Binny's Blind Tasting Panel: German Riesling

German Riesling Wine Bling Tasting

  Binny’s Blind Tasting Panel: German Riesling

We have, once again, convened the Binny’s Blind Tasting Panel to bring you our unvarnished opinions of fine wines from around the world. While critical reviews and scores can be useful tools, we believe there is nothing better than personal recommendations from our astute and educated wine staff.

Our panel consists of the buyers who have already evaluated and vetted the wines on our shelves as well as our sharpest palates from our education and marketing departments. And, of course, members of our impeccable wine staff from the stores; the folks who endlessly taste and assess wine, the folks you, as customers, get to know and trust just as they get to know you and your palate.

This is not just a meaningless exercise. We know that tasting wine without knowledge of producer, provenance, or prestige is the most professional and honest way to evaluate quality and come to conclusions based solely on merit, not preconceptions.

This time we turned our focus to German rieslings from top producers. We tasted everything from entry level estate wines up to lauded dry wines from top vineyard sites known as Grosses Gewachs. We also tasted fruity styles picked at Kabinett, Spätlese, and Auslese levels of ripeness.

We assessed quality blind and two producers consistently rose to the top, dominating panelist’s top picks in every category and coming out way ahead when the panel’s rankings were tabulated. Therefore, these legendary estates were deemed our winners for their extraordinary consistency and commitment to quality across the spectrum of styles.

Congratulations to our winners – JJ Prüm and Selbach Oster. Two legends that our panel determined deserve every bit of praise they have heaped on them.

 

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JJ Prüm

JJ Prüm is an undisputed Mosel icon dating back to 1911, with prime holdings in the Prüm’s hometown of Wehlen, as well as in Graach, Bernkastel and Zeltlingen. These include excellent parcels in the famed Sonnenuhr vineyards (the Prüm family erected the sundials these vineyards are named for) in both Wehlen and Zeltlingen, Himmelreich in Graach and Badstube and Lay in Bernkastel. A substantial proportion of their holdings feature coveted ancient and ungrafted vines. JJ Prüm is a towering qualitative presence in the Mittelmosel for fruity styles, eschewing dry bottlings.

The Prüm family, with over 400 years of history in the Mosel, has splintered into several independent wineries. But it is JJ Prüm, under the early twentieth century leadership of Sebastion Prüm, that has built a towering reputation for unimpeachable quality. Since the 1960s Dr. Manfred Prüm and, beginning in 2003, his daughter Dr. Katharina Prüm have maintained lofty and uncompromising standards, cementing the reputation of JJ Prüm as perhaps the finest producer of the classic Mosel style.

The wines are known for their incredible intensity, balance, and longevity. The hyper reductive, indigenous yeast ferments they employ can result in prominent aromas of hydrogen sulfide in their youth, but over time in bottle these resolve revealing wines of incomparable purity and grace. There may also be a hint of prickly dissolved CO2 in young wines; this is also normal and not a flaw. Decanting aggressively should be considered when the wines are young. The introduction of oxygen will help dissipate off aromas associated with H2S.

Prüm wines at every prädikat level age remarkably well and can improve over decades in the cellar. The refined precision, filigreed detail, impeccable balance, and remarkable depth of flavor that Prüm achieves is difficult to overstate. These qualities were on full display in our blind tasting and resulted in JJ Prüm standing far above a lineup of some of Germany’s finest producer’s. Truly exceptional.

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JJ Prüm Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2020

Looking past the reductive qualities in the nose, a stunning sort of crystalline purity is evident, speaking of a refined and delicate style. Understated residual sugar and fresh lime peel acidity frame notions of wet slate, green apple, tart pineapple, nectarine and salted vanilla caramel. There is a quinine, tonic-like edge that accompanies a youthful prickle of CO2. Complex and elegant.

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2021

The nose is still dominated by reductive sulphur qualities that should be expected at this stage. A bit of air helps to open the nose. Even through a reductive veil, purity of fruit and precision winemaking are unmistakable and unmistakably Prüm, even blind. Truly impeccable balance of delicate sweetness, zingy citrus and a kind of concentrated depth that speaks of endless layers of complexity to come tantalize, while the overall impression of ethereal weightlessness is just otherworldly.

