TN: 2015 Kabinetts, mostly Mosel, familiar faces and new names

With all the hoopla over the 2015 vintage, my regular blind tasting group decided to try some Kabinetts. In addition to three standby producers (J.J. Prüm, Willi Schaefer and Dönnhoff), I included a range of lesser-known winemakers that have come on the scene in recent years and are brought in by upstart importers: Vom Boden and Schatzi Wines. (I’ve listed the importers below.)

In several cases, these wines are made from vineyards that were badly neglected or abandoned until the 2000s. Most are from villages that don’t get a lot of love these days: Enkirch, Dhron, Wolf and Bremm. Other than some excellent Sekt from Lauer and one or two sweet A.J. Adams, I had no experience with these producers. Based on this tasting, these deserve more attention, though some (Adam, Vollenreider, Lauer) are not especially good values.

The Prüm and Dönnhoff tied for first place, but that was by just a hair. When we ranked them, the first six wines were statistically tied. This was by far the narrowest ranking range we’ve ever seen in the group, which dates back to 1994. I attribute that to the uniform high quality. I scored six of the eight wines between 90 and 92. Because of the close group scores, I’ve put the first six together below.

Take-away: These are all first-rate wines, save perhaps for the Weiser-Kunstler, which was still quite good. Several people in the group felt these lacked a little acid, but I didn’t find that at all. To the contrary, I found a nice zip at the back of almost all these, and I think the baby flesh is concealing the acid a bit at this point. They were on a par with the wonderful 2012 Kabinetts we tasted a couple of years ago, though I recall those as being a little less rich.

Though one or two people thought they detected a trace of sulfur on one or two wines, I didn’t.

The wines were decanted into serving bottles shortly before the tasting, sampled over an hour or so, and then we had the chance to refill with fresh pours. The wines were all purchased in the NYC area this year.

Statistically tied for 1st-6th place:

J.J. Prüm - Wehlener Sonnenuhr (Middle Mosel) - $33 (importer: Cellars International)
Very pale hue. Less overtly fruity than the others on the nose and in the mouth, with something I not-very-accurately called earthy. When the wines were unveiled, I realized this might have been a bit of leesiness. Good concentration of flavors but relatively medium-bodied. Improves more with air than some. Long finish with great concentration and acid.
Prüm’s wines often don’t show well on release when you put them in blind tastings. This was lovely, and I would guess that the relative small dose of fruit is just a stage. I suspected this might be a Prüm before it was unveiled.

Dönnhoff - Oberhausen Leistenberg (Nahe) - $21 (importer: Terry Theise/Michael Skurnick) [screwcap]
My 1st place. This did not stand out among the Mosel-Saar-Ruwers, as Nahe wines often do. Faint peach notes on the nose and in the mouth. Great concentration and great acidity, but light on its feet. More peach on the finish. Several of us thought this might be the Prüm, which can sometimes have peach notes. Great value!

Peter Lauer - Lambertskirch (Saar) - $39 (importer: Vom Boden)
Lauer replanted this vineyard near Ayl, which had been abandoned, so these would be significantly younger vines compared to the other wines.
Minerals on the nose. In the mouth, this has a green fruit tartness that shouted out “Saar” to me. It came across as just a tad less sweet than most, but that may just be the acid. A little pineapple in the mouth. Complex, tart finish. Very nice wine but a tad expensive.

A.J. Adam - Dhroner Häs’chen (Middle Mosel) - $34 (importer: Selbach/Michael Skurnick)
Adam relaunched this estate in 2000, 17 years after his grandparents had closed the business. He owns all of the tiny 0.3 ha Häs’chen vineyard, which was planted in 1933. This is only the second release of this wine.
Peaches on the nose, in the mouth and on the finish. A touch less acid, and it comes across as a touch more sweet than most.

Franzen - Bremmer Calmont (Upper Mosel) - $22 (importer: Schatzi Wines) [screwcap]
In 1999 Ulrich Franzen began buying up small parcels of this abandoned vineyard in the Terrassen (terrassed) Mosel, toward the Mosel’s mouth at the Rhine. The importer claims it’s the steepest vineyard in the world (see photos below) and that it was covered in rose bushes at the time. Franzen had to strike deals with 112 different owners to acquire a mere 1.2 ha (a little more than two acres). Ulrich’s son and daughter and law run the operation now and they now own more than 5 ha. This is their first sweet wine.
Taut, with lots of concentration, waiting to uncoil. Sweet attack with an acid kick behind. Rich, concentrated finish with lots of acid. A great value.

Willi Schaefer - Graacher Domprobst (Middle Mosel) - $26 (importer: Terry Theise/Michael Skurnick)
Schaefer’s Domprobst is usually better than their Himmelreich, even though the latter vineyard is better regarded. Vines are up to 60 years old and more than 60% are ungrafted.
Vague spices on the nose. Tautly wound at first, tense, spicy, great depth. Acid is quite prominent on the long finish. I loved this (91 points for me), though it’s not as forward as some.

Group’s 7th:

Vollenweider - Wolfer Goldgrube (Middle Mosel) - $32 (importer: Vom Boden)
The young Swiss owner, captivated by a bottle of Egon Müller riesling, decided to train as a winemaker and, in 1999, purchased this 1 ha vineyard, whose vines had been neglected. Most are now 80+ years old.
Classic Mosel nose of pears and apples. At first it seemed a bit simple in the mouth, but it quickly opened up. Beautifully balanced – on the lighter side of medium weight – just classic. Several of us guessed this might be the Schaefer, based on its balance and weight.
I ranked this 2nd at 91 points.


