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Groebe's Kirchspiel Spätlese 2011 to 1983 29 Mar 2013 by Michael Schmidt

Y⁞ou are never too old to learn, unless, obviously, you think you know it all already. Fortunately a natural curiosity about wine has so far saved me from joining the latter category. Mention the village of Westhofen in Rheinhessen and wine enthusiasts will smack their lips in anticipation of fine Riesling wines from such stellar producers as Klaus Peter Keller or Philipp Wittmann. To some, Friedrich Groebe may not have the same ring to his name, but that says more about the modesty of the man than the quality of his wines. On various occasions I have spotted members of estates such as Hermann Dönnhoff, Robert Weil and Schlossgut Diel making a bee-line for a taste of his wines, and there could be no greater compliment than that. At the VDP's Spätlese Renaissance presentation of the 2011 vintage in Köln last year, Friedrich Groebe, known affectionately as Fritz to his friends, sneaked in a Westhofener Kirchspiel Spätlese 2002, which I got quite excited about, despite my age. Herr Groebe does also produce quite a range of other fine Riesling, from Grosse Gewächse to Trockenbeerenauslesen, but I gathered that the Spätlese from the Kirchspiel vineyard was his real passion. This impression was confirmed when I recently received an invitation to join a small number of Groebe disciples for a vertical tasting of his favourite creation. The Kirchspiel vineyard is without doubt the best site at Westhofen, a truth borne out by the fact that Groebe, Keller and Wittmann all

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produce some of Germany's finest Grosse Gewächse (dry premium wines in the VDP classification) from this site. The middle and upper slopes of the 44-hectare vineyard open up like an amphitheatre in a south-easterly direction, incline and exposition affording optimal exposure to sunlight. Cool winds from the north and west are deflected by the crest of a small range of hills. First mention of the Kirchspiel as a place to grow wine can be found in a historic document from 1348, when it was known as Kyrsbühel. In 1834, Germany's foremost authority in all things wine at that time, Johann Philipp Bronner, in his treaty on winegrowing in the province of Rheinhessen and in the Nahe and Mosel valleys (Der Weinbau in der Provinz Rheinhessen, im Nahetal und im Moseltal), describes the vineyard, then still known as Karspel, as an outstanding site planted with Riesling and Silvaner. At the top of the Kirchspiel the remains of over 100-year-old foundation walls suggest that this may once have been the location of a fort, a theory given some credibility by the fact that one of the paths of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela goes right past the vineyard. The core of the Kirchspiel consists mainly of 5- to 10-metre deep terra fusca, which is residual clay with a substantial content of decomposed limestone. This soil has great water-retention capacity, and its high lime content, the share of loess and the binding abilities of the clay minerals ensure a good nutrient supply. Every year in the spring Groebe will find that a fair number of boulders consisting of compacted limestone have been pushed up from the soil to the surface by the effects of frost. Working the soil to promote the growth of wild herbs between the rows of vines is an extremely tough job. The reward for this hard graft is wines with pronounced minerality and a solid backbone of acidity, but they tend to be quite unapproachable when young, their early awkwardness often misunderstood. Friedrich Groebe had the advantage of being able to learn from the experience of his father and grandfather, but he also needed to bide his time before he could put his own signature on the estate's wines. The previous generations were not known for welcoming new ideas with open arms (and minds). In their day, Silvaner still played first fiddle, and there was some experimentation with Scheurebe and Kerner, too. After graduating from the renowned Geisenheim wine college - today part of Wiesbaden University - Friedrich Groebe joined the family estate in the 1980s and gradually began to implement his own ideas. These involved a greater emphasis on Riesling as well as a conscious decision to reduce yields and tip the balance in favour of higher residual sugar, at the expense of alcohol. Nevertheless, he is the first to admit that climatic conditions were not as kind to his predecessors as they have been to him since, and that before 2001 it was not possible to produce a Spätlese in every vintage. He is also old enough to remember 1980 and 1984 as years of rain, rot and an overload of acidity. Talking about acidity! Yes, ugly ducklings can turn into beautiful swans, a moral once again confirmed in this tasting. The 1990 Spätlese did weigh in at a spine-chilling TA 9.5 g/l, but, where some of the younger wines were already beginning to flag, this relative oldie gave a demonstration of how valuable acidity can be, not just for longevity, but for harmony, elegance and grace. Of course a fine Spätlese does need adequate support from fruit and residual sugar to make the earth move. The 1983 Auslese (just 1 g/l above the residual sugar threshold, and technically therefore still more of a Spätlese) showed what happens when acidity is the only survivor. Another interesting phenomenon was the colour of these wines. I could just about get my head around how pale some of the more mature wines had remained, but was really perplexed by the youthful, almost

