Spatlese is a term that denotes ripeness, not sweetness. Hofgut Falkenstein’s Altenberg Riesling Spatlese is dry. Very dry, intense and flavourful.
I often write about ‘traditional’ wines but Hofgut Falkenstein, more than any other producer, encapsulates the roots of Saar Riesling. All farming is by hand and of old vines only. Grapes from young vines are sold off in bulk, not made into an entry level trocken.
Wild ferments, no temperature control, natural stabilisation, fuder ferments and elevage, no fining or filtration, no de-acidification, no sugar added, no yeast nutrients, natural viticulture only, hand bottled off gross lees, no pumps, no racking and no injections of carbon dioxide. If a wine stops fermenting, then it stops. There is no encouragement one way or the other, to force a wine into dryness, or attain sweetness. The wines simply run their course and are bottled, with an addition of sulphur only. And the results are pure, stupendous bottles of Riesling essence, that have very few peers, anywhere in the world.
It is ironic that Hofgut Falkenstein is not part of the VDP, an organisation who’s 300 members are, broadly speaking, Germany’s best wine producers. However, to adhere to the VDP the Webers of Falkenstein would have to interfere with their wines, and the paragraph above couldn’t have been written.
The inherent ‘classicism’ of the Altenberg Riesling Spatlese 2020 is partly due to the 2020 vintage, seen by many as a return to wine styles of the past. It’s certainly a nervier, tense and scintillating vintage. However, if you had tasted the estate’s 2018’s, a record breaking warm and dry vintage, you would have noticed that these were pure, nervy, tense and scintillating too. A little more weight perhaps, and most ferments didn’t finish dry, but still classic.
Altenberg is a great vineyard, no question, (considered Grand Cru by the VDP) and the Webers choose to preface the vineyard name with Krettnacher, after the village of Krettnach, home to the vineyard and themselves. The wine is from the Enkers Weinberg part of the original south facing slope and sits roughly in the middle. The vineyard is not entirely uniform, and by rights should have been split up to denote these differences, but in Enkers it’s quartz and grey slate.
From old vines, between 50 and 60 years old, a stunning array of cool aromatics. The faintest of pink colour, with beeswax, grapefruit, juniper, mint, tarragon, red delicious apple, lime zest and frangipani. Intense but not obtuse. Coiled, tense, vivid and cool flavours, including gooseberry, kiwifruit, savoury spice, tonic-like and pickled vine leaf. So bracing and utterly Saar; the most distinctive of all Rieslings. Finishing with so much naked and invigorating energy. Super long, clean and salty, utterly absorbing and refreshing. Served with a mixture of Japanese dishes. Perfection.