Weiser-Kunstler - Enkircher Ellergrub (Middle Mosel) - $23 (importer: Vom Boden)
This husband-and-wife team first leased vineyards in 2005 and has expanded its holdings since – all plots that were highly rated in the 1897 Prussian survey of the Mosel vineyards. Mostly ungrafted vines on slate soils. Indigenous yeasts. Weiser previously worked at Leitz in the Rheingau and apprenticed in New Zealand.
The flavor profile here was quite different from the others. An earthiness on the palate made me suspect this was the Dönnhoff. Richer than the others, and seemingly less integrated. The acid emerges at the back.
Four of the eight tasters placed this 8th, but it also had a 1st and a 2nd place vote. It was that kind of tasting.

Don’t view these images of the vineyards in Bremm if you suffer from vertigo:
Franzen - Calmont - today.jpg

I tasted the WK EE Kabinett at the estate a few months ago and Konstantin remarked that this wine gave him a lot of trouble with the ferment. It didn’t taste quite right to me. Despite my dislike of dry riesling, I think they are doing some very interesting things in that department.

Off topic, the 12 and 13 EE Spätlese are stellar.

Lauer also has a 2015 Riesling Fass 8 Kabinett Ayler Kupp that is quite nice and a bit cheaper ($32 at Bassins here).

Bassins also had the Vollenweider at a much lower price than you quote, but they must be out of it now as I don’t see it on their web site.

Looks a great tasting, would be good to redo it in a few years, but crikey the Kabs are a lot cheaper in the UK. I paid $18 for the Lauer 8, $24 for the Prum WS etc etc.

I guess because we can buy direct from the importer.

The Lauer came from Zachy’s not on sale and the Vollenweider and A.J. Adam came from Chambers Street, which isn’t discounting that much these days. It’s possible they could be had for less around here. Since the whole tasting was fairly inexpensive, I didn’t spend as much time chasing down the best prices as I usually do.

Very interesting. That jibes with our experience.

I opened a Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Kabinett last night that was just rocking right out of the gate. Stone fruit, fruit cocktail, minerals, petrol; lots of fruit but not too sweet at all. I found that, similar to John’s note about the '15s generally, there were moments where the acid, though totally adequate, seemed subsumed by the abundant fruit. I really should get more of these while they are still on the market. I’ve drank a lot of the Donnhoff QbA Riesling to date and it is also a great Riesling but I have a feeling it is going to be hard to not drink these young.

That’s interesting. I suspect it may be because there is less demand for German wines in the UK.

In the case of JJ Prum, I’m sure the US importer can command a greater markup than they can for other producers. The $33 price I paid is pretty much the lowest around. Prices for Prum, Donnhoff, Fritz Haag, Egon Muller and Robert Weil are usually a tier above other Germans here.

I don’t see a listing for a Lauer 8 (or Fass 8) on Wine Searcher in the US.

The Lauer Faß 8 might be listed as the straight up Ayler Kupp Kabinett without any barrel designation.

I bought one here in Chicago to try, but it wasn’t particularly convincing.

With Adrian’s help, I found the Lauer Fass 8 on Wine Searcher. Best price in the US of A: $29. Ouch. I guess Stephen Bitterolf at Vom Boden is doing well for himself! He’s a good guy, so I wish him well, but that price differential with the UK hurts.

Don’t feel too bad about the prices in the US, I suspect 50% of the spread was due to a one-off currency impact (e.g. Brexit / pound collapse). I expect Ripley/J&B en primeur offers for 2016 to be much higher.

Glad to hear they are showing well, filled my boots on this vintage.

Good point about the pound/dollar exchange.

For those who haven’t followed the currency trends… The UK importers/retailers may well have been purchased before the Brexit vote last June, when the pound was much higher against the euro, and the current UK price in dollars may reflect the decline of the pound against the dollar since then.

When I purchased the Prum Sonnenuhr Kabinett, the price was $25.

Thanks for the notes. I have not tasted any of the above so appreciate your comments.

Nice to read the word acidity mentioned in your notes. The only Kabinett’s I have tasted are Loosen and Schloss Lieser. On a cursory examination, they both looked quite fresh and vibrant.

I dunno. Prum released in September and EURGBP is pretty much the same today as it was then.

I revisited the wines tonight. The only big change was the Weiser-Kunstler, which went sharply downhill and seemed slightly off.

I liked the Vollenweider a little less tonight. The Lauer and Schaefer were slightly better. The AJ Adam and Prum improved substantially. The Adam took on several more dimensions, and I’d put it right up at the top on day 2. The Prum, meanwhile, showed an intense poire William flavor on the nose, in the mouth and on the finish – like pure essense of pear.

Very interesting tasting, thank you for the report.
Two comments:
WK-EE showed very well last summer when I tasted it. Apparently it went into a weird phase since fall (as reported also by Lars Carlberg on his site).
Price and value issue. Ex-cellar the prices of all these Kabinetts vary very little and are all well below 20 euros. So the difference in price, and therefore in value is all made by the policies of the importers/retailers.

True, but based on their increase in pricing and the possibility they locked in prices earlier with their broader riesling offer, figured there’s a decent chance it’s at least partially pound. I would expect a $5-10 spread, not $10-15 between US and UK markets.

Conflicted on letting these sleep for 5-6 more years and pulling a 6-pack now.

That’s what 375ml bottles are for. Drink now with no guilt! Leave the 750s in storage.

Granted you might need to open 2 or 3 375s, but…