greenish, hue that they exhibited at the rim. Pale straw with a silvery tinge is not necessarily a complexion I would associate with a 15-yearold Spätlese! Those wines with a little more depth of colour and shades of deep yellow or gold invariably turned out to come from vintages in which botrytis had had a hand. Although Herr Groebe's wines are listed by some very noble restaurants, he is more at home in rubber boots and a weatherproof jacket than in suit and tie. His philosophy is that of a grower who personally accompanies his wine every step of the way, from planting the vine to picking the grapes, from fermenting the must to bottling the wine. He is a craftsman.

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2011 Rheinhessen 18+ Drink 2013-2026 After an average summer, September and October gifted growers with a superlative autumn. Personally I would compare it to 1959; Friedrich Groebe, with a little help from the memory bank of his father and grandfather, sees parallels to 1953. Grapes at the Kirchspiel vineyard matured to perfection, botrytis showed itself from its most healthy and noble side. TA 7.9 g/l, RS 105 g/l. Very pale straw, still showing some petulant carbon dioxide. Very delicate but exquisitely fresh fragrance of apple blossom and citrus fruit. On the palate the acidity is almost restrained, but a hint of petillance ensures a lively performance nevertheless. The fruit is sweet and juicy and comes with wonderfully refreshing zest. This is one precocious baby. (MS) 8%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2010 Rheinhessen 17.5+ Drink 2015-2030 Rampant rot required a stringent selection and discerning growers reduced their crop by as much as 50%. Acidity levels were the highest since 1980/84. Grapes took until the end of October to mature, but because of the prolonged ripening period patient growers ended up with high extracts. TA 9.6 g/l, RS 83.2 g/l. Pale straw, no visible signs of carbon dioxide. Very lively performer with kicking acidity. Less of a fruit merchant, but because of the long ripening period there is a great concentration of extract and minerality. Some tasters may struggle with the challenging acidity, but to me this wine has longevity written all over it. My mark is very cautious, and if the development of the 1990 with its equally high acidity is anything to go by, the 2010 will become a racy stunner in years to come. (MS) 8.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2009 Rheinhessen 17.5 Drink 2011-2024 A generally warm growing season peaked with the arrival of a very healthy botrytis in the autumn. Many Riesling experts have declared 2009 their favourite vintage, with particular praise for its fine harmony of sweetness, acidity and minerality. Maybe it’s the old rebel in me, but I have always found that there is something smug about everybody’s darling. TA 6.6 g/l, RS 112.8 g/l. Pale straw colour. Ripe peaches and apricots titillate the olfactory perception. A pronounced fumy, slightly flinty minerality takes on an almost smoky character and presents a perfect foil for the exuberant expression of residual sugars. The texture is creamy, the mouth-feel is soft, and the body shows opulent curves. For once acidity has been restricted to a modest corrective role. A seductive raisiny, but nevertheless fresh, finish continues to linger. Global warming honed to perfection. (MS) 7.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2008 Rheinhessen 17.5 Drink 2011-2020

