apple fruit.
* Reichsrat von Buhl "Armand" ($17): All the Von Buhl wines from this vintage are simply the best I've ever tasted from the estate.
* Spreitzer Oestricher Lenchen ($20); Kruger-Rumpf Munsterer Rheinberg ($17); Josef Biffar Deidesheimer Kieselberg ($16); Richter Graacher Himmelreich ($19); J.&H.A. Strub Niersteiner Bruckchen ($15); Dr. Fischer Ockfener Bockstein ($12.50); Joh. Haart Goldtropfchen ($18); Richter Mulheimer Helenenkloster ($18); Bollig-Lehnert Trittenheimer Apotheke ($11); Schloss Schonborn Erbacher Marcobrunn ($13.50); Bollig-Lehnert Trittenheimer Apotheke ($11).
QBA (OR QUALITATSWEIN, LIGHTLY SWEET)
* Joh. Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen ($13): Downright thrilling QbA, this would outperform Spatlesen from many estates in many years.
* Dr. Thanisch ($16): Very clean flavors and lovely structural balance.
* Rudi Wiest Selection ($8.50): A remarkably strong value.
* Zilliken Forstmeister Geltz ($12) Fresh and full of flavor.
* Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg ($15): Mosel Halbtrockens are often screechy and overly tart, but this is magnificently balanced and pure.
* Franz Kunstler ($16): Earthy and robust, but somehow still lithe and delicate.
* Von Buhl "Maria Schneider Jazz" ($14): Tropical fruits and tangerines with perfect acidic balance.
* Herbert Messmer Burrweiler Schlossgarten ($17); Pfeffingen Kabinett Medium Dry "Pfeffo" ($16); Kimich Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten ($15).
TROCKEN (BONE DRY)
* Von Buhl Spatlese Dry "Maria Schneider Jazz" ($23): One of the five best dry Rieslings from Germany that I've ever tasted.
* Pfeffingen Kabinett Dry ($12): Stellar stuff at a great price.
Michael Franz will offer additional recommendations and answer questions live today at noon on washingtonpost.com