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2021

Clearly reduced, but beyond that it is still easy to parse out true notes of smokey flint, struck match, popcorn kernel, zesty citrus and fine herbs, as well as near perfect weight, concentration and balance. With air an array of subtly sweet fruits emerges, starting with green apples, pears and floral peaches then veering into a restrained rather than flamboyant tropicality hinting at pineapple and mango. Everything is beautifully balanced by an incredible citrusy acidity that keeps pumping out sweet lemon, lime blossom and orange creamsicle on the long, long finish. Again, effortless, weightless, beautiful.

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2021

Once again, reductive qualities dominate the nose at first pass, but with air subtle notes of slate, mossy rocks, chervil, fresh sweet lemon and ripe orchard fruits begin to reveal themselves. The palate is deep and concentrated, yet lifted and ethereal. Sweet lemon, lime and orange zest enliven juicy peach, nectarine and apricot. So precise, so pure, so very Prüm! Tasting these wines from Kabinett through Auslese makes it abundantly clear that the Prüm’s masterfully navigate the complexities of the prädikat system. They manage ripeness, concentration and balance with such remarkable precision, creating a continuity between styles that is simply a marvel. Just stunning!

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Selbach-Oster

Not unlike Prüm, Selbach-Oster is a family concern with centuries of history in the Mosel as growers, winemakers and shippers. Johannes Selbach, his wife Barbara and son Sebastian are the current stewards of this reputed estate, and they bring a passion and vigor to both vineyard and winery, crafting some of the finest wines currently coming out of the Mosel.

It may be no coincidence that their wines, along with Prüm, topped our blind tasting. Their commitment to ignoring fashion, adhering to tradition and producing exceptional expressions of pure, fruity wines and minerally dry wines from the finest vineyard sites is beyond reproach. There is even considerable overlap in the villages and vineyards that these two greats source their fruit from, and it’s no wonder given the reverence afforded to villages like Zeltingen, Welhen, Bernkastel and Graach.

The similarities continue when you consider Selbach tends 100+ year-old ungrafted vines on perilously steep slopes of ancient Devonian slate, uses long, cool, native yeast fermentation and traditional aging in large neutral oak fuders.

While Selbach’s style is equally fine and detailed, the wines are generally more open and generous when young, displaying juicy, almost flamboyant, fruit and gorgeous floral aromatics while retaining excellent cut and fine minerality. Make no mistake, despite their youthful ebullience and generosity of fruit these wines are crafted to age and reward time in the cellar. Across the board, the blind tasting revealed a meticulous attention to detail- a winery at the peak of their craft. Stunning!

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Grosses Gewachs 2020

A subtle nose of spring flowers, ripe orchard fruits, slate and herbal hints of mint, fresh Italian parsley and celery seed leads to a relatively round and soft GG in the mouth. While dry, the acid is moderate for the style tilting the balance toward honeyed jackfruit, melon and peach with a slatey mineral edge. This is broad, fruity and fleshy. A far cry from some of the more austere GGs that allows for but does not demand food and could be enjoyed on its own for its easy-going style.

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2020

Smokey flint, slate and lime blossom float from the glass. A relatively ripe expression of Kabinett with sweet, honeyed apple, peach and quince balanced with a slightly pithy tangerine-like acidity. Lush and long.

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2020

Another richly styled Kabinett that might be mistaken for Spätlese given the sweet, honeyed style. Rounder, weightier and endowed with even sweeter fruit character than the Schlossberg, yet the family resemblance remains in the form of a minerally edge, a suggestion of mint and just enough acidity to keep the fruit super juicy and lively without tipping out of balance or becoming cloying. The finish is concentrated, long, energetic and lingering with ripe, decadent, mineral dusted orchard fruit. A hedonist’s Kabinett, if ever there was one!

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2019 

Another delicious but category defying offering from Selbach-Oster. So rich, honeyed and sweetly fruited that Spätlese sugar levels are surely in the rearview mirror of this ripe, juicy riesling rocket. The nose is full of wet river stones, graphite and hints at the savory along with super ripe notions of fruit drizzled with honey. The palate is a honeyed peach bomb with some savory notions of saffron, that when taken together, suggests a hint of botrytis. A long, immensely rich but zippy and saline finish indicates a capacity to age for many a decade to come. Wow!

Contributing Panelists

  • Alicia Barrett, Wine Educator & Tasting Panel Chair
  • Doug Jeffirs, Director of Wine Sales 
  • Ben Madeska, Wine Manager, Lincoln Park 
  • Bill Newton, German Wine Buyer 
  • Drew Schad, Wine Consultant, Lakeview