When two of the growers I most respect in Germany speak so highly of another grower's wines and (not irrelevantly) the grower himself, I'm clever enough to pay attention.
It was two or three years ago that Keller told me about the mineral-water Kabinetts of Sebastian Schäfer at the family estate of Joh. Bapt. Schäfer. These are brilliant Kabinetts that somehow pair down the genre into only that which is most essential: glacial spring water filtered through Riesling.
Then just last year Frank Schönleber, almost in passing, said he thought Sebastian Schäfer was one of the more talented growers in the Nahe, a versatile grower who excelled in both dry and off-dry styles. Both Keller and Frank emphasized how nice, how cool and kind Sebastian is - you can sense that a bit, I think, in the photo above that I took during our tasting. Sebastian is, without a doubt, one of those "winemaker's winemakers."
Anyway, I knew that the next time I was in Germany I would have to pay this guy a visit.
Well, this “next time” ended up being March of 2022 and I spent a beautifully brisk morning with Sebastian touring the vineyards in this curious part of the lower Nahe and then sitting down for an *awesome* preview of the 2021ers - you'll hear more about this soon enough.
But as part of the journey, Sebastian was kind enough to open some back-vintage wines for context, going as far back as a 2000 Kabinett which was sadly corked but still sorta awesome. That said, as I had already been collecting his Kabinetts, it was the dry wines that were perhaps more shocking in their stunning quality, their push and delineation and clarity.
The stars of the dry-Riesling show were undoubtedly a trio spanning three superb, yet misunderstood vintages: 2015, 2016 and 2017.
A 2015 Goldloch GG was insanely fresh; I often think of this vintage as a bit too much, yet the wine surprised me with its balance and poise. Then a 2016 Goldloch GG which was kaleidoscopic and smelled like a spring garden, heady with lemongrass, fennel and flowers, a star-bright citrus. Finally, a 2017 Pittermännchen GG just laid down the hammer; gushing acids and a taut, fortress-like acidity that promised years of beautiful development. (There was that spring-water essential-ness, again.)
I was a bit dumbstruck, honestly. We sat there, just enjoying the moment and I remarked to Sebastian how, while most of the Prädikat wines have a developed market – you can find back-vintage wines – it’s nearly impossible to find top-quality, perfectly aged GGs with a few year's rest.
That’s when he said, a touch hesitatingly (it had to be confirmed later, after he checked out the cellar) that he thought he had a little bit of the 2016 and 2017 GGs if, you know, that would be interesting?
I said something equivalent to: “**** yes!” - if not that exact phrase.
So today we present something of a holy grail - perfectly aged, absolutely top-quality Grand Cru dry Rieslings from one of the Nahe’s most talented, if lesser known, growers. Sebastian will not remain "lesser known" for much longer.
It is worth pointing out, though we hope it's obvious enough, that these wines represent a tremendous value. With the GG's of the two giants of Nahe Riesling (Emrich-Schönleber and Schäfer-Fröhlich) pushing (and breaking) the $100-barrier, we are looking at a considerable discount with these perfectly cellared wines.
Anyway, there is not a whole lot of wine available, so we'll leave this for those who know... More on Sebastian Schäfer and his estate, and the two wines on offer, below.
Joh. Bapt. Schäfer
Sebastian Schäfer is farming some well-known sites in the lower Nahe, including the Goldloch and Pittermännchen, to name only the most famouse two vineyards. Both are considered Grand Crus. Sebastian lives in Burg Layen, directly across the street in fact from the other famous grower of this village, Caroline Diel. This is the lower section of the Nahe, a few miles downstream from Monzingen, where Emrich-Schönleber’s sites are. Sebastian is farming only eight hectares; this is a small scale, family estate in all the ways we truly value. Sebastian started working in the winery with his father in 1997, though his first true vintage (where he made all the calls in the cellar) was 2002. The reputation of the estate has grown quite a bit - it seems to be growing larger every year to be honest. In 2014 the estate was welcomed into the VDP and the Goldloch Kabinett - as readers of this site may already know - is one of my favorite Kabinetts out there. Yet Sebastian is clearly very, very adept at styling dry wines and this will be a category to watch from him.
2017 Riesling Pittermännchen GG We've provided a map below highlighting the two sites. The Goldloch is perhaps the better-known and better-regarded site, though I think this is a bit of a simplification. The Goldloch is a warmer site; the wines it shapes are more powerful, they have more depth. Yet the Pittermännchen may influence the more elegant wines. That said, the 2017 Pittermännchen lacks nothing in force and depth - it is not a ripe wine (the fruit tone leans toward citrus and green apple), yet it boasts a phenolic, dense and coating mid-palate. But in the end it's the mineral, the ultra-fresh palate and fierce structure that provides, for the moment, a serious thrill. The best 2017ers are perhaps my favorite vintage of the last five or more; the wines are just so taut and tense and coiled; this wine, at five years old, has a long, LONG life ahead of it. Stock up if you can.
2016 Riesling Goldloch GG We've provided a map below highlighting the two sites. The Goldloch is perhaps the better known and better regarded site, though I think this is a bit of a simplification. It is a warmer site; the wines it shapes are more powerful, they have more depth. In ripe years, sometimes they can be a bit too much; in leaner years they can take your breath away. The 2016 is one of those latter wines. The vintage is one of those lost in the shuffle between the showy brilliance of 2015 and the authoritative definition of 2017. What was 2016? Quiet, nimble, subdued... perfectly proportioned and balanced yet just smaller-scaled. The 2016 Goldloch takes the opulent power that the vineyard can provide, and showers it with a wide, expansive herbal quality. I sense this is a wine entering a brilliant, complex and generous drinking window, one that will continue for another five to ten years. THIS is why you age dry German Riesling - take a chance.