From August 27th to 29th, it was that time of the year again. The VDP (Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates), which brings together some of the highest-quality wineries in Germany, invited 200 of the most important sommeliers, journalists, and wine experts from 25 countries to Wiesbaden to pass judgment on the new vintage of the “Grosse Gewäche“ (GG), also known as Grand Cru wines. As the winner of the VDP Wildcard, I had the privilege of participating in the tasting for a day this year. In this post, I will share my impressions of the various regions, as well as my (as far as possible after a day of tasting) verdict on the presented GGs.
Max Kaindl, 01. September 2023
Reading time about 20 minutes
PREVIEW 2023 — Wiesbaden
As a Riesling enthusiast, the annual preview of the VDP GGs has always been a highly anticipated event for me. However, in the past, I could only follow it as an avid reader of blogs and live updates from the tasters on-site. When the VDP announced a wildcard opportunity for a day at this year’s GG preview in mid-August, I knew immediately that I had to seize the chance. So, I quickly set up my camera on a tripod, recorded a one-shot video explaining my motivation and background in wine/Riesling, and submitted it. A few days later, I received the message that I had won the wildcard. Honestly, I was overjoyed beyond words.
Getting the opportunity to meet some of the most significant experts in the industry and gaining an exclusive overview of all the new VDP GGs is not an everyday occurrence, at least not for me. Consequently, I was brimming with excitement, positive nervousness, and a healthy dose of curiosity about the day in Wiesbaden.
After a very warm welcome from the VDP organizing team and a brief tour of the tasting rooms, I took my seat with number 53 in the colonnades of the Kurhaus. In total, there were 471 GGs (red and white) available for tasting, including 345 Rieslings. Considering the vast number of wines, which would have been impossible to taste in a single day, I had already given some thought to my tasting strategy beforehand. I chose to focus on my favorite Riesling-producing regions: Mosel, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz. My goal was to taste 175 Rieslings, and I managed to sample 155. Among these, there were 2 wines from 2018, 22 from 2021, and 136 from 2022.
To the best of my ability, I conducted my tastings blind. I only knew the region to be tasted and the flight number but had no information about the specific wines or wineries within each flight. Since providing a detailed description of each wine would exceed the scope of this blog, I’d like to focus on the individual regions and their highlights while offering a summary of my overall impressions. When describing the wines, my aim is not solely to provide the highest objective ratings but also to convey whether a wine touched me and spoke to my senses. One thing can be stated upfront: All four regions exhibited significant variations in quality, particularly concerning the 2022 vintage, with some performing stronger overall and others weaker.
Mosel (including Saar and Ruwer)
There were 57 Rieslings to taste, all from the 2022 vintage unless stated otherwise.
I began my tasting journey with the wines from the Mosel, aiming to progress from north to south. Unfortunately, there were only a few standout wines in what was otherwise a reasonably solid field of Mosel Rieslings. Additionally, I got the impression that the winemakers in the Saar and Ruwer regions handled the significant drought stress in the vineyards of 2022 better. Some wines from the Middle Mosel region displayed noticeable signs of drought stress, characterized by slightly pungent green herbal notes, less prominent acidity, occasional residual sweetness, and a lack of a solid core. 2022 was indeed not an easy, if not a challenging, year for dry Mosel Rieslings. However, it did produce some very drinkable GGs.
Now, let’s dive into my personal highlights from the Mosel, as there were certainly some to be found. If I found more than one wine from a particular winery impressive, I’ll summarize it as a kind of “winery report.” If you’re interested in learning more about my rating system, you can find it here.
In my opinion, Maximin Grünhaus delivered the best collection in the region this year. All three GGs from the Grünhäuser hill were consistently excellent. The Bruderberg stood out a bit more for me compared to the Herrenberg and Abtsberg. All three displayed the typical green-spicy Grünhaus nose and on the palate, they had a very firm core, prominent salty lemon notes, invigorating acidity, delicate spicy phenolics, and a very good, juicy length. The Bruderberg leaned towards the brighter, somewhat minty side, the Abtsberg had a touch of almond and a subtle yeastiness on the nose, while the Herrenberg was characterized by herbal notes and a very refined elegance.
