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texture, power and discipline
on the edge of the Rheinhessen

{ A mineral tidal wave: That's how forceful these wines feel. }
sold out

Like a Chablis strapped to a Tesla (with a brick on the gas pedal), here are two bottles that SHRIEK across the palate ablaze with minerals and all the subtlety of a star exploding. They are forceful, declarative, emphatic... delicious.

These wines have depth and in some ways - at least for our very minimalist palates - are even lavish. There is a certain swagger and voluptuousness to the midpalates. They are fermented in partially new oak, so some of the wines in their youth showcase some wood, yet the acid and force of the wines leaves the palate awash in salty minerals. It is beyond obvious that these wines have immense density and concentration; they are clearly structured to age.

Here we present two wines that will dramatically shatter any preconceived notions of what Silvaner or Weissburgunder can be (for the eighteen people in the U.S. who have preconceived notions of these grapes) - for everyone else they will simply be revelatory.

The grandiosity, the broad-shouldered fireworks, the amplitude and coiled-up energy of these wines is interesting, in a way, because Carsten Saalwaechter, pictured above, is about as cool and restrained as they come.

We first met Carsten in the spring of 2019. We had a good tasting yet our first inquiry for wine was ignored. A few months passed and when we followed up, he said only, "I'm sorry the wine is gone," in the same matter-of-fact way you might give someone the time or read a shopping list. Then the pandemic swung through but we were able to go back and check in on Carsten in August of 2021. All the whites were sold out, we were told, but the red-wine release would be coming up. "Excellent," we thought.

The red wine release came and went; I think I even DM'd him through Instagram. Radio silence.

At some point in early 2022, Carsten said the white wine release would be coming up. While it'd be too much to say I went back to Germany in March just to make sure we at least got some damn wine, I didn't not go back to Germany not to do this.

So here we are, Carsten Saalwaechter's U.S. premiere and it'd be ridiculous as a buyer not to do this.

For some of you, if not many of you, I predict these wines will represent something of a watershed moment - similar in ways perhaps to those first encounters with Enderle & Moll or Stefan Vetter or Wasenhaus. The styles are not all the same, but the ability of these growers to transcend assumptions - this is what Carsten Saalwaechter is accomplishing. Taste for yourself.

The Saalwaechters are on the northern edge of the Rheinhessen, in Ingelheim. This is the southern bank of the Rhine, directly across the river from the Rheingau - a quick swim across the river will put you in Hattenheim. While Ingelheim is not (currently) a famous part of the Rheinhessen, the history here is deep. Charlemagne built an imperial palace here; presumably it is from here that he looked across the Rhine and contemplated the best places to plant vines based on where the snow melted first. It certainly wasn't melting first in Ingelheim.

Which is at least partly why, in our new, warmer world, Saalwaechter's wines still show such energy and structure. Most of the sites Carsten is farming are not considered the "choice" fillets of this village, which are all west-facing and steep so as to catch as much of the afternoon sun as possible. Carsten has, in fact, made a name for himself by cultivating older, forgotten parcels just east and north of the village. All of these sites face north. This slows down the ripeness and helps preserve the acidities; you can feel it.

More than anything else, these wines are treatises on structure.

The Saalwaechter family has been in Ingelheim for some time; an elder Saalwaechter named Paul Christian was the mayor of Ingelheim and founded the winery in 1853. Currently, the family has holdings of around 12 hectares, though Carsten is farming only about eight hectares.

The history here is very important; the culture of Silvaner here in the Rheinhessen is very important. You can feel it when Carsten talks about the ferocious phenolics, the fierce structure of Silvaner. "Silvaner is a master of phenolics" says Carsten, meditatively, looking into the distance as he sips the estate Silvaner "Alte Reben." The importance of Silvaner can also be noted by the age of the vines. "Nearly all the Silvaner is old around here. The grape has had such a bad image in the last few decades, no one planted it." For this "basic" Silvaner, there are no vines under 40 years old - the oldest are around 70 years old. And you can taste it.

The Burgundian varieties - the Weisserburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Chardonnay - are perhaps newer to the region, yet the shell-limestone soils that abound here make them a perfect vehicle for expressing the soil. Carsten's father was an early-adapter, planting Chardonnay right after it was made legal in 1992. This was before the avalanche of modern clonal selections with their tailor-made attributes; the estate has old Burgundian clones - it's all you could get at the time.

It is a suggestion more than clichéd at this point, but these wines combine something of the power, the textural finesse and breadth of Burgundy with the cut and structure of Germany, of a more cool-climate terroir. You just have to try them; this is the first time these wines have ever been in the U.S. - there is no precedent.

While quantities on the Silvaner are reasonable, we have only five cases of the Weissburgunder. Right before sending out the email I asked Carsten if more was possible. "Sorry Stephen," he says to me. There we are.

More on the individual bottlings and winemaking below. 


2020 Silvaner "Alte Reben"
We'll call this the "estate" Silvaner and not the "basic" or "entry-level" because honestly that doesn't do justice to the wine and the age of the vineyards, which are between 40 and 70 years old - thus the "Alte Reben" or "old vine" moniker. While Carsten's style isn't overly ripe, he is less interested in ultra-lean wines - a fact that sets him apart from many in his generation. While we are fans of this razor-sharp, diminutive style (perhaps best epitomized by growers like Stefan Vetter or Jonas Dostert), the fact that Carsten's wines (while 12-12.5 or even 13%) still somehow retain balance, freshness and drive, is a tremendous credit to him, both his north-facing sites and his touch as a winemaker. The Silvaner "Alte Reben" is a powerful, pushing, forceful wine; it has tremendous cut and density - there is a spirit-like bitterness to the wine, a phenolic freshness that keeps it poised. While Carsten harvests neither particularly early nor very late, he does favor a very slow and serious pressing cycle - he wants the phenolics. The wines then see a mix of barrels, some new, some older and neutral, where they will normally age for a year. They are then blended into stainless steel tanks for about six months before they are bottled - a similar process is used at Wasenhaus and many more Burgundy-oriented estates.

2020 Weisserburgunder
The Pinot Blanc or Weissburgunder is wider and more textural than the Silvaner; it is perhaps more elegant, more of a Champagne-style than the hammer-like Silvaner. It is composed of numerous plots on solid limestone, all of them north-facing. Despite the wines satiny elegance, there is also here a drive and an energy, always balancing between suave and cutting, that keeps the wine moving across the palate. There is a beautiful wash of minerality, of salty soil-tones and all the floral high-tones one hopes for (but doesn't find all that often) in Pinot Blanc. Superb wine.

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