A relatively cool growing season slowed down the ripening process, not necessarily a bad thing, as, just like Rome, complexity isn’t built in a day! The arrival of a cold front on 7 and 8 October meant that picking did not have to be done in a rush. TA 7.4 g/l, RS 76 g/l. Pale straw with a yellowish tinge. Delicate exotic fruit aromas mingle with greener notes of peel and kernel. The palate partners fresh green fruit with a lively acidity and the merest notion of marzipan. Compared with its siblings, the 2008 shows more restraint in the sweetie jar and keeps a tighter grip on a relatively dry, but intriguingly mineral finish. The merest hint of Edelfirne (slightly vegetal mature note) warned me that it may not go the same distance as some of the others, but controversial and complex are two attributes I favour. The majority of the audience was not quite as enthusiastic. (MS) 8.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2007 Rheinhessen 18 Drink 2009-2022 A warm and dry summer produced healthy grapes, ready to be harvested by September. Any fruit picked a little later benefited from a small amount of fine botrytis. TA 7.6 g/l, RS 87.6 g/l. Pale straw with just a tinge of yellow. The nose does not quite exhibit the exotic aromas of the 2009, but is equally attractive in its expression of stone fruit and flinty minerality. The palate excels with a perfect balance of mouth-watering orange and grapefruit flavours and an animating acidity, leaving just enough room for a refined minerality to come through on the final furlong. Superb now and for a few more years to come, but definitely one for the shorter term. (MS) 8.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2006 Rheinhessen 16 Drink 2008-2016 Almost the fly-in-the ointment vintage in the naughties decade. The harvest suffered a two-week interruption due to rain, and rot almost ran riot. Growers had no choice but to reserve the earlier harvest of totally healthy grapes for their dry wines and were left with overripe fruit for their sweeter renditions. Almost half of the crop had to be discarded but a fair showing of noble rot providing some late consolation. TA 8.5 g/l, RS 102 g/l. A definite golden hue betrays the contribution of botrytis. Honeyed notes and a touch of cobblers’ glue confirm the major influence of noble rot. On the palate the 2006 is almost a little oily and exhibits tones of overripe grapefruit, with just a modicum of bitterness. Any fears of cloying are banished by the firm grip of substantial acidity. For my final impression, torn between idiosyncratic and schizophrenic, I settle for decadent. (MS) 9%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2005 Rheinhessen 16.5 Drink 2007-2017 A year for botrytis, must weights in the medium range. TA 6.7 g/l, RS 85 g/l. Pale straw. Very mature aroma of Firne, scent of raisins. Taste of bruised pears confirms a slight overripeness of fruit. Shows medium body and has enough acidity to balance the mature expression of botrytis. The exuberant thrust of youth has given way to the wellrounded manner of maturity. Drinking well now and will last for another few years, but no real long-term prospect. (MS) 8%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2004 Rheinhessen 16 Drink 2006-2014 A modest summer with some cool periods and plenty of precipitation presented growers with a few problems, mainly that of peronospora (downy mildew). Selectiveness and patience were required to salvage a reduced crop of healthy fruit. Physiological ripeness arrived late and acidity levels dropped quite dramatically just before picking. TA 6.9 g/l, RS 90 g/l.

