I had the honor of meeting winemaker Reinhard Lowenstein at a tasting at Giaconda and tasting some of his wines. You can read some background and save me the trouble of transcribing it by going here. Pay close attention to the pictures of the vinyards and the steep slopes they cling to.
I tried to write down what Reinhard Lowenstein was saying as he was lecturing but I have to be honest, it was hard to keep up. I'll try to give the gist but as the tasting progressed and wines got better, I grew lazier for some unfathomable reason.
Lowenstein is visibly proud of his achievments. From where I was sitting, he seemed more animated when showing pictures of his amazing vineyards and more reticient talking about the wines, as though his love is first for the vineyards and only then for the wines he makes from them.
"Taste is something that can be constructed today", he began, and while he opposes industrial, sweet, ripe, easily approachable wines, he himself makes dry, ripe wines that taste good that are actually approachable young (to my palate anyway). He rejects the German system of labelling by sugar levels because it doesn't in itself guarantee that the wines will taste good and he doesn't believe that a wine that tastes sour young will improve with age. So he harvests when the fruit has the right color and taste - and not when it reaches any prescribed sugar level - and only labels the sweet wines as Auslese. The rest of his wines, all dry, carry no mention of predikats on the label.
Today he describes himself as an intuitive, constantly learning winemaker. He made technical wines when he was younger, didn't like the results and tried to revert to ancient winemaking techniques, albeit in a dry idiom. For him, wine making is constant risk taking as complexity comes from contrast and tension. Qualities which are the rewards of risk taking in any art form, in my opinion, so he certainly fulfills my definition of an artist, or at least he knows how to speak like one.
If all this sounds slightly like New Age navel-gazing, it also sounded like that at times to some of the audience. Now I don't mean to sound wary but God only know how many winemakers talk of winemaking in terms of an art form and wind up making crappy wines. But any skeptism on my part vanished by the fourth wine or so.
The wines. They were pure and very beautiful at their best. I know art when I see it; after that you can argue about the relative quality and score it if you like.
The 2005's outscored the 2004's on points by being purer and more focused (you know, in the case of the two wines where we could actually compare). The Uhlen vineyards were a step above the Kirchberg and Rottgen, though to be super-critical, there are only small differences in personality between the Erst Lages at this stage; that is, they're distinctly different from each other but not quite that different.
An intense and minerally nose, harmonic if not very complex, with ripe yet fresh fruits (a trait shared by all the wines tasted), leaning towards citruses. A hint of petrol. Fairly long, crisp and fruity. For relatively current drinking, I think.
Erste Lage Kirchberg, 2004
The nose starts out cooler, more restrained and closed, than the Schieferterrassen. When it opened after a few minutes I wrote "wonderful" but I had no idea things were going to get so much better later in the evening. Whatever, the nose is (relatively) more extroverted than any other wine but it's hard to tell whether it's the vineyard or the year. Minerally and floral, herbal and vaguely oily. The fruit leans towards cirtus and peaches and not green apples (which Lowenstein thinks is a sign of under-ripe Riesling). Fuller, fresher and longer than the Schieferterrassen, though the palate still has a way to go to live up to the complexity of the nose.
I usually prefer minerally wines, but though the 2005 was fruiter and more floral than the 2004, I prefered it. It just plain tasted better. Longer and spicier on the palate.
Erste Lage Kirchberg, 2005
The nose is very similar to the 2004 but sharper and floral. As you'd expect from a younger wine, it's also slower to open. It's a subtler wine, with herbs and spices drawn in finer strokes, and notes of apple pie and iron are a nice counter-point. Closed on the palate, with a sharper acidity pushing the fruit into the apple zone. The difference between the two vintages is less striking here, though for a younger wine, the 2005 shows more nuances.
Erste Lage Rottgen, 2005
I think this was the most minerally wine of the evening, though it too had its floral and spicy side. The minerals here are more saline, though. Ripe yet fresh fruits, veering off into citruses again. It's a bit more elegant and complex then the Kirchberg, with a silent sort of power. If I were scoring, though, the difference between the two would be worth a point at the most.
Erste Lage Uhlen Blaufusser Lay, 2005
So I was thinking "nice wines"... This was a step up. Very closed so it makes its impression simply by having more presence. I'm going to have to use the adjective "elegant" again but actually, this is where "elegant" starts to merge with "aristocratic". Very crispy, with white fruit amply absorbing all that minerality so it's not as obvious as in the previous wines. The fruit balanced the ample acidity so well the overall effect was soothing. Floral again, another recycled adjective but these wines are family after all.
Erste Lage Uhlen Laubach, 2005
I would be hard-pressed to choose between the Laubach and the Blaufusser Lay. It's more of a "different strokes for different folks" kind of thing, so I'd place my money on both, just to be on the safe side. Besides, I liked both. Whereas the other wines had a white flower florality, the Uhlen Laubach is more of a rose. I thought I spied traces of rose water on the palate as well. A very spicy, slightly meaty finish.
Erste Lage Uhlen Roth-Lay, 2005
This was the tightest of the bunch. I can't say a lot about it now. It's probably as good as the other Uhlens, but it's too closed for me, giving a more alcoholic impression (though they're all listed with the same alc %).
Schieferterrassen Auslese, 2005
Worn out, I wasn't able to pin point a lot of aromas and flavors. It's got a sherbert-y kind of nose, like other sweet wines Giaconda imports. Not very complex but quite tasty.
Erste Lage Uhlen Roth-Lay R Auslese, 2005
Still worn out, but this one just had much more going on so it was easier to grok. It felt immediately deeper than the Schieferterrassen Auslese and the complexity came a bit later, as it revealed spices and mint. A balanced palate, with obvious botrytis and excellent length.