Van Volxem also delivered two very strong Rieslings from the Wiltinger Scharzhofberg. The Scharzhofberger P offered a nose of blackcurrant, dark spices, subtly fine herbs, a stony character, and an overall darkness with good depth. On the palate, it was assertive, marked by a dark-spicy, firm phenolic structure, blackcurrant leaves, fine texture, balanced acidity, and very good length and depth. In 2022, it was a true powerhouse, earning an excellent rating.
Similarly, but with an overall slightly lighter profile in both fruit and spices, the “normal” Scharzhofberger presented itself. On the palate, it was fine, elegant, almost dancing, and very well balanced. It certainly has the potential for some very good years ahead, also earning an excellent rating.
I was also impressed by Fritz Haag‘s very classical interpretation of Juffer-Sonnenuhr. On the nose, it initially displayed bright fruit flesh, followed by minty and spicy notes. It was quite fresh, fine, and complex. On the palate, there was a fine balance between delicate salinity, assertive acidity, and firm tannins. Everything felt very compact, bright, fruity-spicy, and had excellent length, earning it an excellent rating. Zilliken’s Rausch appeared elegant and profound. Initially, there were radiant yellow stone fruit aromas, followed by a hint of smoke (although not as intense as usual for Rausch). In the second sniff, some herbs and a touch of quince emerged. On the palate, it was fine and salty, with a deep, firm core, a hint of smoke, and fine texture. Overall, it was quite intense and juicy with very good length, without feeling heavy. It’s already very enjoyable, earning an very good rating. The Hofberg from Grans-Fassian had already impressed me during my visit to the winery in July. The nose carried the characteristic red slate scent of red berries and an iron-like spiciness. On the palate, it was assertive with red-spicy phenolics, red berries, and surprisingly racy acidity. It finished fine, juicy, firm, and compact—something I appreciate greatly. It earned an very good rating. The 2021 Ohligsberg from Haart also delivered a strong performance. It had a bright, classic Riesling nose. On the palate, it was fine and juicy with a slightly sweetish core, assertive spiciness, and a touch of coarse salt. Overall, it felt quite firm but was already enjoyable. It too earned an very good rating.
Sidenote: Nik Weis Layet, Heymann-Löwenstein’s Stolzenberg, and Wegeler’s Doctor turned out to be delightful wines for near-term enjoyment. The Layet (very good) displayed ripe, bright fruit and a touch of pomelo, paired with a pleasant, juicy, slightly sweet core on the palate, along with some chalky notes. On the other hand, the Doctor (very good) from the 2021 vintage took a completely different route with its ripe, exotic profile. Bright spices and an exotic fruit basket blended wonderfully with a hint of sweetness and fine texture. The Stolzenberg offered a bit more herbal character, followed by bright fruit flesh and ripe stone fruit. On the palate, it had a slightly sweet core, milder acidity, fine creaminess, and elegant structure, although it may not age for an extended period. It’s quite enjoyable now — very good.
There were 33 Rieslings to taste, all from the 2022 vintage unless stated otherwise.
Moving on to the Nahe, my secretly favored region, I found a generally higher quality field compared to the Mosel. However, the top estates couldn’t quite reach the soaring heights of the previous vintages in their entirety. But let’s be honest, who expected that after a year as dry as it was on the Nahe? Nevertheless, I considered the field as a whole to be excellent, with three wines even earning a rating of great.
For me, the best collection in the Nahe this year came from Schäfer-Fröhlich (SF). With the exception of Kupfergrube, all their wines were consistently excellent. The somewhat expressive reduction notes that were prominent in previous vintages were noticeably less aggressive this time, and I appreciated that. I’m not a fan of overly pronounced, sometimes overly ambitious matchstick notes. Felseneck stood out as a quality pinnacle. Initially, the wine was a bit reserved on the nose, followed by a subtle reduction, a touch of flint, salted lemon, and noticeable herbal spiciness. On the palate, it had a finely juicy salted lemon character, marked by a pleasantly dry and firm core, an elegantly spicy texture, and bright fruit flesh accompanying the very long and complex finish. This was great. Halenberg showed a similar overall profile, but with a slight lactic tone on the nose and somewhat riper stone fruit, along with noticeable smokiness. It was excellent. I was positively surprised by Stromberg. Beyond the initial yeast veil, a very fine and deep aroma of citrus zest, soothing reduction, and floral notes emerged on the second sniff. On the palate, it displayed beautiful bright fruit, salted lemon, invigorating acidity, and a firm grip towards the end. It was quite captivating, firm, and had the potential for genuine elegance. Excellent. Felsenberg (excellent) and Frühlingsplätzchen (very good) were also of excellent quality, but they didn’t resonate with me personally this year. Sidenote: The typically razor-sharp acidity characteristic of SF wines was absent in all their wines this year.