Deep straw with a yellow-golden hue on rim. A fragrance of herbal and floral aromas clearly distinguishes the 2004 from the other wines in this tasting. Fruit and minerality are quite restrained, and though the acidity is relatively moderate, it is still very noticeable. Very intriguing for its idiosyncratic style, but will probably not gain from further ageing. (MS) 8%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2003 Rheinhessen 17.5 Drink 2005-2018 The extremely hot and dry summer of 2003 led to some early predictions of vintage of the century, but the Spätlese category in particular benefits more from moderation than excess. Conditions were far from ideal for producing wines with grace, elegance and finesse. TA 6.5 g/l, RS 107 g/l. Surprisingly youthful appearance – pale straw with a greenish tinge – can, at least partially, be explained by the absence of botrytis. Green and yellow fruit flavours give this wine an unexpectedly fresh character despite its relatively moderate acidity. An intriguing hint of pine adds interest and an almost cool touch. Not the sugar monster one might have anticipated, but rather a charming sweetie. A tad of minerality rounds off an amazing performance. (MS) 8.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2002 Rheinhessen 18 Drink 2004-2017 A relatively normal growing season with some cool interludes found its successful conclusion in a warm and dry September. Following the highly acclaimed 2001 vintage, 2002 was initially underrated, but eventually became a hot favourite with growers themselves. TA 8.6 g/l, RS 92 g/l. Buttery yellow indicates maturity. On the nose a fragrance of ripe yellow fruit is complemented by the scent of lanolin. On the palate the fruit is ripe with just a hint of the exotic, perfectly balanced by a juicy and mouthwatering acidity. Fresh, elegant, racy and exciting, the 2002 Kirchspiel is the kind of Spätlese that makes German Riesling unique. (MS) 7.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 2001 Rheinhessen 16.5 Drink 2003-2014 Everything went swimmingly in the growing season of 2001 until September, when the weather took a turn for the worse. With hopes of a better-than-average vintage almost dashed, a truly great October put Riesling grapes back on track for a harvest with great expectations. TA 8.7 g/l, RS 85 g/l. Medium straw colour, does not look its age. On the nose the fruit appears a tad over-ripe, first signs of Edelfirne with a slightly vegetal note. When Firne is still edel (noble), it contributes to the complexity of a wine, and the soft apple and generous mandarin fruit of the 2001 benefit from this element of decadence. At the same time the acidity is beginning to hit a sour note that warns me not to put off the drinking of any remaining bottles for much longer. (MS) 8.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spätlese 1997 Rheinhessen 15 Drink up 1997 was a good summer’s work spoilt by a rainy autumn. Plenty of precipitation swelled the grapes, but more water meant thinner wines. TA 8.6 g/l, RS 53.9 g/l. Pale and watery with silvery hue on rim. Very shy on the nose with delicate appley and lemony notes. The palate struggles to deliver some shrivelling grapefruit flavour, but is finally overwhelmed by a sharp lemony acidity. The contribution of the plentiful rain cannot be ignored either, diluting fruit and residual sugar. The 1997 may still be drinkable in its own right, but in quality it cannot stand up to its siblings from the following decade. (MS) 8%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Sp채tlese 1992 Rheinhessen 15.5 Drink up An overall warm growing season resulted in a relatively high yield of healthy grapes. TA 8 g/l, RS 41.6 g/l. Brilliant shine, though yellow golden shade indicates maturity. On the nose notes of rhubarb and sorrel prepare for the grand entry of acidity, and we are not disappointed! Against the odds there is still a remnant of green fruit, but it does not get much help from the very moderate residual sugar content. Fortunately the decision to go for a bit more body has managed to prevent the total triumph of a rather searing acidity. (MS) 10%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Sp채tlese 1990 Rheinhessen 18 Drink 1992-2015 A cool year did not raise hopes too high, but a serious reduction of quantity to around 60% of an average yield promoted a greater concentration of flavour. The level of acidity can only be described as serious, but in combination with high extract and the fuller body it can achieve miracles. TA 9.5 g/l, RS 51 g/l. Brilliant appearance, shiny golden hue. Quite incredible nose combines a touch of almost exotic fruit with attractive forest notes: mushrooms, undergrowth, autumnal leaves. Driven by a dynamic acidity the 1990 belies its age and marries youth and maturity in a spiritual ceremony. Panta rhei, all elements perform in perfect harmony. (MS) 9.5%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Sp채tlese 1989 Rheinhessen 16 Drink up Generally rated a top vintage in Germany. Early bud-break, 14 days ahead of average. TA 8.5 g/l, RS 41 g/l. Colour of old gold indicates venerable age. An intriguing combination of aromas includes herbaceous, nutty and medicinal notes. A marked acidity finds expression in a sorrel-like flavour. Fruit may have handed over the reins to a more herbal and vegetal interpretation of Riesling, but there is still something impressively graceful in this fading beauty. (MS) 10%

K F Groebe, Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Auslese 1983 Rheinhessen 13.5 Drink ?? By the whisker of 1g/l sugar above the minimum requirement, the 1983 qualified as an Auslese. TA 9 g/l, RS 45 g/l. Light nut-brown colour indicates a fair degree of oxidation. Aromas of rotten leaves and damp earth confirm that decay has taken its toll. There is still a hint of caramel on the palate, but the only thing that lingers on the aftertaste is acidity. (MS) 9.5%

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Kirchspiel spaetlese vertical tastin 2011 1983  
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