2017 played on intensity and zest, not an easy combination for dry Riesling. Worry not, the finest are amazing. Here an overview on this remarkable vintage.
The 2017 vintage was born under the sign of the frost all over Germany (and northern Europe in general). This affected yields, which were low, often 30% below average.
Thankfully, the remainder of growing season was fine. Spells of rain and sunshine led to rapidly increasing sugar levels and, consequently, to a very early start of the harvest, despite concerns that the grapes may not be fully ripe and the acidity levels too high.
Making high-end dry Riesling required quite some selections in order to retain only clean and fully ripe grapes. This was not an easy task as the rain in September had led to nests of rot and there was quite some uneven ripening on each vine, courtesy of the frost. Several passes were often necessary. The combined effect of spring frosts and need for selections during harvest meant one thing: Quantities are severely down, often dramatically so.
2017 yielded wines with great zesty tension and a remarkably uneven aromatic profile. Some wines are superbly fresh and shine through their great juicy flavors. Others are rather ripe and slightly broad.
Despite stylistic differences as high as in few recent vintages, the top dry Riesling have a few common threads: A good to sometimes racy acidity and a quite intense and even powerful feel on the mid-palate.
Early on, during the harvest, some growers expressed their concerns that alcohol levels could shoot through the roof. This worry did not materialize, thanks to the severity of the selection. The wines all have “normal” alcohol levels, mostly situated between 11.5% and 13%.
2017 may be a complicated vintage due to the combination of intensity, zest and potential ripeness. We mentioned early on that not every 2017 dry Riesling would be a success. And our tastings have confirmed this. Cautious is really needed when buying 2017 dry Riesling.
At the top, the 2017 vintage gave gifted growers the material to produce some magical dry Riesling. And these growers did not miss such a unique opportunity, no one less so than Klaus-Peter Keller at Weingut Keller: He produced some truly legendary wines in 2017. Prices are very high, quantities are frustratingly low. But if you have the means and the good fortune to acquire some bottles, 2017 is a vintage to go for at this prestigious address.
By enlarge, 2017 seems to confirm of the relative pecking order among dry Riesling growers. Among the leading growers, Weingut Dönnhoff and Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich did particularly well in 2017 and crafted what are easily their best-ever dry collections.
Overall, 2017 proves a remarkable vintage in the Nahe and the grand names delivered ... as well as a few others, lesser known ones. Rheinhessen also saw some stunning dry Riesling, in particular by leading Estates from the Rheinfront.
The Mosel impresses by the overall high quality of its dry Riesling (a staggering 80 wines are worthy of a rating at or above 92 pts). Even if, the Mosel did not produce as many modern-day classics as it did in 2016, the leading Estates show what stunning quality now comes out of this region.
The 2017 Pfalz wines are not without power and whoever is looking for finesse in dry Riesling is better off back-buying some of the region’s 2016 efforts. One Estate, Weingut Rebholz, defies the Pfalz logic and proves once again what an absolutely glorious and comparatively under-rated source it is for elegant dry Riesling.
In conclusion, 2017 will go down in history as a major vintage for top dry Riesling, stylistically in line with vintages such as 2010, 2008 and 2004. Lovers of racy and intense Riesling are well-advised to delve into our report (see below): It is filled with true gems. However, 2017 is also one of the most inhomogeneous vintages of recent times. Tasting or reading our notes will save you from many disappointments.
This buying guide would not be complete without a word on the stunning late releases of dry Riesling which have happened recently, and are going to happen within the coming months and years. Many of the finest dry Riesling from Germany are now the late-released Riesling by the leading Estates. The finest example this year has to be the perfect 2016er Bernkasteler Doctor Auslese *** (White Capsule) by Weingut Markus Molitor, which was sold at this year’s Bernkasteler Ring Auction.
Unfortunately, these gems do not get the full marketing attention they deserve. We would however urge lovers of great dry Riesling to plunge on some of the modern-day classics which have been or will be released this year.
The complete version of this article including over 130 tasting notes of recommended wines from all leading dry German Riesling growers was published in the Mosel Fine Wine Issue No 43 (Oct 2018).
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© Text by Mosel Fine Wines "The Independent Review of Mosel Riesling ... and beyond!"
Disclaimer: Mosel Fine Wines is an independent publication and has no commercial relationship with any Estate, association or organization featured in this article.