Kruger-Rumpf also impressed me this year. Burgberg had a nose of ripe yet fresh stone fruit, followed by dark and deep notes, especially black pepper and a hint of bay leaf. On the palate, it was extremely juicy and felt firm, with notes of lemon slices, sufficiently spicy phenolics, and a very long, juicy finish. It had great potential but needed more time. Excellent. Im Pitterberg leaned towards a more reserved, slightly meadow-floral side. However, especially on the palate, it displayed a lovely interplay of juicy fruit and acidity, along with a good, firm core. It had the necessary elegance and substance to age gracefully. Very good.
I was also impressed by Dr. Crusius’ Mühlberg. The nose seduced with hints of melissa, blossoms, and bright, clear fruit. On the palate, it had a substantial presence, with fine juicy fruit, lively acidity, and a spicy depth that lingered in the finish. This has the potential to age beautifully. Very good.
On the other hand, Dönnhoff’s Hermannshöhle displayed a more typical reserved character, with some floral and dark spice notes, always elegant and profound in the nose. On the palate, it was fine-salty, firm, deep, and floral, with a strong core, gripping tannins, and demanding acidity. This was great and will age wonderfully. I was also fascinated by Joh. Bapt. Schäfer’s Goldloch. Floral, very bright and clear fruit combined with chamomile and a hint of elderflower, creating an elegant and deep nose. On the palate, it had a fine texture, fine juicy fruit, a touch of salted lemon, fresh acidity, and firm phenolics. It danced and transported you to an alpine flower meadow in the very long finish. Excellent. The conclusion of my highlights was the Pittermänchen, also from Joh. Bapt. Schäfer. The nose was similar to the Goldloch. On the palate, it was fine and juicy, with great texture, a slight citrus-zesty note, wonderfully playful acidity, white pepper, and a deep and bright spiciness in the finish. Very good. What a fantastic way to end the Nahe wines. Diel‘s Pittermänchen impressed with a bit more depth and grippy texture as well as a very long dark-spicy finish, but lacked a bit in intensity in the nose. Nonetheless, I’m quite sure, that the wine will develop to a fine GG in a couple of year’s. Excellent.
Sidenote: The Hermannsberg (excellent) and Kupfergrube (very good) from Gut Hermannsberg were now showing themselves to be quite drinkable. Both wines were late releases from the similarly dry but warmer 2018 vintage. As a result, they both displayed warm, ripe, and spicy notes, but they still had enough gripping and juicy phenolics and tension. These are enjoyable now, but I wouldn’t cellar them for too long.
There were 41 wines to taste in Rheinhessen, with 33 of them being Rieslings, all from the 2022 vintage unless stated otherwise.
Overall, there was significantly more light than shadow to be found in Rheinhessen. While the top wines didn’t shine quite as intensely as they did in 2021, I hadn’t expected them to. Like in other regions, some wines here were marked by noticeable drought stress. However, vineyards with old vines seemed to handle this stress quite well. Let’s dive in.
Around Bingen, the Scharlachberg made a strong statement this year. Both Wagner-Stempel and Bischel delivered impressive examples. Wagner-Stempel’s interpretation leaned more towards ripe, delicately textured fruit and spice with a slightly sweet core but still had a firm structure. On the other hand, Bischel presented a very bright, marked by white blossoms, finely juicy representative, also with a slightly sweet core and spicy phenolics. Both had their own unique charm. Both Excellent.
Bischel then surprised with a very strong, deep-spiced, firm, gripping, and juicy stone fruit-flavored Heerkretz. Excellent. However, I found the Hundertgulden from the same estate to be even more radiant and elegant. The nose transported you to a meadow filled with white blossoms. But it was on the palate that things really took off. More tension, citric, zesty, finely juicy, great texture, a very firm core, and then a more dancing, fine, and captivating herbal spiciness in the long finish. Oh, that was fantastic. Excellent. Consequently, due to the density of fantastic wines, Bischel delivered the strongest collection of the region for me.
