2006 Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg “Superior,” von Schubert
I’ve been to visit Carl von Schubert, the owner of the beauteous von Schubert-Grünhaus Estate just once in situ. He was rather preoccupied that day with various and sundry crises1 (despite the bucolic veneer, this is what the wine business is generally about), so his wife showed me around. The Ruwer tributary is not the most prepossessing place in the world, but the Grünhaus Estate is absolutely magnificent, encompassing thirty four contiguous hectares of grapes (that’s enormous), as well as a number of hectares of fruit trees, meadow, woods and a grand manor house. But more to the point, the Estate produces arguably the most consistently sublime Riesling year in and year out (since the 10th Century, possibly earlier). The Abtsberg vineyard is my favorite of their holdings, the most mineral intensive, sometimes the most reticent when young, but the longest-lived. A Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Spätlese with a fair bit of age on it (12-15 years) is my desert island wine – one that I would happily drink for decades until the rescue boat arrived (or didn’t).2
I don’t really know what the deal is with their “Superior” bottling – this is supposedly a selection of “the best of the best.” My guess is that it is some sort of marketing initiative to re-establish the company’s credentials as a “top dog” estate after the somewhat unfair maligning of a few vintages of the late ‘90s, early ‘00s by some howling jackals of the wine press. (The Estate never lost a step, at least in my book.)
Here is what is interesting: I didn’t get this first-hand from Carl, and probably it is very indiscreet and irresponsible of me to be bruiting about hearsay testimony, but hey, this is a wine list and not a court of law. I have it on reasonably good authority that when he was in San Francisco not too long ago, Carl was absolutely overjoyed that he was able to finally able to make a personnel change with the winemaker/vineyard manager, who had worked at the company for more than fifty years. Carl inherited the property from his father (and has been in charge since 1981), but apparently owing to some seemingly passive-aggressive provision of his father’s will, Carl, despite being the owner of the property, could not make this crucial personnel adjustment, a state of affairs that caused him no end of grief. My point is this: Things are never what they appear to be on the exterior. To the casual observer, Carl von Schubert is a member of the vinous pantheon, an Olympian demi-god, the owner of what I believe to be the greatest wine estate in Germany, and incredibly lucky to work with the noblest white grape on the planet. In my fevered imagination, I reckon him to be the Thor, Zeus or Odin of grapes, but a divinity afflicted with a titanic case of, say, hemorrhoids.3 I am so happy that Carl now feels so much freer; no question that the wines will become ever more exciting in coming years.
So, about this wine: It is, of course, utterly magnificent, a real pity to drink so young, but certainly capable of providing great vinous joy and satisfaction tonight. The “Superior” is slightly higher in alcohol than a typical Spätlese or Auslese, as well as somewhat dryer; in some sense, it really is a new style for German Mosel wines – a middle ground between classic “Spätlese/Auslese and the Trocken style. What is typically most enchanting about the Grünhauser wines is their immense fruitiness, balanced by a steely acidity and mineral component. The ’06 seems to be relatively softer and more approachable in acidity, but the fruit – it is riotous. One aromatic element that is quite typical for G’haus is apricot and peach – flavors that one typically associates with botrytis. The other quality I often find is a haunting citrus note – mostly lemon (and sometimes lime); what you get in Grünhaus is not just lemon but lemon chiffon – that ethereal quality that makes you just wonder how it is that you are personally worthy enough to be consuming this juice.
I really wanted to get the description of the wine right, so I thought to bring in another palate to help me with some of the heavier organoleptic lifting. My daughter, Melie, who is six, has heretofore humored me in my obsession with things gustatory. I have occasionally handed her a glass of wine, asking her, “So, Melie, what do you smell?” “It smells like wine, Dad,” she usually responds, rather amused at her own wit. But this time, something very unusual happened. Instead of responding in a dismissive, off-handed manner, Melie gave me very detailed tasting notes.
“So, what do you get?”
“Smells like peach ice cream, Dad. And apricots, maybe some nectarine.”4 It’s also very lemon-limey.
“Mango, definitely mango… And what’s that tree outside our yard, Dad? Kumquats. No, not kumquats… Loquats.”
Here’s where it started to get a bit freaky. “Dad, you know, to really smell it, you need to twist the glass. (She meant, “swirl.”) She started swirling the glass, very, very creditably.5 (We’ve practiced this before.) “Now, the smell is really starting to come out and change,” she said. (I swear I am not making this up.)
“What do you smell?”
“I smell honey.”
“What kind, sweetheart?”
“Lavender honey. Definitely lavender honey.” (She’s been brought up well.) “And there’s also pea-flower.6 And cantaloupe.”
“You’re scaring me, sweetheart.”
“And some herb. What do you call that herb, Dad? Lemon… Lemon … What do you call it? Lemon balm (!!!!)”
“Uh, anything else, Melie?”
“It just smells like earth, Dad.”
This last comment – and I solemnly swear that my account is 100% accurate – persuaded me that my ancestral line of DNA had absolutely, positively replicated itself successfully, that the fruit of my loins, was at least instrumentally, up to any and all gustatory challenges that would present themselves. Thank you, Carl, for your magic elixir.
1 I’ve met Carl a number of other times on market visits to the U.S., where he has generally been a lot more relaxed.
2 I don’t know quite why we wine guys are always being asked the somewhat inane question about getting shipwrecked and what would then constitute our fantasy desert island wines.
3 I am also incredibly amazed by the fact that Carl imagines that a significant percentage of his wines (more than half) has to be made in a dry or dry-ish style, a function of the thoroughly misguided enopsychosis, that has swept through Germany in recent years. Max Grünhäuser generally has far too much acid to be particularly palatable as a dry wine. But, as a Spätlese, it is perfect or perhaps even better than perfect.
4 We had actually made peach ice cream earlier that day, so the comparison was fresh in our minds.
5 Last year Melie attended an unusual private school that teaches “circus arts” and has become a proficient stilt walker and unicyclist; she is still learning how to spin plates.
6 Nailing of this descriptor was particularly astute.
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