Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau: Legendary rieslings, latest releasesThursday, July 30
"I expected great things (in the Rheingau) because 2019 is a stunning vintage. But at Schloss Johannisberg there was a moment of total revelation." - Stuart Piggott, Jamessuckling.com
We have managed to source allocations from one of the most famed and historic estates in Germany, the latest 2018 and 2019 releases from Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau. As long-time fans of German wines (Donnhoff, in the Nahe, has been our benchmark in the past) we are pretty delighted about this. The challenge is how to persuade you that you need these wines in your cellar (you do!). Here are some reasons:
In terms of history, Schloss Johannisberg has a serious claim to being 'Germany's DRC'. Vines have been growing in the Johannisberg vineyard for 1200 years, with the first recorded harvest in 817. Vine growing was central to the Benedictine monastery established here in 1106 and in subsequent centuries the estate was at the centre of history in various ways. In 1720-21 the estate was re-planted exclusively with Riesling, presumably in an early example of having a very clear mission statement.
Owned briefly by Napoleon and later by Metternich, the estate's wines became famous in the late 18th and 19th centuries and it was the first estate to bottle Spatlese and Auslese (there is a complex and probably apocryphal legend which involves someone forgetting to tell someone to harvest the grapes...and magic was born etc). The Metternich family owned the estate until the war. The Schloss was badly damaged by bombing in 1942 (though the 900 year-old vaulted abbey cellars were undamaged) and was rebuilt in the 1960s.
In the 1970s the estate was sold to the Oetker family (owners of the Dr Oetker food brand, responsible for those rather sickly baking products and in that aisle which you never go down in the supermarket). Happily, the estate has been in very good hands under their ownership and with the winemaking led by Stefan Doktor.
The 35-hectare estate centres on the steep, 45-degree hillside, once known as the Bischofsberg (bishop’s hill) which rises to around 180m, with the Schloss itself overlooking the river Rhine, about a kilometre and a half away. The mineral-rich soils are quartzite covered with loess and loam. Around half of the estate is classified as Grosse Lage, the highest classification reserved for single-vineyard wines. Barrels for ageing (old oak is used) come from the estate's own forest to the north of Schloss Johannisberg.
We tasted samples of the 2018s and 2019s yesterday and were astonished by their length and intensity of flavour. At the risk of slipping into Pseud's Corner, they remind us of listening to the wonderful, world-class string quartets who perform at Snape Maltings. Without the full orchestral range of barrel-aged white burgundy or the tannic structure of red Bordeaux, it's easy to underestimate fine German Riesling, but the precision and complexity here is astonishing. Scores seem almost irrelevant but German wine expert Stuart Piggott is rumoured to have awarded some superlative (or even perfect 100 point!) scores for some of the 2019s. His report for Jamessuckling.com is due out in the next few weeks. On these terms, the offer prices seem amazingly modest.
When to drink your Schloss Johannisberg
The 2018s and 2019s we tasted are already spectacular but will show even better with 1-3 years further in bottle. The oldest wines in the vaulted cellars at Schloss Johannisberg date back to the 1700s, and these new releases will certainly age for decades. The trocken (dry) wines are wonderful as an aperitif or with fish dishes. The Spatlese is also wonderful with fish dishes (think richer shellfish like lobster) as well as pâtés and cheeses.
The 'trocken' dry and off-dry wines are bottled mostly at 12-12.5% abv; the Spatlese ('Grunlack') at 9.5% abv.
Schloss Johannisberg give colours to the various wines in their range to denote quality levels, to try to help navigate the complex labelling and quality levels. 'Gelblack' refers to the yellow capsule, 'Grunlack' to green (Spatlese), with other wines labelled bronze (Bronzelack), silver (Silberlack) and gold (Goldlack). Other colours denote sweet styles.
2018 Riesling Feinherb Gelblack, Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau
"The 2018 Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Feinherb Gelblack is the most commercially successful wine of the domain in 2019—with good reasons. The nose is clear, bright and open but intense and nicely developed, with spicy and even some very discreet oaky notes. Round and charming on the palate, this is a finessed and filigreed, persistently salty and stimulating phenolic wine in the off-dry style. The finish is very good and refined with vitality and mineral tension. A fabulous wine. Bottled with 13.7 grams of residual sugar." 90 pts Robert Parker
"This has a very pure, fresh nose of sliced lemons and white peaches with a floral edge. Fresh perfume. The palate has a super juicy feel with fresh, succulent peaches, as well as a long, supple and plush, fleshy finish. Neat and precise." 91 Pts James Suckling
£90 IB per six bottles
2019 Riesling Trocken Bronzelack, Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau
Complex white flowers and spiced aromas on the nose, with a note of honey or beeswax. The finish is dry but the palate has great breadth and richness, balanced by taut acidity and mineral notes which will intensify with a year or two in bottle. Conveys an impressive sense of (Rheingau) power in a supremely delicate, elegant package. RKL
£120 IB per six bottles
2018 Riesling Grosses Gewächs Trocken Silberlack, Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau
"This has striking purity on the nose with a very, very fresh, focused and fragrant nose with superb clarity of fine citrus fruit and crushed stones. The very dry palate (just north of 2 g per liter) has a succulent, smooth texture, plenty of grapefruit and a creamy finish. Drink or hold. 18 Sep, 2019. 96 Points." Jamessuckling.com
£215 IB per six bottles
2018 Riesling Grünlack Spätlese, Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau
"The 2018 Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Spätlese Grünlack is very clear and fresh on the bright and floral-scented, very delicate and spicy nose, with its lime blossom and flinty aromas. Sweet, lush and filigreed on the palate, this is a round and playful, very delicate and elegant, nicely gripping Spätlese that was bottled with 71 grams of residual sugar and 9% alcohol. The finish is crystalline and salty and very noble." 93 pts Robert Parker
"Some wild-flower and wild-herb nuances here. This has a very juicy feel with a fresh, lime and lemon edge and some stones, as well as a white-peach note. The palate has sleek, elegant and fresh style with a delicate finish. Superfine and super fresh. Drink or hold. 18 Sep, 2019. 96 Points." James Suckling
£165 IB per six bottles
2019 Riesling Grünlack Spätlese, Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau
“The 2019 Grünlack Spätlese is a perfectly elegant and seductive wine...100 pts." Stuart Pigott (for James Suckling)
£170 IB per six bottles