However, the qualitative highlight of the region, and indeed my entire tasting experience, was found at the Roter Hang (red slope), specifically at Rothenberg. Gunderloch and Kühling-Gillot (KG) each delivered two typical but very different representatives from the famous red-sloped hillside near Nackenheim. Gunderloch impressed with a highly pronounced red-spicy, red berry, extremely fine interpretation with an incredibly dark, finely juicy, salty, and firm core. On the other hand, KG played more towards the slightly warmer yet firm and gripping version of the vintage. Despite the warmth, I found more depth in KG, firmer phenolics, higher tension, and an incredibly enchanting, dancing style. Both were great in their own way. The soil typicity of the Roter Hang was most noticeable in all the wines from the Hipping site. Especially in Gunderloch’s version, where there was an extremely red berry and iron-spiced nose (excellent). It’s also worth mentioning the excellently almost greatly executed Ölberg from KG. This vineyard hadn’t particularly appealed to me in recent years, but this time it impressed with very finely marbled acidity, a firm core, very spicy dark notes, and invigorating ripe fruit.
Wonnegau had a bit of a tough time in an overall excellent field of Rheinhessen wines. At Wittmann, the Aulerde once again after a strong result in 2021 impressed me, even outshining its two big siblings, Morstein and Brunnenhäuschen, a bit. While the nose displayed the typically ripe, almost exotic fruit for the site, it was on the palate where it truly shone. Lively acidity danced with finely juicy fruit and white pepper, always maintaining good tension and depth. In the finish, a charming creaminess and vibrant spiciness emerged. Very well done. Excellent. Battenfeld-Spanier‘s wines all appeared a bit plumper than my initial impressions in June. This year, Zellerweg am Schwarzen Herrgott took the lead. The nose showed bright, clear fruit, followed by a stony and slightly chalky note, although not as deep as usual. On the palate, it was initially slightly lactose (which disappeared with the second sip), then gave way to a lot of smoky, spicy texture, juicy apple, and fine acidity. Nevertheless, it will likely always be an opulent representative. Excellent.
Sidenote: Wines ready for current enjoyment included Pettenthal from Rappenhof (slightly sweet, ripe yellow fruit, creamy texture, red berries, and fine acidity with good depth) and Höllberg from Wagner-Stempel (ripe, slightly exotic fruit paired with charming acidity play and a juicy finish). Both very good. Knewitz‘s Steinacker won me over during a re-tasting. It was stony, yellow-fruity, floral, and radiant on the nose, with a hint of chamomile. On the palate, as the name suggests, it was very stony, bright, with noticeable acidity, gripping phenolics, and a skeletal structure. Very well done. Excellent.
There were 104 wines to taste, with 67 of them being Rieslings. The vintage is 2022 unless otherwise stated.
Due to the many interesting and extensive conversations during and after lunch, the remaining time was too short to taste all 67 Rieslings from the Pfalz. I made it as far as the Mittelhaardt, so I won’t be able to make a final judgment about the entire Pfalz. However, one thing remains clear: especially in the areas around Deidesheim and Forst, there were significant differences in estates interpretations, making it difficult for me to consistently identify a clear and distinct terroir character across all wines from a single vineyard. I wasn’t alone in this opinion on Tuesday. Now, let me share my personal highlights.
Knipser‘s Mandelpfad from 2021 made the first major impression with almonds, light spices, some malt, and white flowers in the overall delicate and deep nose. It had a taut, assertive acidity, a firm spicy core, substantial, white flowers, light fruit flesh, depth, and complexity with a fine creaminess. Great balance and good structure. I really liked that. Excellent. Rings‘ Saumagen also impressed me, although it didn’t quite maintain the typical razor-sharp sharpness, acidity, and tension from previous years. It had a dark, stony, and spicy nose with fine reduction and fennel, along with a slight funkiness at the beginning. On the palate, it felt smooth, almost gentle, and later on, it became assertive, firm, and deeply spicy. It had a finely juicy finish with dark stone notes and a salty grip. I would like to drink this now. Great.
The Pechstein flight posed a bit of a challenge. I only found the typically black rock note in Bürklin-Wolf‘s wine. Dark, slightly red-berry, yet still restrained and surprisingly light in alcohol on the nose, the wine tightened up on the palate thanks to its assertive acidity and a firm spicy core. It combined light fruit flesh and dark spices in a very long finish. Excellent. Karl Schaefer came closest here, with his interpretation being somewhat more citrusy and saline. Very good. In the Ungeheuer flight, Bürklin-Wolf clearly excelled once again. However, the wine was brighter than in Pechstein, both in spiciness and fruitiness. On the palate, it had a tight, assertive acidity, a solid core, white flowers, light fruit flesh, and a deep, complex, and finely creamy finish. It somehow won me over but will surely need some time. Excellent.
This year, Christmann‘s Idig, Meerspinne, Ölberg-Haart, and Vogelsang seemed a bit more open and approachable in this youthful stage compared to the quite saline, cool rock-dominated, and, above all, extremely acidic 2021 vintage. I really liked that. One of the few wineries where you could clearly identify the winemaker’s signature across all wines. All four wines had a cool, glacier-like core, along with some white flowers, the finest salted lemon, charming creaminess, and a gripping acidity. Idig displayed the most impressive depth (great), while Meerspinne showcased the greatest elegance (excellent). Due to the density of top-quality wines, Christmann showed the best collection in the Pfalz for me—without being able to form an opinion about the untested Südpfalz region.
Sidenote: Surprisingly good and ready to drink now was Mosbacher‘s Ungeheuer. White flowers, white pepper, and light fruit flesh in the nose harmonized beautifully with a juicy palate infused with salted lemon. It was lively, firm, and well-balanced. Excellent. Similarly, I found Philipp Kuhn‘s Saumagen very enjoyable, as the wine glided smoothly over the palate, thanks to its chalky-creamy structure and juicy-citrusy notes. Very nice. Excellent.
Conclusion: Where There’s Light, There’s Also Shado
So, what remains as the core of this long, intense, and enlightening day? First and foremost, I want to emphasize that my impressions recorded here are snapshots that should be put into context. They form more of an overall picture composed of many puzzle pieces. In my case, it’s the image of the 2022 vintage for Rieslings from the Mosel, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and parts of the Pfalz.
I had the opportunity to taste some of the wines showcased in Wiesbaden as barrel samples during some of my visits to wineries earlier in the summer. Often, my initial impressions were confirmed or solidified. 2022 was an extremely dry year, but not nearly as hot as, for example, 2018. Consequently, the wines presented themselves differently. Some of the wines from the four regions I tasted showed individual traces of drying phenolics, slightly scratchy green notes, and a lack of tension and depth. However, they exhibited fewer warm tones and often featured fresher acidity structures compared to the 2018s. Furthermore, the quality variations this year were very pronounced, not only between the regions but also sometimes within individual vineyards. While there were some beautiful “Aha” moments (as described in my highlights above), there were also wines in almost every flight that fell notably below the high standards set by the VDP. If this pattern continues in the coming years, it would be regrettable from both a winemaker’s and a consumer’s perspective.
The GG symbol on the bottle widely stands for the highest quality of dry German wines. This quality is based on a uniformly high minimum standard. Consequently, it is imperative to exclude wines submitted as GG in a vintage that did not perform at the desired level. Only in this way can the high reputation be maintained which was earned over more than two decades for VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS®. The current oversight committee of VDP winemakers seems to lack the necessary consistency in this regard. Consumers trust that they will always receive the best quality when buying a GG. Unfortunately, I cannot fully endorse this for the 155 Rieslings I tasted. The quality differences were too significant, regardless of the vintage’s style. Recently, the VDP announced plans to overhaul its current classification system. In the future, the proven recognition of a winemaker in a specific vineyard should take precedence over the potential a vineyard might have. It aims to unite the vineyard’s potential with the winemaker’s skill into a single entity. It will be interesting to see the implications of this for GG wines.
In conclusion, the 2022 vintage, overall, offers some exciting, compelling, and captivating Riesling gems among the VDP GGs. The best winemakers have once again delivered excellent results and conjured fascinating wines into their bottles. Talent, hard work, and consistent dedication pay off, especially in challenging years, and are ultimately discernible in the glass. However, it’s not a vintage for “blind” purchases. Instead, I recommend a carefully considered selection and, if possible, tasting at your trusted local wine retailer before buying.
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the VDP and the organizing team in Wiesbaden for the invitation and the opportunity to participate in this unique and perfectly organized event. It was a great pleasure and honor for me!
Sidenote: Just because a wine didn’t make it into my detailed descriptions doesn’t mean it performed poorly in terms of quality. I simply couldn’t establish an emotional connection with it in the limited time I had. Nevertheless, I objectively evaluated all 155 tasted wines and documented my assessments.